August 3, 2010

Bertrand was refused service at California Pizza Kitchen.

Bertrand, his aunt Belinda and I went out for lunch but we were refused service at the California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) at the Gateway Mall. No, we weren't topless, smoking or trying to smuggle in a few dogs. They wouldn't seat us because they don't allow strollers. Any strollers. No exceptions. The hostesses said that strollers aren't allowed because of the fire hazard, but Bertrand's stroller is Maclaren Techno XLR and qualifies as an assistive mobility device. How do they treat people in wheelchairs? Do they turn them away too? (I am guessing they don't.) Bertrand's new wheelchair, which he has to get in order to start preschool this spring, will be even bigger than his stoller! Wouldn't that make an even bigger "fire hazard"? Why couldn't they just sit us at a wheelchair accessible table, which I presume they have?

[For those out-of-the-know, Bertrand is 2.5 years-old but can't sit unsupported, such as in a backless highchair, because of his movement disorder, seizures and level of ability (developmentally he is 0-4 months-old). On top of that he is immune-compromised due to his steroid medication, meaning he can't touch or sit in public items even if he did have the ability. ]

I should've demanded to speak with the manager, but I was in SHOCK. Besides, I shouldn't have needed to speak to a manager--shouldn't common sense prevail? How could they turn away a special needs 2 year-old?! It made me sick to my stomach.

I guess I am grateful that Bertrand isn't aware enough to realize how he was so coldly discriminated against, but I am aware and it breaks my heart.


Bertrand is a beautiful little boy. To the average person he doesn't look disabled, much less like someone with a limited life expectancy. No one can see his brain, liver and nerve damage accumulating.

I've observed a spectrum in the special needs parenting community. As Bertrand gets older, receives his wheelchair and his disabilities become more obvious, we are traveling from one end of the spectrum to the other.

On one end of the spectrum, there are parents of children with no visibly obvious disability (autism, ADHD, cancers, seizure disorders, some genetic disorders, etc.) with the desire for the public at large to acknowledge and accept their child's disability. On the other end, there are parents of children with an obvious disability (cerebral palsy, Downs syndrome, some genetic disorders, etc.) with the desire for the public at large to acknowledge but overlook their child's disabilities.

Both sides wish the public would make fewer assumptions about our children and our parenting. In the case where a child has no obvious disability, the abilities of the child are frequently overestimated (such as in Bertrand's case above: "just sit him in a highchair") and the skills of the parents are underestimated ("why can't you control your child?" or "why don't you just rock him to sleep?" Um, maybe he has NEUROPATHY?!). In the case where a child has an obvious disability, the abilities of the child are frequently underestimated ("we'll just treat him like a baby" and "let's address all questions to the parent rather than the child") and the skills of the parents can be overestimated (many such parents complain about the comparisons to saints and superheroes, or how people say "I could never do what you do!" Um, yes you would--if it was your child!).

I've gotten a little too complacent on the "no obvious disability" end. I just let the public assume Bertrand is a baby (not an almost 3 year-old toddler), smile and don't correct them when they make assumptions--even hurtful ones. I've been too worn out by the struggle to simply save Bertrand's life to go through the emotion and effort of a conflict. After all, how many countless struggles have I had with doctors, insurance, and even Bertrand himself (to keep him fed, medicated, happy and from losing anymore of his skill set)? Shouldn't I get a break?


Today, I should've fought. I should've fought for Bertrand and the other kids and people out there like him: with obvious or not-so-obvious disabilities. When Bertrand's disability gets highlighted by a wheelchair, it may save me a fight at CPK (not that we will ever go again), but what else will it bring? What confrontations will I need to prepare for--for his sake and my own sanity? Will we start fielding questions from random strangers? Will people find discouraging and dismissive ways to underestimate my child? Almost certainly. But from now on, will I confront the ignorance and demand respect for my child? Hell yes.

As discouraging as the whole CPK episode was, it was the kick in the pants I needed. I am back up, out of the corner and swinging for my child.


  1. This is insane! I can't believe the insensitivity and ignorance. I know this can't be a company wide policy that is enforced as I ate there earlier this week at a the CPK in Orlando (before I knew about this) and there were several strollers. I WILL NOT EAT THERE AGAIN! Good for you Cristina! Love you, Liz

  2. I hope you will not be too hard on yourself for not standing up today. The restaurant was definitely wrong. A complaint to corporate seems in order.


  3. That's interesting, because I actually had a non-obvious-disability interaction at a restaurant today too (with a random stranger, not the restaurant itself). I smiled and walked away. It's so hard to know when it's worth it to expend the little energy you have to make people more aware.

  4. Sometimes I get blindsided by atrocious things and kick myself for not reacting differently. You can still call the restaurant and speak with a manager if you want! I'll even do it for you ;)

  5. I am outraged on your family's behalf. But it's hard to stand up and fight in those kind of situations; I get it. This post made me realize how important it is to always advocate, no matter how hard it is.

  6. I just read your post on Love That Max and was downright furious! (I have a three year old who still uses a stroller, and I know what you mean about it being easy to feel like he's still a baby.) Refused service?! No, no, no. They should have seated you all immediately at the table marked Reserved for Cutest Little Punkin' Pants in Town! That's all I can think as I look at your blog - he's truly the cutest! I abhor what your family had to endure to stir it up, but I love your advocacy attitude! You tell them, sister - I'll come and stand right next to you!

  7. I'm sorry - of all the stupid hassles to go through when all you want to do is have lunch and not stand there explaining for half an hour! I really doubt it's a CPK policy about not having strollers - it probably has a lot to do with the layout of that particular restaurant - they have to have so much space available between tables if they're to keep operating legally. Did you explain to the staff about Bertrand's stroller being an assistive device? (I'm assuming you did, but didn't find mention of it, so just being anal here :)). After that, he should have been treated as if he were in a wheelchair and seated wherever their accommodation for that is. I'm guessing/hoping that what happened was that whoever you talked to got confused and didn't realize the extent of Bertrand's needs or that the stroller was more than a stroller - they might not have known of the possibility of the latter. Not a great scenario, true, but it beats the alternative.

  8. I also saw your comment on Love That Max, and when I saw Gateway Mall, realized we were local... Your team of therapists happens to include many of mine, someday we'll probably meet at the metabolic clinic or Int. Pediatrics! Anyway, I don't eat there enough that my boycott is all that meaningful but I'll join you in boycotting or complaining because the CPK behavior was shameful and ridiculous, and they deserve a kick in the pants. But don't beat yourself up. I wish I had a dollar for every time my situation got the best of me and I just ran off to cry, at least I could fund some more hippotherapy or a vacation. I am never as strong as I later think I ought to have been.

  9. This IS shocking and disgusting. I am so disappointed to hear this. There is no excuse.

  10. My 8yo has both situations you stated, his disabilities are obvious AND not obvious on sight. Everyone can see his blue & red hearing aids from afar but don't notice his intellectual issues until speaking with him.

    We also were denied access more than once in a public area due to his large stroller (he needs it for long distances or after a seizure). Everytime we explained its use, they let us proceed.

    He just officially approved for his wheelchair (Convaid Cruisair) and will get it in about 4wks. When he rides the large stroller now, people stare like at him 'that's odd'. Now when he uses the wheelchair, I wonder what the looks will change to. I am hoping not pity.

    It is a shame that CPK did not let Bertand in. It is not too late to tell the company what happened. You can go to the website and explain what happened. You can be sure they will want to make sure it doesn't happen to you or anyone else again! I will join in the boycott also.

  11. Yes, advocacy is good. But sometimes the cost of it (emotionally for the most part) is higher than cost of walking away. Sometimes you need to walk away for your (or your child or whoever you are with) sake.

    I have worked with people with disabilities since I was in high school. For the most part, I do speak up every time. There have been a handful of situations where I haven't because of the above mentioned cost for me or someone else. Since having a child with a disability, I have worked on being more graceful with my replies. How to respectfully tell people no. It is an art I'm working on. Some situations I feel I handle better than others. I want to teach my child he can stand up for himself and still show respect and to not do so with an air of entitlement. Yes, he may need some accommodations, but no he can follow most of the rules that others go by. It is a fine fuzzy line.

    My 2 year old (25 months) is a combination of the "hidden" and "obvious" disabilities (which are of either genetic or metabolic origin, they think at this point, he still has no diagnosis). While he is the size of your average 11 month old, has the gross motor skills of about a 16 month old but verbally, socially, and cognitively he is around a 2.5 year old level. So people assume he is a 1 year old until he does or says something that make it obvious that he is not a normal 1 year old. Then come the comments, questions, and evaluations of my parenting. Non judgmental questions for the most part I welcome. He already defends himself, and I'm proud of this (not saddened, but I feel like I've empowered him). When people say he can't do something, he quickly retorts "I no baby. I small. Do self." Close friends have commented how they too get questions on his issues.

    I'm sorry this happened to you. If calling the manager and complaining would help you, I definately would say do it. Maybe the hostess would then the next time give another child and parent more respect... consider it possibly "paying it forward", maybe your education of management of the incident will then trickle down to education of the employees, who will then make a better choice next time a similar situation comes up.

  12. I work at CPK and the restaurant I work in is loved by our guest for the extreme measures we take to accomodate the guest with the strollers. We are located at a mall and every stroller finds a great place to park at the tables where the guest dine. FYI. Sorry to hear you weren't accomodated at the location you went to.