Day 2

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I haven’t been this out-of-sorts in years — since 2007/2008, when we lived with a suitcase always loaded in our car in case of an unexpected trip to the hospital. The difference is that this time it’s not just our family that’s living with the anxiety of the unknown. It’s our entire country/planet.

Like an eerie calm before the storm, and we don’t know what the storm is going to bring. There are limited cases of COVID-19 in our area, but we assume that it’s just a matter of time. Will things get as bad as China or Italy? Who knows, but this has already effected school and work and parties and conferences and trips and Dan’s beloved March Madness.

Our family is social distancing because we’re scared that the virus can be lurking without symptoms for days and COVID-19 seems to be very contagious. There’s so much we don’t yet know and I don’t want to look back and wish we had done more to protect ourselves — to protect our community.

I’m scared about Jack’s health and about the health of all of our friends and family. I’m scared about hospital beds filling and a lack of respirators. I’m scared about small businesses suffering and the entire economy crumbling. I am also a little scared that Anna and I are going to kill each other.*

It’s not that our family is just sitting in front of the news all day. We’re all trying to distract ourselves. Anna is heading out to play some tennis with friends, I’m going for a long walk with JackO and Dan has a pile of yard work (we figure outside is safe). My folks even came today for lunch and we had a nice time, but there were no hugs. I can’t wait to go back to normal — I could really use a Mymom/Nonno hug right now. 

Love, Jess

* Kids are suffering terribly. Their lives have halted indefinitely. They’re missing school and work and parties and games. My heart goes out to my sweet girl and to all of her peers. IT’S HORRIBLE. Now, get home, wash your hands and be nice to your parents.

 

 

ALD Family Weekend 2020

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It took our family a while to feel like part of the ALD community. Part of it was that the ALD community was hard to find in 2007 — Facebook was just for the cool college kids back then and, although the internet was already full of information, it was tough to sort through and finding communities  like ours was a challenge. To be honest, we were also completely overwhelmed with what we were going through.

Early on, I did find a few other parents whose sons were struggling through transplant. It was difficult because this disease (especially with a late diagnosis)  didn’t lead to many happy stories. So I hid for a long timed. Just focused on Jack and his ALD journey (oh, and raising Anna and walking our dogs and keeping house and teaching art and writing). I didn’t really become super active with the ALD community until Smiles and Duct Tape was published and Kathleen O’Sullivan-Fortin (one of my ALD heroes and board member of ALD Connect) reached out and encouraged me to be more active. Thank you Kathleen;)

I’m so impressed by the ALD newborn screening parents. Many of them have jumped right in. Speaking at conferences, talking to legislators, and bringing the ALD community even closer together. I’m inspired by them and very optimistic that their families are the beginning of the next chapter of this disease. A great chapter.

Alison and Nic Adler’s son, Lucas, was diagnosed through newborn screening in California and they wasted no time. No only is their beautiful boy is being monitored by top doctors, but they are working tirelessly to spread the word and bring our community even closer together. They have organized an ALD Family Weekend at the Painted Turtle Camp in Lake Huges, CA May 1-3.

Make sure to check out the video on the link below:

www.aldfamilyweekend.com

Our family is looking forward to this wonderful event. ALD folks – sign up today!!!!

Love, Jess

PS Our first ALD friends, the Cousineaus, are also working to make this happen. We can’t wait to see them again in person!

What is a REAL Disability?

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Jack is blessed with many friends, but he has one bestie. A guy that shows up to our house and Jack doesn’t hesitate to get up and race to greet him at the front door. Even, like today, when Jack had been sitting on the toilet. I apologize to any neighbors who happened to be looking in our windows at the time. Jack can’t help himself when Peter arrives.

But that is not today’s story.

Today’s story is about what happened when Peter and Jack left Speir Drive to head to their favorite spot — The Able Baker. Maplewood Village being a weekend destination for many local folks, the boys needed to do a few loops before finding a free parking spot. It was a handicap space nice and close to their favorite bakery. It’s not just Jack who qualifies for the “luxury” of convenient parking. Peter – Jack’s buddy and Community-Based Instructor/Mentor – also has some challenges. Peter got out of the car and then helped Jack out of the passenger-side, when a women in a minivan stopped her car and loudly ask if they would please, “empty the spot for someone with a real disability. Someone with a wheelchair or walker.”

I don’t know what exact words were exchanged, but Peter was forced to explain that he and Jack were REALLY disabled. That they both qualified to fill the spot and for safety reasons they needed to be close to their destination. I’m sure that Peter said it in a way that was polite and clear. THAT’S who Peter is.

I might not have been polite, but I would have been clear. Judging peoples limitations from the front seat of a minivan is ridiculous and ranking disabilities is crazy. I’m the first person to shame people for needlessly using parking reserved for people with disabilities, but if someone has the placard who am I to need to know WHY they have it. Maybe their disability requires them to use a wheelchair or a walker. Perhaps it’s a heart issue or a back problem OR maybe it’s that maneuvering their companion through a crowded parking lot is dangerous.

So, if you were in Maplewood today and happened to see two handsome young men, enjoying some large cupcakes before getting into a car that was parked in a handicap spot – don’t worry. They earned the spot.

Love, Jess

hApPy NeW dEcAdE!!!!

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We are prepping for a new year full of celebrations and new beginnings — a new nephew arriving, Jack’s graduation, finding and sending Jack to the best adult program on the planet (we’re getting closer) and Anna surpassing her Chilean-born mother in her ability to speak Spanish (Anna left for Salamanca on Saturday).

We’re also prepping for a new decade full of celebrations and new beginnings. There will be many. I’m sure there will be many, but I know how life works. You can’t plan life too far in advance. It’s a waste of time that just leads to the universe laughing at you. So, I will leave it at . . . 

The 20s are going to be wonderful — LET’S CELEBRATE!!!!

Wishing everyone a very happy, hApPy holiday from our home to yours. May 2020/the entire decade be filled with joy, love and peace. And, laughter . . . lots of laughter!!

Love, Jess

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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!

 

50

 

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Next month I’m turning 50. I’ve always loved my birthday. For me birthdays are a reminder to reflect on the previous year, an excuse to celebrate the future and … I love presents (honestly, I LOVE PRESENTS). I didn’t just revel in celebrating 10 and 17 and 21, I embraced 25 and 30 and 40, but this birthday feels a little different. It’s 50. 50 sounds so grown-up. 

Shouldn’t I be more responsible? Shouldn’t I know more? Shouldn’t I be able to complete at least the Monday New York Times crossword puzzle? Shouldn’t I have learned to switch to water after the second glass of wine?

Like many of my friends reaching this milestone, I’m finding myself thinking about what I’ve accomplished in the last 5 decades and what I see shaping up for the next half of my life (I could make it to 100).

Overall, I’m fairly pleased with my accomplishments thus far. No fortunes made or much notoriety, but I have plenty that I’m proud of. I survived school (which was tough for me) receiving a bachelor’s and even a master’s degree. I married the love of my life, and with him survived more ups and downs than most couples. I’ve had careers as a photographer, a teacher, a writer and even gotten away with being a nurse when needed. I’ve had three books published (you thought Smiles and Duct Tape was the only one? There’s also Squeeze and Jack and the Pumpkin). I’ve managed to always surround myself with incredible people, who seem to enjoy my company and hold me up when I’m falling. And, I’ve raised two remarkable children – by far, my proudest accomplishment.

Of corse there are things that I regret. I wish that I had learned more languages (at least not lost my first language – Spanish). I wish I had traveled more and not given up on my photography. I wish I invested in Amazon and Apple early on. I wish I had always treated people the way I wanted to be treated. I wish I had learned to always think before I spoke. I wish I had taken more videos of the kids growing up. I wish I had learned how to play the guitar, knit, and sail. . I wish I had pushed for an MRI for Jack, just a few months earlier . . . 

There are things I would change if I could, but for the things I’ve had power over – I’m (mostly) proud. It’s the next half of my life that has me stumped. Dan and I will not have the empty nest that many of our peers are experiencing, but things are quieting down a bit. I’ve been thinking of going back to school to start another career, but am wondering if 50 is too old to start something fresh. I’ve been working further on a few book ideas that have been torturing me from my sleep. I’ve even been thinking about starting a program for adults with special needs – if we can’t find it, we may NEED to build it. All sound ideas, but I’m waiting for that kick in the ass that has always found me when I’ve needed it.

Until then, I am going to busy myself by searching the internet for “good careers for people of a certain age” and “appropriate haircuts for 50-year-old women”. I will also continue to work on finding the perfect adult placement for our boy and maybe sign up for some guitar lessons.

Love, Jess

I will also work on remembering to switch to water after the second glass of wine. No promises.

 

the last FIRST day

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Not a traditional FIRST DAY photo, but it’s pure Jack

Today was Jack’s last FIRST DAY of school. In June he’ll be graduating CPNJ Horizon High School and starting life as an adult. An adult who is funny and sweet and handsome AND and adult with special needs. Twelve years in, and we’re finally comfortable with having a child with special needs, but still — we’re bracing ourselves as we approach this new chapter.

I know we will figure this out – that’s what we do – but as Jack got on the bus this morning, I couldn’t help but get struck with that feeling that we’re just ten months away from a new unknown. Trying to distract myself from the panic, I sat on the black iron bench that was once my grandmothers and looked at the last FIRST DAY photos of JackO. What a life this kid has led.

Not able to shake the feeling all day, I dug through our not-yet-unpacked boxes in the basement for hours until I found it. Jack’s first FIRST DAY picture — Morrow Memorial Preschool. Dan had arrived at the church’s Baker Street entrance at midnight on a cold, early spring night, wanting to be sure that Jack’s name would be at the top of the list (in fact, he was the 7th or 8th, but he made it in). It was the school that all our neighbors had promised was the best and we knew our boy deserved the best. When we walked Jack into the doors of the preschool the first day of class*, Jack was a little nervous, but he was so proud. 

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I know today as Jack walked through the doors of his beloved high school he wasn’t nervous one bit. Jack rules that school — his magical smile making up for his lack of words. I’m so proud of our boy, who’s life has changed in more ways that we could have ever imagined 18 years ago. I just want all of his first days to be wonderful.

We have ten months to figure out the best plan for our boy. We will make it happen — even if it means we need to camp out for a week to make sure his is top of the list.

Love, Jack’s mom

* Jack’s first day of school was September 11th and we will always be grateful that Dan took the later train into work that day. ALD aside, we are a very lucky family.

good news, wrapped in a horrible package

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We received Jack’s Tier Assignment from Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) and it’s good news. Really shitty, horrible, depressing good news. Jack qualifies for the maximum amount of support as he enters his adult life.

I was initially relieved when I read the letter. Knowing that Jack qualified for enough support to adequately pay for an adult program AND therapy was a relief, but within a minute the reality of what the letter meant set in and I dropped the letter as if it were on fire — it was more concrete evidence that Jack is very disabled and that the State of NJ doesn’t see much opportunity for improvement.

I’ve been living for a few days with the letter sitting on the pile of “important” papers on my kitchen counter. Sometimes I glance at it and am grateful that we are headed in the right direction towards our next chapter, and sometimes just seeing it brings me to my knees. How the hell did we end up here?

I have to remind myself that it’s good news. It is good news, wrapped in a horrible package. 

Jack is the most incredible human I know. He’s not just happy, but for a silent kid, he’s more connected than most people. He’s able to see and hear and walk and enjoy his life. BUT, he is fully dependent with even the easiest of tasks and has significant medical and behavioral issues. Jack’s life is very complicated — he does need as much support as possible and we are lucky that we did not need to fight the State to make them understand. 

It’s good news.

Now we are faced with figuring out what Jack’s adult life is going to look like. We have put in our request for a support coordinator to help us navigate this transition (fingers crossed we get our top choice). We don’t know too much about our options but want to make sure Jack remains living at home while getting adequate physical, occupational and speech therapy and attending a program that’s as energetic and fun as CPNJ Horizon High School. Where is that program? Not sure, but we will find it. And, if it doesn’t exist, we will build it.

It’s good news.

Love, Jess

PS If you missed the lead up to getting our Tier Assignment – CLICK HERE.

Roll the Footage!

“Good morning”, Jack said with a big smile on his face as I walked into his room at 7:00 am. If you don’t know Jack, you might not have heard the words, but Jack speaks pretty loudly if you know … Continue reading

Coming Soon!

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Last week, I watched through our living room window as a man fought through the rain to dig a hole in our front lawn and place a sign. I knew it was coming, but it still took me by surprise. 

Coming Soon!

We moved into our home thirteen years ago and called it our “forever house”. We talked about how we would shine her up to match our dreams and enjoy our time there until we were ready for our golden years in Block Island or Florida. The kids were 7 and 5, and we imagined how they would learn to ride their bikes on Clinton Avenue and run through all the backyards with the neighborhood kids. Jack and Anna would go from elementary school, to middle school, to high school and finally off to college. It seemed so distant, but we pictured when our nest would become empty and we could periodically close up our home as we would travel the world, knowing that we’d always return to our beautiful center-hall colonial.

Thirteen years ago we didn’t know that within a year of moving in, Jack would start showing symptoms of a disease that would one day become a huge part of our family. We didn’t know that our future would be less about adventurous travel and more about doctoring and therapies. We didn’t know that one day, three stories of house would be more than our son would be able to manage.

So, we are selling our home before “forever”. We are selling because we are not living the life that we’d imagined thirteen years ago. We are not alone in selling our home. Many of our close friends are doing the same – escaping Essex County taxes or moving back to urban living or buying their dream homes in the country or on the beach. We, on the other hand, are looking to stay in the area, eager to find an easier home. One that is more Jack friendly – fewer stairs, open floor-plan. A house where JackO can roam free safely.

It’s not what we planned thirteen years ago and it’s a lot of work prepping to sell. There have been moments of panic/anxiety (and plenty of tears), but mostly we’re excited about this change. Our house is beautiful, but there are rooms we never use, but still heat and cool. There’s a lovely yard that is only used by our doggies. And, most of all we feel that the house is ready for her next family. It’s time to pass her on. 

Still . . .

Every time I look out the window and see that sign, I feel my stomach tighten and I think of letting go of our “forever house”. It goes on the market officially next Wednesday and then there will be a flurry of open houses. People coming through to see if it matches their dreams the way it did ours thirteen years ago. Fingers crossed that we sell quickly. I really don’t want to play the “make all the beds, vacuum the dog hair, and hide the diapers” game for too long. And, once we sell our beautiful house, we can find our next “forever home” where we will stay forever … or at least a few years.

Our realtor/friend asked us to write a note to perspective buyers. Let me know what you think.

Thirteen years ago we told our realtor that we wanted to find the “big sister” of our center hall colonial on Jefferson Avenue. Something a little grander, a little roomier. We fell in love with this house before walking in the front door. We’d lived in Maplewood for seven years and Clinton Avenue was one of our favorite streets. It’s quiet, but close enough to town that we’d never need to drive to the village or the train. It’s a street where our children could roam and ride their bikes down the hill without any risks except bumping into a friend. And, the front door, wide and stately, told us that this house was going to be the perfect fit for our family.

We’ve been here now for thirteen years and it’s time for our next adventure, but it’s going to be hard to say good-bye to 26 Clinton Avenue. She’s been good to us. She’s hosted family holidays so large that we’ve added one table after another – from the dining room, through the center hallway into the living room. She’s hosted many, many parties where we’ve used every pot on the pot rack and guests refused to leave the kitchen. And, I trust that neighbors will share the our deck and lower patio have hosted many an event that lasted way too late into the night (it’s a wonderful, understanding crew on Clinton Avenue).

We’ve raised our kids and added two dogs to the mix while we’ve lived at 26 Clinton Avenue, and the memories we are taking with us are plentiful. At 109-years-old, this house has a history and has taken care of many families. Our hope is that the next crew that calls her home will love her as much as we have. 

Love, The Torreys

Cross your fingers, light some candles, and send some good vibes!!

Love, Jess