I’ve noticed a trend with movies and television shows in recent years. It seems like there are superheroes everywhere. Spiderman, Batman, Superman, Ironman, The Hulk, Green Lantern, Wolverine (who, to my utter shock and dismay, never actually played football for the University of Michigan.) Maybe that trend has always been there, and it’s just become more apparent to me recently because I have three sons, one of whom is a big fan of anything having to do with superheroes. It just seems like every time I turn around, I see a new ad for a superhero TV show or a trailer for a new superhero movie. Because of my six-year-old who thinks this superheroes are the coolest thing, I am sure that I will see nearly each one of these movies and at least one episode of each of the television shows. And I will likely hear, more often than I would like, “wouldn’t it be cool to have that super power?” And while I can’t help thinking that some of those super powers would really be cool (super speed would really come in handy when it comes to cleaning the house…) I also can’t help thinking about some real-life superheroes I know.
I am going to share about these two superheroes, though I have a feeling they will disagree with the label of superhero. This couple came into my life because of my oldest son. Two years ago, he met a young man at school who quickly became a good friend. It seemed that every story I heard about school had Grant involved in some way. Early on, I made the decision that I wanted to know the parents of the children my sons associated with. We didn’t necessarily have to become friends; I just felt that knowing them would give me some insight into the type of person my children were friends with. At the very least, I would know what kind of home life the children had, so I would know how safe my boys would be when they were visiting their friends. And that is how the superheroes Dawn and Todd came into my life.
Grant is not their only child. They also have a daughter, Gabby, and a son, Willy. As any good parent would, Dawn and Todd look at their children as blessings. They are the light of their lives, and both Dawn and Todd would do anything for their kids. That in itself could earn them the title of super parents. Face it, we live in an age where parents all too often put their own needs and desires above their children. But that is not what makes them into superheroes. I think of them as superheroes because of how they handle the lemons life has thrown their way.
You see, Willy is not what many would consider to be a “normal” child. He is, as Dawn has said, “normal Willy.” He has many health issues, including lissencephaly, a terminal brain disorder. I don’t understand everything that this disorder entails. I know that Willy has a feeding tube, that he is prone to seizures, doesn’t walk, and is unable to communicate in ways that most children do. There are times when it seems that Willy is in the hospital more than he is out of it. He requires constant care. His special needs could easily overshadow the “ordinary” needs of Grant and Gabby. But you know? I don’t think that they do. Yes, Willy’s care and Willy’s needs take up a lot of his parents’ time. But so do Grant and Gabby’s activities. They don’t seem resentful of him at all. Willy is their brother. He’s part of their family, and they love him. Would they like him to be “normal”? Most likely. Something tells me each member of that family would love to see Willy run around the yard on his own two feet chasing after Gabby or trying to jump higher than Grant on the trampoline. I’ll bet they’d like nothing more than to hear him laughing and telling jokes with his brother and sister or even screaming, “Dad! Grant hit me!” or “Mom! Gabby is getting into my stuff!” But that’s not what life handed them. This isn’t the kind of family that sits around and whines about what they don’t have, dreaming about how much “better” things could be if only this illness hadn’t touched Willy. Instead, they take what they have been dealt and make the best of it.
Now, I can’t say with 100% certainty how I would handle myself in this same situation. But I can’t imagine being as strong as I have seen Dawn. My 9-year-old fell off a scooter earlier this year, scrapped up his elbows and knees, and I about flipped out over the cuts. I can still see the scars on his elbows, marks he views proudly as battle scars I see as the bloody, nasty patches that could have led to horrible infections. It’s been a struggle to allow him to ride his bike or skateboard because he could get hurt. And football season is coming up! He is going to want to play again this fall. His brother got a concussion just from laying on the couch watching TV. (OK, so their baby brother threw a rock that landed squarely on the older brother’s head while he was laying on the couch, but still…) And I am supposed to be OK with letting my middle child play a sport when the other kids are actively attempting to knock him to the ground and pummel him over a silly, odd shaped ball?
Yeah, I don’t see me handling a terminal illness with any sort of poise or strength. Let alone the sense of calm acceptance that Dawn seems to exude. Seriously, I had tears stinging my eyes as I read an update she posted this week in which she calmly described putting Willy into Hospice services. She stressed that though her son’s disorder is terminal he is not dying, and that Hospice offers so much more than just end of life care. She was just so calm, so strong, so matter-of-fact about it. I imagine that at home, when she and Todd are alone and the children are sleeping or off visiting friends, she has her moments of tears and anguish. None of that showed up in her update or in her responses to any of the comments made on it. No, what showed up in her comments was actually quite a bit of humor. Case in point—Hospice will provide a nurse to help with Willy’s bathing needs. Dawn’s comment? “Willy gets his own personal lady to bathe him. I mean, seriously. What guy wouldn’t want this??”
A few months ago, Dawn and Todd moved their family out of Jackson. I still keep track of what is happening with them through Facebook. I can’t say I know them well. Sometimes, I wonder if it is even correct to call them friends. But I can say that knowing them has enriched my life. I’ve met admirable people before. But until I made the acquaintance of Dawn and Todd, I could never say that I had met real superheroes.