The Eli's Park Project
Liam and Eli's Lesson
After an hour-long session of physical therapy, I followed Eli down the long hallway of the UW Medical Center to the elevator. The ride from the 9th floor down to the parking garage was never long enough for Eli and he started signing “more” before the elevator doors were all the way open. I stuck out my arm to catch the door as Eli ran onto the elevator with reckless abandon. By the time I had a chance to look up and notice the little boy sitting in his wheelchair, Eli was already there. Three inches from his face. Holding up his talker
“Hi, my name is Eli.” The robotic voice coming from the device was a stark contrast from the delight on Eli’s face. I smiled at the boy’s mom. A little apologetic, a little embarrassed, totally unsure. I wondered if it was hard for her to watch her boy unable to communicate. To see other kids overcome obstacles that her boy would never surmount. To see Eli’s smile and warm personality and know her boy would never form close relationships with kids his age. As a mother of a child with a disability, I understood the worry and fear that comes with taking your sweet child out into a world that might not love them. And here we were. Standing together in an elevator and I couldn’t think of anything to say.
“What is your name?” the voice from Eli’s talker interrupted my thoughts. I started to reach for Eli when a quiet voice said, “Liam” and the biggest, brightest smile broke out on the boy’s face.
I felt the beauty of this small moment briefly before I was overcome with shame. I knew better. Eli had already shown me that limits are imaginary, that boundaries only exist if we believe them, that ability isn’t always obvious from a quick glance. Yet I saw a wheelchair and almost missed the smart, beautiful, funny boy sitting in it.
Since then, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Liam. A skilled communicator. A conqueror of barriers. A boy whose laughter feels like sunlight on your face. A boy so loving and so loved. A boy who just happens to have Cerebral Palsy.
I know I still have biases. But, thanks to Liam and Eli I spot them more often. I fight hard against them. And, most importantly, when I’m totally unsure and can’t think of anything to say, I just start with, “Hi, my name is Paige. What’s your name?”