Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Where Are They All Going?

My mom and I sometimes comment about all the traffic we see, and wonder, where are they all going? The past week, David and I were in New York City for Anat Baniel Method sessions with Marcy Lindheimer. Our nanny Myrian and her daughters, Michelle and Daniela accompanied us. We experienced a week full of traffic and many other exciting things. This is a blog post about where we were going, or rather, how we got to where we were going.

I can safely say that David has used more modes of transportation in his almost four years than I did before I was twenty years old. In the past week, he has been on airplanes, buses, a taxi, a ferry, subways, escalators, elevators and stairs. I think I covered it all. Add a stroller to the equation, and it really becomes an adventure with various handicap gates, lifts, and alternate routes. I feel like I have some pretty good mass-transit experience under my belt at this point. Let me start at the beginning.

We were set to depart from Houston Hobby and land in Newark. The first step is unloading and checking in and going through security. It is challenging just doing this on my own. Getting through with a child that has special needs and medical equipment is a whole different ballgame. But we did it. And I was proud of myself...until I missed pre-boarding.  I had my pass and everything, but somehow managed to miss the line. In the regular line, the attendants at the gate were not helpful at all and it just snowballed from there. As I was trying to get David out of his stroller with my bags and the suction machine at the airplane door, I felt as if we were being stampeded by passengers. I got to the back of the plane and explained his needs to the flight attendants. Already flustered from what had just happened, my frustration was exacerbated by the efforts of the staff. They did not understand David's needs. They were trying to get me to put him in his own seat when he is unable to sit up or control his head. He was already crying and upset and needing a lot of suctioning, and they were buckling on seatbelt extenders and giving instructions the whole time. David and I really just needed a few minutes to get it together, but we forged through the misunderstandings and finally the plane was in the air and David was content.

From there we took a minivan taxi to our apartment on West 47th Street. Once Myrian, the girls, and David and I got unpacked, I began searching for the best route to Marcy's practice, which is close to 73rd Street. Our first attempt at it was via the subway. Having been to New York before, I was used to finding routes to where I needed to go. With David in his stroller, this changed. First we had to figure out how to get through the gates. At some stations, we let the attendant know we needed to get him through in the stroller and swipe the card, then go through the emergency door. In others, there was no attendant, so Myrian and the girls would go through and let us in the door from the other side. Step one: success.

New York Subway Map. We were all over the place.

The next step was easy enough, with all of us getting on and off at the appropriate times. Well, I say easy, but sometimes, it was pretty crowded. Once, the stroller got stuck in the closing doors. My stomach just about jumped into my throat, but we managed to get out. A nice policeman let us know that there was no elevator at this station and gave us some tips for getting the stroller up and down stairs. So I hiked up my maxi skirt and we continued on. Step two: got it down.

Ah, the subway.

But wait, there were many more stations. Some with elevators and some with only stairs and some had escalators. Our first encounter with an escalator involved us sizing things up, determining if it was doable. We opted out and took the stairs again. One day, was saw a woman get her stroller on so we decided to go for it. Success!  Of course, the elevator was usually preferred. By the end of the week, we became pros at getting around this way. I use the word preferred, but let me talk about the subway elevators for a second. Handicap access in the subway equals stinky. Hot. Elevators. It is like a sauna, but with the dank aroma of urine, sweat and who knows what else. Everyone is packed in like sardines, so I picked up a fan from a street vendor that came in handy. At the South Ferry station, we were exiting an elevator, and a lady who I'm sure was a tourist, saw us and asked if we saw a pacifier. Michelle picked it up and handed it to her as she held her baby in the other arm. I though about telling her, "You might just want to throw that thing away," but before I had time to let her know that few dollars worth of rubber wasn't worth it, she was off in another direction. At least the puddles weren't fresh in that one.

Sign on a subway elevator. 

After talking to Marcy about our transportation endeavors, we took her advice and tried the metro bus.   It took a few times to figure out the most efficient way to get on. I used my phone to find the bus stops and times. But explaining David's needs to the drivers was a challenge. They can see the stroller before they pull up to the stop and they can also see that we aren't making any efforts to get David out and fold it up. You never know what attitude they will take toward all this. After a few encounters, I found the following to be most effective: 1) Get on the bus with no visual association with a stroller.  2) Mention "disabled child."  3) Mention wheelchair and brakes. This worked...most of the time. During the week, we encountered two women and two men drivers who refused to let us on without folding up the stroller. One time, it seemed like a stalemate. I told the woman "We'll wait for another bus." She hesitated, mouth open, looking at the stroller. And I repeated, "We'll wait." And so we did.

Ultimately, we ended up taking the bus for David's sessions. The conversation required to get on got me thinking about things. For instance, the word "disabled".  I have never really had to use it before. I don't see David as disabled. I think he is very able. Is this denial on my part? Does using this word frequently change that? I don't like including these in my vocabulary, but hey, we got on the bus.

Our first time using the lift.

We got on the bus, we got on the train, we got around Manhattan. During the process, we worked together like a NASCAR pit crew. Between Myrian, Michelle, Daniella and me, we made David as comfortable as possible as he experienced the city. We were feeding, wiping, pouring, suctioning, hopping on/off various forms of transportation in a sophisticated dance that sometimes attracted curious and occasionally sympathetic, onlookers. David had many meals all over Manhattan. He was fascinated by the subway and even more so by all the people and traffic while we were walking around the city.

My Bids, a pro on the subway!

Transferring at Grand Central Station
Getting around Manhattan

Last week, we learned a lot. We got lost on a regular basis, which means we became more experienced. One night, after visiting the Brooklyn Bridge, we ended up in Queens. We took the 7 train going the wrong direction and arrived in Queens before we realized it. We had a good laugh. And that makes the difference. We could have been stressed out with all the challenges we met while learning to navigate an unfamiliar place. Instead, we laughed about it, and congratulated ourselves when we were successful. I am deeply grateful to Myrian and her girls. What a blessing. They were impressive in their abilities and certainly a joy throughout the week!

Last week was an adventure, and like ABM, a learning experience. It really is all about attitude.
The trip home was the smoothest anyone could ask for. The security staff were courteous and we were not rushed. I made it to the pre-boarding line on time. We ate overpriced airport breakfasts and charged the suction machine, then boarded the plane back to Houston. Those are the ins and outs of our trip. Stay tuned for the meat of things: the amazing transformations that took place during David's ABM sessions with Marcy.

We made it to Marcy's!

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