Vance Reid wears three strips of plastic around his right wrist. They're hospital I.D. bracelets for his tiny babies, Justin, Jordan and Jarret.
These bands of plastic also serve as constant reminders to Vance that he should never underestimate the limitless kindness of strangers.
Born 10 weeks premature on Nov. 29, these three little bundles of wrinkled pink skin and fat rosy cheeks are still in the hospital. The boys, Justin and Jarret, topped 3 pounds this week by an ounce or two. Their sister, Jordan, weighs 2 pounds, 6 ounces. That's nearly a pound more than when she was born.
As soon as they gain more weight, they'll come home. And the plastic straps on dad's wrist will come off.
''That's when we'll be a family,'' Vance said Monday afternoon as he took a breather from feeding the triplets with his wife, Dana. Exhausted from days and nights of constant concern over their first children, the 37-year-old dad and the 36-year-old mom collapsed onto a blue two-seater sofa in the parents waiting room outside Good Samaritan
Hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
As tired as they are, the couple know they are not alone in their vigil. They have the support and prayers of the extended family that their community has become.
''Family'' is one of Vance's favorite words.
He feels a close-knit sense of ''family'' in Harrison, Ohio, where he lives with Dana and teaches social studies in the town's middle school.
He insists on a ''family'' commitment as coach of Harrison High School's varsity wrestling team.
''It's not just about wrestling,'' he tells his athletes. ''It's about taking care of each other. It's about family.''
His wrestlers have learned that lesson well. Now, they're showing their coach that his wife and three babies are their family, too. Along with the couple's relatives, friends and co-workers, as well as Vance's students, the wrestlers have raised money for the triplets.
''Mr. Reid is always there for us. He tells us, 'You're my kids.' If someone has a family problem, he's on the phone calling to check on them,'' said Adam Sellet, the wrestling team's captain and an 18-year-old senior at Harrison. ''Now, it's our turn to be there for him. And his real kids.''
Adam and his teammates are among the many people in Harrison who have raised in excess of $1,000 for the Reids since the babies were born in November. Teachers in the Southwest Local School District passed the hat. Students at the senior high school passed empty 2-liter bottles around the cafeteria and saw them fill with coins and dollar bills. Citizens with no ties to the school have dropped off donations.
The town's kindness is going into a fund established at Star Bank's Harrison branch. The money will help pay the triplets' hospital bills, the cost of diapers and formula - Vance estimates that will be ''$500-$700 a month'' - and, down the road, three trips to college.
Many of the donations have come from anonymous sources. Vance calls them ''the secret society'' fund.
''Since I'm a wrestling coach, I've threatened to put people in headlocks to make them tell me who's behind this,'' he joked. ''But no one's talking.''
Vance and Dana want to thank everyone who has contributed money or time. ''One hundred times a day,'' he says he hears people ask, '' 'How can I help?' - and they mean it.''
This unexpected show of compassion has bolstered Vance Reid's faith in humanity. As a social studies teacher, he is a student of current events. And many events in the news these days are ugly.
''You're so bombarded by negativity,'' he said, ''you start thinking everybody out there is bad. This has reminded me that there are many kind, giving, wonderful people.''
As appreciative as he is, Vance wants anyone who's even thinking about donating to his children's fund to ''please stop. We're fine.''
He admits accepting help doesn't come easy for him. He's usually the helper. Now that it's the other way around, he's uncomfortable.
''Van will do anything for anybody,'' Dana said, casting a loving glance at her husband as they stood to leave the waiting room and go cuddle their babies. ''But offer to help him and he gets embarrassed.''
Threading his way through a maze of tiny incubators and cribs in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Vance tried to explain his embarrassment.
''We're going to get through this. We don't have a million bucks, but we're OK. We appreciate people having a good thought for us. But, we don't need more money. There are a lot more needy people out there than us.''
His wrestlers know how Vance feels. But something their coach told them made them feel duty-bound to help. They learned this great lesson from their coach.
At every team meeting, he leaves them with this reminder: ''Be sure to look at yourself at the end of the day. Make sure you did something nice for somebody.''
Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.