Monday, January 20, 2020

A thank you.

Last August a little tortoise was born with a spinal anomaly. My friend Randy -- who cares for spines of people AND raises tortoises -- decided to give this little fellow his best life. Randy took Helix the little bitty tortoise whose back legs were twisted and didn't work, gave him wheels, hand fed him daily, and recorded this little guy's life in a way that has inspired countless.

Photo cred: Randy Betz

Randy didn't stop there. He began writing books about Helix -- to share the story of the little tortoise that COULD as well as to spread awareness about living with a disability. 

Sweet little Helix died on Thursday. His little body just stopped breathing. I never knew I could be so sad about the death of a little tortoise I didn't even get to meet in real life.

But see Helix didn't just inspire Randy. Helix gave me a means to write my first children's book. In less than a month, "Helix Rolls Into A Sleepover" will release. It is a sweet little story about Helix being invited to a friend's house for a sleepover but...there are stairs. I hope you'll order (available here for preorder now!) and see how Helix still has a sleepover. More importantly I hope you will order to see how Helix continues his legacy of helping develop empathy and awareness.

My friend Randy doesn't intend to let Helix and his inspiration stop -- he has formed a non-profit for helping children who need wheelchairs get wheelchairs! You can check it out  at!

Thank you, Helix, for giving us all the reminder to push through our challenges. Thank you for daily showing us how to overcome and persist. Thank you for legitimately making the world a better place -- a place where wheels are super cool and friends find more in common than their differences.

You will be missed but not forgotten.

Carol - The Blessings Counter

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Flat tires and Accessible Playgrounds.

It was the third day of kindergarten. The first two days had been rainy-have-recess-inside kind of days. But on the third day, the sun was shining so it didn't make sense that for the first time my three little so-excited-to-be-going-to-school kindergarteners got in the van subdued, sad even. And then Mason started crying:

"I couldn't do it, Mommy. I couldn't play!"

Me: "What do you mean you couldn't play?"

Mason: "I can't get to the playground. The teachers told me I couldn't."

More crying.

And though more than a few years have passed, I remember  turning around in my driver's seat as if it happened yesterday and looking this cute little usually-smiling-boy in the eyes and telling him I would fix it. 

Mommy would fix it.

I barely had the trio unloaded from the van before I was on the phone with the principal asking why in the world Mason would be told NOT to go to the playground.

I listened as she described how the old old playground was built down in a gully and the teachers did not think Mason and his power sticks could or should make the trek. They were trying to keep him safe she said. 

The school district had assured her the long-term plan was to build a new playground in the flat easy-to-access area directly behind the school. I asked for a contact to call to urge this date being sped up.

The district assured me it would happen.  But probably not in time for my boys to enjoy it.

But see, I told my Mason that I would fix it. And five years into motherhood, I intended to do just that.

So I had a face-to-face meeting with the principal and asked her to allow me to raise the money for an accessible playground. It took an amazing team, some precious children emptying their piggy banks, and in the end a playground company who gave us a huge discount on the equipment they had assembled to photograph for their catalog, but we built an accessible playground before the triplets started first grade!!

Ribbon cutting for the Hand by Hand Accessible Playground!!!

And perhaps that success falsely set me up to believe I would be able to fix whatever came our way. 

Tonight we had a flat tire in the accessible van. It isn't our first flat. It wasn't even the most scary (ask me sometime about the flat Wade had to change on the side of the interstate in the middle of the Arizona desert with eighteen-wheelers and rattlers too close for comfort.....) But it is one of the coldest nights we have had this winter, and we don't have a spare (stupid conversion didn't allow for one) and so we could have waited for hours for a tow truck or taken Benjamin from his wheelchair into a rescuing vehicle (Claire took an Uber home to get the other car.) and wait to deal with the flat in the warmth of the sun tomorrow. So we opted for the latter.

And so it was with already frazzled nerves that I listened to Benjamin's Personal Care Attendant (PCA) work to ready him for bed tonight. I have spent the last two months training this PCA on how to care for my son. This week her supervisors came in to do another training with her because of my concern that she just isn't getting it. I thought tonight that perhaps I make her nervous. So I sat in my family room desperately attempting not to intervene. And that worked right up until Benjamin yelled for me. He was in his lift but the straps were backwards causing him to be in a terribly uncomfortable and probably unsafe position. I just took over and did the rest of the transfer myself. I probably sighed a lot too.

If in his lift correctly, Benjamin is sitting upright enjoying the ride!

And so as I tried to calm myself after Benjamin was safely in bed, I kept hearing a phrase in my head on a loop -- I will fix this. I will fix the van. I will fix the PCA situation. I will just do it myself if I have to. I will fix it.

And the reality of dealing with the tow truck and figuring out where to even have it towed for tire service in this new place, coupled with the agency urging me to make it work with this PCA is threatening to overwhelm me tonight. I can't help but doubt my ability to fix....

But I remember the playground. I remember that a not-so-pleasant woman urged the PTA to refuse to let our fundraising efforts be under their umbrella. I remember the woman who called me after we were on the news and she insisted that she would ONLY give money if Benjamin and Mason were the only children allowed on the playground. I spent one hour convincing her that the whole point was allowing them to play WITH their friends!

And I remember that we were short thousands of dollars when the playground company called and offered me the photo-assembled playground for almost exactly the amount we had raised.

See, it is with a deep deep sigh that I realize that our playground success did not set me up to falsely believe I could fix it all....rather, I think the God-given success of the playground was God's way of boosting my confidence to tackle the hard, to fight the wrongs, and to advocate for my crew no matter what. 

No matter that they are adults. No matter that the stupid tire is flat. I'll be here tackling it all -- as long as they need me to.

Carol - The Blessings Counter

Friday, December 20, 2019

Star Wars Fans since birth. Literally.

Wade and I had been dating for almost a year when he invited me to sit and view three movies back to back. He didn't tell me it was a test. But in hindsight, I am absolutely certain that the very future of our relationship hung in the balance. The very fact that he kept dating me after learning that young young me had not gone to the theater to see Star Wars, speaks volumes to the fact that he already loved me when this was discovered. Whew.

We were expecting triplets in 1997 when the original movies were re-released on the big screen in anticipation of the prequels. For "A New Hope" we braved the crowds and when the lobby of the Chicago movie theater turned in to a mash pit, a kind theater manager whisked me into the theater early. And so it began.

These babies kicked the entire movie. THE ENTIRE MOVIE! I was laughing out loud because already, I knew they were going to love watching it with their Dad.

When "The Empire Strikes Back" was re-released, the theater manager saw us when we walked in and whisked me to the calm and safety of the theater. And when "The Return of the Jedi" re-released, I was in the hospital on bed rest and had to miss it.

But in 1999, when "The Phantom Menace" opened, we stood in line all day to see it -- well, Wade did. I had three two year olds at home. The babysitter came in time for me to meet Wade to go in and FINALLY see a Star Wars movie the first time it was released.

After the hype died down a bit -- and by hype I mean the crowds because the hype was alive and well at our house -- Wade and I loaded three very excited two year olds and headed to the theater for their first action film. One bitty baby got scared when the previews started -- the surround sound hurt his little ears, I think. And when I went to take him to the lobby, his sister wanted to go with us, too. That left Dad with Benjamin. And Benjamin, well, Benjamin sat on Wade's lap, holding on to the seat in front of him talking to the screen:

"Hey Yoda! Daddy, it's Yoda!!!" 

"Jar Jar!!! Daddy, Jar Jar Binks!!!!"

"Darth Maul!!"

Don't worry, we were in a small town, months after the movie premiered and there was only one other Dad and child in the theater. My enthusiastic Star Wars fan didn't disturb anyone.

The next summer, when Benjamin needed surgery requiring a cast after, we were sitting with him when he woke in the recovery room. 

"Daddy, look! I am in a pod racer!!!"

And that boy didn't complain ONE time about wearing his "pod-racer" cast all summer!

And so last night, we were at the premiere of the latest movie, "The Rise of Skywalker." On a work night. On a school night. We were there. 

And I know, judging by my social media feed and the way we had to buy tickets months ago, (And you know, because I don't live under a rock!) that we are not a unique family in our love of Star Wars. And yet, last night, I felt super emotional as familiar faces popped up on the big screen. Memories swirled of babies kicking to the brilliant music of John Williams before they were even born, to the surgeries the films have distracted us from. 

I felt grateful for a universe that creates a level playing field for my boys with their friends (and strangers, and all of Twitter.).

But mostly, I felt grateful for shared experiences with their Dad. In my head I could hear the thousands of conversations over the years where they deconstruct the movies, where they read the books, where they anticipate the rides! I feel grateful for Jedis and lightsabers and even the Sith. 

And I am totally blaming my gratitude for the dozen or so times, I teared up last night. Totally.

So whatever the next generation of films offers, we will no doubt be huge fans. But last night -- for me anyway -- felt like saying thank you to the ones who began it all. And I loved every minute.

May the Force Be With You!

Carol - The Blessings Counter