Posted by Heather Krill in Life After Paralysis on April 01, 2022# Lifestyle First published on the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation
Twelve-year-olds are tricky. In the span of one hour, they can be perhaps the most helpful and most hindering of beings. Our kids have only ever known their dad as a wheelchair user, and watching this evolution of understanding has been equally awesome and infuriating. For example, as a little guy, our son used to push his dad out of the way in our tiny condo if Geoff was blocking a hallway, which was frequent. However, some of those times, Geoff wasn’t expecting to be pushed from behind or slid sideways – sometimes, he was holding a cup of coffee or leaning slightly to one side, balanced in his own stability. But a shove from a 3-year-old could easily dump him out of his chair, and we worked really hard to explain that just because Dad was on wheels did not give us the right to move him without his permission.
Our daughter was gentler physically, but certainly harder on him emotionally by not always wanting his help, preferring mine to his. She is also the one, now at almost 11, more apt to ignore his requests for help when drawing or hanging out upstairs in her room; it is not uncommon for her to say during the parental debrief, “Well, Dad, sorry, I just didn’t hear you yelling for me.” Despite being more spread out than our condo, our home is still not huge. I know for a fact that unless someone is blaring their music, voices can be heard throughout without the need for an intercom system.
But now that they are older, it is getting easier for them to do things independently with just their dad – although with that added independence comes a whole lot more gear. The fact that Geoff travels a lot during the winter with his mono ski also requires help on the mountain end. As a mono skier, one does not just rent a pair of skis like others might when traveling to another ski resort. Nor can he just rent a bike easily when the idea of a cycling trip somewhere pops up as a potential family vacation. He is blessed by an amazing work family who always helps to load him up to go anywhere – but when it comes time to return equipment and gear after a trip, he must rely on the three folks he lives with because his day starts so early at Loon Mountain. This winter, we’ve both been really impressed with the strength and care our son has shown when loading and unloading Geoff’s gear.
So that in a moment of normal wrestling on the couch after a long day of skiing, we were unprepared for him literally shoving his paralyzed dad on the floor. And I should backtrack for a moment – there is nothing really normal about wrestling between a child and their paralyzed parent – except that they both seem to enjoy it despite me yelling at them about someone is going to get hurt with a flying elbow or the fact that Geoff’s bones are brittle, and we don’t need Dad going to a rehab hospital for playing too hard. Yes, these are things I yell.
Then suddenly, Geoff was on the floor, laid out between the couch and his wheelchair, and while no one was hurt, there was a look of both relief and recognition of power on our son’s face that said, “Holy crap, I just shoved my dad on the floor.” Thus began the long process of trying to get him back in his chair, which is not getting any easier as he gets older. But there was laughter, normalcy, and still, the talk afterward about not realizing one’s own strength – that strength should be used for the power of good and not the power of oppression. Then our boy asked if this was going to lead into another conversation about “consent,” and he used air quotes to prove his point that perhaps Mom had been beating a dead horse with that line of discussion.
So, this is what life is like at 12. And 51 and 47 respectively. And almost 11. Our daughter will be 11 in June, and I can only imagine where we go from here. Thank you for reading and listening – always.
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 www.heatherkrill.com, author FB page Heather Krill, and @heatherkrill1 on Twitter.