I spent last weekend in Ohio.
I know, right?
I was invited to be a “guest of honor” at the 2nd annual Helping Hands Midwest picnic, so all five Haacks hopped in the van and made the nearly nine hour trip to Harrison, OH, for the fun. And we were not disappointed!
Helping Hands Midwest is “a networking group for families who have someone with a hand difference; to get together to share, inspire and celebrate.” In 2004 my friend Kim’s son, Gabe, was born missing his left hand and they made several trips to the east coast to meet with doctors and a group there. She thought it’d be nice to have a group like that in the midwest, so…she started one. She’s awesome.
We pulled into Harrison Friday evening and immediately participated in my kids’ two favorite activities: Swimming and eating. Since we were so much farther south than usual, we had to eat at Waffle House. ”This is the best food EVER!” the kids proclaimed. Vacations are awesome because everything is the best.
Once we hit the pool, the real fun began. Leading up to the picnic, I wondered how my kids would react to other kids with limb-differences. I mean, I’m dad. They’re used to me. But, what about a bunch of kids running around with little arms? Well, Joe and his daughter Julia were in the pool. Julia is beautiful little girl with a hand difference and she was practicing holding her breath. And then little Gavin showed-up with his family. Gavin’s hands are different, but you’d never know it with all the swimming and jumping he did! So, how did my kids react? As of this writing, I’m not sure they even noticed.
Later that night I had the privilege of meeting Molly Stapelman (founder of LuckyFinProject.org) and her family in person. Finally. I had gone to get something from our car at midnight and on the way back into the hotel I see a woman (it was Molly) pop out of her car and say, “Hiiiii, Ryan.” Classic meeting. Team Stapelman was a tired bunch, so we said our see-you-in-the-mornings and went to bed.
Saturday morning brought breakfast and more swimming and more limb-different kids running all over the hotel. I really wonder what the employees thought! We headed over to the picnic around noon…and it was amazing. There were nearly 200 people there! We got checked-in and then made our way around to meet some people and my kids went to play games with the other kids. Everyone seemed so happy to be there. And it seemed so natural to me. I wondered how I would react as I’ve never been around a group of limb-different people before (since I was little, at least). It just seemed right.
My favorite part was meeting the kids. There were actually kids there that were waiting to meet me. Me. What the heck? I was so excited and honored to meet them! And meeting the parents and hearing their stories meant the world to me. It was so encouraging to hear, in person, that what I’m doing is making a difference. To look into their eyes and shake their hands and give them hugs…seriously, it was the best.
I got to give a talk, too, wherein I shared my story and gave some advice for raising limb-different kids. It’s funny because I’m a dad, but all my kids have all their limbs. But, I was the limb-different kid who was raised well, so I think that gives me a pretty unique perspective. It went well from what I can tell, but next year I’m going to request a wireless mic or a stand. It’s hard to hold a mic and speak when you’re a hand-waver with only one hand! We also got to hear from my friends Eric (MySpecialHand.com), Tony Memmel, Elizabeth Stinson and Molly (LuckyFinProject.org). Each of them had a unique perspective and powerful words to say. I’m so proud to be friends with them all.
Saturday night a group of us took over the hotel lobby (shhhh!!!) and had so much fun I think I pulled a muscle from laughing so hard. I remember looking around and thinking, “These people are amazing.” Each one of them was funny and kind and compassionate and loving. There was a comraderie between us all that went witout saying. And I believe that connection will stay with us for a lifetime.
I’m so grateful for our time in Ohio with everyone involved with Helping Hands Midwest. It confirmed for me, again, my role in the limb-different community and stoked the fire to push-on toward even bigger and better things. It confirmed my belief that limb-different kids are some of the most resilient, creative, funny, determined kids on the planet. It confirmed the fact that the parents of these kids are both down-to-earth and other-worldly.
And it confirmed that carrying two pizzas, a burrito and a two-liter of Sprite into a hotel – with one hand – is a pain in the butt.
Thank you SO much to Kim and everyone that attended the 2012 Helping Hands Midwest Picnic!
See you next year!