We lived in great neighborhood in Belleville. We moved there in 2000, and Paul was born in 2001. Right away the neighbors all pitched in and Paulie instantly had a bunch of parents and friends. Many of the kids, now adults, told us that Paul was the first baby they ever held.
Every birthday for anyone in the adjacent houses was celebrated with cake, candles and bad singing. We sang Happy Birthday, and then the Piggy song that Jim Fenley taught us. I am sure he would sing it for you if you ask him today. For our house, cake was not acceptable to Kathie, so we had brownies (slightly overdone to be crispy) or an ice cream cake from Culver’s. Most birthdays, no matter who’s, was celebrated at our house so Paul could participate more easily. It was special to have a birthday in our neighborhood, child or adult.
Paul was sports nut and always enjoyed updating everyone on the score of whatever game was going on. We all enjoyed working and socializing outside in the back yard, there were no fences between any of our houses. Paul would be watching the Brewers in the summer and yell out the window or come wheeling out to the deck to shout out that a Brewer had hit a home run, or to tell us the score. He always knew the players number and the number of home runs he had hit this year so far. He would let us know all this, then usually wheel back in to catch the rest of the game.
We had overnight nursing for about a year when Paul was 1, because he had a tracheotomy. We couldn’t get enough nurses through the services, so Kathie recruited some of the neighbors. Natalie and Mary both got certified and spent some nights watching Paul for us, so we could get some sleep. The level of commitment from our friends is still hard for us to fathom.
After Paul returned from one of his hospital visits, Sharon usually made him chocolate chip cookies. One time, we pulled into the driveway and there were a bunch of signs in the yard. “Paul Rocks”, “Welcome Home Paul”, and others. The neighbors always made him feel like one of an extended family. When he used crutches, he would run around in his own way to be in the action sometimes. When he got wheels, we bought a “freewheel” so he could navigate over the grass. We built a deck big enough to host, so we could have meals and cocktails at our place and Paul could be included. We added a ramp when he grew. It was always a challenge, especially as he got bigger, to get him up the steps of the other houses, but he could wheel to their doors and yell for the kids to come out. He was comfortable doing that, even if it kind of embarrassed us sometimes.
Paul was always a gateway to new friends, because we often needed help and people almost always wanted to help him. We opened ourselves up to know lots of potential friends that we wouldn’t have known if we didn’t have Paul. Sometimes because we needed help, sometimes because Paul was just so social. I remember that “It takes a village to raise a child” was a popular statement once. It took the whole neighborhood to raise Paul, and it brought us all a lot closer together than we would have ever been without him.