A few days ago in my post Judge Not The Shoes I mentioned my grown son Steven who is a double leg amputee, with one below knee and one above knee prosthesis. He has had artificial legs since 18 months of age. They were necessary because his own legs were not complete at birth.
There were no indications that we were going to be given a special child, in those much more innocent days before sonograms were deemed a necessary accompaniment to every pregnancy. Had we known ahead of time, nothing different would have happened on the day that he was born than what did. He was swaddled, cuddled, kissed and loved. We knew then that God had made him different for a special reason, and I honestly believe that he couldn’t have arrived in a better family than the one he was given to. This sounds vain, I know, but let me explain. The extended family he was going to be part of was not only that of my husband Rolly, which included a young nephew and two small nieces to play with as he grew older, but even more kids on my side of the family.
Of my older sister and six younger brothers and sisters, every single one of them except the baby in the family, Donny, had been called upon in varying degrees to help in the care of at least one of their younger siblings. That was because all 8 of us born within 11 years. Our busy Mom saw the wisdom in teaching us how to do things early, and then delegating whenever necessary, everything from Jimmy holding Donny’s bottle, to every one of the girls and even our brother Keith changing the baby’s diaper (the cloth kind with two big pins!) As well, the task of keeping track of younger ones, when outside playing or when on outings, had widened the comfort level each of us had when dealing with little ones. That’s how it works in big families. We all became indispensable helpers, playmates, and babysitters. When Steven arrived his Uncle Donny, was able to take his own turn.
There was tremendous bonding by everyone with this little baby, from the day that he was born. When he was just a month old my father and mother were able to accomplished a long-standing dream of purchasing the adjoining farm for its much-needed acreage. At long last its owner had unexpectedly decided to sell. I believe God definitely had his hand in this too. Our little family of three was then able to move into a small house near everyone at home, which Dad and Rolly renovated to make as warm and comfortable as possible.
I was just 19 at the time, but a responsible mother, well-trained long beforehand by helping with younger siblings as babies. Nevertheless, looking back, I’d have to say I was just a big kid at heart too. I loved to play with the youngest kids and hear them giggle and laugh. After living in an apartment in town after our marriage it was great to be back in the countryside again. And within walking distance of the other kids at home too!
Steven was quite colicky as a baby and one memory often plays like a video in my head when I reminisce. Jimmy and Donny would each grab an end of his little white bassinette and carry the crying baby Steven around in it, rocking him with their gentle walking pace all over their yard. Under the big spruce trees, past the teeter-totter and the swings, along the white board fence in the back yard, and then back again, close to the tall cedar hedge with its many nests full of twittering birds, they would meander. Finally, when he was fast asleep, they would return him to me on the front verandah of the big yellow brick farm-house of my childhood, to nap while we played a game or visited together. These boys were like Steven’s two little guardian angels; they adored him.
My brother Keith, who has always been an instigator of the kind of fun parents generally frown upon, was often there to stir up a commotion too— wrestling in the living room, giving rides on his back up and down stairs, or teaching Steven all the ways to “get people” with a water hose. Keith could often
be seen riding around like a crazy clown on toddler- sized and later on kid-sized toys, including the tricycle that Steven eventually learned to ride. He was a proud boy when he accomplished this and other challenges that he took on, with the encouragement of his cheering extended family at each turn. I remember an incident that happened when Steven and his sister Carrie were older. They brought home to me the criticism they had received that Steven shouldn’t have to ride to and from his lessons on his bicycle, which he pedalled with his one good knee with a toe clip on the bike pedal. Steven was so incensed, that I had to get them another piano teacher. Of course this new teacher was much further away, and then he would have to ride in the car to get there. Still, he knew that riding his bike whenever possible, one legged or not, was always going to be his decision and not someone else’s.
My sisters, Marsha, Jeannie, Kathy and Janice were a tremendous help to us too. Sometimes a couple of the younger ones would come over together to baby sit and give Rolly and I a night out. They would both lay on the floor by Steven’s crib until he went to sleep if he was crying. I know they let him get away with a lot that I wouldn’t have, but that’s what good little aunties are for— or so Steven must have thought at the time! They are still very close. My sister Marsha was married a year after Rolly and I were, and she and her husband John were living in London soon after Steven was born. They were both a great support to us. Marsha kept us upbeat when enduring long waits during surgeries, when I was more afraid than I care to revisit in my memory. There were three major surgeries, to achieve the best future results for Steven’s mobility. The last surgery resulted in a bone infection and lengthy stay in the hospital. This would have been an unbearable time without the support of an incredibly helpful, caring, and loving family.
Jimmy and Donny were over at our house daily when Steven came home in a heavy body cast that had been put on to immobilize one of his legs while it healed. The boys pulled him around the yard in a little red wagon, pushed him in a stroller over every kind of terrain, and gave him non-stop rides round and round the circular gravel driveway on the home farm in a go-cart my Dad had made them. They would keep at it until they were panting and red in the face. After his strength returned Steven refused to stay in any of their vehicles for very long, preferring to get wherever he was aiming to go under his own steam, dragging himself there with his accompanying 12 pounds of plaster cast. No doubt his was the grimiest body cast anyone had ever seen on a toddler when it was finally removed!
No one in our family ever behaved in any way that hindered this determined kid from growing up with the self-confidence and independence he would need. If he fell on the floor they wouldn’t rush forward in a panic. They would say something like “Oopsy Daisy!” or “Are you being a clown in the circus?!” clap their hands and then wait for him to get up by himself. We were all rough and tumble kids growing up. One of the kids’ favourite games was Statue Maker. The appointed “Statue Maker” would grab their arm and their leg and swing them around, letting go at just the right velocity to avoid flinging them into a bush. This was always played on a soft grassy lawn of course, and in the position they landed they were supposed to become a statue. “An upside down dog?” “A fallen banana?” Lots of cheating went on regarding the position they supposedly “fell” into, but that was usually overlooked. It was more about the thrill of being spun and dropped, than about having your fated pose be guessed that mattered. I’m quite sure that Jimmy and Donny even played this with Steven from time to time when he was bigger and when his “legs” were fitting well at the time— not right after a size adjustment when a too-loose fit might make a flying leg a distinct possibility!
I hope that I have not invaded your privacy too much, because this is your story. When I tell any part of it I feel proud to call you my son. I am proud of the man who you have become. You know that my favourite verse has always been Isaiah 40:31: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint. This has been my favourite verse ever since that day in grade 3 when you wrote that story about how you dreamed you grew wings, but they got damaged when you tried to rescue a girl falling from a building; then the wings had to be amputated. You know, I am pretty certain that you’re still going to soar to even greater heights than you ever imagined without those old damaged wings anyway!