Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Planes, Pizzas, and the Sistine Chapel

Ciao from Roma!

After six years of dreaming, planning, and trying to make this work, we have arrived in Italy! And today, was a good day. (And believe me, that emphasis is important!) Today, we saw as much of the Vatican as possible by wheelchair (There were many areas, many halls that simply were not accessible by wheels)....

Swiss Guard protecting a corridor used by the Pope.

Navigating the Vatican.

This cool lift made it possible for the boys to see the Sistine Chapel.

We also toured the main level of St. Peter's Basilica -- 

Michaelangelo's Pieta. The picture doesn't come close to doing this masterpiece justice!

Sun pouring in from the dome.

Another dome.

Cate -- my little St. Andrew's student, in front oft he statue of St. Andrew!

We toured the Pantheon and had a delicious lunch....

In front of the Pantheon with Marco, our tour guide.

Mason on the red tiles -- for royalty.

Shrader four in the Parthenon

But yesterday.

Oh Santo Cielo!! (Ok...I searched the web for that one...apparently it is akin to "Oh my goodness!"...or technically "For the holy heaven's sake")

Dinner after a long flight and a longer day.

We left Philadelphia Monday evening for our direct flight to Rome. We always worry about the wheelchair. We've had flights where it is good as new when returned to us but many many more where it looks like it was dragged behind the plane for the duration of the flight.

If you follow our adventures here, then you know that Benjamin uses an aisle chair to get from his wheelchair at the plane's doors to his seat. (When we fly Southwest and can have one of the first rows, we simply carry him on board but bigger planes, mean our seats are deep in the plane making carrying him impossible.) I've learned that we don't allow Benjamin in the aisle chair for disembarking until his power chair is waiting in the bridge. (He is unstable in the aisle chair and his anxiety level naturally increases as he recognizes the instability).

The flight Monday was an overnight flight -- meaning my crew would be hitting the ground sight-seeing and trying to convince our bodies to push through for sleep Tuesday night.

But Benjamin's body doesn't cooperate well with sleeping on an airplane. His spine fusion means he can't move and bend and twist to get comfortable. And as a result he was wide-awake for the duration of the flight and so just a tad bit over exhausted upon landing. Just a tad. 

The plane completely emptied but Benjamin's chair had not arrived. As usual, the flight staff grew impatient with us. The American Airlines team had been a bit edgy for the flight. One attendant in particular (Oh how I wish I had written her name down!) was quite curt with everyone around us. As the wait grew longer, she came to us and suggested Mason, Claire, and Cate wait for us at the gate. I argued that we didn't need to be separated. She argued that their leaving would give the  crew more room to help Benjamin (Keep in mind it was a HUGE plane!). We disagreed for several minutes until finally we took a deep breath and said ok. They could wait at the gate. (It certainly did not feel as if we had an option.)

Finally, the team came for Benjamin. They said his chair was waiting and I could go assemble it (I always remove the seat cushion and headrest for protection.). To my surprise, the wheelchair was waiting in a mobile elevator on the opposite side of the plane from the bridge to the gate. We like to travel but I have never seen anything like this. It was literally a rectangular small bus with the ability to elevate to the level of the plane. I walked into this mobile elevator and began to assemble the wheelchair. Much to my dismay, the chair would not power up. Not at all.

My favorite archaeology student is in heaven!! 

I bent down to look for disconnected wires. I was on the floor working on battery connectivity, and trying everything I could think of to get the chair working when the pilot came into the elevator. He told me that the kids would have to meet me in customs because this mobile elevator will drive Benjamin, Wade, and I to the customs area a different route. We won't be going through the gate. I stop and stare at him. No. No. That won't happen. I remind him one of my three at the gate is only 12. He nods. I remind him one of the three has Cerebral Palsy. He nods again. My voice might have raised as I begged him to get them back to me. He told me it was not possible. I said well, then go right now and tell them to wait there for their father. As soon as we have Benjamin in his chair, Dad can go to them. I will go with Benjamin.

A quick glimpse of the Colliseum! (more later)

I was panciked but I knew we all would feel better if they had their dad with them.

The pilot assured me he would go take care of it.

My heart was racing. I couldn't get the wheelchair to work. The seat was reclined (in order to get it into baggage claim easier) and could not be moved without power to chair.

Benjamin was placed in a laying-down chair in an unknown environment where he had no ability to navigate. 

AND my three other children were somewhere in the Rome airport without me.

I was trying not to panic.

Wade wasn't panicked. He was furious. He demanded that Mason, Claire, and Cate be returned to us. The pilot made eye-contact with him and quickly departed. (Clearly recognizing anger more than my pleading.)

Unbeknownst to us, my kids were making similar demands at the gate. The flight attendant was telling them we had left them and they should go on. This American Airlines staff was telling my children that their parents LEFT them! Claire looked at her and told her she knew we would not do that. Apparently it was getting fairly heated in the gate area.

No wonder then that this time when the pilot returned, he had Mason, Claire, and Cate with him. I took a dep breath.

Playing in the sun beam coming through the open dome of the Pantheon.

The lack of power to the wheelchair seemed easier to handle all of a sudden once we were reunited. Perspective is like that, right? 

Benjamin, however, still felt panic at not being able to see or drive himself. The team from the airport pushed him. They took us through back doors, and made lines disappear in customs so that we walked right up to have our passports checked. And as we waited for the passports' approval, Wade had the insight to check one more connection....and though it looked connected, he realized it was not completely engaged. He adjusted the cable and with that we had power to the power wheelchair once again.

And so today, when the guards in the Sistine Chapel came to us and asked if they could escort us through the crowd to the altar -- "So you can pray," one said. I nodded yes. Oh yes. And as the six of us gathered there (Not super tranquil with guards shouting "Silencia!" and "NO photos" repeatedly..) under the fruit of Michelangelo's talents, under and surrounded by the beauty of his brush, of his years of labor, of his Bible knowledge, I took a deep breath.

And I thanked God for this trip of a lifetime, for the ability to navigate the hard stuff to find and experience the new things -- the old old old new things! -- and to  do it all with my little family back together!! 

Arrivederci miei amici ( See you later, my friends!! I'm sure I'll have more to share!)

Shraders in the Vatican!

Carol - The Blessings Counter