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.