We love CP.

IMG_2586It’s been a while since I’ve felt that people were watching us. The kind of watching that people do when they are trying to be subtle.

My only explanation is that Jack was looking particular “normal” yesterday (am I allowed to use that word?). He was wearing over-washed jeans and a sweater with a tee-shirt poking out of the top. He had on hiking boots instead of his usual school footwear (which include brightly colored leg braces) and he was in desperate need of a shave. He looked like an average teenage boy.

We walked into the doctor’s office without drawing any attention. Before checking in, I walked Jack over to a chair, took off his coat and guided his rear onto the seat. This action requires me to literally bend him. The only person who noticed the routine was a young boy playing a video game across from us. As he watched me settle Jack down onto the chair, he made a face and grabbed his mother’s arm, “What’s wrong with that kid?”

“Shhhhhh.” she answered too loudly, “Stop staring.”

Suddenly, everyone in the waiting room was trying not to stare at us. They quickly looked down at their magazines or phones as they kept one eye in our direction. I could almost hear their minds racing as they tried to figure out what was with wrong with this seemingly normal teenager. Just as I was getting ready to give a little explanation to the group, we were told the doctor was ready to see us.

As the nurse ushered us into the examination room she proceeded to have an entire conversation with Jack without noticing that he didn’t once answer any of her questions. I guess she was used to over-zealous mothers doing the talking for their sulky teens. It wasn’t until she told Jack to take off his shoes and hop on the scale that she seemed to acknowledge that Jack was “complicated”. As I knelt down to pry off his boots she said, “I have a cousin with Cerebral Palsy.”

Jack often get’s mistaken for being Autistic, but this was new. Without thinking I blurted out, “Jack doesn’t have CP. He’s has Adrenoluekodystropy . . . and Addison’s and Epilepsy, but not CP.”

I suddenly worried that I might have insulted her (and/or her cousin), so I continued, “Not that there is anything wrong with Cerebral Palsy. Jack has a lot of friends with CP. In fact, my sister-in-law has CP . . . We actually love CP.”

The awkward silence that followed was painful and I tried desperately to liven up the room by telling Jack ridiculous jokes. This only made things worse and as the doctor walked into the room the nurse left quickly and I could have sworn I heard her gossiping about our conversation with the other nurses in the hallway.

We saw the doctor and left the examination room eager to leave this errand behind us. We walked down the hallway toward the waiting room trying not to make eye contact with any of the nurses (all of whom were doing their best not to stare). As we checked out, we were met with another unsuspecting person who glanced up at us. Jack was standing with his arm tightly around my neck – a stance that I am very used to, but might seem rather peculiar to a stranger. She just smiled and said, “You are so lucky that he still loves on you. My boy won’t give me the time of day.”

I took a deep breath, preparing to go into my explanation about Jack’s challenges and inability to respect common boundaries, but then I thought better of it. “Yes. I am lucky.”

Love, Jess


jacks smile

I’m sad to report that we didn’t win the lottery last night. I’m not sure why I’m always surprised when our numbers don’t match. A feeling of disappointment comes over me when we need to reshelf our “early retirement, Block Island dream house, pay off everyone’s mortgage” plans. Truthfully, money isn’t even what our family dreams about most. Our real dream is for words.

A friend of mine posted a question on Facebook yesterday, “If you could have one free day of any illness, what would you do?” THAT is a lottery that our family would love to win! I spent only a second before answering, “We would listen to Jack’s stories all day long.”

Jack does not speak, sign or write notes. Not only do I miss hearing him say “I love you Mommy”, but his lack of speech makes certain situations particularly challenging. We were at the hospital two weeks ago with Jack. He was clearly sick and not able to tell us what was bothering him. Not knowing if it was his stomach, his throat or his ears created the need for additional tests and extra worries. Even on a typical day Jack’s silence is complicated. His inability to call out if he needs us in the night sets Jack apart from even a young baby.

Strangers often have a difficult time understanding. They assume that his speech is limited or difficult to understand. I try to be clear, explaining that the only sounds Jack makes are sneezing, coughing and laughing.

“But how do you know when Jack’s hungry or sad?” I try to explain that although he can’t be specific, Jack is able to communicate most of his needs without words. When he locks his eyes on yours he is able to be quite clear. I’m not really sure how he manages this, but people who love Jack learn quickly how to read his eyes and his silence becomes less quiet. While he might not be able to tell you when he has a sore throat, he can fill a room with stories without saying a word.

It doesn’t mean that we are content with Jack’s silence. Seven years after ALD stole his words l still dream of hearing them. Dreams so realistic I can still hear the sound of his voice when I open my eyes. It’s hard to wake up smiling only to realize that it was just a dream, but I won’t trade those magical moments for a winning lottery ticket (even the $485 million variety)!!
Love, Jess

Jack does use an iPad and (mostly at school) has some success answering questions AND Jack is able to sigh one thing — I LOVE YOU.

a job, a dad, and a beard

beard family

Big day here at 26 Clinton Avenue, and I’m not referring to the snow day. Today, after seven months at home, Dan went to work.

Working in finance it’s almost expected that you will be let go, downsized or simply fired at some point in your career. Its often not a reflection of your work ethic or knowledge base, it’s just that companies change their strategies or decide that someone is easily replaced with a cheaper version. Dan and I have both known it was a possibility, but have always been lucky to enjoy the security of consistent paychecks, fun bonuses and good medical insurance.

When Dan first got let go, it did take me a little while to put it in perspective. Our family has certainly had worse days (heard worse news), but the news of Dan losing his job shook my foundation. Dan’s job has always been a stable structure in our percarious house of cards. We’re not so well off that we aren’t aware of money, but it’s something we don’t need to worry about often. We have enough. Enough to pay bills, enjoy vacations and pay for help that allows me to breathe. Money makes our lives easier. I know this, because I know many families with complicated lives that don’t have any. It makes difficult circumstances, more difficult.

Although those first few days after hearing the news I did feel the unease of not knowing what to expect and feared the possibility of losing our security, I wasn’t as panicked as I would have imagined. My confidence in Dan, our families resilience and our savings allowed me to keep my perspective. Dan put me further at ease when he explained the generous package that his company had offered. Not a “golden parachute”, but solid silver. And, a package that included a “garden leave”.

Although Dan managed to secure his next job quickly, this “garden leave” required him to stay out of his industry for a period of time. “Garden leave” protects companies from having their ex employees hitting the market quickly. It meant Dan got to enjoy all the perks of working (salary, benefits, etc) without working. And, he got to spend the last seven months going through our family weekday routine – a routine that he has never had the opportunity to truly witness. I thought it would be tough adding Dan to our days, but it’s been wonderful. He’s been great company, had meaningful time with the kids, and has enjoyed hiking, reading and growing his beard.

After seven months, it was strange to see him put on a suite this morning, and kiss my forehead with his freshly shaved face. Strange having breakfast without him. The house seems oddly empty without his music playing and offers to do the grocery shopping (and shoveling). It’s going to be an adjustment, but we’re ready and grateful that we had this break. I’m so glad I didn’t waste too much time worrying.
Love, Jess