When we moved into our new neighborhood last year, I looked at the hills around our house, looked down at my wheelchair and thought Hell No. I took one harrowing walk with Scarlett “around the block”, which took 20 minutes and included several encounters with cars blocking the sidewalk, forcing me to wheel down short, steep driveways into the street.
Scarlett was riding her bike about a half block ahead of me the whole time, and if that sounds ok to you people who live on perfectly flat streets, let me just say that it was really not all that ok. I’m from a suburb of Chicago where we went sledding down hills that weren’t as steep as my San Francisco street. That first “walk” resulted in no injuries, and only one suggestion from a stranger that I attach a leash to Scarlett’s bike, but I was seriously sweating.
That was in my first wheelchair, a lightweight cutie that couldn’t handle a whole lot of climbing. When I got my new wheelchair, it was time to try again. I wanted to head out with my daughter, explore with her, just be alone with her for a while. But I was freaked out. We would head up the street, getting a bit further each time, and then my breath would catch and I would be too uncomfortable to continue. I’d been educated about the chair. It could handle the sloping streets of the area, but the question was, could I?
Now I’m getting braver and realizing, as with most things in life, that trying often does lead to at least some measure of success. We kept going, and suddenly, we’d been up hills and down hills and we were having an amazing time. We were further away from our house than we’d ever been! (Note: We were still very, very close to our house and it’s hard to believe that this is the kind of thing I now find exciting.)
So life has shifted yet again, and Scarlett and I take walks. Mostly, we do our around the block jaunt, noting the house with the funny rubber duck in the window, who is aimed in a different direction every day; looking for our favorite neighborhood cats, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Jack Kerouac (these are their actual names); visiting a statue of the Buddha that sits on a wide brick stoop outside a red door.
This week, we ventured our furthest in order to check out a new playground, and I felt so confident (and really sort of restless), that we kept going to the closest shopping area and picked up some Valentines for Scarlett’s classmates. ALS will progress, but my chair gives me the option to keep moving, and with my newfound feelings of freedom, there may soon come a day when we just go and go and go until we run out of battery, and man are we going to be royally screwed when that happens.
After that very first walk, Scarlett was so excited that she reported to Rob at dinner, “Mommy and I went for a walk! I rode my bike all around and I wasn’t even wearing a helmet!” And I just sat there thinking, wait, she wasn’t wearing a helmet? MOM OF THE YEAR.
But now I’m more thoughtful, less reactive. I bring what we need, and she wanders down the street or rides on my lap. We have some of our best conversations out there on the road, discussing hummingbirds, weather vanes, roly poly bugs, the house on the corner that a group of meth heads burned down with a space heater. I keep the details light on that last one.
As far as I can tell, there is no one else like us here, and it amuses me to imagine what the neighbors think as we roll by day after day. Maybe they think we have nothing better to do. If so, they’re absolutely correct, because there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.