Jiminy Cricket has been my mom’s traveling buddy for twenty-four years! He sits on the back of the headrest on her wheelchair and is a great conversation starter. Let me tell you the story of how this came to be!
When my mom became fully dependent on the power wheelchair it was sudden and unexpected. But that part of the story is for another time! When she came home from the hospital she knew that a service dog would be in her future. But she didn’t know how long it would be before that happened. At first she was just adjusting to all of the changes that had happened. It took some time for her to get used to navigating through her days while using a wheelchair. When she went shopping or to restaurants or to appointments she was feeling a little out of place because everything was so new for her.
Have you ever been out in public when you have seen someone that made you feel a little uncomfortable or unsure because they looked different than you? Do you think it would have been easier to talk with them, or to the person you were with, if you had seen something more familiar or that you recognized? Because of using a wheelchair my mom expected that this might be true.
My mom was quite sure that people were probably not going to come up to her and tell her what a nice wheelchair she had. Although even her first wheelchair was quite awesome! But they might feel more comfortable if there was something that was a little easier for them to use as a way to start a conversation. Something special on her chair that would stand out. She hadn’t decided just what she wanted but was sure she would know as soon as she spotted it.
My mom, dad, and brother Eric went on their very first vacation together as a family to Walt Disney World. At this point my mom had only been using a wheelchair for a short while. She was still looking for that special ‘something’ to put on her chair. While at Disney she saw a stuffed Jiminy Cricket and immediately knew she had found the perfect addition!
When they got home my dad attached Jiminy to the headrest. My mom noticed right away when she would be out in public that people were much quicker to talk with her. She would hear them say things like “I love Jiminy Cricket!” or “Jiminy is my favorite character.” Or they would say to their kids “look, there is Jiminy Cricket.” These beginning words would lead to interactions that made my mom feel more connected with others.
Jiminy has helped people see beyond my mom’s disability and her wheelchair. He has helped initiate a conversation that may not have otherwise happened. This interaction and feeling of inclusion has worked in much the same ways as when she is with a service dog.
Toward the end of that first year of my mom being in the chair she got her first service dog. She quickly found that a service dog not only provided the help she needed to be more independent. But also companionship, unconditional love, and a way to break down the social barriers that could easily cause exclusion for a person with a disability.
When my mom and I are out in public people easily say hello as they pass us. Or they stop and talk with us if there is time. People who may not feel as comfortable interacting with my mom if she were by herself are quick to do so when they see me. I provide a bridge to that community of people who may otherwise feel uncomfortable with my mom being in a power wheelchair and on a ventilator. My mom says that I make her feel more connected with the people we encounter. But I think her warm and welcoming smile also helps people feel more comfortable!
My mom loves to talk with people and share the powerful impact a service dog can have on a person with a disability. If you ever see us please stop and say hello. I also love it when people tell me how beautiful I am. And what an awesome job I’m doing for my mom!
In the fall of 2013 I went on my first trip to Walt Disney World with my mom and dad. I had gone there before with my puppy raisers. I was ready to show my mom all of the fun things we could do together! But my dad was way ahead of me with creating some magical fun! He had planned some extra special events for my mom. One of the things he did was arrange a private birthday party with Jiminy Cricket! She was so surprised and honored to be sharing the evening with Jiminy. It was a wonderful celebration that she will cherish forever! The above photo is of me and my mom with Jiminy Cricket at the start of the party I was checking him out but soon realized he was just as awesome as my mom had told me!
Here I am shaking hands with Jiminy Cricket!