Paul didn’t stand for the National Anthem. We went to a few sporting events each year, and that was an awkward 2 minutes for us. Kathie would get irritated when they said, “Please stand for the National Anthem”. She thought they should say “If you are able, please stand…” I usually stayed sitting with him and put my arm around him, so we could stare at everyone’s butts together, instead of him being alone. Quite often in his life, Paul stood out because he couldn’t stand up.
We wanted Paul to ride the school bus with the other kids. When he started first grade he had crutches that he used to get around. But he was a lot slower than everyone else and the bus steps were a challenge. We met with the school and they offered us a perfectly legal solution, they would send a separate van for Paul to provide transportation. For preschool, this was fine, there were other kids in the van, but as Paul got older, this didn’t work for us. We were determined he was going to ride with the other kids on the bus.
Prior to the first day of school, Kathie hosted cocktails on the deck and conspired with all the parents on our block. All the kids were going to line up in our driveway on the first day of school, instead of the designated bus stop a block away. That way Paul would not have to walk so far to get on the bus. We had great bus drivers that enjoyed helping Paul out with stuff like this. Penny, his helper, rode the bus with him and helped with the crutches. He slowed down the bus schedule some days, I am sure, but Paul rode the bus to school for many years and I think he enjoyed the rides.
After he got the wheelchair, we started taking him to school ourselves. There was no safe place for the chair to ride on the bus, and there was not a handicap accessible bus in our district. Then the challenge became the field trips and sporting events. Every one of these became a project for Kathie to figure out how to make sure Paul fully participated. Often Paul rode the bus and she followed in the minivan with the wheelchair. The chair would show up discreetly where it needed to.
As Paul got older, getting on the bus got harder. In track, Paul crawled onto the bus and one of his teammates would take the wheelchair around the back of the bus to load it. If crawling at that age bothered Paul, he didn’t show it. He was happy to be part of the team and to be on the bus with everyone else. All along this journey, the kindness and compassion of his classmates pleasantly surprised Kathie and me. He was not teased or singled out, everyone treated these routines like normal and seemed happy to help.
Raising a child can teach you not to be embarrassed about what your kids say and do and it teaches you compassion for other parents. Each kid is their own person and as a parent you can only control so much. Having Paul took that to the next level. He knew he was going to stand out and be different every day he left the house, so we all had to get comfortable with that. We became very pragmatic about how to get things done, without necessarily becoming activists. We didn’t have the time or energy to change the world, but I want to tell you that it is important that Paul got to share the same experiences. Not just for his benefit, but for everyone involved.