Not long after Aleck’s second birthday party we headed to a small toy store in Highland Park to return a gift we’d gotten that was clearly possessed by the devil. In the middle of the night it started to go off and as I reached into the bag to turn it off I suddenly thought a small animal was trapped in the bag and almost had a heart attack. So we headed out to the ‘burbs to see what we could find for Aleck to play with as we geared up for tons of indoor time during this already brutal winter. Putting Aleck in his walker Craig and I figured we could see if there were things he could play with while in his walker, after all, running up and down our hallway was going to get old and going to the park wasn’t going to be an option for a few months. While I inquired about this, looked at that, Aleck found a small shopping cart hanging out in the middle of the store. It looked just like the metal ones we use at the store but was made for a toddler, and he just loved moving the “baby” seat up and down. Ding, ding, ding…we have a winner. This shopping cart was clearly something he could play with inside, we could put dolls and food inside, and he could push it around all winter long.
When it finally arrived at our house and we put it together I couldn’t wait to show it to his Physical Therapist, Ali. I pulled it out and exclaimed, “Check this out, he stands up so much straighter in his walker when he plays with it, isn’t it great? Let me get his walker and you can see.” Ali looked at me and said, “Who needs a walker?!?”. And with that she took the cart and put the main bar under Aleck’s underarms and then encouraged him to hold onto the body of his cart with his hands. He was very wobbly and didn’t seem too happy about it, but it with lots of support and encouragement he was able to take some steps. We got it all on video and cheers could be heard from Logan Square to Highland Park.
After using the cart for a few therapy sessions Aleck wasn’t too into his cart anymore. He didn’t want to play with it while in the walker, he didn’t want to play with it out of the walker, and I didn’t want to push him into this new toy, afraid he’d pull away from it completely. So we ignored the cart for a few weeks and kept working on our other skills. Then we decided that Aleck was too old for us to carry him from room to room anymore like a little baby. If we wanted a toddler then we needed to treat him like a toddler, and between his walker, his shopping cart, and his toy tractor there were plenty of ways for him to get from room to room without being carried.
First we started by giving him a choice, what did he want to use to get from the living room to the kitchen, multiple times a day. He’d do the tractor in the morning, the walker in the afternoon, and then we’d throw the shopping cart in a little here, a little there. The whole time he’d be on the cart I’d be holding onto it as well, helping him to steer and keeping him firmly on the cart and upright. Soon he started choosing his shopping cart more and more and eventually I didn’t need to steer it for him. After two weeks he no longer needed a choice as he’d wake up in the morning shouting, “shopping cart, shopping cart”. Now I can put him on the cart and let him walk around the apartment as I go in the kitchen and make breakfast, do laundry, do dishes, start dinner. And unlike his walker he doesn’t need to be buckled into it so it’s a much faster transition.
It’s also much easier, especially when we are at other people’s houses for play dates. The walker is still great for walking into his hospitals, into his doctor and therapy appointments, no one can knock him over and he’s still the most stable in the walker. But the shopping cart is much more narrow, it allows him to get closer to certain toys and tables, and even to other kids since they see it as a toy instead of the walking device it’s become. He can do things like take one arm off the cart to play with a friend’s little toy kitchen and cash register. Or take one of his legs and kick a ball or my oven, whatever his heart desires. We switch off friends who sit in the front and the back is filled with heavy wooden food to keep the cart weighted down so he doesn’t tip over.
With the walker on Aleck commands a lot of attention. Everyone notices him, most people smile at him, but there are always questions and whispers as people try to figure out why he has this device. He’s still very noticeable and gets lots of smiles with his shopping cart but most people just think he’s cute and very attached to his toy. This means we have to fend off the other kids he sees who want a turn with Aleck’s toy, but so far so good. Plus he has to work harder to use the cart. He has to stand up straight, he can’t slouch and lean on the chest attachment like he does in the walker. He also has to pick his feet up more in order to push the cart, use his hands and really hold on in order to control the cart, and activate his trunk and core to keep it steady and heading in the right direction. This shopping cart has made a huge change in his walking and posture, and of course it’s made a huge change in our lives, giving us some major hope that he is going to be able to walk on his own one day soon. Until then, he’s a junior shopper in training and we just love it.
Check out some videos of Aleck’s progress with the shopping cart on the video portion of this site or right here: