Every snowfall, every sleet-storm, every freezing rain, our driveway is a journey into the unknown, just as our life has been since we had our first experience with a genetic diagnosis.
This year marks our twentieth in our current house, located on a cul-de-sac in a quiet suburban neighborhood. There are four houses around the circle, but ours is the one where the sun never climbs more than a third of the way up the driveway. One-in-four odds, I guess. (As compared with the odds of having a child with our daughter’s condition, a microscopic number.)
In winter, the first sunny day melts the wintry mix in each of our neighbors’ yards, while we still have a slick for days. If it was just us, we would take it in stride: we’d tromp down through the snowdrifts on the lawn or take our chances on the driveway.
But it’s not just us.
Once when she was young, I scooped up some snow to place in her hands. After a brief show of dismay, she did what she does with stuffed animals and other toys handed to her: she tossed it on the floor, indifferent.
We cannot be indifferent to the snow.
To reach the bus to transport her to her day program (and before that to school), we need to get her wheelchair to the bottom of the slope. And from November on each year, we no longer know what’ll come with every passing week.
Thus far this year we’ve had eight inches of fluffy snowflakes, one inch of sleet, three inches of wet snow, etc. And if it’s anything less than four inches, I never know just how to attack it. Do I shovel it away and take the chance that the remnants freeze? Do I put something down hoping the ice will melt?
Recently, a few inches left a layer of snow that provided enough traction to ease her down the driveway, although every time we took out the car or walked to the mailbox, the snow packed down and came one step closer to ice. The first day, even though her program was operating on a delayed opening, we had to keep Gabriella home. Her nurse arrived to dress her, but when she fitted her feet with indoor booties rather than her shoes, the truth became clear and our daughter’s face crumpled.
The next day, we resolved to get her to the bus. Lisa has been doing this for years while I commuted to work, and long ago she bought cleats that fit onto the soles of her sneakers. With those, she walked her gingerly down the perimeter of the driveway, while I put on snow-boots and worked my way through the drifts. Both of us held the wheelchair steady. It took quite a while to travel the short distance to the cul-de-sac, but we made it. One afternoon last week, when Gabriella arrived home from school, I was able to gain traction for myself but labored to heave the chair up through the driveway, sliding about in the inch of snow, until her nurse pushed me like a lineman shoving a running back an extra few yards.
My first winter since retirement has been enlightening, yet another way I realize that my wife has been flying solo against the unknown all these years. We have tried many things over time, from salt that broke down the surface to a coir mat that was intended to provide traction but only slid when we tested it. (Stating the obvious, we don’t dare expose Gabriella in her chair to any solution without trying it out.) When we had our drive resurfaced a while back, we asked the contractor about installing a heating system beneath the new covering, but he dissuaded us, saying such systems didn’t really work. Sometimes we wonder whether that would have been better than nothing.
I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I have become more attuned to the problem now that I’m home most weekdays, but it’s true. There’s nothing like experience. And so we will continue to look for new solutions.
In the end, though, every winter week offers a fresh helping of the unknown. It’s been that way since we’ve moved here twenty years ago, right around the same time that our genetic diagnosis began to unravel.
I’ll have more on that next week…