We were invited to a birthday party for our friends' 6-year old daughter. We've known this family for many years and have hung out with them on multiple occasions prior to Jeff's accident. This would be our first time going back to their house since the injury, so it was a big thing.
A few days before the party, I told Evie that we would be going, but that we probably wouldn't stay too long. When she asked why I said, "Well, Daddy gets tired when he does lots of talking, so we'll just have to see how he feels."
I was brushing her hair in the bathroom when we had this conversation, and she snapped her eyes up to mine in the mirror with a stunned, open-mouthed look on her face.
"Daddy's going with us?"
"He's really going with us to the party?"
Long breath drawn inward followed by a super sonic high-pitched voice: "I'm so excited!"
Jeff and I contemplated asking my Mom to come along with us, but in the end decided it was an outing we wanted to try on our own. We would be around lots of people we know would help get Jeff what he needed, and help keep an eye on Evie.
Of course it took me hours to get us ready to leave. I hadn't groomed Jeff's face for ... sigh ... about two weeks (!) so it took a while to get him de-scruff-i-fied. Then I packed everything we "might" need, and at the last minute showered myself in order to look presentable. Thank goodness for Nana who got Evie ready and packed up everything she would need for the pool party.
Here we are pre-party
In the van, and ready to set off!
Traffic was terrible, as suspected. But to a 5-year-old who doesn't understand why we can't go any faster than the car in front of us during the 10-mile-an hour-transition from the 405 to the 55, the ride was an eternity. She made the time pass by jibbering about all the cars, buildings, and trees we were passing, and holding Daddy's hand to make sure he wasn't too scared during the drive.
We pulled up to the Millers' house, thankful that the vent didn't alarm during our trek. It was time to start unloading, which of course takes some time. Evie was jittery with anticipation to get inside, but we told her she had to wait till we were ready.
As I opened the side van door to unlock Jeff's chair, I heard her say to him in a frustrated whine,
"I wish your legs worked so we could just walk in."
My heart sank into my stomach.
He told her quietly, "I wish so too, Evie, but they don't, so you'll just have to wait."
"Okay, I will" she said in a small voice.
I wasn't upset with her for saying what she did; she was just being honest. I was heartbroken for her instead. I had read and heard that she would experience this kind of frustration when it comes to us not being able to do things as quickly as we used to. I just didn't know it would come this early. I expected it a little later, and was caught by surprise.
Her impatience faded, and we unloaded Jeff and our stuff rather quickly. We were in the house in 5 minutes, and she was in her glory taking it all in.
We were met with friendly faces and genuine concerns about how we are. People wanted to know about Jeff's gadgets on his chair, wanted to see our new van, and told me how they love reading the blog and knowing about our life. It was an overwhelmingly positive experience.
I took Evie to the bathroom to change into her swimsuit, and by the time we came out, Jeff was already in the backyard, and his good friend Keith was feeding him a beer through a straw. :)
We ate some delicious food, and were able to re-connect with people we hadn't seen in over a year. Evie got to play in the birthday girl's room (so fun to play with other friends' toys!), and once she got up the courage to go down the water slide, we couldn't get her off!
At one point, Jeff and I were across the backyard from one another. He was talking with friends, and I was playing with Evie in the grass. Jeff and I caught each other's eye, and I mouthed to him, "Do you need me?" He gave me a little frown then shook his head. I gave him thumbs up, we smiled at each other, then he went back to his conversation, and I went back to playing with Evie. It was a good feeling. My heart was happy.
When the sun started going down, I could tell that Jeff was getting really cold (constant coldness is an unpleasant side effect of the injury). I looked at him and could tell he was done. He was drained of all the energy he started out with. His voice was raspy, and I knew it was time to pack up.
We said our goodbyes, and were again met with such genuine remarks from friends. They helped us load up, and we were back on the road in a matter of minutes. I covered Jeff with a blanket before we took off, and cranked up the heater for him. On the way home, I heard him say in a low voice, "I'm so cold." That was followed by "Thank you, Sweetheart." He later told me that Evie was adjusting his blanket for him to make sure he was covered.
When we got home, Nana helped us unload and get Jeff back to bed in record time. He was completely worn out. So was I. But once we got settled back in, we looked at each other and said, "We did it."
It was a big sense of accomplishment.
In the end, we're so glad we made the effort to go to the party. It was a lot of work, but worth it. We came face to face with what this new life is all about. We were met with curious stares, mostly by kids. We experienced Evie's first voiced frustration at our new pace of life, followed by her unwavering willingness to help and make Daddy comfortable. And we were again reminded that true friends are just that - able to see the person and his family, not just the guy in a wheelchair with his poor wife and daughter.
It was a good day.
We're looking forward to more family outings.