Monday, October 6, 2014

Our Little Helper

Evie is an incredible helper.

Helping and nurturing have always been in her nature. When she was a toddler, she would lovingly lay all of her stuffed animals on her bedroom floor for naps, then wake them up with little kisses or soft stories.

In pre-school, and even now in Kindergarten, she is always so happy when she gets to help the teacher do something like pass out supplies or clean up the classroom.

There's no doubt that her instinct to help has proven itself an coveted blessing in our new life.

Still, Jeff and I are extremely conscious of how much help we ask Evie to perform with his daily care. We desperately want to strike a balance by including her in our daily chores but not burdening her with oppressing duties.

Some days we rely on her heavily. To help when we need her. To ask her to wait patiently when Daddy needs something.

And other days we try our hardest to let her be a normal kid. To say yes quickly when she asks a question and turn our wholehearted attention to her smiling face.

Most of the time she performs her duties with a skip, and a smile. Sometimes she is in and out of the room turning the vents on and off so quickly, her presence is a blur.

Will she, as she gets older, have moments where she scoffs at us for asking her to help with Jeff's care?


Will she have times of frustration and anger at not being able to do things other families can so easily accomplish?

No doubt. We've already experienced some of that.

Will she grow up knowing that her presence in our home and in our lives has made all the difference in our world? That her contributions, her sacrifices, have not gone unnoticed?

It is certainly our hope.

Soon after Jeff came home from the hospital, we decided that we would carve out some chores specifically for Evie. We have assigned her these roles in Jeff's care for several reasons. We want her to feel included. We want her to not be afraid of these duties as she grows. And sometimes, frankly, we just need her help.

Because these duties are a big part of her life.

Evie's hands-on role in caring for Jeff has not only served as a way to build her sense of responsibility, but has also strengthened the unbreakable bond between her and Jeff.

Evie and Jeff have always shared a strong father/daughter bond - from the day she was born. Last year when Jeff was injured, and out of our home for seven months, that bond was tested. My heart sobbed because Evie and Jeff couldn't physically be together during that time. The pain of the realization that Jeff will never physically hold - never physically play with - his daughter again is agonizing. It is an ache that seeps down into your bones and invades your entire body.

And no one has felt that ache more than Jeff.

I've held him as he's cried at how this injury has stripped him of his role at being Evie's big, strong Dad. I've reassured him, tirelessly, that he is just as much the father to her as he was before the accident. And since he's been home, I've witnessed an incredible transformation in their relationship that, to me, is a strong indication that that bond is indeed still intact.

But no one can convince him that he is, in fact, that same old Dad deep down inside.

No one, but Evie.

She doesn't even know it, but every day, in the little things she does, she's reassuring him.

Like when she belly laughs at the silly faces he makes.

Or when she nervously approaches him and asks him whether or not she can have dessert.

Or when, in the evenings, as my mom and I roll Jeff onto his side to remove the transfer sling, she scampers to the side of his bed and plants kisses on his puckered lips, then they both share a giggle as if they've done something ultra sneaky.

It's those times that, when Evie can just be a kid - a daughter, that we know she is thriving in this new life.

But even though she loves just being a kid, there's other times when Evie embraces her inner caregiver, and she becomes very protective over Daddy. And what she transforms into is astounding.

This happened a few days ago.

We had an intense heat wave in So Cal over the last several days. Temperatures have been in the 90s where we live. That's really high for coastal living. We don't have air conditioning in our house because, most of the time, we don't need it. So we've been surviving using fans and strategically open windows and doors to maximize cross breezes. Still, it's. been. HOT.

Jeff's body just doesn't regulate temperature the way it used to. So as the rest of us were sweating amidst the sweltering temps, Jeff was overheating without even realizing it. Jeff doesn't sweat anymore below his his neck - another side affect of having a spinal cord injury - so he doesn't usually realize how hot he is until he's miserable.

About half-way through dinner on Friday, his appetite dumped, blood pressure rose, and he had to take refuge in the coolest room he could find - our bedroom. Working quickly, I took off his shirt, wiped him down with a cool washcloth, and put the fan on him.

As I went back out to the kitchen to clean up, Evie decided she would "watch on" Daddy in the bedroom. So she kept him company as I cleaned. A little later, I was heading down the hall to get the broom from the closet, and when Jeff heard my footsteps, he said, "Kristen - can you scratch my face, please?"

I came in the room ready to put my fingernails to work, when Evie let out an "Oh!" and hopped down from the bed. "I got it. I got it," she said, and extended her arm toward me with her palm facing out - a gesture telling me to back away. He told her where the itch was, and her little fingers made quick work of it. Then she turned to me and said, "Mama. You can go back to your work."

"Are you sure?" I asked, eyebrows raised, looking at both her and Jeff.

"Yes," was her confident reply. "Go back to your work."

And she shooed me out of the room.

After sweeping the kitchen floor, I came back down the hall and put away the broom. I peeked into the bedroom, and Evie had a freshly wet washcloth, and was wiping Jeff's arms down. Then she laid it across his chest and said sweetly, "There you go, Daddy."

I caught Jeff's gaze. We smiled at each other with glossy eyes, sharing in the knowledge of our good fortune at having such a sweet, loving girl.

The next morning, she did her weekend a.m. duties of raising Daddy's head up using his bed's controller, then getting the table in place next to his bed for our family breakfast.

After orange rolls and bacon, she swapped her fuzzy princess robe for an Elsa dress and wig, and belted out a heartfelt, off-pitch, ear-splitting rendition of Let It Go in our bedroom.

She put her whole heart into that performance. Just like she does in every facet of her life.

She's a princess. She's a kindergartner. She's a helper. She's a caregiver.

She has the sweetest of hearts.

She is our daughter.

Even Queen Elsa has vent duties.

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