Wednesday, November 5, 2014

AIPAC Conference, Dallas 2014: The Invite

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A really beautiful invitation was extended for our family to attend the AIPAC Conference in Dallas to speak about our experience with Noah and the Upsee.  I'm always a bit apprehensive about disclosing what all is involved with traveling with Noah, from needing items like blenders for his food, refrigerator for his supplies.... railing for hotel beds.   You rather expect people to drop their jaws and say you're a bit more baggage than we really want to take on for a special needs speaking guest.   I always worry that we'll be perceived as high maintenance when in reality we're so humble and grateful for the smallest of blessings in our life.
Noah excited to be at the Fairmont Hotel
But the AIPAC team, didn't even flinch when I told them about Noah's travel needs.  They remained excited for us to join them, and were so dedicated and committed to making our little Noah comfortable and happy. 

You might be scratching your heads and thinking what exactly is AIPAC.  For those of you unfamiliar with the organization, their mission is to: "strengthen, protect and promote the U.S.-Israel relationship in ways that enhance the security of Israel and the United States."   Now you might now be thinking what on earth does a special needs parent like myself have to do with AIPAC.  It's simple really.  The Upsee was designed by an Israeli Inventor, Debby Elnatan, and it's helping children all across the US, like Noah.  

We were so honored that they wanted to include us at their conference and have me as one of their guest speakers.  I enjoy so much bringing awareness to what our life is like with a child who has special needs and discussing life-changing aspects like the Upsee. 

Although we had traveled earlier in the year internationally with Noah, I can say that our airport experiences were night and day from the last time.  Certainly not the easy, friendly, helpful experience we had the first time.  I did all the same things, contacted TSA cares, made them aware of Noah's situation, needs, and what he'd be traveling with.  I even received a confirmation email outlining the conversation I had with TSA cares.

We flew American Airlines this time.  Even though we were told that there would be no baggage charge since we were traveling with a special needs child, we were still assessed $25 per bag regardless of weight or contents.   There were no charges associated with British Airlines.  We also had a TSA/personal airport assistant last time.  This time we were on our own.  No attendant - really no one to even tell us where we needed to go.  Thank goodness this time we had an extra set of hands, as Noah's grandmother traveled with us as Noah's extra care provider.  

Last time we were ushered ahead of lines to have Noah's wheelchair examined and checked.  This time we waited in long lines, and no one really even knew what to do with his wheelchair.   I even had to remind them to check the car seats we were traveling with. TSA was unorganized and fumbling all over the place.   None of Noah's foods or formulas were checked as liquids, just passed on through. 

Noah really enjoyed his flight to Dallas, he enjoys flying - who would have ever guessed, as parents who were convinced that we could never leave home any more than a few miles in any direction that we had a special needs child who would be able to get to a point in his life where he enjoyed traveling.   Dallas/Fort Worth Airport was a bit crazy.  You couldn't ask anyone for directions as each person would tell you something different.   The highlight of the airport in Dallas was a gentleman in a wheelchair who stopped us because he wanted to know more about Noah and if he had CP.   He struggled a bit with his speech but I understood him perfectly.  He wanted to know if Noah could talk and how he was doing.  He was such a nice young man, I instantly imagined my Noah like him if I fast forwarded twenty-years, at an airport trying to chat with others like him.   I explained Noah couldn't speak yet, he said "it was a lot of hard work but he'll get there." 

I know I've written about this before, but I know God places people in your path and along your journey for a reason.  And I always listen when he sends me people to deliver those messages.  In hindsight I wish I would have stayed longer with him, he was all alone having his airport attendant just abandoning him at a transportation stop.   But I was worried about Noah's lack of lunch and I felt desperate to find a way to our shuttle ride.

We wound up getting on a bus because some driver convinced us he could take us to the Super Shuttle pick-up, we loaded up 5 pieces of luggage, 2 car seats, 2 backpacks, and a wheelchair and then abandoning our $5 cart, only for him to take us two terminals ahead!  All that work for a 30 second ride.  I kid you not. Why you ask?  Because he was in need of a tip! 

We arrived at our Super Shuttle destination only to have every shuttle come and go tell us they either weren't going our direction, or didn't have a handicapped accessible van at the moment, even though we had prior accessible reservations and payment had been made coordinating our ride to the hotel.   After calling the company, we kept being told, 20 more minutes, 30 more minutes, 10 more minutes.... until someone finally fessed up after 2 hours stranded at the airport indicating they didn't have a handicapped accessible van AT ALL.... and they were trying to arrange 2 different cars to get us to the hotel.   We finally decided that Noah couldn't wait any longer so we made the decision to break down the wheelchair with the hopes it would fit in any available van headed downtown with all our other luggage and load him into the van in a car seat.

With Dallas traffic, 3 hours after landing, we made it to the hotel.   I seriously can't ever recommend Super Shuttle if you are traveling in Texas, it's great out here for us to get to DIA, but they need to work on assisting the ADA community in Dallas that's for sure.

But instantly upon arriving at the hotel we were immediately greeted with the best love and customer service you could ever imagine.  The Fairmont hotel has fantastic staff that were so warm and welcoming.  We were in awe of all the help.  We made our way to our room accompanied by two very nice gentleman assisting us with our luggage.  Our hotel rooms were simply perfect.  And I say that because sometimes you always wonder how we'll get Noah around in a wheelchair in rooms, but it had a wonderful living room area, and on each side of the living room bedroom areas.  Plenty of space for Noah's wheelchair to navigate.  The hotel itself is beautiful and the rooms equally so.

Hotel Living Room Area

Noah's Bed with Rails and Pillows

Blender and Refrigerator for Noah
We traveled on Halloween, but packed both costumes for the boys so they could dress up in the hotel room.  Their Halloween costumes provided by a loving foundation called Ween Dream.  Luke was Yoda, Noah a Disney Planes Pilot.  We assumed there wouldn't be any trick-or-treating in the hotel, but were greeted with a wonderful gift basket of Halloween goodies compliments of the AIPAC team.  Along with another large gift basket for the family.  
Noah & Luke's Halloween Gift Basket
Gift Basket from the AIPAC Team
Luke trying to put Noah's Planes Costume On  
Noah's Costume as Plane's Pit Crew
It was such a special thing for them to do.   Noah also had a blender and mini fridge, and it felt like home away from home.   The AIPAC team had thought of everything and gave us such kindness and love.  We settled in and ordered room service, feeling so blessed and excited for our weekend experiences to come.


Noah's Miracle by Stacy Warden is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.