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Though gracious with reporters, the Jablonskis do not seek out the press, says WCCO’s Murphy and Star Tribune’s Pam Louwagie, both of whom have covered the story extensively.
“They don’t call me, I have to call them,” Louwagie says. “They have been open to the coverage, but they have not sought it out.”
Murphy agrees: although her phone numbers are in many mutual hockey directories, she says they simply don’t call her for professional reasons. “I have never known them to ask anyone to do a story,” Murphy says. “And, often times, they’ve said no when asked for interviews, access, and even just pictures
Both Louwagie and Murphy contend that interest in the story is driven by Jack’s huge followings on Facebook, CaringBridge, and Twitter. But his tweets were less frequent last fall. After long hospitalizations, the family spent several months in a transitional apartment as construction workers built accessible additions, indoors and out, and added an elevator (currently used by Mike and Max as well as Jack). Materials and labor were all donated, from a Benilde-St. Margaret centered fundraising effort separate from the Jack Jablonski Fund for spinal-cord-injury research.
But beautiful as it is, moving back in October to their renovated Uptown home was a difficult adjustment for everyone, especially for Jack. His last poignant memory of the house he’d spent his whole life in was sleeping in his non-accessible bedroom, as an able-bodied kid, on December 29, 2011.
“It was hard for him. And it was hard for us to realize Jack wasn’t going to run up the stairs again, or walk into our bedroom and ask a question,” Leslie says.
Even if it was an option, Leslie knows that idle time would not be good for her, either. So she fills prescriptions, administers medicine, and keeps doctor appointments—and briefs tutors, teachers, therapists, doctors, and personal-care attendants. She hand-writes notes to the hundreds of people who’ve written, and meets with the devastated parents of other kids struck by spinal-cord injuries. Though her friends drop by regularly, she rarely finds time to go out for coffee or a glass of Grüner Veltliner, the Austrian wine she loves. For now, her personal life, like her career, is on hold.
And if, a year later, the days are less grueling, they’re still long. They begin at 5:30 a.m. when the personal-care attendant arrives. It takes two hours to get Jack up, dressed, showered, ready for school, and into their accessible van. Mike then drives the boys to Benilde-St. Margaret, where Jack remains until his 1 p.m. release to Courage Center in Golden Valley. There he does his ABLE program therapy for three hours. He is transported home at 5 p.m., has a fast dinner and studies and/or works with a tutor for most of the night, finally watching 20 minutes of TV until he collapses, exhausted.
His parents then begin the 90-minute task of readying him for bed. Although a PCA could do this, it’s an intimate act of love for Jack, who has dealt with caregivers, teachers, classmate helpers, and therapists all day.
At night, past the challenges of the day, Jack, Mike, and Leslie laugh, cry, watch videos of him skating on YouTube, and share their hopes and fears. “I know if he wants to say something, this is the time he will say it,” she says.
After Jack’s asleep, Leslie steals her only “me time” of the day. Her Twitter tag, @LateNightLeslie, is apt: always a night owl, now she is more so. Some nights, she continues to organize, schedule, de-clutter, post, tweet, and update CaringBridge until 2 a.m. On other nights, she does what she feels like: check in with The Real Housewives of New Jersey, perhaps. Occasionally, drowsy with sleep aids, she’ll munch on chips or snack-size Milky Ways and not remember it. Similarly, Leslie concedes, she sometimes “Ambien shops.” “I’ll go online and buy things in the middle of the night,” she laughs. “A few days later, when a box arrives from J. Crew or Nordstrom.com, I’ll be shocked—and have no absolutely idea what’s in it.”
Mornings, clad head-to-toe in New York black, Leslie often recaffeinates with skim-milk lattés at the Uptown Dunn Brothers. With her petite proportions and cap of ebony hair, Leslie, 52, has always stood out from Minnesota’s crop of tall blondes. But now, many people recognize her and, often, they want to hug her. Predictably, she is approachable, and hugs them in return.
Because the Jablonskis are not bitter and try hard to give back, “something’s going to come out of this,” observes their neighbor and friend, Shari “Sam” Moore. “Leslie is giving Jack his strength; she’s his bright and constant star. I think she’s giving him a light to find another path in life.”
That path may even lead him to the media spotlight in which his mother is so comfortable. Along with student coaching, Jack sometimes talks hockey on The Power Trip Morning Show on KFAN. His mentoring, communications-major mother is, of course, proud. “I think he will take that love of hockey and—with his charm and his engaging self—find a future in it,” she says. “Not in the way we had expected or the way we had hoped. But he will find a good career—maybe in coaching, sports marketing, or broadcasting.
“Most important, I think Jack will find there’s more to life than the ice rink. I think he will also find you can take that love of the ice rink and make it work somewhere else.”
With her help.
Kate McCarthy is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer who has won numerous reporting and writing awards.