A Year of Accidental Life Lessons

Dear Son,

Last August 3 I’m pretty sure I was sitting in this very spot, looking out this same window, thinking about my kids and how much I missed them. It was quiet without you both here, and I’m pretty sure I was anticipating your sister coming home from Mt. Hood that day, knowing I’d have a few days left with her before she left for college. I know I was wondering about you, and that I sent you our usual good morning text saying something about having an awesome day. You texted me back from the ski lift, and I was sure you were safe.

I was wrong.

A Year of Accidental Life Lessons

Your dad and I took our bike ride early that morning – it was going to be a triple-digit day – and we stopped for breakfast on the way home. The pancakes were huge, and I remember wishing you were there with us. We talked about how strange the upcoming year would be with Lily in college and you living back in Tahoe. We’d be empty nesters, and I wasn’t ready for it. I remember thinking about that year, and the next and the next and trying to predict what life would be like.

I had no idea.

Before I’d even gotten back in the driveway, my phone was ringing. I knew that if your coach was calling, it couldn’t be good. From that moment on, I gave up predicting…and just took life moment by moment, taking in the accidental life lessons as they arrived.

skiing accident

Life happens and show gratitude.

When you were lying so still in the hospital bed and I knew life was going to be very different from here on out, I momentarily panicked. How would I help you adjust? How would you go to school in a wheelchair and would you ski again and why did this happen to you? For all those moments of worry, all I could do was take them one moment at a time. Deal with what was here, now, in front of us. Accept the help being given. Trust that all will be well, and things will work out. And be grateful – do you remember our three gratitudes? At the time, they sometimes seemed silly – grateful for new water bottles with straws and free movies and Top Ramen – but boy did they make a difference. They made us laugh, made us think, and reminded us that we are OK.

You are stronger than you think.

You’ve always been goal oriented, driven, and focused – and physically strong. That’s what made you decide to move to Tahoe and dedicate yourself to ski racing. The accident squashed that dream, but your mental strength helped you when you couldn’t move or walk or stand anymore. You learned how to get yourself off the couch, into a wheelchair and ride in a car. You figured out how to navigate school, how to rip around on crutches, and even jump in a bouncy house.

cast into the car

Family is there for you, even when you don’t know what you need them for.

Without your dad, your sister, Grandpa Bruce and Grandma Sue, I’m not sure what we would have done. When we were stuck in Portland, your grandpa knew just what to do; we got the right doctors, the best treatment, and he decided to do the 10 hour drive to get us home when I had no idea how to get you on a plane. Your grandma knew to stay home and care for you so I could take Lily to college; she even put the kitchen back together after the flood while I was gone. I didn’t even have to ask either of them – they both just knew to step in when I couldn’t do it all by myself.

friends at Target dorm shopping

Friends can fill in the missing spaces.

I wasn’t sure how I would get your sister ready for college; all our planned time ended up just being a passing hello in the airport as she came home and I left to take care of you. Stephanie invited her home, took her dorm room shopping and elevated her ‘Tahoe mom’ status to another level. She even sent texts with silly Target shopping photos, just to make me feel included. I cried tears of sadness when I saw what I was missing, but the happy tears came once I realized what a great friend I had to count on.

When people show you who they are, believe them.

Kindness is free, but unfortunately, we learned some people don’t realize how easy it is to give. We’ve both met a few people in the last year -family, friends, teachers – who surprised us with their inability to look beyond themselves and that made us sad and sometimes angry. I think we’ve both learned to appreciate the kindness of those around us, and let go of the people in our lives who’ve shown us they’re unable of caring. Not the lesson I’d wish for you to learn at 15, but an invaluable one nonetheless.

Son, I can’t say that if I could ‘do over’ the last year I would want to do this all again. No mother wants to watch their child in physical or emotional pain. And I can’t say that I’d do over the tears or the worries or the uncertainty about our future. But these life lessons? I’d do these over in a second. It’s the experiences in life that are our teachers, the moments in life that push us to learn who we really are.

Wishing you a year full of love and (less painful) life lessons,

Mom

On the recovery couch, one year later.
On the recovery couch, one year later.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle PlusYelp

Broken

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” ~Ernest Hemingway

“Hi, Jennifer. This is Coach Karen. How are you?”

I knew when I heard her voice that this was not the call I wanted to receive. It was 9:00 on a beautiful Sunday morning, and I had just pedaled my bike into my driveway. We were celebrating that warm, sunny morning – an early breakfast out followed by a ride around the duck ponds, just chatting and excited about the day. Our girl was returning home after a summer away working in Oregon, and we were counting down the minutes until we would drive to the airport. I had a morning’s worth of preparation before our ‘empty nest’ would start to fill again.

It was that kind of morning when it was hard to feel anything but happy.

“I’m fine…how are you?”

This felt strange – I had never spoken to Karen before. I’d never even met her – we only knew her as the new coach.

“Well, I’m afraid Cameron has had an accident. He’s loading into the toboggan now. We’ll let you know more once we get to ski patrol, but we think his leg is broken.”

I sank to the stability of the black metal porch chair. No. Wait. What?

“Did he hit his head? Is he conscious?” My mind was racing to the worst possible scenario. I’m good at that.

“He’s awake. It’s just his leg. They’re taking him down now, but…they wouldn’t have said that if they didn’t think it was broken. I’m sorry. I’ll keep in touch.”

It was the phone call no mom wants to get – the call that says your baby is hurting, your baby needs you, and you’re 600 miles away.

I’m one of those moms who goes to every game, every race, every meet. I could count on one hand how many times I’ve missed a competition. I’ve dug my nails into my skin when there have been falls and crashes, and whispered quiet thanks whenever they’ve gotten up and back on course.

This time, I wasn’t there. As my stomach began to clench, tears began to flow. Then I sprang into action.

I’ve been struggling to write about this for weeks, which is strange to me – writing is my meditation, my coping mechanism, my way of digging through this life and coming out the other end. Somehow, the words churned in my mind but couldn’t find their way to the paper; instead, they remained trapped inside, almost as if writing them would make them real. As if I just kept them in the safety of my mind, they would transform into a bad dream. I would wake up, rewind back to our bike ride and our conversation about the future…I could pick up my Sunday to-do list, change the sheets, buy the groceries, bake her favorite pumpkin scones and head to the airport full of joy at seeing my girl and spending her last ten days together before she left for college.

Instead, time stopped. His body was broken. Broken badly.

broken tibia at Mt. Hood

The days passed in a whirl of plane flights, painful drives and hovering over my son as I hadn’t since he was born. I had surrendered, placing him in another mother’s care until I could reach his side. My gratitude was endless, my heartache terminal. I had entered a parenting sphere which tilted me on my axis, tossing me in a sea of emotion. Every part of me wanted to suck up his pain, to make it my own. To fix his broken leg and mend his broken dreams.

But all I could do was look at what was right in front of me – a boy, my son, in pain and in need of care. In survival mode, I was unable to look past the next hour, the end of the day. This broken leg had simultaneously broken long-held dreams, had cracked the future just big enough to keep me from wasting one second on it. When tears welled up I called for gratitudes – three, right now. It became our ‘thing’. It became our way of making that moment ok. My fourteen year old, once so gloriously independent, had been reduced to asking me for nearly everything. Humbling, to say the least – for both of us.

Humbling, in that the very struggle I find myself chasing every day had now been taken away – another struggle in its place, but for these moments, I was present. My boy, me, and the gift of time together. A broken leg had shattered dreams and shuttered any thoughts beyond right now.

As the weeks have passed, we’ve returned to a ‘new normal’. My girl got to college, I made it back to school, and Cam passed the first hurdle and replaced his full leg cast with a short one. Our days are filled with lesson plans, laundry, walking the dog, homework and dishes, and our nights are peaceful. We’ve learned how to navigate these new moments, and find joy in the smallest of blessings – a pain free day, ‘walking’ on a cast, and watching movies side by side.

first day of school, on crutches

And in the mysterious way that the Universe has of giving me just what I need, just when I need it, the talented writer/mom Katrina Kenison posted on her blog. Turns out, her summer has been ‘broken’ too. As I read her words, I finally found my own. She writes,

Even so, finding meaning in a situation that seems utterly meaningless, random, and unfair is hard, slow work. The “new normal” keeps changing. It’s human nature to want answers and plans and promises. And instead we have only the present moment, mystery, and hope. (Of course, we’re kidding ourselves if we think any life is predictable, any outcome assured, any promise a guarantee.) But slowly, bit by bit, the incomprehensible becomes more manageable.”

Right now, answers and plans and promises are for another day. Right now, right this moment, as he sits behind his closed bedroom door, homework completed with music shaking the walls, I know all is well. I know he is here, safe, and moving forward. I know, although broken, slowly, bit by bit, he is becoming whole again. And slowly, bit by bit, so am I.

Isn’t that all that matters?

 

 

 

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle PlusYelp