Rocky Gap Golf Resort
This month I spent a couple of weeks in Maryland with Mom and Dad. My maternal grandparents flew up from their home in Florida. Then the five of us drove to the Cumberland Mountains, where we were joined by some of my mom's family from New York. We checked into our rooms at the Rocky Gap Golf Resort in Flintstone, Maryland.
This family reunion was the brainchild and all-expenses-paid gift from my grandparents, who rarely get to see us otherwise. It was a difficult vacation to plan, for two main reasons. One, I only had one month free from school this summer; two, my mother is nearly crippled from progressive multiple sclerosis and cannot travel far from home. After weeks of negotiating, arguing, and compromising, my family settled on the Rocky Gap Resort, just two hours from our home in Maryland, largely handicap-accessible, and compatible with everyone's schedules.
The resort was idyllic, a comfortable hotel on a beautiful lake in the mountains. There were opportunities for hiking, boating, horseback riding, marshmallow-toasting, and more. I immediately felt tranquil and at home.
My parents, however, were uneasy. My mom doesn't walk so well, and had trouble just getting from her hotel room to the restaurant on the first floor for lunch. After the first day, she started to feel depressed-- she was the only member of the family who couldn't enjoy any of the fun things to do at the resort. She hadn't even gone outside to the lake. Her handicap was just too restrictive.
This problem had a bad effect on my father, whose life is lately devoted to caring for my mother and keeping her safe. For years he has been nothing short of saintly in his continual efforts on her behalf. But he is not tireless. There are definite limits to his ability to help. If he finds that others are not cooperating in accommodating Mom, he gets very badly stressed.
This happened at the resort. On the third day, seeing my mother struggle to participate in a family reunion that just wasn't multiple-sclerosis-compatible, Dad suddenly welled up in anger and let loose on Grandma (his mother-in-law) who had planned the event. My uncle and I tried to calm him down and console Grandma, but it was clear Dad resented Grandma for her supposed insensitivity to Mom's needs. Grandma's heart was in the right place, Dad agreed, but he accused her of minimizing Mom's disease and selfishly planning in spite of it rather than around it. Everyone saw this strife, and everyone felt uncomfortable.
Things did get better, slowly. With me and the family helping Mom around the hotel, Dad had free time to get out and enjoy nature. He went hiking with my uncle and canoeing with me. He really enjoyed that and seemed to decompress a bit. I procured a wheelchair from the hotel and took Mom down to the campfire. Dad saw how, with my help, Mom was able to participate and enjoy herself safely. This seemed to cheer him up. He started easing up on Grandma, and didn't need to worry so much about Mom getting hurt or being excluded.
On the third day, Mom made a bold proposal: She wanted to go out on a canoe. It was a shocking notion-- how could a woman who could barely leave her room get in and out of a rickety boat? At first Dad thought the idea was crazy; the next day he said she could try it but doubted it would be possible; the day after that saw the three of us in a boat, father, mother, and son, paddling across the lake. Mom was ecstatic. She said it was my presence, my help and my confidence, that convinced Dad to let this happen. Ordinarily, Dad is so cautious and reserved that Mom never even gets to go to a lake-- and now here we were, the three of us enjoying an outdoor adventure as a family. It was a moment of serene triumph.
The next day, the three of us went to the beach. Mom had a swimsuit that she had purchased in 2005 but never used, because that's when she became ill. We wheeled Mom in her chair down a grassy slope to the beach, and then supported her by her arms so she could walk across the sand and into the shallow water. I swam alongside her, hoisting her upright whenever she needed to stand, while Dad watched us from the shore. When Mom and I returned to dry land, Dad was smiling gleefully. He praised me for helping Mom in a way he doubted he could. My parents were having fun, maybe the most fun they'd had in years.
As a side note, I should remark on the bizarre contraption that the park staff brought us. When we arrived at the beach, I told the lifeguard that I was taking a disabled woman into the water. He asked us if we wanted a "beach wheelchair". We asked what that was, and he explained that a beach wheelchair has larger wheels, so it can roll over the sand without sinking. Mostly out of curiosity, we agreed. The lifeguard called his HQ via walkee-talkee. Some time later, after Mom had been swimming a while, a pickup truck dropped the wheelchair off. I had pictured a chair with catepillar treads, but I was wrong. The LandEez All-Terrain Wheelchair had huge pontoon-like floats for tires. We gaped at it in disbelief as they rolled it down to the water for Mom. It floated on its wheels, but when Mom tried to mount it, it abruptly flipped over and dumped her into the water. I pulled her up by her arms, and she was beside herself laughing. Eventually we managed to get her into the seat on dry land and push her, with some difficulty, across the sandy beach. The lifeguards helped us with muted amusement, admitting they had never used this thing before. My dad said to them, "This is one of those inventions that doesn't make me lament, 'Why didn't I think of that?'"
The next day, it was time to say goodbye. I hugged and kissed my family, climbed into my car, and got on the road for the long drive back to Chicago.
When all is said and done, the fact is that our family reunion was a success. For once, Mom and Dad weren't on their own. We all helped one another get the most out of this shared vacation. Working together, my family eased the burden of Mom's handicap. We enabled Mom and Dad to do things they normally can't do anymore. And we each went home happy, tired, bug-bitten, with our family bonds strengthened and renewed.
Thank you, Grandma. In the end, you were right. I believe my Dad thanks you, too.
______________________________________________________________________So that was from my son's point of view. He neglects to mention how cute the 20-something guys who helped with the canoe and the life-guarding were. And since I was exhausted from driving mountainous roads in downpours to get there, I was actually rather delighted with all the film offerings on the tv and the room service. After that I had the wheel-chair which my son ran with through the halls and in which I gave my 3-year-old nephew rides. The first time my nephew saw me in it, he opened his eyes wide and said "Aunt Nancy! I've never seen you like this!"