Special Moms Who Changed the Way Families Shop
Warrior moms. We’ve always been there. Fighting for our kids. Protecting them. Providing for them. Defending their rights. Especially mothers like us: mothers of children with special needs. We are the voice for our children who have no voice of their own. We will fight for them. With all our strength. For as long as we have breath.
It may sound a little dramatic, but I can tell you from personal experience that when it comes to my daughter, I fight fiercely for her every day. Just yesterday I was fighting for her at a doctor’s office. Last week I was fighting for her with an insurance company. As special needs moms, we are willing to set our own needs aside completely in order to fight for what our kids need.
One huge issue that many special needs mothers run into is how to safely take our “special” kiddos grocery shopping. Shopping for groceries is such a basic need. We all do it. Usually multiple times a week.
So, the question is this: how do you shop successfully with an atypical child. What do you do when you need to push both a wheelchair and a heavy cart full of groceries? What do you do when your child no longer fits into the baby seat of a typical grocery cart, but will wreak havoc if they are allowed to roam freely.
This battle is one that I fought as a mother for years. My particular experience is that I have a child who has Down syndrome, epilepsy, a severe cognitive impairment, and autism. My 12-year-old daughter has the ability to walk, for the most part. When I allow her to walk around a store, however, she will automatically grab anything that looks appealing to her and throw it across the aisle, therefore showing me that she is either angry or would like me to purchase said product. I still struggle with interpreting her little tantrums. Such is the life.
She quickly grew too large to fit in the small infant seat that typical grocery carts are equipped with. I could have placed her in her wheelchair and pulled it behind me while pushing our grocery cart ahead, but let me tell you: I’m no superwoman. The thought alone brought me to tears. In the end, my answer to our dilemma was to either shop at midnight when my husband was home, or to pay for a respite worker every time I needed to go to the store. That solution got frustrating and expensive very quickly.
You can imagine my extreme pleasure when the “Caroline’s Cart” was finally introduced to some of our local stores. Caroline’s Carts are specifically designed for older children with special needs. There is a large safety seat placed in the front of the cart that allows you to buckle an older child or adult in place, and then continue your shopping. What an amazing creation!
It seems like such a simple thought, but let me tell you… the creator of Caroline’s Cart went through a whole lot of work before the finished product came to our local grocery stores.
Drew Ann Long from Alabama, mother of Caroline, finally decided she had had enough of this particular frustration. Caroline has Rett syndrome, and grocery shopping for both Drew Ann and Caroline was as difficult as it is for any of us “special” moms. After tiring of this particular dilemma, Drew Ann went home and drew the first sketch of what is now known as “Caroline’s Cart.” Her dream was to create a shopping cart that would provide a safe and comfortable experience for the family of an older child with special needs. What she ended up creating exceeded even her dreams.
It was a long and arduous process. Drew Ann is the ultimate warrior mom if there ever was one. It was years between the bloom of her first idea and the reality of these special needs carts actually becoming available in stores. That didn’t matter to this warrior mom, though. She kept at it until the job was done and her dream was fulfilled.
Not all stores were receptive to this idea at first. Their argument was that there really wasn’t a big market for such a cart, in regards to the cost. This is where warrior moms across the country came in. Caroline’s Cart first started to receive recognition through a small grass roots campaign. Drew Ann made a Facebook page to share awareness, and it spread like wildfire from there. It was slow going at the very beginning, and only a few, small, locally-owned stores jumped on board. After a while, though, as awareness spread, mothers across the country began liking and sharing the information about this Facebook page and Drew Ann’s fantastic new invention.
One such mother is Ashley Stegg, a Michigan native with a special needs daughter of her own. Ashley caught wind of this specialized shopping cart and put her own amazing warrior mom skills to the test. She went to work, informing the large chain, Meijer, of the need for these carts in their stores. It was a long and exhausting battle, but after literal years of work and campaigning, there is now at least one Caroline’s Cart in most Meijer stores throughout multiple states.
Target, Home Depot, Kroger, Publix and Walmart are among other chain stores that have jumped on this much-needed bandwagon, much to the relief of “special” moms across America. Better yet, these carts are spreading to other countries as well.
Drew Ann, warrior mom number one, decided that something needed to be done about this grocery shopping dilemma, so she did it. She created what was necessary, and in doing so changed the lives of special needs families everywhere. Ashley, warrior mom number two, didn’t stop until her grocery store of choice provided this specialty cart. A cart that she and her daughter so desperately-needed. In doing so, she also changed the lives of Meijer shoppers across the country, including our little family. Grocery shopping with my daughter used to be a dreaded battle which generally ended in tears for the both of us. Thanks to both Drew Ann and Ashley, I can now take my daughter grocery shopping with ease. My little girl runs straight to the Caroline’s Cart at our local Meijer store in her adorably lopsided gait, and eagerly climbs into the seat which was made for someone just like her. She’s safe and happy, and I’m able to shop for groceries without a battling a child who thinks that every edible item on the shelves was placed there for her snacking pleasure. I cannot thank these two women enough for the difference they have made in our lives.
This is the power of a warrior mom. We are the voice for our voiceless children. We are their advocates. The world is slowly changing and becoming more and more aware of the needs that come along with raising a “special” kiddo. This change is happening because of warrior moms around the world. We are learning to stand up and speak out. If a need exists, then create a solution. If a solution exists, yet isn’t available in your area, fight until it becomes available.
Life with a special needs child is difficult. Sometimes difficult to the point where we feel helplessly overwhelmed as parents. It’s OK to be frustrated. It’s OK to be overwhelmed. We are human and these are human feelings. It’s also important to know, however, that there is hope beyond the hurt. It is time for us to arm up and prepare for battle. It is time for us to become warriors for our children. If special needs parents around the world arm up and prepare to battle for our children, who knows the kind of differences we can make. The world has already changed so much over the last decade or so. Let’s see how much more change we can inspire. Tally-ho, warrior moms!
Emily Davidson is married and the mother of three children, residing in Kalamazoo, MI. She is a classically trained pianist by trade. Her oldest child, Alexis, has multiple diagnoses which include Down syndrome, West syndrome, and autism.
This article was featured in Issue 58 – The Greatest Love of All: Family