Not every fairy story ends happily ever after but fear not, this one does so you are safe to read on. A few months ago the owner of our local cafe, Jollytots and Cookies, announced on their Facebook page that they were going to host a series of Princess and Princes parties featuring afternoon tea, the Disney Princesses and a sparkly dance floor. Lyla loves a Disney princess and she really loves a party so I knew she would love this but I was hesitant about booking.
Most little girls love Disney princesses and would give their best tiaras to dress up for a day and dance with princesses, so I knew the sessions were likely to be fully booked and busy. Busy means not much room for Lyla’s wheelchair stroller and not much chance of her getting around to dance and see the Princesses, at least not without knocking some fellow mini-Princesses out of the way.
I messaged the owner, Gail, who is so lovely and incredibly community spirited. This is a lady who amongst other wonderful things, opens her cafe every year on Christmas Day and hosts a full on party, free of charge, for those who would otherwise be going without. I asked if she would consider hosting a party specifically for kids with special needs. Within minutes she had answered me and said, absolutely, why not? It was a goer, a quick shout out on Facebook to check demand and the party was on.
Lyla doesn’t have one of the traditional Disney princess dresses because I think the fabric they are all made of would be really uncomfortable to be sitting on for long periods of time, plus most of them would be way too big for a her wee body. Not to be outshone Lyla wore her best sparkly party dress and headband. I swear I nearly cried when the Princesses started coming out from behind the curtain and pouring juice for all the kids. Lyla’s face was an absolute picture, she was so excited to be there and so excited to see all the princesses.
During the amazing singing by Princess Jasmine, Lyla was able to get right in there with the other kids and she was able to move around the dance floor busting out her moves with the Princesses and Princes. She was loving it, her smile was amazing.
Not everything was perfect, because that’s life, so we weren’t able to access the Photo Booth and the face painter had to come out to us because both of these were in an area that wasn’t accessible for Lyla’s chair. This was due to a massive pillar which isn’t exactly easy to change so totally understandable and it certainly didn’t affect our day. Lyla was left grinning from ear to ear with a face covered in Frozen themed face paint.
Afterwards I thought about inclusion and whether I should have booked us into one of the other parties rather than asking for a separate one. Does this go against the idea of inclusion? I was really struggled with this question until Gail mentioned that the other parties had been very busy, with twice as many kids. I realised that Lyla really wouldn’t have been included, in fact she would have been unintentionally excluded. There wouldn’t have been the room for her to get close to the Princesses with the other kids during the singing time and there wouldn’t have been space for her chair to safely move on the dance floor.
Lyla is only 4 and I’m in the early days of understanding inclusion but I’m learning that inclusion doesn’t always look how I think it will. For Lyla to have the same experience as the other kids at the Princesses and Princes parties she needed to be in an adapted environment with less people rather than being included with the kids in the standard party.
My Princess had a brilliant time, she loved it and I was so pleased that Gail had taken the chance and held a party for the kids who deserved the same experience in a different environment.
Since the party Gail has held two further events for families of kids with additional needs at Jollytots and Cookies to come along for two hours when the cafe was closed, to have dinner, a play and a chat. For kids like Lyla who need more space and for many kids with sensory disorders or autism the chance to play in a soft play area or their sensory room doesn’t come around very often so these events were very special.
For many of the parents it was the first time they had been able to take their children somewhere like this and watch them play while they had a coffee. Being able to meet other parents and siblings in similar situations was fantastic for us. Gail hopes to hold these events on a regular basis which is music to the ears of those parents experience extreme isolation due to their children’s additional needs. Well done Gail and the team at Jollytots and Cookies, we are so lucky to have you on our doorstep.