I stand behind them in the checkout aisle. It is a youth group, or maybe it’s a class trip. Either way, I know that they are excited to be on vacation because one boy actually shouts, “I’M SO EXCITED TO BE ON VACATION!”
The boy who hollers is using crutches, the kind that clasp to his arms. He is using a cheerful voice and from what I gather, he is excited to be on vacation.
The adult chaperone who accompanies the kids looks stressed out. There is a look adults often wear when they are responsible for large groups of kids. It’s a look I can spot from a mile away because I have been a youth-group chaperone before.
Going anywhere with a large clot of young people is a test of your humanity. You can not walk into a grocery store without kids running the aisles like rabid cats.
And when you finally find the miniature heathens, usually they’re doing something like playing a game of Butt Swat in the produce section. The rules of Butt Swat are unclear to me, but apparently the game involves stalks of celery being used as weapons.
But these kids aren’t like that. They are happy kids, and well-behaved. They wear matching yellow T-shirts, and they smile a lot.
I talk to Peter, who is head chaperone.
“We’re from Atlanta,” he says. “We’re here at the beach for a vacation, these kids deserve a little fun.”
Peter explains that they are a homeschool group of kids who all have something in common.
“Most of our kids are differently abled,” says Peter. “We don’t like the term ‘disabled.’ We teach our kids not to use it.”
A few in the group have cerebral palsy, another has a congenital heart defect, others face mental health issues, and some children have mild autism.
“We’re a wild and crazy group is what we are,” adds Peter. “Any day we avoid burning down the house is a good day.”
I notice other people in our checkout line, too. The man behind me, for instance, holds his infant daughter. He tells me he is from North Carolina. He is in the military, and he hasn’t had a vacation since he can remember.
His wife is at home and had to work this week.
“She’s a nurse” he says. “She had to bail on us, last minute. Someone’s gotta earn a living.”
In another cashier line is a family of Russians. At least I think they are a family. I know they are Russian because I speak a little Russian.
I can say, “spasibo,” which means “thank you.” And “lokot” which means “elbow.”
I hear “spasibo” a thousand times among the group. From what I can tell—and this is only a guess—they are all contributing money for groceries.
I count four women, three men, and three children. They are all young, and each of them, except for the kids, wears a work uniform. One man appears to work at Burger King, another at a gas station.
When it is time for them to checkout, the family makes a pile of cash on the counter. The cashier tells them that they are a few dollars short. So one of the children digs into his pocket and takes care of it.
“Spasibo,” everyone says to the kid.
The boy in front of me, the one with crutches, asks where I’m from.
I point to the east wall. “I live a few miles down the road.”
“Really? I wish I lived somewhere with a beach.”
“Not during spring break you don’t.”
“I’m excited to be on vacation.”
“You mentioned that.”
Something about this kid makes me smile. I don’t know what it is.
He tells me he has cerebral palsy. Then he says, “I see the world from a different point of view than other people because of my CP.”
I ask him what he means.
“Well, like, you know, you probably think it’s just no big deal going walking, but not me. Walking is so fun. I can’t always walk good because sometimes my legs get spastic and stuff, but when I can it’s fun.”
“Yeah,” adds a teenage girl who also has mild cerebral palsy. “Walking is the best.”
We are interrupted by loud voices behind us.
The man from North Carolina is on a video phone call. He is waving his baby’s hand at the cellphone. “We miss you, Mommy!” he says.
The Russians are pushing a cart together, laughing. A kid is riding on the front. And none of them are playing on phones.
The cashier finishes ringing up groceries and reads the total to the chaperones.
The boy on crutches pays the cashier. The chaperones don’t offer to help, even though it appears to be a struggle for the boy.
When the boy finishes paying, the cashier hands the boy change, and if you’ve ever seen a kid more proud, I wouldn’t believe it.
The group of teenagers leaves the store. Some are running. Some are skipping. And I can see the boy with crutches walking through the parking lot on his own two legs.
I know he’s happy because I overhear him say, “I’m excited to be on vacation.”
And I’m excited for him, too.