A Grand Love

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News September 2013

There are challenges, but SCI hasn’t stopped these ladies and many others from the joys of being a grandparent.

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National Grandparents Day is Sept. 8, but Gilda Parrish and Lisa Tremaine will be among the millions who probably won’t notice their day come and go. They’ll be too busy playing with their grandchildren.

Both are like grandparents the world over; they enjoy spending time with their grandchildren. Thing is, Parrish has had T4 paraplegia since she was 3. A poor surgical choice left Tremaine a C4 incomplete quad in 2004, right in the middle of her grandparenthood. 

One knows what it’s like to run and dance with a grandchild. The other doesn’t.

Read the article below

A Good Workout

Parrish has three grandchildren: a 4-year-old granddaughter, Nadia, and a more recent set of twins, Braedon and Ethan.

“They’re 1-year-old twins, and they are a handful,” says Parrish. “We’ll keep them overnight. My (16-year-old) daughter will take care of one, and I’ll care of one.”

The 42-year-old was hit in the back by a bullet fragment in 1974. Her then 5-year-old brother found a discarded gun in the yard and was playing with it indoors. The Cypress, Texas, woman was 19 when she had her first daughter, who’s now 23. After her first granddaughter was born, she got the title “Yaya.”

“I don’t like ‘Grandma,’ ” Parrish comments. “I feel I’m too young to be ‘Grandma.’ ”

Lisa Tremaine says the need to be with grandchildren doesn't go away when you're paralyzed.

Having grandchildren around, it turns out, is keeping her young. Or, at least more physically fit. 

“Braedon, he’ll climb up on my feet,” says Parrish. “Nadia loves to sit on my lap. So, I’ll have Nadia on my lap and Braedon between my legs.”

Which proves to be a good workout.

The Cat’s Meow

Tremaine recently turned 51. The Henderson, Nev., woman has six grandchildren. Her ex-husband’s son is the father of three of them. 

“He still stays in my family,” she remarks. “I still consider him my stepson.”

Her oldest grandchild is Aidan, 11. He was 2 when Tremaine was injured during surgery. Tremaine hasn’t
seen Aidan for a few years, due to family circumstances. Zoey, 2, is a different story. Tremaine gets to spend lots of time with her.

“She’s the cat’s meow,” Tremaine beams. “She’s my buddy. We’re partners in crime.”

Zoey, like Nadia, has discovered the upsides of a ready-made grandmother’s lap.

“Zoey will put my foot brakes down and pull herself up,” Tremaine says. “I can’t really lift her.”

The Need to Be There

Both women said there are downsides to being a wheelchair-using grandparent.

“You feel like you’re taking something away from them (grandchildren), because you can’t contribute,” offers Tremaine. “You still feel the need to be there for them. It doesn’t go away when you’re paralyzed. When you’re paralyzed, you feel an inadequacy that you can’t do with them things you’d like to.”

For example, she says, “I can’t teach (Zoey) to cook. I can’t teach her to swim. I can’t be a part of those things.”

One moment in particular made those feelings far more intense for her.

“(Zoey) picked my hand up and moved it around,” Tremaine comments. “She wanted to dance. I thought, I’ll never be able to dance with this girl.”

Parrish says watching other family members makes her more aware of her limitations.

“My aunt, she’s a grandma,” Parrish offers. “She gets right up there and cooks. I can’t do it so much. I make a lot of sandwiches.”

The grandchildren don’t complain.

“They love their peanut butter and jelly,” Parrish says.

But grandparents don’t live in kitchens. 

“I can’t really take the (twins) to the park without worrying about them taking off,” remarks Parrish. “They make these parks that are really not accessible. If I wanted to put my grandchild in a swing, I really can’t do it.”

Tremaine has a similar problem.

“I can’t take Zoey to the park,” she comments. “I can’t even get into a lot of the play areas.”

The Truth

Something else that wheelchair-using grandparents have to think about: Grandchildren will eventually ask why they’re in wheelchairs. Nadia hasn’t asked Parrish yet. 

“She just thinks I’ll get up and run around with her,” Parrish laments. “She doesn’t get the concept yet.”

But Parrish knows exactly what she’ll tell her grandchildren when they ask, “Yaya, why are you in a wheelchair?”

“Absolutely the truth,” she comments. “I grew up not knowing the truth until I was 15, 14.”

Parrish’s parents told her she was injured while jumping on a bed. She was too young to remember the accidental shooting.

“For a long time, I did not know,” she says. “I found out by visiting my aunt and seeing an article in her Bible.”

Parrish says her family enjoys shooting sports. She uses her story to reinforce the reasons for the sometimes tedious safety precautions and procedures.

Tremaine offers that she’s using previous experience as a guide for what to tell her grandchildren when they ask why she’s in a wheelchair.

“With Aidan, I went to school as a volunteer,” she says. “A lot of kids asked me. I told them my legs were broke, and they understood. I think it’s dependent upon the age level you’re dealing with. Zoey will know more when it’s appropriate.”

Can’t Wait to Spoil Them

It’s safe to say that Parish and Tremaine are among those who believe every day with their grandchildren is “grandparents day,” but the holiday itself goes back a few decades.

Most credit Marian McQuade with founding National Grandparents Day from her home in West Virginia. Back in 1973, she convinced the state’s governor to proclaim a Grandparents Day.

McQuade was moved to the effort by seeing lonely people in nursing homes. She wanted to urge families to tap into the collective centuries of experience available in grandparents.

The day went national in 1978 when President Jimmy Carter signed a proclamation sent by Congress to make the secular holiday the first Sunday after Labor Day. 

Some credit New York’s Hermine Beckett Hanna as the first notable advocate for a national holiday to recognize the contributions of grandparents. She started her efforts in the 1960s.

Regardless of who started the holiday or whether a grandparent is able-bodied or using a wheelchair, the feeling of having grandchildren seems to be universal.

“When you hold them in your hands, you can’t wait to spoil them,” Parrish says.


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