If people in our neighbourhood don’t know us because of our dog, Luna, they know us as The-house-with-the-disabled-kids. It’s a label used – instead of our names – that I can only laugh at because I can’t do much to change it.
If people in our neighbourhood don’t know us because of our dog, Luna, they know us as The-house-with-the-disabled-kids. It’s a label used – instead of our names – that I can only laugh at because I can’t do much to change it. We have the tallest garage in the neighbourhood that holds one of the tallest vans in the neighbourhood, and we have a wheelchair lift attached to our front porch. When the girls are outside in their wheelchairs with the feed pumps on the IV poles, we get gawker traffic. If the nurse takes one of the girls for a walk and drops a bib, someone is bound to find it and drop it in our mailbox.
We’ve been a part of our neighbourhood since 2003 and have loved it from the start. We outgrew the first house and bought a larger home, two corners over. Moving just seven doors away meant four people could walk our swingset down the street to our new backyard. I carried our snowman from the old front lawn to the new one, prompted by my then five-year-old who wept when she realized we were leaving her snowy friend behind on our scheduled moving day.
We’ve got a neighbour who rakes our leaves each autumn and regularly brings us cupcakes and cinnamon buns. We have a vigilante traffic cop neighbour who is quick to holler profanity at the cars who speed down our street. Another neighbour often stops by to charge her electric scooter and sip a cup of tea. She comes when we least expect it; hospitality can be inconvenient, but it is necessary. Then there’s my East African neighbour with four beautiful children, determined to complete her high school diploma. I teach her about the schwa sound, and she tells me stories of fleeing Rwanda. I think I’m the one learning.
A story behind it
When we renovated our house to accommodate for Rachel and Janneke’s needs, local neighbours worked alongside subcontractors. Part of our renovation included a deck in the backyard. We wanted it to be a sheltered, accessible space that included a second exit from the home. The trouble was, the girls could roll onto the deck with their wheelchairs, but they couldn’t get off the porch down to the ground. We didn’t have enough yard for a ramp, so we would need a second porch lift.
We began to price out porch lifts, only to discover they were not affordable. One night, The-flower-planter-on-the-porch-lift neighbour came to mind. You see, we often walked past a house that had flower planters sitting on a porch lift. Given how often we accessed our own front porch lift, we knew this neighbour wasn’t using their lift. After some thought, we decided to leave a short note in their mailbox inquiring of their lift.
Not long after the note was dropped in the mailbox, I received a phone call. The caller referred to our note and asked if he and his wife could visit to learn more about our inquiry. They met Rachel and Janneke and shared about their own family. They also had a daughter with special needs. We chatted together; it was amazing how easily we could connect with this couple in spite of the fact we just met.
Our time together was sweet but not without sorrow, as they shared that their daughter had died not long ago. We now understood the flower planters on their lift. We wondered where our meeting would go from this point.
We were humbled and moved as the couple shared with us they intended to gift us the porch lift. We simply needed to find a team of technicians to disassemble it at their house and then assemble it at our house.
The bittersweet part in accepting the gift was knowing the story behind it. I promised that I would plant a flower in memory of their daughter in our yard. Now each time I step onto that porch lift, I think of that family.
As I walk through my neighbourhood with Luna, I wonder what stories live behind the doors and windows. It’s tempting to leave them with the labels we give them . . .