Y'all. Remember that water park I told you I was going to photograph for our local special needs family support center? Well, that was tonight, and I'm still reeling. This is probably not even going to be coherent, but here we go.
I've been to walks, I've been to fundraisers, and I kinda thought I was a little inured to the special needs community by this point. You know, settled in--like this was becoming old hat. Comfortable, even.
No big deal.
Tonight, though, turned all of that on its head. I showed up drained from a hot day spent in New Orleans, thinking I would just wander around with my camera, get some practice in, maybe catch up with some people, and hopefully get home in time to hit the sack a little early.
From the first, though, it was just different. I've gotten a little hyper-sensitive to people's reactions to special needs kids, particularly my own. I'm always looking for the puzzled frown, the rolling eyes, the impatience at the struggles with simple tasks so easy for everyone else. There was NONE of that from the staff at this water park.
The head honcho of the park chatted with me casually as I snapped away at the long (LONG) line of people waiting to get in. He joked around with kids waiting impatiently. He smiled at frazzled mamas. He and the army of life guards who were on duty for this thing never batted an eye at anything or anyone there that night. The facility didn't make a penny of profit from this, although they closed the park early to admit a group of almost 500 people--all individuals or family and friends of those with special needs.
There were specially designed water wheelchairs to allow those with physical handicaps to navigate through the water.
Aside from the amazing-ness of the staff, there were the families, guys. Parents were able to relax and just let their kids play, without having to bristle at judgmental looks from other people, or worry about whether or not what their child was doing was socially acceptable. Siblings were able to just have fun and not feel pressured to constantly run interference for their brothers and sisters.
I was struck again tonight by the feeling of privilege in belonging to this community. I left humbled tonight, guys. Neurotypical siblings giving their special needs brothers and sisters piggyback rides, helping them down slides, really ENJOYING their company in a non-judgmental environment--without a shred of discomfort or impatience.
I can't wait to go through these pictures.
Aspects of this special needs community can be HARD.
But good GOD, does the fire of it forge some amazing people.