I have written many times about the benefit of recreation for our son, Eddie, and for kids like him. I’ve talked about exposure to activities so he can simply learn how to have fun. Recently, we went on a family bike ride with our close friends, and the benefits were even more than we expected.
We live in the Pacific Northwest, and we’ve heard many rave reviews about the Hiawatha trail. It’s a bike ride on the Montana/Idaho border that follows an old train route. It goes through tunnels, over train tressels, and the entire path is downhill. Based on the "downhill" part, we knew it could be a good fit for Eddie… and if I’m being honest, for me too.
We loaded up the bike we received from the NW Association for Blind Athletes and the Pacific Foundation for Blind Children, packed ample snacks, and embarked on our adventure. Eddie enjoyed the 15-mile ride, and many people stopped to ask questions about his cool bike. He really loved the tunnels and would call out to hear the different echo sounds.
I loved being outside with our family and with our friends. I loved feeling like all the other families on the trail, spending time with our kids, and making memories. I was reminded that we can get out and have adventures and that the biggest thing holding us back is us. When picking family outings, we simply need to ask, "How will we include Eddie?" We need to stop asking, "Should we include Eddie?"
Affirmation of this thought came not in the bike ride or the fun group lunch we had afterward. Affirmation actually came during the car ride home. Eddie was sitting in the back seat of our pick-up, and I heard his younger sister, CC, talking to him. What caught my attention was not that CC was talking because that happens all the time; I was surprised because she was talking to Eddie, and Eddie was responding.
CC wanted to sing some songs, and she was asking Eddie which ones. When she got the verse wrong, he corrected her, and she paid attention to him. She started singing songs that required two people to participate, and Eddie joined right in.
I forgot that the greatest benefit of including our kids with special needs is that other kids see them as equals. Even their own siblings. After spending a day riding bikes with Eddie, CC saw him as capable. Not only as a recreation partner but as somebody to play with in the car. As her equal.
You might think that this would come naturally for siblings, but it doesn’t work that way for us. Yes, there are moments, and those moments literally stop time. As CC and Eddie played in the backseat, James and I locked eyes and smiled… and it felt like the perfect day.