I spent Saturday morning with the family getting ready for the busy afternoon that was planned. Breakfast consisted of a run to the donut shop, and then a hustle to get two kids dressed and in the car, while keeping a shred of sanity. Off we went in our SUV to the baseball game. The car was loaded down: 2 parents, 2 kids, and a 450 pound power wheelchair and mobile ramp. The baseball game was much anticipated and very special. In fact it was a special needs baseball league that our 5 year old joined earlier this year, and her 3rd game of the season. Dressed in her Tigers team baseball hat and jersey, she was squealing when we arrived. We made our way to our seats and watched all of the happy kids getting warmed up for the game. Several kids with mobility walkers and wheelchairs zoomed around the field, along with all of the ‘buddies’, which were local high school students that were volunteering their time to assist the players. These games are all about equal access and inclusion ability for everyone. Kids get to bat until they hit the ball, with or without a tee. They can walk, jog, run, or wheel around the bases as fast or slow as they are able to. They can get a single, double, triple or home run if they want. It’s the most beautiful and patient chaos I have ever seen. We took our place in the stands with all of the other eager parents and friends, ready to see our daughter play ball.
The power wheelchair is still very new to us, and I won’t lie, has been overwhelming more than once. It was delivered to our daughter’s school in September, and she mainly uses it there. She also uses a mobility walker, and also braces to support her in getting around. She was overjoyed when her power wheelchair arrived, and I can proudly say has learned to maneuver it quite well! While she can walk for short distances while in her walker and braces, her new chair allows her to go longer distances and keep her endurance up. We had an increased speed setting included just for her baseball games, and she couldn’t wait to use it. It’s pink, with her name embroidered on the seat, and she is just over the moon by her new wheels. For us as her parents, it was a bit more of an adjustment, with a few more kinks to iron out. For one, transporting the wheelchair from point a to point b has been incredibly difficult. We learned the hard way the first time we tried to bring it home, IT DIDN’T FIT IN OUR CAR! Yep. The several thousand dollar power-wheels sat in my mom’s driveway for a few hours while my husband tried to figure out how to get it home. The first thing we did was rent a mini-van for that first weekend just to get it in a car and move it. Then we had to have the wheelchair company come out to help us take it apart to find out how to adjust the height so it would fit. We spent hours looking at van options (wheelchair vans are SO expensive!), trading our car, and trying different ramps to fit in our car. Fast forward, we now have two portable ramps (one that my husband hurriedly built in our driveway after the first ramp didn’t work…), a wheelchair trailer that fits on the back of both of our cars, and a multi-step plan to get the wheelchair partially taken apart to fit in the back of my car. I won’t lie, tears were shed by both of us throughout this process. And it’s hard to get it in and out of the car, especially for me. And we STILL don’t know our end game. Mini-van or not? But our daughter – she LOVES it. We’ve held all of our moanings and complaints outside of her ear-shot, striving to keep this experience for her as positive and encouraging as possible.
As I sat in the stands waiting for her bat, still mildly annoyed at the ‘bringing of the wheelchair to the game’ that afternoon, I noticed all of the children playing ball that day. All different in their own special way, all having fun with their team and buddies, all bringing smiles to the parents and families in the stands, all sharing a determination that I see in my daughter every day. The mild annoyance disappeared as I took it all in. It was finally her turn to bat, and she drove up to the tee. She methodically unbuckled her seatbelt, hit the ball off of the tee, turned slowly and got back into her chair, buckled her seatbelt, and off she went! She had her ‘sport’ setting on, and zoomed to first base, slowed down and then made her way to second. The announced encouraged her to third base and as she rounded third for her home run, she stopped. Everyone was yelling for her to keep going, but she stopped, and unbuckled her seatbelt. She slowly got out of her wheelchair and turned towards home plate. And then she ran. As fast as she could, to home plate, big amazing smile, a full crowd cheering, encouraging her. I’d never seen her run that fast! She wasn’t wearing her braces, so her little knees were touching as she ran, in the special way that she walks when she doesn’t have her braces. She made it to home plate, big smile and laughs, turned and jogged back towards her wheelchair. I saw her exhaustion as soon as she made it back to her chair, and she slowly climbed back up, buckled her seatbelt, and drove back to the dug out. She was so happy, and also so tired! From third base to home plate wore her out, and she took a few minutes to recharge. But then she was back at it, zooming around, heading to the outfield with her buddy, and out of her chair to throw and catch the ball. She got to bat again and did the same thing. And it was nothing short of amazing the second time either.
My annoyance at the loading and unloading her wheelchair has gone since her game. When I was awkwardly trying to unload the ramp and almost dropped it on my foot (!), I honestly stopped and thought about all of the effort and sheer determination that my daughter put into her short run, only to get back a short time later and do it again, with a smile, with pride, and I found encouragement to keep trying. She’s a child that has been faced with a constant decision to press on through tired muscles and pain since she was born. She has learned over and over to constantly push her limits to prove that she can do what her body says she should stop doing. She has learned to advocate for herself, speak when she needs helps, and be proud of ALL of her accomplishments. And on Saturday, she helped her momma find beauty in her power wheelchair, and all that comes along with it.