hApPy BiRtHdAy JaCkOOOO!

When I was 22, I had just moved to New York City and was working for an advertising agency. I had my last “first date” — with Dan at the Democratic National Convention (because he’s always been the coolest guy on the planet). I was busy contemplating whether I should continue working in advertising, return to being a photographer’s assistant or apply to graduate school. Nothing was set in stone, but I was happy and my adult life was underway. 

Today Jack turns 22. He’s living at home and working on getting through Season 4 of Jersey Shore. He has ongoing dates with Maria, Monica (his caregivers) and Anna. He’s not sure wether he’ll be going to an adult day program this year, doing virtual activities via zoom, or just hanging out for the next few months. It’s not the life I would have imagined my son would be living at this age, but he’s happy and his adult life is underway. 

While Dan and I are stressed about what’s next for our boy, Jack continues to enjoy every inch of his life. He’s not worried about when his adult program will open or running out of hand sanitizer. He’s not fighting with people on social media about wearing masks. He’s not wondering if our country is heading into a depression or if we will ever feel comfortable getting on a plane again.

Jack enjoys today and trusts that tomorrow will be even better. For a silent person, he’s my loudest teacher. 

Yesterday we lost power — as did many as Isaias managed to rip it’s way up the east coast. I spent most of last night worrying about whether our power would be restored quickly and if the generator we’d set up would somehow leak carbon monoxide into the house. I worried about if the branch that had taken down the power line had first hit our house and that there was a leak that we hadn’t yet seen. I worried about how I would be able to clear out the branches from the pool so that Jack could swim and what I was going to make for Jack’s birthday dinner. I got up this morning and looked at Jack’s sweet smile and decided that for Jack’s birthday I’m going to honor him by adopting his beautiful attitude — at least for a day;)

Today there will be no worries on Speir Drive — just gonna hang out and embrace the day. Oooooh, and swim in a pool full of branches and leaves and order some food for dinner!

Happy Birthday JackOOOOOO!!!!

Love, Jess

Banana is 20!

Today is Anna’s 20th birthday. Like so many people, she isn’t celebrating it the way she had planned. Anna loves her birthday almost as much as I do, and she has been talking about her birthday plans since last June. Piles of her Hopkins crew would fill our house and then her childhood friends would join in and fill the yard and pool. Driving the neighbors crazy was really the only thing we worried about until COVID arrived. 

We modified the plan and then modified it again. Now we are hoping that the weather holds so that a few of her friends can come for some from a distance/Purell-filled fun in the pool. If that doesn’t work ,out at least she can celebrate with her three biggest fans – me, Dan and Jack.

The last four months have been filled with cancelled plans and profoundly adapting everything else. It wasn’t just her birthday, Anna’s entire summer has been altered. She was going to be waitressing here in town and then working in NYC with a doctor who works with children with neurological disorders (specifically Leukodystrophies). The waitressing job disappeared and then Anna got word that the hospital where she was doing her internship was only allowing “essential staff” on premises. Luckily the doctor was willing to adapt his plans and Anna is spending hours a day in her room working on a project that I don’t really understand, but she finds fascinating.

Anna has also found a job with the Department of Developmental Disabilities working with a handsome young man with special needs — Jack. She has hikes planned and has already been working on swimming lessons for our boy. Jack has had a lot of caregivers over the years, but I can say, without a doubt, that he has found his new favorite. And, for Anna, it is incredible to actually be getting paid for something she has always done without complaint. She adores spending time with her brother. She is a truly special — special sibling.

Anna is such a special young woman and I’ve always been proud of her heart and brain and determination, but COVID has shown me another quality she has that I appreciate. Anna is able to adapt. Our family tends to be “glass half full” people, but Anna seems to look at every glass as over-flowing.

Love you Banana and hope that you enjoy your quiet(ish) birthday!!! It may not be the birthday party of the year, but we promise that when the dust settles, we will P-A-R-T-Y!!

Love, Mom

PS As I have been writing this, I’ve been seeing friends sneak through the backyard gate. I need to go out there and start screaming, “Six Feet!!” and “Purell!!!”.

Thirteen is a LUCKY number

13 years (Day +4749) . . .

Thirteen years ago we sat in a crowded hospital room and watched as a small bag of stem cells went into Jack’s central line. We were hopeful, but terrified.

Our doctors had not promised that the transplant would work and they were painfully honest about the risks involved with the procedure. They reminded us again and again, that in the case of ALD, a transplant was not a cure. Instead (if successful) it would stop the progression of the disease — the idea of these new disabilities being permanent seemed surreal. I had also done enough Googling in the four weeks since Jack’s diagnosis to know that a transplant was often followed with complications like infections or Graft vs Host Disease and sometimes with ALD, it accelerated the loss of the myelin.

We found little comfort in any of the information we’d been given, but we had no other option to save our son, so there we were — watching the cells as they entered Jack’s body.

29 minutes. Drip, drip, drip.

Dan made a set-list of our favorite music and we tried to keep our fears at bay. We made small talk with the doctors and nurses and told jokes. Jack was only 8-years-old and we promised him he would feel better soon and focused on the bonus of having a second birthday to celebrate every year.

Our family has been through a lot over the last thirteen years — both good and bad, but we’ve also had a lot of parties for Jack since we watched those cells enter his small body. One gift from ALD is that it has made our family learn to really appreciate the good days.

Today is a good day. We are healthy and the sun has promised to come out so that we can sit outside and jump in the pool. There will not be any food trucks or crowds of people, but we will still enjoy every minute of this day – and every day – with our boy.

Happy Birthday Sweet JackO!!!

Love, Mom

Stay Tuned for Friday – Jack receives his High School diploma. Big week for the Torreys!

Grateful for Laundry

I’ve been grateful for so many things this last week – my heart is full. Dan threw me one hell of a birthday party last weekend and my only complaints were that I wasn’t able to get a proper visit with everyone and it ended too early (4:00 am . . .). Then, just five days later, we hosted a big Thanksgiving with all three sides of the family represented — the Torrey/Perrys, the Cappellos and the Mackays. Our house was so filled with guests all week that I never really knew how many people would be there for dinner or where everyone was sleeping. All I knew for sure was that it was amazing.

Today I’m grateful for laundry. 

Anyone else get that awful feeling lurking in the pit of their stomach when a fun time has reached it’s end (no – not a hangover, but that too)? I’ve gotten this feeling while driving home from Block Island on Labor Day and when Dan and I drag the Christmas tree to the curb in January each year. It’s part exhaustion and part relief BUT mostly it’s just knowing it was a great time and it’s over.

Our last guest left today around 1:00 and I’ve been loading and unloading the laundry and the dishwasher more times than I can count. I’ve been vacuuming and making beds and folding towels AND I am so grateful to have a distraction. 

Anna is home for one last night and we’re going to enjoy it just the four of us, around our little kitchen table. We’re ordering in, watching a movie and going to bed early. One last hoorah before the holiday is officially over.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving and has some laundry to do.

Love, Jess

I would like to thank everyone who made a donation to CPNJ – Pillar Care Continuum High School in honor of Jack for my birthday. We raised over $2500!!! It’s not to late if you want to help a great cause — CLICK HERE!

 

The Back Nine

He's a Keeper

Patient support materials you may see in the future . . . I was told to say that. I prefer the caption “Love and laughter make 50 easy”

At 9:30 last night my brother, Pablo, sent me a text, “In 2.5 hours you will officially be in the back nine. Well played, Girl.” Then I received my first Facebook birthday wish from an ALD friend who lives in Australia.

I went to bed next to my husband of nearly 25 years and woke up to the sound of the two dogs marching around our bedroom (their nails make a click, click, click at day break) and Dan muttering, “F*cking dogs”. I fell back asleep for another hour until that same mouth that had cursed at the dogs gave me a gentle kiss on my forehead, “Happy Birthday Luvo”.

I poured myself out of bed around 7:00 am to start my morning routine —  a busy hour of bathing, brushing, dressing and laundry. Jack’s sweet smile let me know that he knew that today was a special day and peeing in the toilet was his version of a perfect birthday gift. By the time we were done with the first half of our routine and made our way into the kitchen, there was a birthday message from Anna, “Gotta run take an exam, but HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOMO! I’ll call as soon as I’m done”.

The rest of the day included a long walk, a beautiful lunch with two and a half of my best friends (one was on Facetime), teaching art to kindergarteners who think I’m turning “some sort of grandma age”, and I just ordered sushi for dinner with my boys (Anna will join us on Facetime). I also have enjoyed countless phone calls, emails, texts and silly Facebook birthday wishes.

I’m not entirely sure how I imagined myself at 50 when I was young, but it definitely didn’t look like this. I’m guessing I pictured a bit more maturity and certainly wouldn’t have guessed that I would be excited by my 21-year-old’s toileting skills, but here I am and honestly, I wouldn’t trade my life.

My family – both immediate and extended, my friends, our community, our dogs (even with their annoying morning clicks), our quirky new house, — I am beyond grateful for everything and everyone in my life as I start the back nine.

Thanks for all the birthday love. 

Love, Jess

If I had the power to change certain things, of corse I would. I wish we’d never heard of ALD and that Jack’s life had taken a different path. But I can’t, so I embrace what I have and what I have is amazing.

hApPy BiRtDaY bAnAnZ!

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Special siblings are a remarkable lot. Many people assume that these children grow up with something missing. Lack of attention and fear course through their veins, leaving them lost or even resentful and angry. I understand why people might make that assumption, but I’ve found that it couldn’t be further from the truth. The special siblings I’ve come to know are incredible people. Thoughtful, independent, hardworking, understanding, patient, and compassionate – just like Anna.

I did worry about Anna when Jack got sick. She was only six-years-old when our family’s attention was suddenly completely focused on Jack and his survival. We only had a few weeks to prepare for transplant following the diagnosis, and then Dan and I weren’t just not emotionally present for Anna, we were rarely physically there either.

Even after Jack got home from the hospital, the entire dynamic of our family had changed. We had been a family who was very focused on evenly dividing our attention, love and patience to our two kids — we never wanted to be accused of having favorites. After ALD screamed into our lives, the disease crumbled our “even-steven” approach to parenting.

We have always done our best to be there for Anna. We cheered loudly at lacrosse games (Dan was lovingly called “Loud Dan” for years), we tried never to miss parent conferences and would sit with her for hours over the dinner table discussing the trials and tribulations of childhood. She’s always known we adore her BUT she’s also always known we were just one diaper change or stomach flu away from dropping everything.

Jack’s illness/challenges trump everything (too bad that expression is so complicated now). If Jack needs to be medicated or changed, we need to take care of it and if he starts throwing up or looks like something is brewing, we don’t have the luxury of waiting. No matter if Anna needed help with her homework or we are knee deep in a project – ALD could interrupt our plans without any warning. We’ve all become accustomed to the interruptions  — especially Anna. It’s part of being a special sibling.

Anna learned early that if she needed to get something done, she needed to know how to do it herself – just in case. Don’t tell the MAPSO schools, but I didn’t sign any school paperwork once Anna hit middle school. Permission slips, notes from teachers – even those nightmare “Information Packets”. Anna took care of them herself. It was safer than putting it on my pile. It might have gotten lost in the medical bills/social security/gaurdianship paperwork. 

This early independence translated to a teenager who handled her college applications with minimal help and now that she’s in college, she doesn’t ask us for much help, other than making sure the bills are paid on time. Not that she doesn’t turn to us for guidance, but she knows how to handle things on her own. It’s how she has survived the ALD part of our family. It’s part of being a special sibling.

Independence has not been the only gift from being a special sibling.

I was getting my boobs squished yesterday (by a professional boob squisher — a mammogram) and I was trying to distract myself by making conversation. I asked if they had any fun plans for the weekend as they tightened the panel, “just one more little bit”. When she asked what my weekend plans were I mentioned that my daughter was coming back from college and we were celebrating her birthday. This, of corse led to where she was in school and what she was studying.

“Pre-Med at Hopkins? Are either you or your husband in medicine?”

I simply answered that her older brother is.

Anna was born strong and determined and Dan and I can take a little credit for who she has become, but Jack has been the biggest influence in her life. It was Jack who inspired Anna to study medicine. It was learning at only six-years-old that nature can be cruel. It was knowing that science saved her brother’s life. It was knowing that there is still so much unknown and she wants to be part of unraveling the mysteries of the human body.

Dan and I try to remind Anna that she’s only 19, and that there’s no need to know what she wants to do with her life, “I’m almost 50 and still trying to figure it out.” Anna’s a talented artist and I encourage her to continue making art. Dan and I both want her to study languages and travel and get the broadest education she possibly can. As much as we put in our two cents, but we know our sweet daughter and when she gets an idea, she can’t turn back. She sets a goal and she exceeds it. It’s who she is. BUT BANANZ IF YOU ARE READING THIS, PLEASE KNOW THAT YOU CAN MAKE CHANGES TO THE PLAN. ANY TIME.

Anna is driving up the NJ Turnpike from Baltimore as I am writing this. I can’t wait to get my hands on her and wish her a happy birthday in person. I can’t wait to watch as Jack jumps out of his chair to throw his arms around her until she screams for mercy. I also can’t wait to see where her life takes her. I wish Special Sibling didn’t need to be one of Anna’s titles, but it is and I appreciate some of the things that it’s taught her. With the combination of Jack’s inspiration to go into medicine and what Anna has learned as a result of being a special sibling, I have no doubt that she will do amazing things.

Happy Birthday Anna Banana – our very favorite special sibling.

Love, MoMo

THIS is (our) ALD

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After writing the sweet birthday story about Jack CLICK HERE IF YOU MISSED IT, I got started on our morning routine. Getting Jack up and out for school takes 2000 steps – even in the new house. There’s laundry and showering and teeth brushing and dressing and breakfast and medication. By the time we’re done with medication, we’re close to the finish line. The last steps are putting on his shoes (Jack wears AFOs so it takes some time) and few minutes on the potty – just in case.

I hadn’t realized that Jack had the last bite of cake in his mouth when I sat him down on the toilet (don’t judge – it’s his birthday). I left the room for a minute to grab some coffee and I heard a loud sneeze. When I walked back into the bathroom, there was chocolate cake EVERYWHERE. All over Jack, the floor, even the freshly painted, super cool and modern, white walls.

At first, there was a bunch of swearing on my part, but it quickly turned to laughter and joking with Jack that if someone hadn’t known what had happened, they might think it was poop. Several Clorox wipes and a new tee-shirt later, Jack and the bathroom were as good as new. I decided that – just in case – I would leave Jack on the toilet for just a few more minutes. The phone rang so I left the room and spent a couple of minutes chatting with Dan about the birthday boy. As I walked back into the bathroom I interrupted Dan by saying, “Holy crap. There’s sh%t everywhere!! Gotta go.”

This time there was poop everywhere. POOP EVERYWHERE!

When I cleaned up for the second round of mess, I can’t say that it was all laughter, but once I was finished, I called Dan back and we all found the humor when I said, “I just cleaned him up again. He still has some stuff on his pants. Not quite sure if it’s poop or cake. The bus just pulled up, so let’s assume that it’s cake.”

Is it poop or is it cake? Let’s assume it’s cake. THAT is real story of (our) ALD.

Love, Jess

side rails, alarms and a birthday

Yesterday I woke up to a tap on the arm. I was confused before I opened my eyes. Why was Dan back home – he’d left so early? Then I heard the hop hop as my human alarm walked away.

I wondered how long it would take for our boy to figure out how to climb out of his new bed. Just less than a month isn’t bad. We’ve been living this life for twelve years now and a month is remarkably quick for learning a new skill. Not that I’m assuming that Jack will manage this new trick again for a while, but I ordered some side rails for his bed, just in case. 

In our old house I worried about Jack climbing out of bed and falling down the stairs. Now I worry about Jack roaming around the house unattended and God forbid escaping and finding his way into the pool. Progress can be complicated at our house – wherever it is. I’m so proud when Jack accomplishes a new goal, but each improvement can come with a list of worries.

Dan and Anna think I am nuts, but along with the side rails, I’ve recently installed an alarm system so that I can hear every time a door opens, cameras in Jack’s room and at the front and the back of the house and an alarm for the pool. Having a child with special needs can be complicated and expensive, but piece of mind is priceless.

Twelve years ago I never imagined that our family would look like this today. I was living in the “everything is going to go right back to normal” mode. I never thought I would secure our house — not from outside threats, but from our boy and things as simple as climbing out of a bed.

THIS is ALD.

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Today is Jack’s 12th Transplant Birthday. 4383 days since those cells from the “Little Lady from Detroit” (in case you missed our story 12 years ago – Jack’s stem cells came from a cord donation. All we know about the donor was she was born in Detroit in 2005. She needed a name, so we gave her one) saved Jack’s life. So much has happened since them. Loads of good, plenty of bad – but mostly good. Although we never imagined living this life, we have a lot to celebrate today. This year we are planning on celebrating big for his 21st “typical” birthday, so we told Jack we are keeping things tame today. Don’t tell him, but we did get him a few gifts. Just trying to figure out how to wrap those side rails.

Love, Jess

PLEASE send Jack a birthday note AND consider making a small donation to CPNJ Horizon High School in his name. His Wheeln n Walkin Challenge is tomorrow and we are only half way to our goal . CLICK HERE. 

Happy BiRtHdAy!

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This handsome man is celebrating a birthday today. He’s not just handsome – he’s brilliant and creative and hysterical and a great father AND the sweetest Nonno on the planet. 

If you knew us during my high school/college years, you might be surprised by how close we are now. It took hard work (on both sides), but he and I are as close as can be – we share our highs and our lows AND always manage to find the humor in any situation.

I love you Nonno and am so glad we found our way!

Love, Tatess

Lesson of the day — Hard work pays off!!

welcome to the world beautiful boy!

I was seven when my younger brother Phil was born. It was before the days that hospitals allowed siblings to visit the maternity ward, so the first time I met my brother was when my mother walked into the house, holding him wrapped up like the most magical present I’d ever seen. My very own living doll.

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I loved having a little brother who I could dress up and cuddle, but as we got older the seven years between us meant that we were always at different stages. When I was in high school, Phil was the nosy kid who always seemed to ruin the fun. And when he was busy enjoying his own high school angst, I was the older sister acting like a lame extra parent. Phil was still in college when I got married and barely out when Dan and I started a family. He was living the single life, as a creative sole, when I was busy raising kids and then dealing with our ALD journey/nightmare. I think Phil and I both spent much of the last twenty years loving each other, but not really getting each other.

Last week, that baby that I held 41 years ago welcomed his own baby into the world, Carlos Michael Cappello. Not only am I thrilled to have another baby in the family, but when I watched my brother hold his son, I realized that for the first time in a long time, our paths are overlapping.

Phil’s beautiful wife, Kate, bravely suffered through 27 hours of labor before needing a c-section. A cruel introduction to parenthood. Learning from the get-go that no matter how much you plan, kids have a way of directing things. And, despite their exhaustion, both my brother and sister-in-law quickly discovered that, no matter what complications your kid puts you through, you push on with a smile, because you would do anything for your child.

Little Carlito is the most beautiful baby. He is strong and healthy and I swear he was smiling yesterday while his parents were holding him. He knows he’s in great hands. Phil and Kate are already amazing parents.

Welcome to the world beautiful boy! And, welcome to parenthood my brother. May you enjoy every beautiful, messy moment. And, if you ever need anything I am here for you. I get you;)

Love, Aunt Jess

 

 

If your wondering if spending time with my new nephew made me start thinking about Jack and ALD and if onlys. Sure. As I held Carlito with Jack by my side, I couldn’t help but think of all the hopes and dreams we had for our boy when we first brought him into the world. How, almost twenty years later, many of those dreams are out of reach. But, then I quickly brought myself back to where we are and who Jack is and how we can’t focus on the if onlys. If onlys don’t really get you too far. All they really do is make you blind to what’s in front of you. And, what’s in front of us is a new, beautiful boy who we can hold and dress up and cuddle and then hand back to his parents when he needs a diaper change.

Besides, our biggest goal for our boy was for him to be happy and who’s happier than Jack?

Anna is missing from the photos because she’s at BEACH WEEK with her buddies. allowing her to go was not by proudest moment as a parent, but so far she is safe and sound and hasn’t gotten into too much trouble. She can’t wait to meet Carlito!