Recently, our six-year-old daughter asked if other daddies might be sad if they couldn’t slingshot. Perplexed, I thought she meant using an actual slingshot as in caveman style sling and rock to kill an animal. I think I said something like, “Well, not all people like to hunt.” She gave me a funny look because I clearly was not understanding her question and must have chalked it up to her mom being tired or not paying proper attention. But later that evening as we strolled the neighborhood, one way our kids delay summer bedtime in their pajamas, I watched as she and her dad held hands while walking. Sometimes, she likes to drag him down the street; other times, she is behind him, holding the back bar in her best 6-year-old power stance, and still other times she likes to ride on his lap, small and light enough to do so.
“Daddy, let me slingshot you!” she yells, and then it all makes sense.
Walking daddies and mommies sometimes do the “lift up” of the children between them as they walk. Swinging arms means swinging kids. Our kids don’t swing; they swing their dad.
“Mom,” she demands, “this is what I meant about the slingshot. I feel bad for the dads who can’t slingshot like this.” And I’m laughing inside my head because I can’t tell who is enjoying the slingshot more: our daughter who powers him up the street or my husband who is trying his best to avoid rocks and cracks so he doesn’t flip upside down. I’ve seen this slingshot evolve for years now, and our 7-year-old son enjoys it too but not as much as our daughter; he prefers to be on his scooter or bicycle while we walk, less opportunity to sling his dad down the street.
So the difference now is that at 6 she has begin to notice that other dads can’t do the same things as her dad, which is a remarkable way of internalizing her own dad’s disability. He was paralyzed long before she was born so she doesn’t know his abilities any differently. What she does notice is that her dad is ABLE to do things other dads can’t because they aren’t sitting down on wheels. She feels sympathy for people who do not have the ability to be slingshotted down the street; she imagines that people who walk by her dad are sad because they can’t do everything that he can do. I love this about the world they are growing up in where one doesn’t see someone in a wheelchair and immediately feel pity.
Recently, we were on vacation to Martha’s Vineyard when a little boy seated in a little wheelchair being pushed by his mom passed Geoff in his wheelchair which has rugged mountain bike tires. “Mom, look at his wheels,” he said loudly on the pier of Oak Bluffs Harbor. Geoff smiled, stopped to chat with him and his parents, about his wheels among other things. The little guy just couldn’t stop staring at those knobby tires on Geoff’s wheelchair, in complete wheelchair envy, probably imagining everything that Geoff could roll over that he could not with his smooth tires. We talked about different adaptive sports opportunities near and around his home in upstate New York. We talked about the best beaches on island which had accessible beach chairs– both those for transport on sand and those for actually entering the ocean. Having visited five different public beaches, our winning beach wheelchair was found at Inkwell Beach so thank you to the Oak Bluffs Parks and Recreation Department and director Marc Rivers.
If that little boy had not been in a wheelchair, his mom or dad may have shushed his loud observation about Geoff’s knobby wheelchair tires. But they didn’t; they allowed the time and space for their little boy to ask questions about ABILITY with a man who was more than happy to share what he knew to be true about wheelchairs and adaptive sports and vacationing on beaches which he generally hates because sand really paralyzes him.
Our kids understand wheelchair envy themselves because they can’t slingshot; it’s probably why they like wheeled sports and skiing so much; the ability to harness the power of physics and gravity and move fast through the air and on land is pretty cool after all whether one is walking or wheeling.
Heather Krill is a writer- wife- teacher-mom who lives in the White Mountains of NH with her husband, Geoff, a paraplegic and professional skier, and their two children, Carver and Greta who are 7 and 6. Please check out her novel True North, website www.heatherkrill.com, and @heatherkrill1 on Twitter.