Happy Father’s Day DanO!

FullSizeRender-99

I would like to record what happens in Jack’s bathroom on Sunday mornings. It’s a routine that takes at least 40 minutes and involves laughing, singing and plenty of four-letter-words. Dan does it so that I can have a break from the morning routine, but I usually can’t sleep through the commotion. Instead, I lay in bed and count my blessings.

Dan has always been a hands-on father with both the kids. He once spent an entire night waiting in line to insure Jack got into our favorite pre-school, and coached Anna’s lacrosse team for so long that I sometimes need to apologize to her varsity coaches now for Dan’s sideline behavior. Even with all his business travel, Dan tries to make every home lacrosse game to cheer on Number 22 (Bananz/Anna) and schedules business around IEP meetings and important school events for JackO.

I sometimes wonder what our family would have looked like without ALD taking center stage. Would we have hung together so tightly or would we have gotten distracted by trivial nonsense and focused less on family? I can’t say for sure, but I can say that, no matter the reason, I do appreciate how close our little foursome is.

I get a lot of credit for holding up our house of cards, but the truth is that while I do my share, it’s Dan that really holds it all together. He knows what each of us needs. Heated discussions with Anna about political topics, snuggling on the couch with Jack watching his favorite Impractical Jokers. And, he is the calm voice of reason, balancing out my crazy. When I get stuck under my pile of Social Security/Medicaid/medical bills bullshit, he reminds me of what is important. AND that we are a family that survives, “Just take things day by day.”

This morning we woke up in Connecticut where we were visiting family. Despite a long night of festivities and it being Father’s Day, Dan still managed to continue his Sunday morning ritual – bathing, changing, toiling his eighteen year old son. It takes parenting to a whole new level. There is a fair amount of cursing that goes on in the bathroom on Sunday mornings, but there is also a song for everything. Not sure how you manage to keep coming up with new ones, but keep singing DanO!

Happy Father’s Day!

Love, Jess

I’d also like to mention two other remarkable fathers – Nonno and PopPop. We love you both!!!

GOOD > BAD

Enough with the hard stuff – let’s celebrate!

A crazy few weeks around here and most of it has been WONDERFUL.

Last week, Jack and I had the honor of speaking at an event for CPNJ (the parent organization of Horizon High School). 150 employees were celebrating 5, 10, 15, and 20 years of service to CPNJ. We were asked to speak representing CPNJ families and sharing a bit about how their team has helped us. My nerves still cause me to jitter a bit when I speak publicly, but overall I think I’m doing a better job. And, looking out at a room full of so many people who have helped our boy, I felt extremely grateful. I did the majority of the speaking, but when Jack joined me on the stage, he really did steal the show. His smile is electric.

 

Then yesterday, we shared our story in a whole different way. Through Jack’s school, we were approached by a Taiwanese television station that is making a documentary about children with special needs and adaptive equipment. A large crew of people and cameras arrived bright an early to catch our morning routine (I took care of some early morning messiness before they arrived – THAT would have been a little TOO real). The crew followed JackO around throughout his entire day, and by the time they arrived back from school, they all seemed like old friends. It’s amazing the connections our silent boy is able to make. The documentary is following children with disabilities from four different countries, discussing different approaches cultures have towards the special needs community. It’s scheduled to air in Taiwan in the Fall. They promised to send us a copy. I can’t wait to see our boy on the screen (and to see if my need of highlights is distracting;-).

 

It’s not just our boy who has been getting some attention. Anna received a wonderful invitation last week. On Monday, Boxes of Fun is being recognized as a recipient of the Friends of Child Life Award at New York Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. We’ve been making Boxes of Fun for the children on the Bone Marrow Transplant floor at the hospital for eight years. Last year, Anna asked to take over and started a club at her school with her dear friend, Jane, to help raise money and fill the boxes. No surprise, they dove right in and have not only raised enough money to extend the program to Hackensack Hospital, but they have raised awareness for both Boxes of Fun and paying it forward. Kids these days . . .

IMG_1162

Our lives are complicated. Big things like fighting with Social Security and little things like Jack developing a habit of soiling his bed overnight. Some days I feel like we are dealing with more than our share of sh*t, but when I step away and look at the big picture, I am reminded that the good still outweighs the bad by a long shot.

I am beyond proud of both of our children. Each with such different lives. Each extraordinary.

 

Love, Jess

 

IMG_2789

DSC01324

 

Ten years ago . . .

IMG_8672

2007

What were you doing ten years ago?

Ten years ago our family was in limbo. We had just been transferred from our local hospital to Columbia Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s hospital in New York City. Our lives were standing still as we waited for doctors to figure out what was going on in Jack’s brain.

Seven days earlier, we had gone for an MRI so that we could rule out any significant neurological issues. We were told immediately following the “routine MRI” that it did not rule out anything. Instead, the MRI had confirmed that Jack had significant damage to his brain.

That was April 20th, 2007.

It would be ten days before we were ushered into a small conference room and introduced to the word Adrenoleukodystrophy. Those ten days were surreal.

Waiting is brutal. Although we tried to be optimistic, the doctors were not able to mask their concern. We knew that a diagnosis was coming and that it likely would be bad news. Jack was only eight-years-old and Dan and I both needed to play the role of calm parents, but in the stillness of night our fears would crawl out. There was very little sleeping for us during that time. The “unknown” causes the imagination to spin, often landing on the horrifying or the absurd.

We all know what happened. That we did get a terrible diagnosis and then lived through a nightmare before finding our way to a new life full of challenges. As we approach the tenth anniversary of Jack’s diagnosis and stem cell transplant (his other birthday), I can’t help but relive those days. I can’t help but remember where we were ten years ago. Who we were ten years ago. Bear with me as I spend the next month remembering and sharing.

Sharing has helped me survive the last ten years and reliving these memories is actually helping me to appreciate that we didn’t just survive that period, but we have moved incredibly far since that time. Of corse, I have my moments wondering what life would have looked like without Adrenoleukodystrophy crashing in, but mostly TODAY I am feeling grateful.

Jack survived. His life is complicated, but his quality of life is wonderful. He is happy and stable and manages to bring joy wherever he goes. Anna survived. She runs through life like she runs down a lacrosse field – determined and strong. I’m not exactly sure where she is headed, but her life is going to be extraordinary. Dan and I survived. We are not living the lives we imagined, but I can honestly say that we are closer now than we’ve ever been. I know it sounds cheesy, but he’s my best friend.

Our family has also managed to surround ourselves with friends who hold us up when we need it and encourage us to celebrate the good times (wine and dessert flow often). And, our extended family is incredible. We’ve just gotten to share time with both the Torreys and the Cappellos and we are all feeling incredibly blessed.

For a VERY unlucky family, we are really f*cking lucky;)

Ten years ago our family was living in limbo. Waiting for news that would forever change our lives. Today we are in control. Perhaps not able to control what tomorrow will bring, but in control over how we will face today — AND today is a great day!!

Love, Jess

IMG_5093-2

Today (not really today, but this year)

Five Stages of a Day at Social Security

images-33

I spent Wednesday at the Social Security office in Newark, NJ. It was an emotional day.

Denial

As I walked into the large waiting room, I was surprised that it was so crowded. How could every seat be filled on a Wednesday in the middle of the month? Deep breath. This is going to be fine. Today will be the last time I need to come to this office. I have everything they might need right here in my green Whole Foods bag filled with paper.

Ninety minutes later, I hear my number, I grab my green Whole Foods bag and race up to the counter. I give Jack’s social security number and the woman behind the counter starts typing frantically on her keyboard. Five minutes later she looks up, “I’m sorry Mrs. Torrey. It looks like you need to speak with Ms. @#$%. I can make you an appointment for next week.”

Anger

“Are you kidding me? I’ve been here for ninety minutes already and I called Ms. @#$% 17 times in the last two weeks. 17 TIMES! She has not returned one of those phone calls. THAT IS WHY I AM HERE! I can’t come back next week. I need to see someone NOW!”

I’m not sure if it was my strong words or my teary eyes that got to her, but suddenly the woman behind the counter told me to wait, went back to her keyboard, typed in some magic, and then directed me to another desk. I was introduced to the allusive Ms. @#$%.

Hopeful/Bargaining

I took a deep breath and put on the sweetest smile I could muster, “Thank you so much for seeing me Ms. @#$%. I’m sorry that I have been calling so much, it’s just that we are anxious to get this done. I promise I have ANYTHING you might need here in this bag.”

As I held up the green Whole Foods bag, she started shaking her head. “I just don’t think we can get this done quickly. I need a little more information from you and to have our lawyers look at your son’s case again. I will get back to you next week.”

Depression

Tears are now rolling down my face and I set down my green bag, “Next week? You can’t understand how complicated our lives are. My son turned eighteen last summer. We’ve been working on this for eight months. He should be worried about getting accepted into college this year – not whether he qualifies of SSI.”

The word “college” really got me going and I sat down with my head in my hands, “My son qualities for Social Security. He’s disabled. YOU know that he is! We’ve shown medical records and you have his school information. He will never work a day in his life. It’s not that he doesn’t want to – he can’t. HE can’t do anything on his own. We have given you all our his information. We have followed all the rules. We have filled out all of the paperwork you asked for. How on earth do you not have an answer?”

Ms. @#$% sat looking up at me and didn’t seem to know what to say. She turned around and I was worried she was going to call security, but instead she came back with a box of tissues, “Mrs. Torrey I’m going to get started on this right now. Just let me see your guardianship papers and the other account information we discussed. We are going to find out as soon as we can how to proceed. What is your cell number? I will call you as soon as I hear anything.”

I was shocked. Not prepared for her to be so helpful. I opened my green Whole Foods bag, pulled out the paperwork she asked for and said “Thank you.” There was nothing more for me to say. This is our life. It’s filled with paperwork, disappointments and reminders of what could have/should have been.

Without another word, I stood up, grabbed my green Whole Foods bag and turned around to walk away. I cried the whole way home and then went into the house and cried some more. I called Dan and cried. Then I called Mymom and cried. Once all the tears were done, I took a warm shower and started my day again.

I needed to pick up Jack early so that we could go watch Anna play lacrosse. As Jack and I made our way to the field arm in arm, I realized my mood had completely turned around. Our life is not just filled with paperwork and disappointments – it’s also filled with sunny days, fun games and magical hugs. THAT should be our focus.

Acceptance

Love, Jess

UPDATE: Ms. @#$% called yesterday at 4:59 pm. Jack has been approved for Social Security. Before I hung up the phone the tears started flowing again. She must think I am nuts.

Trying to be Duct Tape

Look what Anna stumbled upon while on our School District’s website:

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 8.50.40 AM

In case you missed it – check this out!

 

Jack and I have also had the pleasure of speaking to several classes at South Orange Middle School and are scheduled to speak at an event for CPNJ, a Clinton School fundraiser and a few book clubs. Never did I imagine speaking being part of our journey, but here we are.

I was talking with a friend last week who has a child going through a difficult time with his own challenges, and she said, “I can’t wait to be on the other side of this. I can’t wait to be in a place where I can help other families.” All I could say was, “You’ll get there. It’s awesome!”

We could have reached this place and just lived our new normal, but our family was eager to thank everyone who helped us along the way (our duct tape). I’ve never been great with “thank you notes”, so instead we chose to thank our duct tape by paying it forward – by trying to BE DUCT TAPE.

Whether we are delivering Boxes of Fun (Anna and her Columbia High School friends have taken over, but Jack and I still deliver) or talking on the phone to a newly diagnosed ALD family or speaking to a group of young people about kindness – it’s confirming that we are on the other side AND it’s our way of thanking all of you.

I don’t believe that nature/life has a perfect plan for all of us – I’ve witnessed too much to make sense of that as a reality. What I do believe is that we all have the power to make the most of the lives we are living. I might not always make the best choices, but I will always do my best to help others. If our family can be a little bit of duct tape for someone else, we have done our job.

 

Love, Jess

IMG_0790

IMG_0792

IMG_0793

images-61

I’m a Weathermom

images-60
We were predicted to get 18- 24 inches of snow and winds of over 50 mph yesterday. We ended up with about 9 inches and the winds never turned into much. As the storm wound down, people started questioning the meteorologists and complaining. I always find myself on the opposite side of that argument. I feel sorry for anyone who is trying there best, with the information they are provided, to make a call.

Perhaps it’s because I feel like a weatherman (mom) myself. I do the best I can with the information I am given, AND I don’t want people to judge me.

Taking care of Jack is like trying to predict a winter storm. You know when all the elements are setting themselves up for something, but you never really know what’s going to happen until it’s arrived. All you can do is prepare for the worst-case-scenario and cross your fingers. Sometimes you end up looking like you’ve overreacted.

Sunday morning Jack woke up running slow. After a super fun night celebrating a friend’s 50th birthday and a Madmen party raising money for our school district, Dan and I also woke up running a little slow. We ate breakfast without our usual lively morning routine. Jack seemed rather sullen and Dan and I noticed that Jack was not swallowing any of his food. We did all our usual checks to see if there was anything in our forecast – temperature, throat check, press belly. Everything looked okay, but we did give our boy some extra hydration and set him up under blankets in front of his favorite show. Not laughing to his Impractical Jokers should have heightened my concern, but I was a little distracted by my throbbing headache, so I just continued on with my day.

Luckily we didn’t have much on our plate so we were able to hunker down. We kept an extra eye on Jack and his mood. There was one hint that something was brewing when a diaper change lead to a double shower, but we were hoping it was an isolated squall.

I finally motivated and went on my daily walk around 5 pm. I was busy listening to my podcast (Missing Richard Simmons – so good) when Dan called, “Get home quick. Jack needs to go to the hospital.”

Two dogs, ill-fitting boots and a mom on a mission, I ran back to the house. Jack had thrown up all over the den and was shaking. His color was off and his eyes were bloodshot. It looked like a category 5 storm was going to hit. Within a few minutes, we were packed and loaded for the hospital.

As soon as we walk into the ER, Dan and I both turned into crazy people. When we see a storm brewing in our boy, we need everyone to stop what they are doing and focus. “Jack has Adrenoleukodystrophy, Addison’s Disease and Epilepsy. He needs 50 mg of hydrocortisone and IV fluids NOW! If a seizure starts, we’re in trouble!”

When they didn’t find us a room within ten minutes, I sent Dan in. I am not sure what he said but we were ushered into a room within seconds. Again, we started screaming at anyone who walked into the room, “What’s taking so long? We need an IV placed now!”

Long story short – It didn’t get that bad. Jack did get his IV hydration and his 50 mg of Hydrocortisone. His color came back quickly and he even managed to flirt with a nurse or two. There was no seizure. Jack came home with us three hours later, feeling a great deal better. All the nurses and doctors seemed happy to get us out of there and I’m pretty sure I saw them rolling their eyes at us as we quietly thanked them and walked out the hospital doors.

So yes, we looked like crazy, paranoid parents. But sometimes you can’t risk not sounding the alarm and putting up the storm windows.

Love, Jess
P.S. Jack is still sporting a snotty cold, but his spirits are back and he is enjoying his snow days!

It shouldn’t be a secret

If you’ve come to our house lately you may have noticed some changes. There are signs all over food in our kitchen saying “JACK ONLY” and there’s a lingering smell in the air. We had someone working on the alarm … Continue reading

GOODBYE 2016!

I’m pretty sure all of us feel that 2016 hasn’t been quite what we expected. Years rarely live up to their promises, but this year has been particularly tough. So many heartbreaking losses. And, I don’t just mean the folks … Continue reading

I want to be like Harry’s mom

Twenty years ago (years before I was even pregnant with Jack), I was a middle school art teacher in a suburb on Long Island. One day, the principle asked me to come down to his office to discuss something. He told me that there was a boy in the district who was profoundly autistic. He wasn’t mainstreamed in any classes, but he really loved art. The principle asked if I would be willing to have the boy join my seventh grade class.

I didn’t know much about Autism, but I did know about tenure, so I nodded my head and said that I would love to.

The next day I was introduced to Harry. Harry could barely speak, couldn’t look me in the eye and had a host of very unusual behaviors. Initially, I thought HOW is this going to work? I was a new, inexperienced teacher and had 26 other seventh graders in the class – seventh graders!

I was surprised and delighted that over the next couple of weeks I didn’t just get used to Harry and his quirky behavior, I kinda fell in love with him. There was something magical about the way that he was able to tune out the chaos around him and focus on his work. And, the feelings where mutual — before long, part of Harry’s daily routine was to stop by my classroom several times a day to hug me. Long awkward AND awesome hugs.

As Back to School Night approached that year I was super excited about meeting Harry’s mom. I felt like I needed to tell this overwhelmed/exhausted women that she was doing a great job – that Harry was a great kid. I was going to make her day.

The night arrived, and as my seventh grade class of parents filed in, I scanned the room for Harry’s mom. I’m not sure what I was looking for but I was certain I didn’t see her. There was not one person in the crowd wearing a “I’m a special needs mom” hat. I was disappointed, but moved on with my “Why Art is the most important subject in your child’s curriculum” speech. When it was over and the class started to empty, a woman walked up to me and introduced herself, “Hi, I’m Harry’s mom”

I was floored. She’d been there the whole time and I hadn’t recognized her. She wasn’t at all what I expected – she was showered and had make-up on. She was even smiling. I paused a little too long and then made things worse by hugging her and telling her how much I adored her son and great I thought she was. That hug made Harry’s hugs seem pretty normal.

As she removed herself from my arms she said, “Thank you so much Mrs Torrey. THAT is great to hear, but I know how amazing Harry is. I’m not just a special needs mom – I’m Harry’s mom. Harry’s life might be a little more complicated than his peers, but I have always tried to not let Autism take over our family. I have other kids, I have a job and a husband and friends. If I let Autism define us, I am letting Autism win.”

I’m not much of a believer in “all things happen for a reason” but Harry’s mother’s words have stayed with me for over twenty years.

When Jack got sick and it started to become apparent that his disabilities weren’t temporary, I remembered that day meeting Harry’s mom and thinking that if I could just keep her attitude my family just might survive.

Love, Jess

dsc01242

 

When “Thank you” isn’t enough – THANK YOU!!!!!

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. Four days on Block Island in a house full of family, has us all feeling super grateful (and maybe a little exhausted). All things considered, we are one lucky family!

dsc01512

 

The support our family has received over the last ten years has been amazing and with the release of Smiles and Duct Tape, it’s all been magnified. I’ve been receiving notes for the last two weeks from friends and family and strangers who have stumbled on the book. I’m so touched by the kind words and thrilled that the book is finding an audience.

The words “thank you” aren’t really enough, but THANK YOU!!!

If you are local, please join our family at WORDS for a reading/signing/Q&A this Thursday, December 1 at 7:30. I can’t promise that I won’t be super nervous (and I will definitely end up in tears at some point), but at least I can THANK YOU in person.

Love, Jess

dsc01333