Winter Wheelchair Woes

If you’re following this blog, you know that my family and I live in Upstate New York. There are some great things about living here, we have great chicken wings and there’s some good D-III football.

On the other hand, we get snow. A lot of snow. Wikipedia says we get about 10 feet a year on average, and there are times where we get pounded. Over the past two days, we’ve been nailed with about a foot and a half of the stuff. It got so bad they closed the college for two days (2nd time since 1993!)

Now, snow isn’t all bad. The inner kid in me loves snow, and snow days. Plus, the piles of snow in our apartment complex are so high right now, Ashley has spent a lot of time playing Top of the Mountain, which makes for great pictures.

“What blizzard? It’s a couple of flakes!”

Here’s the thing though: When you’re in a wheelchair, snow sucks. There’s no other way to say it. Anything more than a few inches overwhelms the small front wheels, and the snow sticks to the bigger ones, making pushing a choice between two awful options:

  1. Using winter gloves and not getting a good grip on the wheels; or
  2. Using wheelchair gloves (not even a real thing, usually its bicycle gloves or kayaking gloves), getting them soaked, and freezing your hands

Plus, for people like me who stow their wheelchair in the back of their cars and walk to the front of them to drive, snow (and ice) makes that more difficult as well. My balance is lousy in the best of circumstances. Miserable winter conditions make all of this a non-starter.

17309142_939746768305_1352115159402833844_nCompounding the issue further is that, while I can work a shovel, I can’t dig out of a blizzard. I’m capable. I’m not Mr. Plow. (To be fair, who is?)

When I was single—the Dark Ages, according to Ashley—this wasn’t that big of a deal. If a snowstorm was imminent, I’d make sure to get a stockpile of wings delivered ahead of time, work from home, and call my landlord. He was a really helpful guy who would always shovel me out once the worst had passed.

Now that I’m a father though, this hunker down mentality isn’t going to always be an option. This past Saturday, my parents were over, and they noticed Cora was tugging at her ear. Uh-oh. Cora had just gotten over a cold, and everything we read said ear infections were common after a cold.

We took Cora to the pediatrician’s office first thing Monday, where they confirmed our fears. She had an ear infection. Thankfully, we were able to get to the pharmacy and pick up her medication before the storm hit, and she’s on the mend, and generally in good spirits.

Ear infection, my left foot!

I’m going to be honest though: This whole experience caused me to do a lot of thinking. Like all parents, the health and safety of my child is my absolute, number one priority. But as I started thinking about everything that had gone on over the last few days, I asked myself: What if I was alone with Cora and needed to get her somewhere in an emergency in the winter? Even if we’re not talking a blizzard, I’d struggle to get her to the car by myself.

Obviously, the answer is that I’d call an ambulance, or friends and family for help. Still, it kind of drove home a central point for me: Even though I’d do anything for my daughter (except root for Cortland), there’s some things that I just can’t do, realistically, because of my disability. Dealing with snow is one of them.

This isn’t just going to manifest itself in an emergency, either. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to manage the snow in good times. Could I take Cora sledding on my own? What if she wanted to downtown for a kids event? Or go for a walk?

These are the thoughts that give me a lot of self-doubt as a disabled father. I want to believe I can do anything. More importantly, I want Cora to know that. The thought of disappointing Cora because I can’t do something makes me incredibly sad. I think so much of the culture of disability is centered on overcoming obstacles that we don’t really talk about the fact that some things can’t be overcome in a satisfactory way. I know there are solutions for getting around in the snow, but the reality is, for me and my specific disability, the winters are always going to be a struggle.

Ashley and I often talk about setting ourselves up for success as parents. What this means, is making sure we have the tools in place to handle any crisis that may come up. When it comes to winter however, one of the things that Ashley and I have realized, is that the solution may be to avoid the crisis all together. As our family grows, challenges like these are only going to become more magnified. Moving to another state with warmer weather would eliminate a lot of the winter woes and essentially give me year round independence. While I would miss Butterfield and ICO, I hear other states have pretty good things too ( Roanoke Weiner Stand and Primo Hoagies !) But for now, we are still in upstate NY which means, winter issues are still in play.

It’s at times like these, that I’m reminded that this blog is called “Parenting on Wheels” and not “Daddying on Wheels.” Before Cora was even born, Ashley and I would talk about these types of things. And whenever I would feel that self-doubt, Ashley would remind me that we’re a team, and that we both have our strengths. Winters are where Ashley’s strength comes through. She makes sure we’re shoveled out, and that our cars are cleaned off, and that I can get into the car safely.

This is a pretty comforting thought. Sometimes, when you’re disabled, the hardest thing to do is to admit that you can’t do everything, and you need help. And that goes double for when you’re a parent and taking care of an infant. Because of my amazing wife, parenting in the winter is a lot less scary.


2 thoughts on “Winter Wheelchair Woes

  1. Great post! There’s this meme going around that’s like “I’m more of an Amazon mom than a Pinterest mom,” I’m sure you’ve seen. I’m definitely more of a “hire-a-guy” mom than a “go-out-and-shovel” mom, so I keep a couple of phone numbers handy when those storms (or leaky pipes, etc) hit. Those things that I can’t (or won’t) do, when done by someone else, free up my time to spend with my kiddos in other ways (baking adventures on snowy days while neighbor Tom plows).
    Love this blog. Stay warm, you guys!


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