Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Mermaid's Tale

Last week, we pulled off a bona fide birthday party extravaganza for Evie's 7th birthday. This party had been in the works for a couple months. Evie decided on a mermaid theme, so plans began to take form for an undersea adventure.

At times it felt like we were planning a wedding rather than a little girl's birthday. But luckily, I had a party planner who took the lead for much of the hoopla: my mother-in-law. Having raised two boys, she'd never thrown a party for a little girl, so she enthusiastically took the lead on things like food, decor, and overall making sure this party had an overly abundant WOW factor. I was in charge of invitations and activities, and my mom sewed Velcro onto towels and turned them into mermaid tails for each girl. We had all the bases covered.

We decided to keep the guest list small, so Evie invited a couple girls from our neighborhood, and a few more from her school. The girls who live in our neighborhood are regular faces around our house. They ring the doorbell and wait anxiously as Evie answers and immediately asks us in an urgent, breathless voice, "Can she play?" We love the sound of Evie and her friends playing. It's a reminder for us that she's happy.

Unlike the neighborhood friends who are in and out of our house all the time, Evie's friends from school had never been to our house before.  And that means there's another thing they'd never encountered before either: Evie's dad.

I'll admit, the thought crossed my mind more than once during the party-planning stage. How will we make sure the girls are comfortable when they see Jeff? I thought, but I didn't say anything to either Jeff or Evie. I still have this fear that someone is going to one day look at Jeff and blurt out something hurtful - to him, to Evie, to us all.

But lucky for me, my fear did not materialize, because our ever-resourceful Evie came up with a solution all on her own.

A couple weeks before the party, on a random weeknight after dinner, she announced this: "I'm gonna tell my friends from school ... the ones who are coming to my party ... 'Don't freak out - my dad's in a wheelchair. And he has a tube going into his neck. But he's totally fine.'" And as she emphasized the word fine, she flicked her wrist and rolled her eyes as if having a dad on a vent is simply no biggie.

After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I told her it was a great idea. She also wanted to take a picture of Jeff to show her friends - to ease them into the situation, per se. She wanted to take one of him solo, but I told her that would be a little weird. So I asked her to stand next to him. Here's the picture she took to school to show her friends:

When she came home from school on the day she took the picture, I was filled with so many questions running through my mind. What did your friends think when they saw the picture of you and Daddy? Did they ask any questions? What did they say? What did YOU say? How did that make you feel? Gah! I was having a virtual psychotherapy session in my mind.

As Evie was emptying out her backpack that afternoon, I approached her and in a typical mom-trying-to-be-cool-and-nonchalant-but-not-at-all-succeeding manner, I blurted out, "Did you show your friends the picture of you and Daddy?"

She answered without looking at me and without stopping what she was doing, "Yyyep."

That's it? 

That's all I get?

Evidently so.

Though later that night, Evie did clarify that upon seeing the photo, one of her friends said her dad's friend is also in a wheelchair, so she's used to being around people in wheelchairs. 

Case closed. End of story. 

Like she told me earlier, No Big Deal.

And so the day of the party arrived. We had put up the decorations the night before, and my mother-in-law came over early to get all the food prepared and put out. My mom made some dip, and both Papas were running all over town picking up things like balloons, sandwiches, and cupcakes.

I got Jeff dressed and up in his chair early that day, and he was feeling good. 

And just before noon, the little mermaids started arriving. One by one the party grew until the house was filled with oohs and aahs and high-pitched giggles. The girls ate pizza, decorated mermaid tails and crowns, swam in the pool for a good couple hours, and overloaded on cupcakes.

Evie was on Cloud 9. The party was a huge success. And none of the girls seemed the least bit concerned with, bothered by, or frankly even interested in Evie's dad.

As Jeff and I watched Evie having the time of her life with her friends, a feeling of accomplishment came over me. Not because we'd pulled off a birthday party. But because we were able to give Evie something we weren't sure we would ever be able to give her after Jeff's injury. 

We gave her something normal. 

Something where we could put the demands of a spinal cord injury to the side for a few hours and focus solely on meeting her wants and her needs.

Together, with a lot of help from our family, we gave her a no-big-deal, regular old birthday party that she'll talk about and remember for a long time.

And that, my friends, is a pretty big deal.  


  1. Lucky Jeff has a T-shirt to match the party color scheme :) and you really have a mature and clear thinking daughter, you must be so proud of her.

    1. We are definitely proud of the way our daughter handles matters when it comes to her dad's injury. Thank you for your comments, Steven!

  2. I must add...that looking at the photos there is always blue sky and bright sunshine, it seems Las Vegas is a good place to live. It would be great if someday, when Jeff is up to it, you guys could visit and photograph some of the interesting places around Las Vegas if possible. I am very interested in travel and I'm sure many others are too.

  3. Love the post! In our 10 years of living with SCI we have had only one incident that really hurt my husbands feelings. We were in a store and a little boy pointed and started crying that Dennis scared him. I felt so bad for my husband. He is C2 quad and I am very interested in if your husband uses a phone? Dennis's voice is a little quiet at times? If you have time email me at

    1. Hi Cheri. The stares are often so difficult. When you add on a crying child, ugh. My heart breaks for everyone in that story. :(

      Jeff does in fact use a cell phone, but he uses it more like a computer, with a mouth stick. His voice is actually quite strong for someone on a vent. He just doesn't talk on the phone much. I'll email you within the next few days with more details!

      I hope you and Dennis are well. I enjoy reading your blog!

  4. I met Jason about 6 years after his accident, and my whole life changed for the better. His injury (T5 complete) is less involved than Jeff's,but that being said, I'm so thankful to have found your blog. It reinforces all my hopes for my future with this wonderful man. You've got such a beautiful little family, and are raising one lovely little lady.