International Writers Magazine: Life on Wheels
Over and over my mind
repeated Im a mother, I am a mother. At twenty three
years of age, that can be a frightening thought. I was certain the kind
nurses who taught me how to breastfeed would surely give me a manual on
the ins and outs of being a good parent. I walked out the door the next
day with a child snuggled safely in my trembling arms. There was no magical
I never imagined
that my beautiful blonde curly haired daughter with her vibrant
personality and smile that could melt my heart would one day be
confined to a wheelchair. Arielle and I met on September 16, 1993.
I gazed wondrously into her bright blue eyes staring at me with
such intensity as if she was asking was I the one chosen to guide
her in this life. Could she sense my fear as I held her tiny hand?
Ten years later, I thought I was a pro. I had two children calling me
mom. My son Kai was born in 1997. When he was a year old we became a shelter
home for infants and toddlers in the foster system. After twenty four
goodbyes to babies I loved and fostered, I decided I needed respite and
finished my teaching degree. I had been a mother to over twenty six children,
over the course of ten years. I felt extreme confidence in my parenting
ability. Then came the phone call that changed my life.
My husband Eric and I went on vacation with his computer company over
the Thanksgiving holiday in November of 2003. I had reservations about
leaving Arielle and Kai but I knew it was also important for our marriage
to have time alone with my husband. I had that, I really want to
go and be free from housework, but theres this vacancy in my heart,
feeling. We dropped the kids off with my parents, kissed them goodbye
and told them in their suitcase they would find a tiny gift wrapped present
for each day we were away. They were to open a present a day and when
the presents were gone, we would be back. Little did I know that this
gesture would later remind me that each day with my children was a gift.
Riding to the airport with my husband, I was quiet, empty, a vicious nagging
filled my soul.
Thanksgiving day we were in Mexico. We jet skied on the clear aqua Gulf,
drank margaritas at a poolside bar and swayed to sounds of Reggae wafting
through the air. Eric joined in on a game of beach volleyball, something
he hadnt done since our carefree days of dating in sunny California.
That evening I traded in my suit for a sexy new sun dress and we went
dancing in the moonlight. This was not a traditional Thanksgiving, but
it certainly was relaxing. We returned to our hotel after midnight and
exhausted I fell into a deep sleep. At three am. I woke to a loud ringing
next to my ear. Drowsily, I picked up the phone and heard strange voices
on the other end. My first thought was that it was Erics buddies
from work still out dancing, calling us as a prank. I almost hung up.
Then a female spoke, Is this Krista Rausin? My insides began
to stir. Yes Wait, hold on!
Moments of uneasiness were broken by a voice I clearly recognized, my
father. Krista theres been an accident. We need you to come
home. Kais okay, your mom is in the hospital
we are worried
about Arielle. I was numb, my mind flashed back to that September
16th afternoon and those eyes, my baby girl, was she being taken from
me? Its not real. This couldnt be happening. I was dreaming.
The pause was broken. Arielle has a bruise on her spinal cord and
shes unable to move her legs. Oh I thought, a bruise, its
just a bruise, shes okay. Were coming home. I
hung up the phone and tried to think clearly. My husband was in hysterics.
Our world was upside down. There were no planes out of Mexico for four
hours. We were trapped, and our daughter was in intensive care.
Many hours later we finally made it to Arielles side. I want
to go home, I want to go home. She cried. Doctors kept talking about
a bruise. My husband and I didnt understand why they couldnt
tell us if she would ever walk again. After two weeks of waiting, visits
by doctors became scarce and there was all this talk about a place called
rehab. We naively thought rehab was where Arielle would go to learn to
walk. It wasnt until we got there that we realized rehab was a place
where Arielle would learn to live her life without the control of the
lower half of her body. She was paralyzed, and although no doctor would
ever say she would never walk again, they did everything to prepare us
for the fact that the rest of her life would be spent in a wheelchair.
There I was just as ten years earlier sitting in a hospital room, Arielle
gazing at me searching for security, while I secretly hoped from within
that someone would come along and hand me the magic manual with a special
chapter on how to parent a paralyzed child. Everythings going
to be okay was all I could muster.
We lived in a haze for the next several months. Eric and I wanted normalcy
to return to our household. We wanted to pretend as though everything
was the same except for one pair of wheels that now replaced our daughters
legs. Every once and a while I would find myself glancing at a picture
from our family vacation to the Smoky Mountains just four months before
the accident. There stood Arielle on the side of a mountain with her arm
around her brother smiling from ear to ear. What was life going to be
like now? What lessons did I need to teach Arielle? Before the accident
she was extremely bright, caring, could play the piano and violin and
loved being around people. Lucky for us, after the accident, all of this
was unchanged. She still had all of these qualities, but faced with the
obstacle of paralysis she chose an attitude of success and was becoming
very independent. I realized my lessons were the same. I taught my children
compassion for others and to believe that they could reach any goal they
set for themselves. I needed to continue with these lessons now more than
ever for Arielle. She needed to know that the wheelchair was not going
to stop her from reaching her dreams. So, seeing those pictures of our
happy family in the mountains inspired me to schedule more family vacations
regardless of the wheelchair. Our traveling adventure began and oh what
adventures we had!
We quickly found out that most of the world is oblivious to the hardships
that face people in wheelchairs. Countless people park in front of ramps
to sidewalks, use designated handicap bathrooms, park in handicap spaces
because they are going to just run into the store for a minute, clutter
the aisles of stores, and allow their only elevator to go unrepaired
indefinitely. This is particularly true of city subways. Or the one we
find most hysterical is the admission of Yes, we are handicapped
accessible, there are just three stairs leading to the elevator.
We could let this stop us from traveling or we could face it with
a smile and a chuckle and figure out a way around each obstacle. We chose
the latter. Our family traveled to New York City, Boston, Philadelphia,
Burlington, Detroit, and Canada over the course of the next three years.
What we found was that even though people often behaved in ways that presented
obstacles for those with disabilities, they really did it out of pure
innocent ignorance. For in our most desperate times of need it was always
a kind stranger that helped us to freedom. One memory that sticks out
clearly in my mind was a trip to Philadelphia with Arielle. We were staying
in a hospital for her annual check-up and decided to venture into the
city for the afternoon. It was just the two of us. We took the subway
and made it to downtown Philly. We spent hours exploring and then found
our way back to the subway entrance. The elevator that we had used earlier
that day was broken. We searched and searched for another way down. A
security guard with arms that resembled logs noticed our confused faces.
He helped me carry Arielle and the wheelchair down several flights of
stairs. I offered to pay him for his help but he politely refused. I soon
found that it didnt matter which city we were in, everywhere we
went there was someone willing to lend a helping hand.
Last February, I had a brainstorm. We were going to travel overseas.
Worried expressions appeared on the faces of everyone I told about my
brilliant idea. If traveling with a wheelchair in the US could present
problems then how were we going to get through Europe? This was the predominant
concern. I had always intended to take my children overseas; I wasnt
going to let a wheelchair prevent Arielle from seeing the world. I bought
the tickets. We were flying to London and then traveling by train to Paris,
Lausanne, Bern, Zermatt, and finally Rome. No daily itinerary or tour
guide, the four of us for three weeks making our way through Europe.
It turned out to be one of the best ideas I have ever had. Our children
learned about the Globe Theatre, Eiffel Tower, The Matterhorn, and the
Colosseum, but more importantly they met people living in each country.
While Arielle and Kai may tell you seeing Justin Timberlake at the Sistine
Chapel was the highlight of their trip, I believe they witnessed something
even more incredible, compassion in action.
Picture this, every staircase I had to climb with the wheelchair, strangers
beside me reaching out and grabbing the sides of the chair without uttering
a word, just lending a helping hand. Train operators arranging our seats
so Arielle could have the car that best suited her needs. Street police
stopping traffic so we could safely cross busy city streets. People hurrying
through the subway, stopping in their tracks to point us in the direction
of the nearest elevator. A shop owner rearranging his store so the wheelchair
could fit and Arielle could shop for souvenirs. An owner of boat rental
company personally taking Arielle in the wheelchair and getting her safely
into the small motorboat, so our family could venture down the coast of
Lausanne on Lake Geneva. And one of our most touching experiences was
during an outdoor concert in Nyon, Switzerland.
Eric, Arielle,and Kai spotted the notorious poster in the train station.
We had just arrived in Lausanne from Paris. It turned out Good Charlotte
and Evanescence were playing at a festival in Nyon. We have
to go! All three of them begged. I just wanted some cheese fondue
and then I was ready for any adventure. They obliged and at nine thirty
pm. I found myself staring at a Swiss train station board trying to figure
out how to get to Nyon. With a slight scare of Arielle dropping our tickets
while being carried on the train by Eric, and me reaching down close to
the track to grab them just as the whistle blew, we soon found ourselves
laughing hysterically on our way to Nyon. Eric instigating our laughter
by holding up his hand with only three fingers joking Maybe picking
up those tickets from the train track wasnt such a good idea.
Did I mention it was raining? Mud was everywhere! People were slip sliding
and grabbing each other to keep falling. Laughter was infectious and crossed
all language barriers. Eric took Kai to buy tee-shirts while Arielle and
I braved our way down a hill closer and closer to the stage; mud covered
her wheels and seeped into my sneakers. I knew it was going to be difficult
to push the chair back up the slippery slope, but I also knew the closer
I could get to the stage the better her chances were of actually seeing
some of the concert.
Unfortunately, we missed Good Charlotte but made it a half hour
early for Evanescence. Midnight approached and people gathered
until it became impossible to take a step in any direction. Eric and I
joined hands with the kids to keep Kai on his feet and all of us together.
We were shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of onlookers anchored on a
muddy slope when the concert and the rain started once again. Arielle
and Kai were surrounded by adults. Neither could get a glimpse of the
stage. I was like a lioness protecting her young. I knew I would do anything
to keep my children safe and I began to wonder if maybe this wasnt
the best idea after all. Suddenly from behind a giant of a man with long
black wavy hair tapped me on the shoulder and pointed at Arielle in the
wheelchair. He motioned that he would help Eric lift her up so she could
see. My emotions changed instantly from fearful to grateful. Eric politely
refused then looked at me with tears in his eyes. I gave him my I
feel the same way, smile. My worries vanished. Then another miracle,
a different man standing in front of us this time, turned around and in
broken English asked if he could help raise Arielle so she could see.
Was this really happening? These men were strangers, they had never seen
us before, we didnt even speak their language, yet they were willing
to go out of their way in the middle of a concert to help a father lift
his child in the rain so she too could enjoy the show. Eric again refused.
I relaxed knowing my family was completely safe among this kind crowd.
Eric bellowed over the music, I love Switzerland!
Finally, Arielle pleaded with Eric to raise her up. The only images
she had seen of Evanescence were through the screens of digital
cameras that glistened in the sprinkles of rain. Eric could not refuse
his daughter and as soon as he bent down to lift her; the man with the
long dark hair appeared with just a smile and helped Eric hoist Arielle
above the crowd. She jammed to the music with a grin that could have stretched
across Switzerland. After they gently placed Arielle back in her
chair, this compassionate stranger reached over me and picked up our son
Kai, so he too could have a glimpse of the musicians. Who was this kindhearted
person? Did he know how truly grateful we were for his help? We never
had a chance to ask his name. We had to make our way back up the muddy
slope before the concert ended in order to catch the last train to our
hotel. We left him standing in the rain with a Merci! and
four bright smiles. How we made it back up the impossible slope and what
we did when we discovered there was no train back to our hotel in Lausanne
well, thats a whole other story!
I never imagined my beautiful girl would be paralyzed. I also never imagined
our family would discover such altruism in individuals all across the
world. As for being a pro at parenting, I have learned to take it day
by day and stick to my two main lessons, never stop reaching for your
dreams and always travel with compassion in your heart.
© KD. Rausin December 2007
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