The fog was pillowy and the air chilly when I dropped my son off at school. His Adaptive P.E. teacher must have seen my car pull up to the red curb and was heading toward me as I lifted the backpack, which sported an Angry Bird keychain with Zach’s name on it, over my shoulder. Zach’s class was on the soccer field for P.E. when we arrived.
“Hey there! Got a few minutes?” Coach Wayne billowed. I had to smile at the Chicago Bears hoodie he wore; we were both transplants from The Land of Lincoln. His Midwestern accent was stronger than mine.
“Sure!” I replied. “What’s up?”
“I’d really like to show ya’ something,” he grinned.
With Angry Bird bumping against my back, I followed Coach Wayne, wishing I had worn a jacket. Zach, eager to be with his classmates on the field, was jumping hopscotch-style along the asphalt. The walk to the field was just far enough that I was becoming a bit nervous about returning to my car and getting to work on time. The fog could also delay me, I thought. I was suddenly wishing we hadn’t been running late.
“Okay, Zach my man, let’s show your mom what we’ve been working on!” Coach Wayne took Zach by the hand and led him to the track surrounding the field. About 50 steps out sitting on the rust colored rubbery lane, above a brightly painted number 5, was a red tricycle. Not the kind one buys a toddler, but a full-size adult tricycle complete with wire basket. Zach spotted the trike and looked to Coach Wayne for permission.
“Yeah, go on, show your mom what you can do!” Coach Wayne stood back, weathered hands on hips after adjusting his cap. I took his cue and stopped walking behind Zach, careful not to step in the pink gum some middle-schooler left on the ground. The chilly air hugged my neck, but a moment later, it felt like the sun shone directly on that patch of rubber track and filled my body with wonderful warmth. My son, who had never ridden a bike, was pedaling that trike with confidence, energy, and purpose!
“Will you look at that!?” Coach beamed.
There was my towheaded boy, not only riding that tricycle with gusto, but keeping it in lane 5! He looked strong and steady, and I could hear some happy vocalizations emerge as he cruised independently away from us adults and toward the other kids. I glanced up at Wayne, not wanting to detach my gaze from Zach, and gave him a huge smile.
“You remembered what I said…months ago…” I wasn’t sure if I was going to cry tears of joy or jump up and down, so I did both. Coach Wayne took it upon himself to track down an adult tricycle, haul it to campus one day, and teach Zach to ride it. We had talked a few times about different activities and sensory integration techniques that we were employing at home in an effort to help Zach gain strength, coordination, and confidence. The orange two-wheeler with training wheels we bought him one Christmas eventually got donated to a better home where cobwebs wouldn’t cover it. Not that we gave up on the dream of having our child ride a bike, but as time went on, there seemed to be more important issues on which to focus. Without my knowledge, Coach Wayne brought that dream to life. I could sense my eyes absorbing the glorious moment.
I suddenly realized that I was shielding my eyes with my hands and squinting to see the outline of my son on the red trike. Sunshine was replacing fog. The clock was ticking and work beckoned. But my flats were glued to the track.
“He’s going to make his way all the way around! Better guide him in!” Wayne started walking to meet the mighty rider on the other side. I broke out in cheerleader calls: Go Zach! Woo hoo! You can do it! I’m sure the sixth graders in the science lab who caught a glimpse of me from their window must’ve thought there was a crazy lady on their soccer field.
Although that wasn’t Zach’s inaugural spin around the track on the trike, it was his first time showing his mom something he could do without my help and my first time watching him. Most parents raising children become accustomed to the shouts of delight and accomplishment as their sons or daughters navigate the monkey bars or jump into a swimming pool or catch a frisbee for the first time (“Watch me, Mommy!” “Look at me, Dad!”). I often envied the parents who got to sit on a bench and observe endless energy exuding from their little ones; I was there next to the little ones helping my son climb a ladder or cross a wobbly wooden bridge to reach the slide. I held visions of being in the playground rather permanently with my son – me in my senior years and him as an adult, still navigating the wobbly parts…and no bicycle would have transported us there. I came to accept that certain things like bike-riding would not be a part of our lives.
Coach Wayne changed that. I will always appreciate him as a teacher, a fellow Illinoisian, and a life-changer. Yes, he transformed my son’s life and enriched it forever. Through teaching him little-by-little, he gave my boy a lifelong skill, a feeling of joy, and a sense of command over his body, which more frequently than not doesn’t respond to sensory input in a typical fashion. Coach Wayne also reshaped my expectations of what’s possible. As the sun came out, another kind of fog lifted from my spirits. There is a murkiness known to special needs parents who dwell in a place where hope is a powerful, yet elusive, notion, and struggle is the pervasive storm cloud overhead. Every little success, every kindness, any progress, is a huge deal – and its appearance (whether expected or out of the blue) is the great blowing wind that knocks the fog away for a while.
When Zach completed the turn and stopped the trike (he also learned the hand brake!) he took his backpack and strolled off with Angry Bird staring back at me. That bird was strapped to a keychain and could fly only in a game. My son now had some wings of his own.
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