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When a Man Verbally Attacked Me for Using the Handicap Parking Space for My Child

I was verbally attacked for parking in a handicap space.

I am not sharing this incident for sympathy — or even empathy. I am doing so to advocate for my daughter who has a physical disability that is often times still invisible, and at the tender age of 6, she isn’t yet able to do it on her own. Maybe by sharing this particular moment, those who would have chosen to cast judgement previously may instead hold their tongue.

A few weeks ago, Lily dislocated her pelvis for the second time. She wasn’t in a car accident or some other traumatic event that would allow this to occur. She was playing with her yoga ball and fell on her bum less than 20 inches off the ground onto a carpeted floor. She has a rare disease called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS-HT), and her joints are easily injured. As a mama, I can’t even explain to you the fear in her eyes. The pain was so extreme she couldn’t even breathe, and the gut wrenching scream she let out just a few seconds later after it snapped back in sounded like it was out of a horror movie. The sound of that pop — as loud as an over inflated balloon, then followed by that awful scream, still plays in my head.

Mother and daughter hugging, faces are not visible for either of them.

Unfortunately, the pain she endured during that dislocation/subluxation is one her specialist has assured me will likely occur over and over during the course of her life because she has EDS. The muscular pain in her back and upper legs has since nearly subsided, although her left hip is still causing her pain when she walks too far. Today, she pushed the child sized grocery cart with me while we shopped. She chose not to use her wheelchair. She is a strong, brave girl.

This is why the second half of what I am about to share is so hard. I have written this because I want to show you a glimpse of this rare disease, just one of the reasons how it is disabling, and why Lily’s pediatrician signed on an issued handicap placard for Lily. She also has low muscle-tone and she experiences chronic fatigue. Sometimes, walking from the car to a store or location can use up all of her energy for the day, making her unable to fully enjoy where she is going. She typically uses her wheelchair for distance like the mall or the zoo, or when she has an injury in her knees, ankles or pelvis.

Just five days after her last pelvic dislocation, Lily was going to her weekly, one hour class for “The Little Medical School.” Just as we have done for months, we parked up close to the school in one of the handicap parking spots. Lily chose not to use her wheelchair since she only had to walk across the street, into the building and go down the long hall to class where she would mostly be sitting for the hour. After leaving her in her classroom, I walked back out to my car where I proceeded to make a phone call and work while I waited for her.

A short minute later, an angry man walked up to my open car window. He put his hand on my door, and I recognized the look on his face. I’ve seen the looks many, many times before. Never when I am lifting Lily’s wheelchair out of the back of my SUV, but too often (more times than I can count) when she is holding my hand and walking to or from our car parked in a handicap spot. I already knew the look, but wasn’t prepared for what he was about to say.

First, he began questioning me. Asking me if I was aware that in the state of Colorado the fines ranged from $500 to $1500 for a first offense (I did not verify), and that in July of this year they went up. That it is illegal for me to be using someone else’s handicap placard, and that he has seen me do it several times before while parking at that school. He was so angry he was repeatedly spitting on my face. He wouldn’t even let me say a word. As I attempted to explain to this stranger that my child has a connective tissue disease and just dislocated her pelvis less than a week ago, he seemed to be only thinking of his next words rather than hearing mine. I let him finish. I let him finish his rant in front of the crossing guard, other parents and children who were walking by. And in that moment, I thanked God that my child wasn’t watching this. When he was ready to hear me, I told him again that my daughter has a rare disease. That since she was still only 6, she couldn’t yet drive herself. That she was in class, and I was waiting for her. I pointed to her wheelchair in the back and the “C” for child on the handicap placard. I don’t even know if he believed me. He took a step back and without apologizing walked away slowly, with a cane supporting his every other step as he made his way to his truck parked in another handicap spot, one space away from mine.

Lily’s disease will still likely be invisible when she is old enough to drive herself. Maybe it won’t be invisible all the time, but sometimes it still will be.

There will be a day when I am not the one taking the brunt of a judgmental world for her. She is stronger than me, yet so much more deserving of grace and respect, even from a stranger. A stranger who has no idea the incredible impact she already has on so many lives, despite the pain she endures as a result of a rare disease she did not choose for herself.

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Photo by One Oak Photography

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