Children follow our lead in everything we say and do from the earliest of ages. They learn from every good and bad experience, and they learn the most in times of trial, challenge, or just plain crappy situations. Parenting is hard. Parenting from a seated position is even harder. Our son was having a conversation with my husband the other day about things he could or could not do. “I can do anything,” he tells Carver, “it might just might take me longer or look different from how you do it.”
“Face it, Dad, you kind of suck at skateboarding.”
Our son is 8 and his 47 year old dad has a spinal cord injury. I remind him that “suck” isn’t a nice word, but I don’t say, “Carver, that hurts your dad’s feelings” because it’s true; Geoff would suck at skateboarding because he can’t actually stand on a skateboard.
“And climbing trees. You also aren’t very good at that, Dad, but I’m glad you let me climb trees. Even though it can be very dangerous,” he adds. Geoff shakes his head, grounded and reminded of his limitations not in a way that his hurtful, but just matter of fact. Carver knows that there is lot of other things Geoff can do with him like fishing and swimming and handcycling just to name a few. One day though, he may recognize the lasting gifts of growing up with a mom and dad who handle the spinal cord injury among them like the family couch in the living room– always present, always loved and sometimes in need of repair.
Even though I never met Christopher or Dana Reeve in person, except through television interviews and magazine articles as a kid, I sense there are many lessons they taught their children that have stayed with them through adulthood– even when their parents could not. Beyond being Superman, beyond marrying Superman, beyond creating the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, and beyond changing countless lives through that network, they were parents first and foremost. And so in honoring mothers and fathers this month and next, it’s important to remember the gifts our parents leave with us even when they leave us–whether they are disabled or not. Of course, we plan to see our children grow into adulthood; however, God forbid we don’t have that chance, I feel fairly confident that they are developing a strong sense of survival through flawed parenting and challenging situations.
Top Ten Characteristics Gained by Children Whose Parents Face Extra Challenges
1. A sense of independence: Problem solving doesn’t come naturally to every family, but when someone faces a disability daily, parents model for their children how to overcome a challenge.
2. A network of support: Parents with disabilities are resourceful and model for their children how to weave their own webs of friendship.
3. Grit: No better way to teach one’s children how to power through than by powering through.
4. Family Flaws: No matter what appears on the outside, no family is perfect.
5. Hope: When one is a parent–whether disabled or able bodied- hope is essential to survival. Kids learn to have hope when their parents have hope.
6. Strength in Genes (whether biological or nurtured): Whether babies are born with the same genetic material or borrowed from someone else, the environment where they are raised can be everything in what they become.
7. Sense of Humor: When all else fails, we laugh. A lot.
8. Compassion: When children watch their parents along with their network of support take care of one another and lean on one another, children learn to take care of one another and lean on one another.
9. Adaptability: There is always a way.
10. Faith: When all else fails and the laughter fades, in the words of the late, great George Michael, “You just gotta have faith.”
Last year, our daughter, then 5, made me a Mother’s Day card at school which showed me holding up a glass of beer with a straw. She had written “beer” over the beverage just to make sure I knew what she had drawn. She pulled this card out of her little backpack so proud of herself. “Mom, I spelled ‘beer’ all by myself! I even had Mrs. Pamplin check it for me. And Mrs. Fadden. They both said it was all right!” Of course they did, and if they did not also have children my own kids’ ages I would have wondered what they thought of my parenting. I squeezed her hard just so she could feel the maternal pride I felt in her spelling both “mother” and “beer” accurately on my card. In this Mothers Day/ Fathers Day season, here’s to all the moments that make us feel like we are not good parents, and remember all that is being learned through the hardest of lessons.
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 8 and 6. Please check out her novel True North, website http://www.heatherkrill.com, author FB page Heather Krill, @heatherkrill1 on Twitter, and, most recently added in the New Year, her Youtube channel “Writing from the Front.”