My daughter-in-law and son are precision planners. He is a professional project manager. She is the most organized stay-at-home mother I have ever known and was previously a business owner-operator. Together they are the loving parents of three young children I adore and get to visit often, although not often enough.
During the kids’ last week of school, my daughter-in-law called me to arrange our Summer Fun Days as they do with each of the four grandparents separately—both sets are divorced and the other three are re-partnered. Last year, we went to the Museum of Science and Industry one day, and on another, we went to play putt-putt golf and then hiking in a forest preserve. When she called this year, I was sad that my new physical limitations would rain on the kids’ parade.
Six months earlier I sustained an injury that has resulted in a chronic condition rendering me a bundle of hypersensitive nerves: CRPS for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. This disease makes it terribly uncomfortable for me to walk and if I exert myself, I pay dearly for hours and sometimes days. As a result, I spend most of my days and nights in a recliner with my affected region (right foot and ankle) elevated at hip level. So, when my d-i-l asked me if I wanted to go to the Museum of Science and Industry or to Brookfield Zoo, I felt anxiety and sadness. How could I possibly? Hearing my anxious gasp, she pleasantly said, “We can rent a wheelchair.”
Tears flooded my face. First for her compassion and for her thoughtfulness—judging by how quickly she offered the option. Sadness held me as I grieved my loss of being able to walk and hike without bother.
The wheels of my mind were turning. I immediately remembered that I had a wheelchair in storage; it was donated to me for use with a client when I was a caregiver last year. I had held onto it thinking I would pass it along to someone in need when the opportunity presented itself. Here was the opportunity. For me.
I quickly responded that I have one we can use and that I would love to go on this family outing, our Summer Fun Day.
When our Summer Fun Day arrived, we drove to the zoo in separate cars, having driven from different origins. We met nearby the zoo entrance and drove into the parking lot together. My son helped me set up the chair and the kids were eager to try it out. My plan was to push the wheelchair when I felt I could walk while letting the kids have a ride in it. As big as the parking lot was, I felt the need to sit in the wheelchair before we got to the main gate. My son saw my struggle and asked me if I was ready to sit and have him push. I acquiesced.
It’s a strange feeling to go from caregiver to needing care, especially at my otherwise very healthy middle-age. I had wondered how my son would handle this experience of pushing me in a wheelchair; would he resent it, or me. Likely this is decades earlier than when he anticipated having to attend to me.
I made a conscious decision to practice awareness of my attitude, behavior, and gratitude. Immediately I noticed that everything looked different, literally. Although I had been to Brookfield Zoo at least 20 times in my life, my perspective from the wheelchair allowed me to glimpse a lower elevation than my 5’10” erect posture has provided on previous visits.
At chair height, most noticeable were flowers and the children! I had such grandma delight watching my grandchildren at eye level instead of the tops of their heads. As we went from habitat to habitat, I found great joy in watching the faces of my grandchildren and the other children nearby. The sense of wonder when kids see something new is precious! And it’s so much easier for the children to look at the adult when the adult is at their eye level. My grandchildren looked over to me often that day, and I was so glad I chose to use the wheelchair so I could accept the invitation to share this experience with my family.
The other children nearby looked at me curiously, usually with a serious face. I was careful to smile and say hello to every child I noticed looking at me. I wanted them to know that people who use wheelchairs can be nice and friendly.
My grandchildren wanted to push me in the wheelchair at the zoo, taking turns with their daddy. The girls are too little and not strong enough but my grandson, two years older than his sisters, gave it a good shot. He wasn’t tall enough to navigate safely, though, so he had to give up the helm to his father.
My son was pleasantly chatty with me that day. Never once did he display any grumpiness about pushing my chair or walking slowly when I chose to get up and walk to stretch. We talked about his experience pushing his paternal grandfather in a wheelchair for an outing days before. He (my son) said he wasn’t bothered physically by that day’s work. My son was being the kind, good man I raised him to be. Certainly he is his own man and deserves credit for choosing to behave in ways that support his roles as a family man. I appreciate that he has and continues to.
I had to hold back tears of joy most of the day: I was proud of my son for being a good family man, proud of him and his wife for teaching their children to be compassionate and patient with me, and I was proud of myself for having an attitude adjustment so I could participate in this family tradition. I can assure you, Summer Fun Days with accommodations are indeed as much fun.
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Photo courtesy of the author’s family.