Matthew moved from what is called a wheelchair-stroller to an actual wheelchair when he was about four years old. This transition created a problem since his wheelchair, unlike the stroller, was not compact enough to fit in the trunk of our trusty Toyota Corolla. Panic ensued and we quickly purchased a second hand, oversized van previously used by a group home. The van was huge, but equipped with the necessary wheelchair lift and tie-downs we would need if we wanted to go anywhere. And since I often struggled (and struggle) with cabin fever, and if I am honest, a healthy dose of resentment about our constrained life, getting out was a priority for my sanity – and likely my son’s as well.
This hand-me-down van was also cheap, a necessity at that particular stage of our life. Did I mention that it was also hideously ugly. And huge. Did I mention huge? Wow, was it BIG! My verbal kids who were fairly young at the time promptly named her Bessie. I am not entirely sure why, but the name stuck. When we retired Bessie and replaced her with a mini-van we invited all the kids in the neighbourhood over to paint her from top to bottom. We then donated her to a local church camp where she transported canoes until the camp closed several years later.
Philosopher Merleau-Ponty in Phenomenology of Perception (if you have insomnia you should sprint your nearest bookstore and buy the book, I assure you, problem solved!) discusses how vital objects can become part of one’s body. He suggests that a white cane for someone who is visually impaired stops being an object for the user and becomes a necessary and functional part of the body – as sensitive and as necessary as fingertips for some of us. I bring insomnia-cure Merleau-Ponty into the conversation because he beautifully captures how I felt as Bessie’s driver. Driving the behemoth I had to accommodate this much larger bulk while moving around the community. Her size became part of me when driving. Bessie became a significant part of how I perceived space and movement when behind the wheel. When we finally moved to a wheelchair accessible mini-van Bessie had become sufficiently assimilated into my sense of space that it took me ages to stop taking wide turns and parking in the remote spots of the lot.
Let me tell you I celebrated when we purchased a mini-van. I had a love-hate relationship with Bessie. She got us where we needed to go, but WOW was she was clunky and ugly.
Last year Matthew got a funky new wheelchair. It is a dynamic chair and is only one of two in Canada. Basically when Matthew moves the chair moves with him. It is way cool! But one BIG problem with the chair is that Matthew sits about 6″ higher than a standard wheelchair because of the moving parts. Throw in the fact that he is growing like a weed and has a father who is about 6’3″ and his head was grazing the top of our mini-van. I had to duck his head when loading him. I was becoming worried that I was one rushed morning away from concussing the kid. Or worse.
So last fall our mini-van days ended for good. <SIGH> We purchased another oversized van with a power lift. This one isn’t as ugly as the original Bessie but it IS about as large. My teens and I spent days chatting about an appropriate name. Was she Bessie 2? For a while we called her Bluebird. But in the end “the Beast” is the name that stuck.
These days I am back to navigating parking lots with extreme care and driving with the spatial sense of a long-haul trucker. The upside is that I will likely never be homeless since I think the Beast actually has MORE square footage than those new tiny homes that are very popular!