Ten Years and Counting . . . Special Thanks to the Little Lady from Detroit

I’ve been trying to find the right words, but I’m at a loss. There are no words to really describe how we feel today. I’ll keep this post short and sweet.

Ten years ago we put our son’s life in the hands of doctors and donors and maybe even a higher power (I know, I know – I have a terrible relationship with God, but I’m working on it). Ten years ago we didn’t know of any boys who were ten years post transplant for ALD. We didn’t know if there was a chance that Jack would reach this milestone.

Jack has reached this day – HIS TENTH TRANSPLANT BIRTHDAY – and I fully expect he will exceed every dream we’ve ever had for him. He’s just that kind of kid. He’s a silent boy who speaks.

We had a party this weekend to celebrate our boy. We filled our yard with greasy food and many of Jacko’s favorite people. Jack spent the day hugging, and dancing and enjoying every second.

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Please take a moment today and think about our boy. Think about how amazing life can be.

Happy Birthday JackO!!!

Love, Jess

In honor of Jack’s TRANSPLANT BIRTHDAY we asked people to make donations to Boxes of Fun and Horizon High School. Over $2800 was raised for his school and have a HUGE pile of toys for the Boxes of Fun. Our duct tape is amazing!

 

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FYI – “The Little Lady from Detroit” was Jack’s donor;)

Summer Round Up

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Summer’s coming to a close and I think I’m ready. Sure, I will miss the long days and the family time, but I think I need to get back to a schedule and SHHHHHHHHH – I’m looking forward to the house being mine for a few hours each day. Is that so bad?

This summer was filled with activity – birthdays, Santa Fe, BBQs, fun. Block Island, as always, rated high on our list of favorite adventures. We didn’t get quite as much time there as we’ve grown used to, but the reasons were good. Dan’s job had him busy with travel (work is good), Anna had an amazing internship and started looking at schools (work is essential), and the best reason to miss Block Island time was that my brother Philip got married to a lovely woman who we are excited to welcome to the family. Welcome Kate!!

 

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This summer also included fun activities like applying for guardianship and Social Security for Jack. Although not as entertaining as time on the beach or celebrating a wedding, I need to share that Jack’s 18 Birthday Project has not been a disaster. There have been a few tears, some money, some doctor’s appointments, some paperwork and some long lines to deal with, but it hasn’t been as painful as I’d imagined.

I’m someone who prepares for the worst. I’m not sure if it’s a product of our “situation” or if I was born this way (I can’t really remember much about life before), but I seem to have a need to picture the worst case scenario. I know this sounds like I enjoy doom and gloom, but it’s the opposite. I worry that doom and gloom might someday kill me if I don’t brace for it.

So when I can, I prepare. When Jack has a fever, I pack a hospital bag. When I see we have a 1/2 tank of gas in the car, I fill it. When we are running low on wine . . . you get the picture. I prepare. So, when I know I need to complete a pile of paperwork providing information to prove that that my eighteen-year-old son is so disabled that he is never expected to be able to work or live independently – I brace myself for both the emotional pain and the dread of dealing with bureaucracy.

I hope I don’t jinx things, but so far, it’s been pretty painless. We hired an attorney that did a remarkable job at guiding us through the process of guardianship without making us focus too much on the details. And, we spent Monday at Social Security where we lucked out and were placed at a desk with the sweetest man. He calmly asked us questions and kept looking at Jack’s sweet smile and saying, “I really want to make this easy for you guys.”. I’m glad I brought Jack. I’m not sure I would have gotten that kind of treatment without him. So all of our paperwork is in and now we wait. I REALLY hope I don’t regret sharing how easy this all was . . .

Enjoy this last blast of summer before the chaos (or quiet luxury) of the school year begins!

Love, Jess

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FYI – The first round of edits of the book are complete. I still can’t believe this is happening.

Thank yous and big news.

Jack would like to thank everyone for all of his birthday wishes. He had an amazing day and, in typical Torrey style, he’s planning on celebrating all month!!

 

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We’ve had other exciting news here on Clinton Avenue and I’m finally ready to share it. Drum roll please . . .

Smiles and Duct Tape THE BOOK is going to be released this fall. I’ve been working on the project for over five years and I can’t believe that the finish-line is approaching. I received my edits from the publisher last week and we’re busy sorting out the details about the cover art. Holy smokes – this is really happening! I’m honored and excited and a whole lot of scared.

What happens when your world falls apart? Do you simply lay down and take the blows, or do you try to figure out a new way of living? When our son, Jack, was first diagnosed with a rare disease, I wasn’t sure that our family would survive. And, once we realized that life would never return to “normal”, I questioned if it was realistic to strive for ever really being happy again. It took us a while, but thanks to the help of our friends, family, doctors, teachers, neighbors, and a lot of smiles, we managed to mend our family. It’s like we’re held together with duct tape – not pretty, but super strong.

We don’t have the release date yet, but I’m hoping that everyone will have a great go-to gift idea for the holidays. Who doesn’t want a memoir about a ALD family for the holidays?

Love, Jess

 

 

Guess who is 18!

I was having trouble finding the right words to honor Jack today, his 18th birthday. I sat at the computer last night, Googling “18” – looking desperately for some inspiration. Jack’s episode of Tosh.O was over, and he wandered into the office to tap me on the shoulder and randomly hit the keys on the computer to get my attention. I sat him next to me, “Come on Jack. Help me find something fun to write about.”

As if on cue, I saw what I needed. One Direction has a song called “18”.

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Jack has awesome taste in music. It’s broad enough to appreciate The Grateful Dead, Bob Marley, even Miles Davis, but for years he has had a clear favorite that didn’t come from either of his parents – One Direction. When I saw that they had a song called “18”, I asked Jack if he knew it. My silent boy’s answer was unmistakeable. He popped off the chair and started hopping like a madman.

The song is basically a love song, but the first couple lines captured who Jack was, is and will always be.

“I got a heart and I got a soul
Believe me I will use them both”

We played “18” a dozen times and Jack never stopped hopping with a big broad smile filling his face. At one point he even managed to climb up on my desk chair. This is the same kid that can’t get himself into bed. When things happen spontaneously, ALD disappears for a brief moment. It’s pure magic.

So, THIS is also what ALD looks like. A boy dancing to a song he loves. Joy pouring out of every part of his being.

When Jack was born eighteen years ago, I never imagined his life would take this path. He has been turned upside-down and thrown in the ring again and again, but he never complains or feels sorry for himself. He just lives in the moment waiting for the next song.

It’s not a typical 18th birthday – it’s covered with scars of ALD – but we still have a whole lot to celebrate and we will. We plan to play a whole lot of One Direction today (and maybe a little Grateful Dead and Miles Davis too).

I would love for everyone who reads this to send a brief note to Jack on his Sweet 18. Here on the blog, or on Facebook or jctorrey@mac.com.

Love, Jess (proud mom of an adult – akkkkkk!)

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A Birthday for Bananz!

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There are no parenting books that recommend being friends with your teenager. We are always told that our responsibility as parents is to parent.

My problem is that I do so much parenting with Jack. I need to be ON all the time. Missing the medication or hydration could be disastrous, and when he needs a diaper change, he needs a diaper change. I can’t slack – not even for a minute (this is not completely true. I do slack, thanks to a wonderful team of people, but I need to arrange so that I can slack).

When it comes to parenting Anna, she tends to direct. She tells me when to call the SAT/ACT tutor and when I need to drive her to school. She announces when it’s time for a new curfew (THAT we did need to negotiate), but also knows when she needs to call it a night so that she has time to work on her summer assignments. And, although we spend many dinner conversations discussing Anna’s schoolwork, we are rarely asked to help or edit. It’s not just because she has surpassed our expertise in many subjects, it’s because she has always had to be independent.

This is not to say that we do not spend quality time together. Anna and I spend hours watching and discussing groundbreaking television (i.e. The Challenge on MTV) and pouring through high school gossip. Anna and Dan also have a close relationship. He isn’t as fond of the rumor talk as I am, but he and Anna can discuss history or lacrosse stats all day long. And, watching Anna snuggle with her brother is one of the most magical things on the planet.

Anna has turned out to be a remarkable human and I love being her mother/friend. I just look at her, and I am in awe. Brilliant, beautiful, patient, compassionate, kind and happy. Everything I ever hoped my daughter would be.

Dan and I get all sorts of credit for raising this unbelievable child, when the truth is that Anna really deserves most of the credit.

Happy Birthday Bananz!! Sweet 16!!!

Love, Mom

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CHANGE is a four-letter word

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CHANGE has six letters, but for me it’s a four-letter word.

Lately, adapting to changes around here has proved difficult. Dan has a new job which has him traveling a ton. I’m missing my partner. For 21 years (really 23, but don’t tell my parents) we’ve been together most nights. Now there are a lot of nights where it just me, the kids and the pooches. The house has been lonely. And, it’s not just Dan that’s often out. Anna has a schedule that’s pulling her in a lot of directions that all seem to be far from Clinton Ave. Don’t get me wrong, Jack and the dogs are great company, but the normal Torrey liveliness has been lacking around here.

It doesn’t help that I’m working on “Jack’s 18th Birthday Project”. Unfortunately, this birthday project doesn’t involve planning cakes or presents. Instead, I’m dealing with lawyers and doctors and paperwork. When you’re profoundly disabled, 18 doesn’t arrive with it’s usual benchmarks. There is no graduating from high school (that comes at 21) or registering to vote. Instead,  Dan and I are registering to gain custody of our adult son. We need to hire two lawyers (one for us, one for Jack) to prove to the State that Jack is disabled. Apparently a simple introduction to our handsome, non-verbal, g-tube attached, diaper-wearing boy is not enough proof.

Once the State determines that Jack is in fact too disabled to care for himself, we move along to other 18th birthday highlights. First, we file for Social Security. The idea of collecting money on Jack’s behalf initially felt odd, until we were reminded that Jack will never work, never earn an income, never pay for his own expenses. We live in a country who helps the less fortunate, and Jack is part of that list. After Social Security, we file for Medicaid. Yet another reminder of Jack’s lack of independence.

I was sharing this list with my writer friend (who often acts as my therapist), Jenny, and she (once again) put into words what I was feeling, “I wonder if there is still hope in your heart, a little flicker of hope that someday Jack’s condition might change? Going to court puts a label on Jack’s future and makes it all permanent.”

Yes.

It’s heartbreaking that we find ourselves at this juncture. Eight years ago, I never imagined being here. I still have hope (and it’s more than just a flicker), but it is super hard to keep hope alive when you are looking at this pile of “proof” that says otherwise. So, I’m upset and then I’m over thinking everything in our quiet house. A perfect storm to bring me to a sour mood.

Last night, Anna and I had a conversation that gave me the kick in the ass that I needed. She was being a brat (the way only a teenager can be), but then she said some words that hit my core. I won’t go into the details, but basically she reminded me that our family is stronger than our circumstances and it was time for me to stand up and deal. Anna has always been smarter than I am and she’s right. Life isn’t always easy, but our days are moving along whether we embrace them or curse them. It’s time for this Torrey to start embracing them again.

Dan’s new job is wonderful and we will find a new groove. Anna’s changes are moving her along towards her goals: to rule the world, cure ALD and not miss a single party along the way. And, our dear Jack is getting along just fine. All this ridiculous “18th Birthday Project” goes right by him. He is just waiting for August so that he can get some presents and a huge slice of cake.

My kids are great teachers. I needed them to remind me that our family is WAY stronger than our circumstances and focusing on cake is WAY more important than the other crap.

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Love, Jess

Birthday love

 

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Today our family celebrates John Redmond Torrey’s 9th birthday. Yes. I know that Jack was born nearly 18 years ago,  on August 5th, 1998. But on May 30th each year, we celebrate the day that Jack was given life – again. Today is his “other birthday. “

Nine years ago, Jack was living at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital in NYC. He had been diagnosed with Adrenoleukodystrophy just one month earlier. Thanks to our team of amazing team of doctors and nurses, he received a stem cell transplant from an anonymous donor. The entire procedure took less than 15 minutes. In keeping with Jack’s relentless attitude and irrepressible spirit, we played Aretha Franklin and danced and laughed in his hospital room as the stem cells slowly dripped into his arm…. and eventually gave him a new life.

That was nine years ago. Now my son is a happy and healthy teenage boy. The same old Jack – just taller, and with more and more with facial hair. I am so so proud to be his father. And so thankful for every day that we have him in our lives.

Jack — I love you very much!

Love, Dad

a contagious mood, wet socks and a birthday

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The other night Dan and I had a moment.

Jack needed to be shaved. This is something that I don’t see – or I see, but I don’t care much about. As long as Jack is clean and clothed, I don’t worry about shaggy hair or a stubbly face. If anything, I feel like it makes him look like his typical peers. What 17-year-old boy is always clean shaven? I also don’t “see” the need, because I don’t want to.

Shaving Jack is a two person job. One person needs to hold him. Not gently cradle his arms, but forcefully pin him down, as he thrashes around like he’s being assaulted. The other person holds the electric razor, and does their best to hit all the necessary spots without doing too much damage. It’s a nightmare that I prefer to avoid.

Unlike me, Dan likes his son to be perfectly coiffed. Luckily, this means he usually takes the initiative, and does his best to recruit partners and leave me out of the rotation. Unfortunately, Sunday night Dan had run out of options and brought the razor into the kitchen as I was finishing the dishes, “Jess, it’s time.”

I’m not always as amicable as I make it sound on this blog. I have my moments. Sure, I helped shave Jack, but I did it with a long face and a bad attitude. Then I felt obligated to discuss why I shouldn’t be responsible for any razor activity, “I do most of the showering and diapering around her. Shaving is just something I shouldn’t need to do. You had all weekend to find someone to help. And, when was the last time anyone else walked the dogs (not sure why I had to throw this in)? This is NOT FAIR!”

There is nothing more contagious than a bad mood.

By the time we were done shaving, Jack’s mischievous grin had faded and Dan cleaned up the loose stubble without a word. NOT FAIR. That’s all I had to say to have each of us silently making a mental list of all the unfair crap that we need to deal with on a daily basis. We went upstairs to finish our nightly routine, feeling frustrated and sorry for ourselves.

Dan sat Jack on the potty, and we started getting ready for bed, both of us too upset to even look at each other. I threw on my PJs as Dan went into our bathroom to brush his teeth, “I’ll put Jack to bed.” I said as I trudged down the hall to get him off the toilet.

I walked into the bathroom and my socks knew before I did, “Guess who went pee in the potty! Or, not all the way in, but ALMOST.”

“Way to go JackO!” Dan hollered out from our room. I could hear the smile in his tone.

A little pee, and the mood was broken. Our family is complicated, but it’s okay — we just need a lot of extra socks.

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I put Jack down and crawled into bed next to Dan (after changing my socks). I gave him a huge hug. I am so lucky that he’s my partner in all this.

Today is Dan’s 50th Birthday! I know these big milestones arrive with mixed emotions, but I hope as he goes through the day, he realizes that he means the WORLD to us here at 26 Clinton Ave. He’s Anna’s hero, my best friend and Jack’s barber (and best friend and hero).

Love, Jess

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46 ain’t so bad

There is nothing sexy about being 46. You’re neither young and spry or old and wise. You still need to cover your gray and squeeze into skinny jeans, but you can’t really compete with the 20-year-old crowd (or the 30-year-old crowd). You’re just middle-aged. But here I am, and I’m doing just fine.

I’m not sure when I’ll get used to the increasing amount of lines on my forehead or how my legs crack when I stand up after sitting on the floor, but I feel blessed for the life I woke up to this morning.

A gentle kiss on my cheek from my husband with a “Happy Birthday” whispered in my ear. Then my sweet Banana came tiptoeing into my room and crawled in my bed to give me a birthday hug. As she left the room, I noticed that she had slipped a note under my pillow. I would share what she wrote, but I can’t – 1. She would kill me 2. It’s mine and I don’t want to share the magic. Jack can’t sneak into my room or write me sweet notes, but he did share his brilliant smile when I walked into his room this morning. He knows it’s his mama’s birthday.

It’s not just my family that warms me, my friends are an incredible bunch. I’ve always heard that when learning a sport you should practice with better players. I’m not an athlete, but I’ve always thought of this when choosing friends. Since I was a little girl, I’ve managed to surround myself with people who teach me, encourage me and make me want to be my best.

Not that my friends have been a group of saints. “Best” hasn’t always included intellectually interesting endeavors, or even healthy activities, but my friends have always been an assortment of people who I find remarkable. I just had a great lunch with a dear friend (thanks Kim) and look forward to celebrating more this weekend. And, thanks to technology, friends from all over my life have remembered my birthday. I’m feeling extra loved.

Lately I’ve been watching the two generation on either side of me and wondering where I fit. My parents and in-laws are spending their retirement years traveling so much that I have trouble remember where everyone is on a given day. And, Anna and her pals get to enjoy the benefits of teenage life, where their only real priorities are working hard in school and make it home before curfew.

Sometimes, I feel a little buried under the responsibilities of being a middle-aged grown-up, but today I’m just trying to enjoy the fact that I’ve accomplished quite a bit in 46 years AND hoping that I have another 46 or so years to go.

Thanks for the Birthday love! I’m a lucky (kinda old) gal!!

Love, Jess

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jack knows how to party;-)

DSC00407It’s been a long week. Saying good-bye to Bananz and then trying to get ready for a month away on Block Island — okay, I realize that this doesn’t sound like a particularly awful week. It’s just been a little cluttered and frantic. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed.

When I remembered that I needed to plan a birthday celebration for Jack before we headed out of town, I was less than eager to add to my stack of to dos. Luckily, Horizon High School (HHS) is a place that appreciates a good party as much as our son does. “Planning” a party at HHS simply requires a few texts with Monica (Jack’s aide/ AKA his school mom) and a phone call with his teacher, Mr. David. Add some pizza and a cake from Maria AND YOU HAVE A PARTY!

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With One Direction playing, Jack danced his way around the classroom passing out hugs as party favors. You’ve never seen a teenage boy as happy at Jack. Every time I walk into his school I feel so lucky that our family is part of their community.

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Jack’s school mom, Monica. We love her.

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Maria and her beautiful daughter. Maria doesn’t just make delicious cakes, she’s the reason I’m sane.

For an hour, I got to forget about all the things I need to get done before the ferry takes us to our August home. Now it’s time to go back to the shopping, packing, re-packing, bill paying, cleaning up, etc.

Love, Jess