Thursday, July 11, 2013

A level playing field.

The triplets had been in kindergarten for three days when Mason ran to the van with tears streaming down his face. I was panicked. What had happened differently on day three that was upsetting him so much. The first two days, my trio had exited their little school with smiles but not today. What could possibly have happened?  And then he told me:

The sun came out.

It had rained for the first two days of school. But on day three, the kids actually went outside for recess. And outside...well, outside held an old playground that was down a steep hill. Mason could not get down to it, but his friends could. And when his friends went to a place he could not follow, he was left watching with his brother, Benjamin, who could not get to the playground either. Mason was devastated. Really, just devastated.

But his mom? Well, his mom was feeling the claws of a Mama Bear whose first child (or three) had been hurt. I was at once sad and mad and determined to make it better. With the absolute confidence of a Mother determined to make the world welcoming to her bear cubs, I looked at this precious son with his fire-engine red crutches and said, "Don't worry. I will fix it." 

When I dropped the kids off the next day at school, I marched to the assistant principal's office to make a plan. When the school district said they were working towards accessible playgrounds but it might take as many as 10 years, the assistant principal agreed to let me attempt a fund-raising campaign to build an accessible playground.

After assembling a wonderful team of helpers, we began to jump through hoops that never occurred to this first-time mom. From the school district, to the PTO who had their funds earmarked for something entirely different, to precious donors who wanted only my boys to have access to the playground (God bless the lady's heart, she had seen the boys on the news and wanted JUST them to play!), we jumped one hoop after another.

It never occurred to me that anyone would oppose something that allowed everyone to play together. It never crossed my mind that anyone would have a problem supporting an effort to make the world a bit more accessible for my adorable 5-year-olds.

And so many did support the effort. We held penny drives and sweet children emptied their piggy banks so that they could play with Benjamin and Mason on an accessible playground. Dear friends sent checks from far and near. The nurses working with Wade at Mayo had a competition to see which hospital's Ortho nurses could raise the most money. We were amazed at the precious support.

And yet, at the end of the school year, we barely had half the funds necessary. My supermom cape was not just slipping, it had been ripped off and stomped on. I was learning a horrible lesson and I did not like it one bit: I might not be able to fix everything for my boys.

And then my phone rang. The playground company had just completed a photo shoot for their newest catalog. They had photographed an accessible playground and would now disassemble it and sell it for -- are you ready for this -- half its original cost. Just a couple thousand dollars more than we had. A quick call to the school district confirmed they would provide the difference. Our playground would be built and opened in time for the first week of school.

Little Claire and Little Mason on the accessible playground.

Sweet Benjamin on the ramp to the accessible playground.

I was thrilled. For so many reasons. But mainly, mainly, I believed it spoke volumes about what life would be like for our family -- we would encounter obstacles, of course, but together we would plow through them, overcome them, make the world more accessible, more inclusive. Cerebral Palsy might affect the way we move through the world but it would not beat us.

Our little family, the day the ribbon was cut!

And I believed that. With my whole heart. Right up until the temperatures dipped and the snow began to fall. Because that was the day Benjamin and Mason were told they could not go outside to play on the accessible playground with their friends, because they could not maintain their body temperature.

It was the day that I couldn't fix it. It was the day I realized there would be obstacles, so many obstacles beyond my control, that make the world and my boys' participation in it a challenge.

Faith is walking forward even when you realize life is beyond your control. I know this. I have known this for years. And yet, the reality of not being able to fix it for my boys almost knocked me down.

It did in fact prompt our move to Phoenix. After that winter, the snow lost its luster. I couldn't bear the thought of my boys sitting inside watching their friends build snowmen. One of the big draws of Phoenix was the abundance of inclusive sports. I read story after story of wheelchair power soccer, and wheelchair basketball. I was sold. Life in the desert was calling us.

We plugged right in to Wheelchair Power Soccer for Benjamin. I was thrilled to find a sport he could enjoy. He hated it.

Mason plugged into to Sled Hockey. Propelling himself on the ice with shortened hockey sticks that served duo purposes. He didn't really care for it.

We tried baseball. They didn't let you get anyone out. Mason really (really really) wanted someone to win and someone to lose.

We gave up for a while. Both boys swam and then found theater -- an inclusive group that allows them to shine, perform and make the best of friends.

But for Mason, something was still missing. He longed to compete in a physical way. He needed a sport.

Then we heard that our Arizona Disabled Sports offered archery. He asked to give it a try. And promptly fell in love. This week, he competed in the National Junior Disability Championship Games in...would you believe, our old stomping grounds, Rochester, Minnesota.

We visited our playground. The one that I erroneously thought would level the playing field, literally.

My 16-year-olds introducing Cate to the playground they helped build.

It is a beautiful thing still. And the names listed on the school's wall honoring the supporters who made it possible made us all cry a bit in gratitude.

And the bittersweet memories of watching my boys on the playground, were made sweet by the fact that we were in town because Mason did have a level playing field. A field lined with wheelchairs and targets. A field lined with young men and women ready to compete, to excel, to make friends! A field where Mason was included.

The red and white arrows are Mason's!

And the irony is that Mama Bear had nothing to do with this. I spent years pushing, driving and encouraging. I spent years coaxing, and trying to make things fit. But a bow and arrow never occurred to me. This was Mason's idea. Mason's passion. And it is Mason's drive that allowed him to succeed.

Tears ran down my cheeks as his first arrow soared. I know today that I can not fix it for my boys. I can not force acceptance. I can not insist on inclusion in every activity. I can not build ramps to every building. I can not prevent surgeries. And I can not stop them from having pain.

I can not take away their Cerebral Palsy.

But when he drew back his bow, I felt the pride a Mama feels watching her child succeed. And I knew, that even though I am not SuperMom and I can not take away his CP, I have somehow -- through God's grace -- helped my husband raise a child that knows what he wants, pursues it with all he has, and is determined to work at it until he succeeds. 

The Arizona Heat!

Mason with his aunts and uncles!

And somehow, I really believe that is better than removing every obstacle, fixing every problem and leveling every field.

My little family -- and our niece -- celebrating Mason!!

You are a blessing, Mason. An absolute blessing. We are all so proud of you. So proud of your drive, your dedication and determination to reach your goals. And I am pretty grateful for your lesson that I sometimes...ok, often, just need to get out of your way and let you soar!


Claire's Calico Corner said...

You are an amazing writer! This is simply beautiful.

Nosam 122 said...

I haven't gotten on for years. This post was so good that it made drag my account out of the depths of The Cyber Space Abyss, just to comment on this post!

Lisa said...

Carol, I LOVE you and your wonderful amazing family. GOD IS SO GOOD!!! I had goosebumps all over and tears in my eyes as I read this beautiful post. You are a gifted writer, Carol!!! Love you!

K said...

This post gave me chills. Thank you, as always, for your wonderful words. And the pictures of Mason doing archery made me smile...I do archery too! It's such an awesome sport! (: