I wandered into Target on a Wednesday afternoon for the same reason any mother does—to hit up Starbucks and the dollar bins and the sales rack all while my son, Charlie, played with a toy we would be “renting” for the duration of this visit.

Charlie is six and tall for his age, like Gumby tall, and Target is one of the few places he still fits buckled in to the top of the shopping cart. Charlie also has cerebral palsy, and so I count it as a win when I don’t have to haul his wheelchair out of the van and try to steer both him and the cart like pinballs down the aisle. 

We had just rounded the women’s accessories (yes, I did buy that $19 watch) and were on our way to the toy section, when a sign above the kids’ clothing caught my eye. At first I couldn’t figure out why. But then it happened . . . Charlie smiled and clapped and pointed at it. He laughed and signed “more”.

The boy on the sign in the trendy camo pants and cap also had a walker.

I had paused because I had seen our “normal” in a place I had never seen it before.

I watched Charlie watch the sign. I watched the recognition of kin for kin, like for like. And it was beautiful. Yes, I started crying in the aisle. Yes, other people stopped and looked. And then they looked at the sign and they smiled. It was such an unexpected moment of connectedness among strangers in the middle of Target in the middle of a week on an otherwise ordinary day.

I spend so much mental, emotional, and physical effort making sure Charlie is included at school, at church, on the playground, and at the restaurant that it was with a surreal sense of relief that I realized here, at least, he already was. It was like finding that Caroline Cart at Kroger or that handicap swing at the park—it was evidence that someone had gone before and made a way for us. Not everything had to be hard. We did not always have to be the first to break boundaries or forge a new path through the jungle of the able-bodied world. For once, a track had already been laid.

We took our time in the toy aisle that day and we made three trips past the sign so Charlie could wave at it. It sounds like such a small thing, but for us it is a nod from the world that we are being acknowledge and supported.  It’s just the beginning, I hope. I hope more disabilities and special needs pop up in clothing ads and commercials and on mainstream tv. But for now, I am so grateful to Target for making a start and for making us feel at home.

Jamie Sumner

Jamie Sumner is the author of the middle-grade novel, Roll with It. Her second and third middle-grade novels with Atheneum Books for Young Readers will be coming out in 2020 and 2021. She is also the author of the nonfiction book on motherhood, Unboundand the forthcoming bookEat, Sleep, Save the Worldfor parents of children with special needs. She is also mom to a son with cerebral palsy and she writes and speaks about disability in literature. She loves stories that celebrate the grit and beauty in all kids. She and her family live in Nashville, Tennessee. Connect with her at Jamie-Sumner.com