Born with spina bifida, a disabling birth defect, Caleb McLelland rarely gets out of his wheelchair.
But to go trick or treating on Halloween, he doesn’t need to.
Since he was 3 years old, he has eagerly pursued candy each Halloween as Batman in the Batmobile, a Super Mario Kart or a rolling diorama of Superman in flight – to name a few disguises.
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Dressing up 9-year-old Caleb and his chair has been the creative work of his mom, Cassie McLelland, who wanted to go beyond the costumed skeleton in a wheelchair or ghost in a wheelchair.
“He could wear any costume you could get at Walmart,” said McLelland, who has another son, 5-year-old Benjamin, plus husband Glenn. “We thought, if we could just pull the wheelchair into this costume –”
In fact, it’s so integral to the costume, Halloween might be the one time of year Caleb doesn’t even feel like he’s in wheelchair.
“I really don’t know what made me think of it,” said McLelland, who searched online for some wheelchair-costume ideas and found very little on the subject. “But now there are tons of them.”
McLelland keeps it simple – and cheap – using only cardboard, poster board and the tubes from spent rolls of Christmas wrapping paper and toilet paper.
Although she came up with the costume ideas for the first two or three Halloweens, she now is only the builder.
“I don’t come up with the ideas,” she said. “Once he was about 5, we’ve let him decide everything.”
Caleb was all smiles but little talk on a recent morning at home, as he displayed the work in progress that will be his sixth costume. It was inspired by the children’s TV show Wild Kratts, a cartoon on PBS that teaches about animals.
He spent most of the time balancing his chair in the wheelie position.
Asked what he likes best about Halloween, he said, “Everything – because I love candy.” Favorite holiday? “Christmas.” Second favorite? “No.”
The family doesn’t trick or treat door-to-door on Halloween. They head for the Mansfield Bible Church parking lot, where lines of cars will have trunks open and candy at the ready. It’s called “trunk or treat.”
“It’s a lot harder to go door to door, and his friends are already there (at the church),” she said.
Spina bifida is developmental congenital disorder in which some vertebrae of the spine remain open.
“It’s different for everybody,” McLelland said. “When he was born, he had a hole in his back, and the nerves were exposed.” He underwent surgery to close the opening when he was six hours old, she said.
Caleb has limited mobility from the waist down. He can “walk a little,” but only wearing his tall leg braces and using his walker.
Caleb has become something of a celebrity, having appeared in media posts on the websites of the Today Show, People Magazine and CNN as well as online news outlets like the Huffington Post.
“I’m still getting e-mail daily from other places wanting to run the story,” McLelland said.
An online community has grown up around her annual project, which she details along with her family activities in her blog at www.themclellands.blogspot.com.
“I have moms who have their kids in wheelchairs,” she said. “We’re all sharing ideas and pictures and just trying to help each other.”