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Overcome fear for a fun new hobby: this month, genetic alliance invited their friend Jack Murphy to talk about the recreational activity he enjoys with his son Connor, 12, who has spinal muscular atrophy.

It's not always easy coming up with hobbies you can do with your children. Our son, Connor, gives us unique challenges because he has a genetic disease called spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) type 1. SMA limits his ability to move, including the use of his arms and hands.

Connor tried various hobbies, such as photography. But it was hard to set up, change lenses and film, etc. For a long time we had heard about beekeeping. Three years ago we finally decided to attend a local seminar and field course. The whole thing was far more involved than we could ever have imagined. The beekeepers were a diverse group, ranging from farmers to nuclear engineers. They all shared a common interest and language, the art of beekeeping.

We purchased a book and picked up the vocabulary. Our mentor, Larry, told us there were a lot of good books on beekeeping. The only problem is the bees haven't read them yet! Ask four people what to do and you will get four different answers, sometimes more. But for us, this is part of what made it such a great hobby.

We started by building our hive bodies and frames. This was an enjoyable time. Connor was my glue man, I was the nail man. All the while we listened to vintage Bob Marley and discussed the universe, God, life in general, and the big "Why?" It took a long time just to build one frame--if we were getting paid by the hour or by the frame we could not have made a living! But we got a lot of father-son time, which was fun. Our goal at that stage was to construct the best hives possible, to create durable homes for the bees that would withstand the test of time, as well as any mistakes by the novice beekeepers. We had our vision: to collect honey.

Not everyone in our house was excited about our plan. My daughter, Caitlin, is scared to death of bees. She was six when we got them. "Bees?" she asked. "Aren't those the things we run away from?!"

In a way, she was right. When we got the bees, the scenario changed. Our vision turned into reality, but it was not simple--or painless. Bees sting. "Can they sense my fear?" we wondered. We had envisioned our bees loving us and understanding that we had their best interest at heart, even if we were stealing their honey. We grew to realize that the bees would probably never love us and that a good bee suit would be an essential tool. Not only does the suit protect from bees, it gives a big confidence boost for reaching into the hive to handle the honey.

Eventually we stopped focusing on ourselves and overcame our fear. Connor is tough. I once made a mistake I will never repeat. We were just going to check on the hive, not do much. Connor's bonnet was on, but it was not fastened or zipped. When I opened the box, I could hear the hive buzzing. The bees were getting agitated. Connor informed me that he had a bee in his bonnet. It stung him right in the temple, but he did not cry or complain about it. Shortly after, I got stung in the temple, too! And it hurt a lot. We shared that pain and discomfort like we shared the pleasure of building the frames together.

Now we are part of a beekeeping association. We go to meetings, talk with other beekeepers, and learn from their experiences. The veteran beekeepers who have been at it for decades educate us and share their war stories about dozens of stings. After our mishap with the bee in the bonnet, we know to wear full protection. The full bee suit is hard for Connor to get into and out of, so we are going to get a new suit. He has no more fear, though. He puts on the bonnet and gets right into the action. When robbing bees of their honey, all you can do is repeat to yourself, "stay calm, stay calm, stay calm." It becomes your mantra amidst the inevitable cloud of bees.

Even Caitlin came around. Our hives were productive: last year we got three gallons of honey. We've been eating a lot of honey and giving a lot of it away, and we started making lip balm from the beeswax. Caitlin is involved on the production line. We melt the beeswax, clean it up, add oils, and fill up empty tubes. It makes a nice gift! When we get more wax, we hope to make candles, too.

The past few years have been a learning process. We thought that understanding between us and the bees could be achieved as we rallied against common enemies. The honey could be divided later; together we would fight the dreaded hive beetle, mites, and even ants. However, it seems that we will not reach any understanding with the bees, at least as long as we are taking their honey.

Even though they do not always love us back, we love our bees. They have taught us a lot about the complexity of life. We learned to stay calm in the face of a swarm of angry bees--a skill that can certainly be translated into patience and courage in other parts of life. We feed and medicate the bees, taking care of them to the best of our ability. But it doesn't always work. We've had as many as four hives, but now we are down to two. The bees disappeared, abandoning honey in their hives. We don't know why. This year we hope to split hives so we can expand our apiary.

Above all else, the most rewarding part of it all is that Connor and I engage together in a hobby that we really enjoy. Of course, it doesn't hurt that there's a bit of glory in it: in 2011, our honey came in third place at the Anderson County (Tennessee) Fair!


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Author:Murphy, Jack
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2013
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