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What do you see?

What you perceive as reality is not necessarily what reality is. As a parent of a child with special needs, I have learned in some humorous, and sometimes not so humorous ways to process facts a little more slowly to arrive at the right conclusion.

My son, Kemsi has mild cerebral palsy with moderate intellectual disability. This diagnosis does not mean that he is devoid of intelligence. It just means that his worldview is different. He does not generally arrive at the same conclusions as the neurotypical individual would. In many ways he gets to skip the boundaries that often confine us from making new friends and garnering new experiences. He just goes ahead and makes new friends or creates new experiences.

So, this happened last week when I took my son to ride his brand new bicycle. My sister gifted him the bike he has wanted for a while on his 9th birthday. His birthday was just a few days before so he was naturally still very excited for his shiny, new bike. As we crossed the road that leads away from the housing complex that we live in, my son who loves all things cars (especially patrol cars and school buses), sees a police officer fly past in pursuit of an offender. Patrol lights on, the whole works. For my son, it was an incredible excitement! An opportunity perhaps to be a part of history “catching the bad guys” as he often lets me know his job as a police officer is when we role play at home. In my adult mind, I’ll admit, I was a bit apprehensive about what the scene would present ahead where the patrol car had successfully pulled over the offender. My first thought was to turn around just in case there was a shootout! Oh come on my friend! Don’t pretend I’m the only one with an overactive imagination. The world is full of strange occurrences these days. Anyhow, my son was cycling harder than I could keep up with on foot from behind. I was forced to run in that direction to catch up with him.

By the time I caught up, Kemsi had come to a halt and was perched on his bicycle staring at the cop and the offender who had alighted from the car. The exchange between them was fascinating to him. I asked him to move along because it is rude to stand and stare. He adamantly refused, telling me to please stop yelling at him. He does this often when he is displeased with my excited tone delivering contrary instructions. The cop noticed our exchange across the road and asked if there was an issue. I responded in the negative and apologized for my son stopping to stare. I let him know of his fascination with cop cars to which the cop kindly responded that we could stop by when we circled back up the hill to get a sticker. We both took off excited by this show of kindness.

In usual Kemsi style, he met a couple of kids down the block who were also on their bikes and he asked to race with them. No qualms about making new friends. We spent about 15 mins riding with them and then started the journey back home. Fortunately, the policeman was just rounding up with the offender so we waited patiently on the other side of road . The officer came across the road with a sticker for my Kemsi but now he wanted a ride in the patrol car! How on earth do I ever stop this child from “embarrassing me?”.  I said nope! Not happening my Love. We have “intruded” enough. Let’s keep going. Kemsi said never mind, I’ll just ask the officer myself. Before I could stop him, he just went ahead and asked. The officer said he couldn’t put Kemsi in the car but asked if we lived in the row of houses close by? I responded affirmatively and he asked us to meet him over there and he would show Kemsi what the patrol car does.

Needless to say, Kemsi left me with the bicycle and ran all the way home! When I caught up with both of them, the patrol car was parked at the entrance of the complex with the car turned off. The officer let me know that the car was turned off and safe for him to be in. I thanked him for his kindness. And my Kemsi who knows how to make the most of opportunities he’s given asked how to turn the sirens on. The officer showed him and boy! Did my son go to town!

But, the best and most important part of the story was when he asked how the public address system worked! Kemsi turned the sirens on and completely went to town with it! The now empowered “officer Kemsi” was yelling into the PA system, “Put your hands up where I can see them! Get down now! You are under arrest!”

My Sister who we have been with through the pandemic, ran out of the house with her slippers barely on. As an adult, she shared my worldview. All she knew was that her baby sister and beloved nephew were out on the streets and a shootout about to ensue! The panic on her face was palpable as she ran around the corner! To make things worse from where she was looking, all my Sis could see was the top of my head and no Kemsi in sight! Just imagine what was going through her head! My Mom who is also visiting and is a generally anxious person, followed suit so panicked that she forgot that she still had a hair bonnet on. Her anxiety overtook her body and she had to run back to pee! She screamed for my Dad who is generally very calm but on this occasion was overcome with fear. I have to mention at this point that we are of Nigerian origin. My Dad ran out with a big piece of fabric called a wrapper, wound round his waist! You can imagine how funny he must have looked running out of the house this way in North America. The entire household was staging a search and rescue mission while myself and Kemsi were howling in enjoyment and having the time of our lives!

Finally, after what must have seemed like an eternity to my Sister, she made it to the patrol car. What she found was that I was out of sight because I had parked my son’s bike beside the patrol car and was seated on it. Neither did she sight Kemsi from afar because he was seated in the patrol car yelling over the PA! His Aunt was almost in tears to find we were okay, while Kemsi gleefully yelled, “Aunty look at me!”. The big, bad officer was having the time of his life yelling over that PA!

I thanked the officer and told Kemsi it was time to go home. By now I was doubled over in laughter as my Sister explained the saga that had ensued at home over the anticipation of a shootout while we were out on the streets. The unlikelihood of what they were thinking never occurred to my family as they, like me follow a very typical thought process.

Living in my son’s world has allowed me the luxury of having the most atypical and often humorous experiences. This day was one of them. It is a memory I will remember fondly, laugh over and remember the lessons from long after he is a grown man!

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