Home from College

“What I’d really like Dad, is to borrow the car keys.
See ya later,
Can I have them please?”

- Cats in the Cradle, Harry Chapin

 

It’s a delicate dance of “firsts”: that first break of the first semester of the first year when your kid comes home from college for the first real length of time. Knowing just how much of a “parent” you still need to be is indeterminate; and as it turns out, it’s barely your own decision anyhow.

As I awaited my own prodigal step son’s triumphant return just before the Holidays, I promised myself I would lay down the law even before that first thud of the laundry bag on the mud room floor; yet barely 2 hours later I was clamoring to get them into the washer myself—I guess I missed that absent set of clothes more than I realized.

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How to Celebrate the Holidays with the Ex

The Holiday season is practically synonymous with the word ‘family’; it is undoubtedly a time for togetherness, yet for families whose parents are divorced, the Holidays can be just the opposite: a fractious, frenetic, logistical nightmare where ex-husbands and wives often find themselves duplicating the Holiday experience for their children in separate households, miles away, and often on different days altogether.

While I’m certain many divorced parents have devised novel solutions to the dual-household problem, (Santa visits your house on even years, mine on odd years, for example) I believe I have found perhaps the simplest solution of all: Christmas day at my house and everyone’s invited, including the ex; and why not any friends of his who might be around; and while we’re at it, why not the ex’s father as well—he is, after the children’s grandfather. Yes you heard right. In our house we celebrate holidays—not only Christmas, but most of the others as well—all together; me, the wife, the kids and the ex and his ilk. Like a big, blended, extended, dysfunctional family. Though it may sound strange, I ask you to consider precisely the opposite: perhaps coming together for one holiday makes far better sense than perpetuating two alternate versions of the same thing.

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Do Me a Favor: Don’t Do Me Any Favors

Oh no. He’s heading this way, from across the parking lot – with that look. It’s the “something’s not right in my world” look. We’ve all seen it before, those of us in wheelchairs who have adapted to everyday chores, like getting in and out of cars. But whether it’s a vehicle with a lift, retractable ramp, or just a clever scheme for hoisting your chair’s frame over your reclined seat and popping on your two wheels, as I’ve done everyday for over two decades, we’ve mastered this. We’ve figured it out – we’re functional, and proud of it. But even this won’t deter some, like the man pummeling toward me at this moment, crossing in front of moving cars, risking his very life to set things right.

Luckily I’ve completely assembled and transferred into my wheelchair and am just about to shut the car door, all in the time it’s taken him to cross 25 yards of asphalt. Impressive, right? At least I think so; but no –

“You need any help?” he asks, breathlessly. I had hoped my awesome display of wheelchair assembling finesse would have demonstrated that no help is required, but he’s committed; something is still not right in his world –

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Triathlon Chronicles 3: Endgame

September 7, 2013: Long Island Sound is choppy with white caps. It’s 6:40 am on Race Day, the air temp is 49 degrees (9.8 C)  and the “disabled wave” of athletes of which I am part of, waits in surging, thigh-deep water for the start signal. Giant white, air-filled markers bob off in the distance – bulbous and surreal, they look like something out of the Hunger Games, plotting out each leg of the half-mile (0.8km) swim that kicks off the Triathlon that I will either finish today, or die trying. Off goes the gun.

I’ve got this, I tell myself as the waves and current batter anything that might resemble an actual swimming stroke into a spastic flailing of the only two limbs I can voluntarily move; 2 decades ago I swam for the United States Paralympic Swim Team in Barcelona, placing seventh in the world in the 100 meter breaststroke finals. Yet each time I lift my head from the brine the first giant pneumatic buoy doesn’t appear to be getting any closer.

If this is where it all ends, I gulp to myself, at least I put up a good fight.

***

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Man vs. Leaves

A man can lose himself out here, with all these leaves. He can lose his sense of earthly proportion; for instance where the pile ends and where the ground actually begins. It’s bad enough not knowing, but when you stop caring, you’re done for. I have gone 84 days without raking a single leaf. Now the first winter storm is about to hit, and I am surrounded by leaves – absolute and unyielding – ripples in a vast, bare-patch-of-grass-less desert.

But I am fortunate, for my 14 year old son stands with me, his rake tentatively dangling from his hands, his eyes two sorrow-filled moons of despair. I tell myself he has come to my aid because he has recognized this grave, family emergency. If the sleet comes before we can move this pile of leaves off the driveway and into the woods, my wife will not be able to pull the minivan out of the garage, at least not without hobbling over a frozen pile of leaves, easily the size of several minivans. I want to believe he has entered into a new phase of adult responsibility and duty to his clan, but alas, it’s more likely my wife has threatened him with no Wii today if he doesn’t come out and rake.

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Forever indebted

managing the kid’s money

We borrow money from our kid’s wallets sometimes. I know what you’re thinking: Bad Parents! But let me defend this by saying that a) it is nearly always used for some last-minute kid-related purpose where debit cards aren’t accepted and b) we always return the funds once we’ve had a chance to hit the ATM. Unlike many, more organized parental units, who for all I know must sleep with money belts, for how else are you to come up with $18.50 cash five minutes before the morning bus arrives and you are informed by your son or daughter that today is the last day you can pay for the team sweatshirts that he or she forgot to mention all week? For us the choice is simple: hit up the kid’s wallet stash, where that pile of twenties from the last holiday or birthday awaits.
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Triathlon Chronicles Part 2

This is not as easy as it looks

Checking in after a couple months of training; happy to report that no, I did not indeed drown in the lap pool of my local YMCA whilst activating those long-dormant swimming muscles again. So far I’ve logged a decent amount of road miles on my vintage hand cycle, and with some new rubber and lubed up RSX shifters I can access all three chain-rings.  So the training continues, with less than a month and counting until race day, I’m ALMOST all set.

The “almost” in this case is the racing wheelchair leg of the triathlon. At one point I thought I’d have to muscle along non-competitively for the three-mile road race in my everyday “street” chair, but thanks to a local road racer who has graciously lent me his extra racing wheelchair (perhaps you’ve seen them- one of those three-wheelers with the front-end steering, skinny tires and tiny hand-rims), I’m happy to say I’ve now got that covered.  Or so I thought, but I still had yet to try it out.

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Blended: Surviving in a world still dominated by the Nuclear Family

I guess that’s what we are now – blended, like Mike and Carol Brady; except our “bunch” didn’t all arrive at exactly the same time, or in the same manner. First we were “Steps”, that is a family of step-relating individuals: Elizabeth and her sons Josh and Ben; and me, the new guy. Then, four years into it, along came little Noah, the offspring of mine and Elizabeth, and the mash-up was complete. Now we’re all connected in some obtuse, yet cyclical kind of fashion. But it can still feel strange, especially in our small town, which appears to be busting at the seams with The Cleavers from the black & white nuclear family era.

But regardless of my official title, dad, step-dad, glorified nanny, whatever—I’ve been trucking around after these kids for so long I feel I might have lost perspective on just where my atypical family might fall within the official parenting spectrum. So for the definitive word I did what millions of us do; I conjured the ultimate Oracle of our times: The Google!

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Watching the Revolution, Sitting Down

The texting guide for those who can’t text

A physical disability can provide a unique perspective on sweeping social trends, particularly if those trends require physical attributes you don’t necessarily possess. Take, for instance texting. Or more to the point, walking and texting at the same time. Though modern teenagers might argue texting to be the pinnacle of the evolutionary use of our species’ opposing thumbs, consider how curious this phenomenon must appear to those who have little or no use of their opposing thumbs, such as quadriplegics. Even for those like me, paraplegics who have the great fortune to have the full use of our hands, texting and moving forward in a manually powered wheelchair is nearly impossible—unless you text with one hand and push with the other, which will only result in you traveling round and round in a circle. And forget actually stopping in one spot and texting—that is so Your Grandmother it’s not even worth considering. This leaves us wheelchair users with only one option for remote wireless communication, which is to swallow our pride and hold the device up to our ear and talk; but that’s far worse than even Grandma—it’s Methuselah. Of course a slightly better alternative for wheelchairs is the Blue Tooth Ear Thingy, which would allow for simultaneous verbal conversation and forward motion; however, the Blue Tooth Ear Thingy only belongs in one place in my opinion: on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise in Lieutenant Uhura’s left ear. So that leaves us wheelchair users back where we started; hopelessly out of step, raptly watching the world of ordinary humans as they walk, run, drive and do just about everything else, all while texting at the same time.

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Triathlon Chronicles

(Part 1)

After four laps I’m gasping—only four laps in; I would have thought I’d have made it a bit farther, given that in the old days I could crank out a 20 lap warm up without even thinking about it.  Then the real workout would begin. But this morning, after a decade and a half of shoulder injuries and a plethora of other minor excuses—the lamest being that I’m a 49 year old paraplegic—I’m back in the lane.  Bound for glory, or an extremely anti-climactic drowning, which, based upon my performance this morning, is as real a possibility as any.

It’s as if my heart is pumping tar through my veins, like I’m an old car in need of an oil change.  Its okay, I think to myself as I linger too long on the sixth turn at the wall.  The triathlon isn’t until September. Triathlon—what?  That’s right, half mile swim, 12 mile hand-cycle and 3 mile push. I had to go and sign up last week. As a former member of the U.S. International Disabled Swim Team in the late eighties and early nineties, I figure I’ve got the swim covered, as long as I don’t embarrass myself by prematurely dying while training in the YMCA pool.  The hand-cycling could be doable; I own an old one, but sadly, I’ve probably put in a total of 12 miles over the past 5 or 6 summers.  As for the 3 mile wheelchair road race, I’ve never done an actual race-paced push; in fact I don’t own or even know where to get my hands on an actual racing chair, so that part of the puzzle is still a mystery.

So begins another typical chapter in my life: a triathlon, what better activity to sign onto when I’m ill-equipped and out of shape—what am I waiting for?

I’ll check in again and let you know how the training is going; that is if I survive the first twenty laps.

To be continued….

 

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