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The high school’s Individual Education Plan for Beth focused on access: special desks, leaving class early, the private locker room, and getting down the steps during fire drills. At an IEP meeting, the principal asked her what she needed. She surprised me by requesting a place for her wheelchair in the student section of the stadium for home football games. She also mentioned the problem of others being too helpful. When someone grabbed a push handle on the back of her wheelchair, she reached around and lightly smacked their hand with her fist.
“I realized that my biggest challenge would be to insist on doing things myself and to become independent again,” Beth said. “At the risk of sounding corny, people are generally kind, so it was my responsibility to speak up for myself.”
The first anniversary of the accident came and went without discussion. It didn’t seem to phase Beth, other than an appreciation of how far she had come since then. At counseling, I rehashed the night of her injury. My guilt and anxiety were far from rational and out of my control. Certain that I had ruined Beth’s life, I needed a way to erase the injury and her losses. I wanted nothing less than the world at her fingertips, with hands and legs she could feel and move. With a cut spinal cord, the only chance of recovery would be medical miracles of the future, but I still couldn’t accept her injury—or my role in causing it.
The annual regional choir contest had been at Tiffin Columbian on the day Beth was injured on May 20. Early that morning, I had set up the concession stand in the cafeteria. After my girls sang, we left for Columbus. A year later, the choir contest would be out of town.
The director, Curtis King, complained when a handicapped-accessible school bus would not be available, but Beth didn’t mind driving with me. I brought a book along and opened it to discourage other parents from talking to me. I also perfected the art of hovering at a distance to be available to Beth, but out of the way. She sang with her 9th grade choir and Maria had a solo in the Women’s Chorus, all earning high marks, as usual. Without being asked, Mr. King and his father had built a portable ramp for the risers so Beth wouldn’t be the only choir member on the stage floor.
His unexpected kindness would be repeated by many in other times and places.
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