Friday, June 19, 2015

A Quad and His Daughter

As Father's Day approaches, I find myself paying extra close attention to Jeff and Evie's unique father/daughter relationship.

Their interactions are both fun and heartwarming to watch. And despite Jeff's physical limitations, they always manage to find ways to play together.

Evie has one of those 'Hover Balls' that's kind of like a small soccer ball cut in half, and the flat part is smooth so that it glides across the floor when you push or kick it. She will sit on the floor at one end of the living room, and Jeff will be at the other end. He starts driving his chair all zig zaggy and she has to push the ball and try to hit the wheels of his chair. They both roar with laughter at this silly little game.

Somedays, Evie will ask Jeff is he wants to come in her room and play dolls. Right now she's on a collecting spree of Beanie Boos - those stuffed animals with the huge eyes. (She has us all calling them "Big Eyes.") So Jeff will drive into her room, park in front of her bed, and she will line up all the Big Eyes, go over all their names, then quiz Daddy and harshly correct him when he gets a name wrong. 

Right now, as I type this, they are playing a board game where Evie does all the spinning and moving of pieces. Jeff just shouted out, "I win!!!" and began giving a speech as if he'd won the Pulitzer Prize. Evie pretended to ignore his arrogance and said through gritted teeth, "Let's play again."

I love watching them interact. I am so cognizant of their developing relationship. To be honest, I am also very curious about it. Sometimes even anxious about it.

I think as a parent, especially for us helicopter parents of Generation X, we want to be able to connect with our children's experiences by finding and nurturing a common thread in our own adolescent experiences. Society has practically demanded it of us. Think about all the "new" movies or characters coming out these days that are actually just throwbacks to when we were growing up.

Evie just finished up Kindergarten, and during her year-end performance, the kids all sang modified songs from Annie. One of the teachers had cleverly re-written the lyrics ("It's a Kindergarten life for us!") and the parents delighted in hearing their little ones sing such familiar tunes. When Evie started practicing her songs at home, I started singing along but with the original lyrics. She looked at me, wide-eyed, completely stunned. It was fun to surprise her that we both knew these songs. A shared pop-culture experience from two different decades.

But there's one experience in growing up that I just can't share with Evie. Something I didn't have, and so I oftentimes don't know how to guide her or advise her or the subject:

A dad in a wheelchair. A dad who has no movement or sensation below the tops of his shoulders.

My dad was, and still is, very able bodied. And playing with him physically was a big part of my bonding with him as I grew from a little girl to a teenager. Some of my best memories are time spent with my dad in the park playing softball, or on the blacktop playing wall ball, or in the pool playing volleyball. 

I can still remember how big and strong my dad's arms felt as he wrapped his arms around me in a bear hug.

I can't tell you how much my heart hurts that Evie won't remember what that is like from her own father. Or that Jeff will never again kneel down and feel his daughter fly into his open arms.

It's stuff like that that makes this life oftentimes unbearably sad.

Jeff has been in a wheelchair for already one-third of Evie's life. She remembers times before - when Jeff was able bodied. But as she gets older, those memories will likely fade (they already have begun doing so), and they'll just be more like stories rather than tangible memories. Her old memories will eventually be replaced by new ones. 

And I think it just makes me a little sad that Evie won't have the same kind of memories with Jeff that I have with my father. 

But whenever I start feeling that way, something usually happens to set me straight...

Just last week, I happened to overhear Evie's thoughts on, of all things, her future wedding day. She was standing in the bathroom with my mom, and they were looking at their reflections in the mirror. 

Out of the blue, Evie looked at Nana and asked, "When I get married, will Daddy walk me down the aisle?" 

My mom answered, "Yes, he will."

Evie instantly realized the inaccuracy of her question, and quickly added, "Well, Daddy will be in his chair." 

Her mind churned and she continued, this time with mischief in her voice. "Maybe I could sit on Daddy's lap and he could drive me down the aisle." Then she paused. Her mind reeled in the silliness, and she said, seriously, and with poise beyond her years, "No. I think I'll just walk next to him and put my hand on his arm." 

I held my breath as my eavesdropping intensified, and waited to hear what her next words would be. Would they be sad? Would they be heavy with emotion?

But no words came.

Evidently, no more words were necessary. 

Because in that moment, she had it all figured out - how she would work around the fact that her dad wouldn't be literally walking her down the aisle. 

Then I realized something. To her, it's not about finding a solution. It's not about settling for an alternative. Because there's nothing to solve. There's no sub-par scenario to settle for. To her, it's simply a matter of voicing and recognizing the way it will be.

Daddy will be in his chair, and I will walk next to him with my hand on his arm.


Sometimes I have to remember to see Jeff's disability through her eyes. 


But please don't get me wrong - we still have days where we are all (Jeff most of all) frustrated, angry, even bewildered by his paralysis and the effect it's had on our lives. Just last night after dinner, Evie asked, "When will Daddy walk again?" She is six, afterall. And with that one question, I was reminded that this journey is certainly not linear. Oftentimes getting from point A to point B requires lots of looping back, repeating the same lesson over and over until it finally becomes routine.

And while we have all accepted our new life in our own ways, that doesn't mean we are ecstatic with the way things have turned out. It just means that we understand that there's nothing we can do to change it. And that's okay.

Well, it's not okay, but it is okay. All at the same time.

And that's the philosophy I have to adopt when it comes to Evie and Jeff's father/daughter relationship. 

It's okay for me to step aside and let Evie take the lead on figuring this one out. 

It's okay that I don't have any frame of reference to help her as she navigates these tricky waters. She's already proven herself capable of handling so much.

It's certainly not okay that she will miss out on the physical relationship with her dad - the rough-housing, the sports-playing, the cuddling that are all now just would-be memories. 

But it is okay that she will be able to forge her own path in making special memories from the unique relationship she has with her dad.

Jeff and Evie share a certain kind of confidence where they can just let things roll off their backs. I think that kind of confidence will serve them both well in the coming years.

I also think it's pretty evident that this little apple didn't fall far from the tree.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Mexican Pizza (With a Twist!)

It's been too long since I've written on the blog. This whole getting settled into a new life in a new state with a quadriplegic husband, six-year old daughter, and live-in mother ... well, it's taken longer to get everything established than I'd planned.

Things have been up and down - frustrating and exhilarating. A teeter totter of emotions, truly. I have so much to write but only a few moments available to get them out.

Right now is one of those moments, so I thought I'd share a dinner story with you. Remember the green shake story I wrote about when Jeff blended a green smoothie across our living room? Well, this is apparently what I get for sharing that one.

A couple weeks ago I was looking at Pinterest to find some new, EASY, recipes for dinner, and I came across a mexican pizza recipe that looked like something I could handle. Beef, tortillas, cheese, cheese, and more cheese, all prepared in a springform pan. How hard could that be?

I dug in our cabinets and found the springform pan. It still had the cardboard label on it, which should indicate exactly how many times I've used it. (If I'm not mistaken, I believe we may have gotten that pan as a WEDDING GIFT almost a decade ago. Good grief!)

I followed the instructions online exactly as written. With my mexican pizza all toasty and warm in the oven, I was feeling pretty good about myself. I also had rice cooking, and even had some freshly cut green onions on deck to top the pizza during plating. Hey, this whole making a new meal for my family is kinda fun!

Just at the right time, I removed the layered pizza from the oven. Smell the aroma!

I removed the spring-held ring, and now the dinner was sitting aloft the bottom of the springform pan. But I needed something to put it on so that I could take it over to the table.

Here's where things started to go south.

I remembered my mom had a green platter from her Fiestaware collection. Together, my mom and I got down the heavy platter, and I placed the mexican pizza (that was still on the bottom of the springform pan) onto the platter. So the sandwich of items went like this: pizza, pan-bottom, platter. (Spoiler alert: This is a BAD combination).

I walked my masterpiece of a mexican pizza over to the dinner table, and proudly announced that "Dinner was served!"

As I placed the green platter down onto the table, the pan bottom began to slip, almost like I had a chunk of ice on a plate - it was that unsteady. First the pan began to slip away from me, so my immediate reaction was to pull the platter back toward me. That motion then sent the pan back toward me, and my effort to compensate for the slippage simply wasn't enough. It had built up too much momentum at this point.

And in slow motion, the mexican pizza toboganned off the platter, slid off the edge of the table, and turned completely upside down. At this point, the pan bottom catapulted off to the right, and the mexican pizza was in a free fall. The top third of the pizza skidded off the back of a chair, slid through the slat, then like a seasoned Olympic platform diver, it spun gracefully once more, and landed - face up - smack on the dining room floor.

I just kind of stood there with my arms out, legs bent as if still trying to catch the darn thing. My heart sank, and my voice was heavy with emotion as I bellowed, "Oh my god. I just dropped dinner on the floor!!" Jeff spun around in his chair, and my eyes met his. I was a tippy toe away from tears.

"What?" he asked, clearly perplexed at what just transpired. "How did that happen?"

I was in no frame of mind to re-live the events of the past few seconds.

My mom immediately went into recon mode. "It's okay. It's okay." Her voice was high-pitched and her words came fast together. The mom instinct to stop your child from crying - even if that child is 39 years old - is a strong force. In a millisecond, she was on the floor, spatula in hand, and before I could blink, had the still-intact mexican pizza back up onto the green platter on the table. The ring of the pan bottom hitting the floor was still in my ears.

Jeff furthered the recon mission by saying, matter-of-factly, "Oh it's fine. It wasn't even on the floor that long. Besides, my mom just mopped the floors yesterday. Let's eat."

Evie, who hadn't said anything up to this point, chimed in with, "I'm not eatin' that."

"Yes you are," growled Jeff in a let's-not-make-your-mother-cry tone.

She slapped her forehead and headed to the table.

My mom was fussing all about saying how the pizza looks like it was just taken out of the oven. The cheese on the top might be a little sideways, but who cares! While she finished setting the table, and brought over the side dish, I walked over to my seat, still in a complete daze - not only had I dropped dinner on the floor, but we were preparing to now EAT that dinner!

I kept inspecting each piece with a close eye. Jeff kept saying, "It's fine. Feed it to me!"

Eventually I came out of my daze, and the table conversation turned to laughter and a complete play-by-play of the "mexican floor pie" near-disaster ensued. Just like that, my family rallied around me and turned what could have been a ruined dinner into a funny memory.

And being the good-natured bunch they are, here are re-enacted photos for your enjoyment.

Oh my god! I dropped dinner on the floor!

It's okay. It's okay.

Whaaaat? How did that happen?

I am NOT eating that.

Some families re-enact important historical moments, like the Civil War.

My family re-enacts the Mexican Floor Pie Fiasco.

What it comes down to is at the end of the day, as I reflect on what my family has endured the last two years - the heartbreak of a life forever changed, the stress of transition, the ability to face tougher days than we ever imagined - there are things far worse than dropping dinner on the floor, and eating it afterward.

Believe me.

Oh, and a couple more things:

1. The mexican floor pie was DELICIOUS. Here's the recipe!

And 2. I'd like to send a special shout out to my mother-in-law, Linda, whose fanatical cleaning made dinner possible that night. Otherwise this blog post would have been very different.