Independence for Us and Them

Posted by Heather Krill in Life After Paralysis on May 30, 2022# Lifestyle First published by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation

When we had our daughter 11 years ago this coming June, our son was still very much a baby at 15 months old. While we did not own or operate those “child leashes” (not passing judgment on families who use them – they were just not going to be part of our family toolbox), we did use a variety of harnesses to keep Carver safe since his dad’s lap was forever available. We’ve passed these items along to other para-parents; sometimes, they are passed back, and others forwarded along. Either way is fine – we continue to share what helped us when our kids were little. Today, there are even more cool tools and technology to build independence for para-families, or all families really with mobility issues.

Our toddler son was an adventurer from day one, but Geoff could not reach every place our toddler could. So, for both their safety, Geoff used this device when the two of them went out for an evening stroll, especially when I was as giant as a house, pregnant with a second baby. This allowed Geoff to use both hands to wheel for that brief time when Carver was content to just take it all in, when he was tuckered out after a long day of being a baby. But then the world simply got to be too interesting, and he lasted only a few minutes in the lap harness. He understood (even though so little) that to be out with Dad and Dad’s friends meant there was gear and special equipment involved. That made life with a para-parent EXTRA exciting. This would be the age other walking dads would perhaps carry their husky toddler on their shoulders – and we have been lucky to have many stand-in and stand-up friends who happily joined Geoff on those early adventures to share first “man trips” together into the woods.

Our daughter preferred to stick close in crowd situations. Geoff encouraged her to hold onto the back of his wheelchair for two reasons. One, she thought she was helping to push him, and two, he could feel when she was attached from the direct pressure applied to his back. Of course, there were times when she pushed too fast or got distracted, but even to this day, she is a reliable co-pilot when the two of them are out anywhere together. Also, in terms of emergency response time, she is the one who would be depended upon in case help was needed. We have phone numbers posted everywhere at home for grandparents and friends – and now especially our closest neighbors “just in case” something happens to mom or dad, and the other parent isn’t home or can’t get to wherever they are.

When they were little, I hardly gave a second thought because we lived in a condo community where our kids were taught and shown how to find a neighbor. But now that I’m older, I often imagine myself falling downstairs while carrying awkward items. It’s weird to do this, I realize. However, anxiety plays itself out in countless ways – they, fortunately, know how to use a cell phone as well as a rotary landline. But we also have Sarah and Dave, whose little guy is spending more time at our house learning the ropes of being a wild man, building bike jumps and spending time on the trampoline. Our son rides his bike to their house, which we can see from our driveway, and then rides back with the 8-year-old, until dinnertime, when he rides him home again. We also have Rae, our elderly neighbor next door, also a widow, for whom Greta brings baked goods every few weeks just to check on her and say hello. Winter is a long time to worry about one’s neighbor, but now that spring has sprung, we see her outside, walking the driveway for her exercise and checking on the perennials her husband planted all those years ago. On the other side of Rae, we have Tiffany and her family, and I know if we had an emergency, our kids would feel totally safe running to any one of these families for help after calling 911.

So, we prepare for worst-case scenarios hoping that they never come true. We share tools and phone numbers and build independence like riding bikes to school. We connect with our neighbors and try to model what it means to be neighborly. After all, we are lucky to have the neighbors we do, especially after the wonderful village we moved from in search of more space. Happy to have spring finally in these parts!

Heather Ehrman 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 12 and 10 respectively. Please check out her novel True North, website, author FB page Heather Krill, and @heatherkrill1 on Twitter.

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