Everybody has a story: Grandma keeps ailing boy on the move

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Being a grandparent is pleasant exhaustion. It is Velcro shoe searches, coat wars, spaghetti sauce shirt stains and 100 kisses before noon. A few years ago, I left teaching to care for my only grandson, Caleb. No regrets. That first year, car rides transporting him to preschool were 25-minute concerts via CD. It was a “Purple People Eater,” “The Bear Went Over the Mountain” and “She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain” songfest, round trip.

I was out on the path, trail or track walking off 50 years of scheduled stress (bricks, bells and books) while Caleb was surrounded by hope -- disguised as children and teachers -- for three hours a day. Fortunately, walking conditions were cooperative much of that preschool year, so I committed to five days a week. Not all days were pleasant; there was a war with an unruly umbrella, a fearful 60 seconds observing a giant, inebriated man’s steps, and three unleashed humans who got away from their respective canines.

Twice a week after school and naptime, we journeyed to physical therapy, where we both worked on keeping two feet on the ground (he for strength and endurance; me for balance, with 60 right around the corner). Part of Caleb’s therapy was walking and biking in the children’s garden. Therapists are miracle people, magically producing such major differences in small increments: 22 steps on the path, 28 revolutions on the bike, or two presses on the water fountain bar; thousands of seconds waiting and watching.

Part of my therapy was patience. Caleb thrived under the relentless support of the phenomenal staff.

Little did I know how much walking would impact my life, and the lack of it shake his. In the spring of that year, Caleb developed a rare form of childhood leukemia. He could no longer attend preschool or therapy, but being mobile was a daily need for us both. I discovered the treadmill, because long hospital stays became the norm.

Walks for Caleb became limited to the backyard, the hospital hallway or the children’s garden. Outgrowing the jogging stroller his parents had taken him everywhere in really impacted transport. Being carried or riding were the only ways he could get around. Hospital red wagons became the vehicle of passage, so Grandpa and I decided to purchase a red “caboose” for Caleb, so he could have wheels of his own.

If that wagon had an odometer, I am sure it would have hundreds of miles recorded. All family members have taken him on numerous rides to a variety of destinations.

Now 6 years old, Caleb has had over 21 months of intense chemotherapy treatment, so getting outside has been such a delight after daily views only of hospital room walls and windows looking out at nearby construction. Treatment is more home-based now, so Caleb looks forward to his treks in the great outdoors. Before going out the door he does what I call his “happy dance” (reminding me of that cute penguin movie).

During our journeys, we sing, talk, pray and laugh together. It’s the silence I relish most because it usually means there is something we are witnessing together: a blue heron’s mighty takeoff, a tomcat hunting prey near the path, the moist droplets from a cedar branch refreshing our upturned faces or hundreds of geese feasting in the field near the fort. We take time to savor those God-given moments.

Some days, we go three or four miles, others five or six. How good Caleb feels determines our mileage for the day. I am a willing driver! Maybe you are one of the people who wave or say “hello” as we walk the Columbia River waterfront with our friends. Perhaps you’ve seen us on the Salmon Creek trail enjoying fall colors and unbelievable sunny mornings. One day, we encountered a standard poodle guide dog with his trainers, who let my grandson pet and feed their precious pet. Possibly you’ve witnessed Caleb’s enthusiastic waving to cars and other walkers near Officers Row or Esther Short Park.

On rainy, cool days we journey to the mall or to Jantzen Beach and walk indoors. Our only stop is the pet store window. Caleb pets the window until one of the puppies or kittens discover his urgent request for attention.

Fortunately, the weather was mild during late summer and fall, so we savored the outdoors most of the time. This winter has been dry but cold, so our walks have been mostly indoors. Caleb doesn’t mind; recently Santa was walking the mall and chatting with the children, so he got his share of Santa’s hugs!

During Christmas break Caleb had foot surgery and now sports a full leg cast. However, once the temperatures become milder and the temporary cast becomes ancient history, we will again hit the trail.

We are so grateful for the support of local organizations like the American Cancer Society and the Arc of Southwest Washington.

I want people to know that life goes on even when things seem really bleak.

Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Email is the best way to send materials so we don’t have to retype your words or borrow original photos. Send to neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA 98666. Call Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.