Not Just a Day at the Races
By Donna Lowich
"I think I'll take Jeffrey to the track tomorrow," my husband, Walter, decided on a Friday in July 1986.
Decisions, big and small, are made every day. We make numerous ones for ourselves all the time, and as parents, we make decisions continually for our children, as well. For the most part, these decisions relate to what they will wear, what they will eat, what they will do that day. On rare occasions, we can make decisions regarding what they will do for the rest of their lives, and will be the cornerstone of that relationship as parent and child.
The little boy who sang, ‘Mommy's coming home today' from the moment he woke up on my discharge day until I was back in my home that day in June, had endured many disappointments during the past seven months. My release date kept changing as I continued making progress in therapy. Finally, my day to leave had arrived, and we all looked forward to my return home, hoping and believing that once I was home, things would be as they once were. Unfortunately, things were very different.
It was to ease the difficulty of the situation, and to get Jeffrey to focus on happier thoughts that Walter offered to take Jeffrey to the racetrack for the day. They had shared some difficult moments while I was hospitalized, especially when they were both sick with the flu, yet each managed to care for the other. Now it was time to share some happy moments together.
"He'll love to see the horses, and the jockeys' silks are so colorful," Walter assured me. "We'll spend a few hours there and come home."
I agreed, thinking it would be great for them to enjoy a day at the races with each other.
The track is about an hour away, so the day would be eventful for Jeff, but just how eventful we wouldn't know for some time, but we would certainly find out!
Its time for the track
Jeff came running down the stairs, excitement on his face. He looked at me, and stopped short, a somber look replacing his smile. "But, Mommy, what about you?"
"Oh, Jeffrey, don't worry about me, I have my therapists coming today, and I need to do my exercises with them so that I can get better. You go with Daddy and have a wonderful day at the track. I'll be here when you get home, and you can tell me all about it, OK?
He looked at me with tear-filled eyes, searching my face to see if it was really what I wanted.
"OK, Mommy." He hugged me, and added, "I love you."
"I love you, too." I kissed him gently as my own eyes welled up. "Now go! And have a great day!" We hugged again, he rested his head on my shoulder, and then he kissed me goodbye.
Great races with Jeff
"Good? It was GREAT!" Jeffrey exclaimed, his chocolate-brown eyes shining brightly with excitement. "We were at the finish line and we saw the horses up close for all the races!"
"Wow, Jeff! I'm glad you had such a good time! What did you like best? The jockeys? The bugler?"
"I liked seeing the horses run, and guessing which ones would win. It was great!" He paused. "I helped Dad pick out the winners!"
I looked at Walter, who was nodding his head in agreement, "We spent time at the paddock area, and then we chose the horses we thought would win. Then Jeff ran all the way back to the finish line to wait for the race!"
He shook his head in amazement. "I was wrong—he was not interested in the jockeys or the silks. He went right for the finish line. And, he did help me pick who the winners were. Didn't you, Bud?"
Jeff nodded his head vigorously in agreement. "Thanks, Daddy, " he said. "I had a great time today!"
"So did I, Jeff. So did I." He embraced him and said, "I'm glad I could do it for you, Bud."
The winner is...
That decision, that momentous decision, led Jeff to focus on racing all during his growing-up years. He immersed himself so much into his love of horses and racing, that when given the assignment in kindergarten to draw a picture with a question mark as the starting point, Jeffrey drew a race horse named Ferdinand, whose tail was composed of the required question mark.
The years passed, and Jeffrey and Walter bonded through their trips to baseball games, museums, and class trips. Baseball games, especially the ones in which Jeffrey played, remained a favorite pastime. But, still, nothing could beat a day at the track which only cemented further a close relationship between this father and his son, a closeness that developed partly as a result of each of them taking care of the other during my hospitalization.
Upon opening the box, Walter pulled out a beautiful clock radio with a CD player, a top-of-the line product, something Jeff knew his Dad wanted, but would never buy for himself.
"Jeff! This is great!" Walter enthused as he hugged him. "Thank you so much, Bud!"
Jeff looked at his dad and replied, "You're welcome!" and then, quietly he whispered, "I'm glad I could do it for you." And he hugged Walter back.
Once Jeff graduated from college with a degree in business administration, he was accepted into an equine management program, where he received a second bachelor's degree. He is now employed as a manager at the very same track he first visited more than twenty years ago.
Sometimes, a day at the races is more than just a day at the races.
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Editor's note: Donna Lowich is an Information Specialist in the Foundation's Paralysis Resource Center. Donna was spinal cord injured over twenty years ago and has since dedicated her life to helping others living with paralysis.
The ArcThe Arc is the world’s largest community based organization of and for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It provides an array of services and support for families and individuals and includes over 140,000 members affiliated through more than 850 state and local chapters across the nation. The Arc is devoted to promoting and improving supports and services for all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
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