Rainbows and Unicorn(s)

Life isn’t always just rainbows and unicorns, but it is today. Happy Halloween everybody!

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CPNJ (now Pillar Care Continuum – new name, same great organization) does it again! Their annual Trunk or Treats got rained out, but that didn’t stop the treats or the fun.

 

I was feeling pretty proud about creating a great costume for our boy until Jack’s buddy rolled into the room. The award for GREATEST COSTUME EVER goes to Ben! Sorry JackO – you get second place;)

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Love, Jess

Just another day at HHS!

Since I’ve shared that we’re in the process of searching for the perfect adult program for Jack, people keep asking, “What’s the perfect adult program look like?”

I start by describing a safe, warm, friendly environment. I mention the need for art and music and dance. I describe that we prefer it to be filled with Jack’s peers – ideally peers that he’s known for years. I add that it needs to be lively and fun, while also being therapeutic.

I try to find all the right words, but today Jack came home with video of him working with his therapists at school. Who needs words??? Just another day at CPNJ Horizon High School. As I watched the video, I kept thinking that all me need to do is recreate Jack’s high school.

THIS is what the perfect adult program looks like!! People say it’s impossible, but we’re not gonna quit until we find it!

Love, Jess

 

Dear CPNJ Horizon High School,

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We had Jack’s annual IEP meeting last week.

At one point during the meeting, one of Jack’s therapist brought me a box of tissues. I hadn’t known that I was crying until I saw the box placed next to me. My first thought was, I wonder if other parents lose their mind during these meetings?, but reassured myself that most parents would find such meetings emotional. It’s not just hearing goals for your twenty-year-old child that include “increasing independence with self-care skills” and “transitioning from sit to stand independently”. It’s the fact that we are nearing the end of these meetings – nearing the end of our time at CPNJ Horizon High School. Jack’s not graduating until next Spring, but our next placement is unknown and not knowing where we are headed is scary. We love the school so much and want to savor every last moment Jack get’s to be a Horizon Husky.

I’ve written love letters to CPNJ Horizon High School before – Here I go again.

Dear CPNJ Horizon High School,

Thank you. Not just for being Jack’s second home for the last six years, but for being his other family for the last six years. Thank you for being a place where we know he’s safe and loved and being taught skills to make his life more comfortable and independent. Thank you for finding any excuse for a party, so that Jack can dance and flirt. Thank you for always welcoming our entire family with open arms. 

Thank you for having a staff that has taken the time to really know Jack and what makes him tick AND for always looking for new ways to tackle his challenges. Thank you for having a staff that reaches out to us to tell us what magical things Jack has done during the day. Thank you for having a staff that has promised, that even after Jack’s graduates, they will always be part of his team.

The folks at CPNJ Horizon High School (the kids, the teachers, the aides, the therapists, the nurses, the administration) don’t just feel like family – they are family!

Love, Jess

Please help us give back to Jack’s home away from home.

CLICK HERE!!!!

no need for a recount

I try not to get political on this blog. One reason is that I know that there probably isn’t anything I could say that would ever change anyone’s mind AND I’m guessing that considering I’m a pot-brownie baking, Latin American born woman who has a son with disabilities/pre-existing conditions and a daughter who is set to break many glass ceilings – you know where I stand.

In the last two years, the word president has taken on a new definition. Often more of a punchline than a title of respect and honor. So, when I saw this poster hanging on the walls of CPNJ Horizon High School a few months ago I was rather surprised. Who would want THAT job?

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You know our boy is always up for a challenge. Jack ran his campaign with the motto of being the “voice of the high school”. I can assure you that it was not an empty promise. Jack may not speak, but he understands everything and has the pulse on what is important to his classmates. He listens, he understands, and he knows how to get things done. My guess is that had he won, there would have been a few extra dance parties added to the calendar this year.

That’s right. Jack did not win. He lost to a very worthy opponent and Jack conceded with grace. From what I understand he shook the new president’s hand and wished him well (with his iPAD).

When I got the news, I can’t say that my first reaction was as full of grace. It was more, “What the F*%&!?!? How did my boy NOT win!?!?!”Jack’s life fell apart 11 years ago, but we glued (or taped) it back together and now he should get EVERYTHING he wants!!!”

Once I caught my breath, I laughed. Who needs all that work anyway? Besides, I love that his school doesn’t have an “all kids win everything” policy. Just because the students have complicated lives, doesn’t mean that they can’t handle some disappointments. In fact, I’d argue that this is a crew can handle more than most people in Washington.

Still, I worried a little about how Jack was feeling, so I picked him up early and greeted him with a big hug. He didn’t seem an worse for wear. I told him how proud of him we all are and that he should be proud that he ran an honest campaign without any outside interference from Russia. Then, I reminded him that he still won the popular vote at our house. He popped me on the head, smiled and got in the car.

Jack’s up for his next challenge. Maybe Prom King?
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Love, Jess

Halloween 2016 – we thought it was funny. Elections don’t always go as expected.

 

never too old to dress up;)

I realize that my children are 18 and 20, but they both still LOVE to dress up for Halloween.

Being off at school, Anna left few hints of her plans, other than an Amazon purchase that I did NOT approve (you still owe me $30 Banana). She had two parties this weekend and sent me photos of her costumes. Although I know that it’s inappropriate for my underage girl, I couldn’t help but laugh at her first costume – Whispering Angel.

IMG_3673And, who doesn’t love a good vampire?

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I had to be more hands-on with Jack’s costume. I spent weeks trying to find a clever idea, when it found me at Target last Friday. A large flamingo hat almost screamed at me from an isle full of Michael Myers, Demogorgons and Black Panthers. I introduce you to The Dancing Flamingo!! ****

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I got to spend some time with the Flamingo at the Trunk & Treats event at CPNJ Horizon High School. Always fun to hang with Jack and his schoolmates AND I got to sneak in a little last minute campaigning. Not sure if you’ve heard, but there is an election coming up next week . . .  Jack is running for president!!

 

Tomorrow I head down to Philadelphia for the ALD Connect Annual Meeting and Patient Learning Academy. This year they are hosting a book club where I am leading the discussion on Smiles and Duct Tape. I’m looking forward to spending time with many of our ALD community and introducing Jack (and Dan, Anna, Mymom and Nonno) to the crew.

Love, Jess

**** In case you are new to Smiles and Duct Tape, Dancing Flamingo has been a nickname for our boy for a while. To learn why, CLICK HERE.

 

 

Finito

Yesterday I was at a doctor’s office waiting to get my annual mammogram. If you’ve ever had a mammogram, you know that it isn’t any fun. As I waited to be called, I was trying to distract myself with cheesy magazines and social media before starting to send text messages, DanO – how’s your day going? Kim – Wanna head to the beach later this week? Anna – When do you get home from school today?

Before I hit send on the last one, it hit me. Anna wasn’t getting home from school, because she didn’t have school. She’s done. Finito. I’d known it was coming for 18 years, celebrated with her at countless parties over the last two weeks, and sat through a two hour ceremony filled with caps and gowns, playing Pomp and Circumstance BUT it didn’t really sink in until I was sitting in a sterile waiting room with a bunch of strangers, all of us wearing nothing but red and pink striped robes.

Welcome to my world. I was actually relieved when my name was called to go have my boobs smashed flat as pancakes.

Enough of me, my boobs, and my crazy emotions – here are some photos of Anna on her big day!

 

Love, Jess

My mammogram — unlike me — was normal.

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a love letter to CPNJ Horizon High School

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One of the highlights of my weekdays is when Jack’s bus pulls away.

It’s not that I don’t adore my boy, it’s just that I love letting go of my responsibilities and I know that Jack is off to have another great day at his school.

Jack’s been at CPNJ Horizon High School for five years and there hasn’t been a day since he started that I haven’t counted my blessings for finding that school.

The PG Chambers School was a hard void to fill. Not only had Jack received a great special education there, but they were there for our family as we came to terms with the fact that Jack’s disabilities were not going to magically dissolve. They held us up for years as we reached a place of acceptance.

When we were faced with finding a new placement for Jack, I was basket-case. I’d just wrapped my brain around being a special mom with a child, and suddenly I was walking into schools filled with young women and men with profound disabilities. It was a population that I didn’t know and it was overwhelming. Everything was bigger – bigger kids, bigger equipment, bigger changing tables.

Thankfully, the positive energy at the school quickly won us over. CPNJ Horizon High School is an incredible place.

Like a typical high school, Jack and his peers switch classrooms throughout the day – science, math, world languages, history, art, gym, yoga, karate. They learn everything from simple cooking and using household appliances like washing machines, to practicing making beds (Jack has yet to attempt those last few things at home, but maybe he will surprise me on Mother’s Day). When the kids are not in a classroom, you might find them out in the garden watering their veggies or on their adaptive playground or hanging out in the sensory room or maybe in the pool getting therapy (it’s been a while for JackO – they have a “3 strikes/you’re out” policy. You can guess what’s considered a “strike”;). There’s also a school store where Jack’s peers sell tasty snacks and clothing made by the students. Jack and his classmates also receive all the necessary physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy seamlessly within their school day.

That’s just a typical day at CPNJ Horizon High School. Special days pop up often and Jack LOVES every second of these days. Each year CPNJ Horizon High School produces a play – filled with student actors — wheel chairs/walkers/speaking devices – nothing stops these kids. There are also costume parties, dance parties, sports days, movie days, even prom – that’s next Friday and I promise to share photos.

The greatest thing about the school isn’t really all of the activities, it’s the people behind the activities. The students are the stars, but it’s also the teachers, therapists, aids, nurses, custodial staff, cafeteria staff, administration. You walk into the school and it’s like walking into Disney World. It’s clean and beautiful and everyone has a smile on their face and a warm greeting at the ready. It’s a place where I am known simply as “Jack’s mom” and I answer to it easily.

So, when that bus pulls away each morning, my smile is not just about me being able to enjoy a few hours without diapers or medicine or responsibility. It’s about knowing that my boy is going to enjoy a great day. Thank you CPNJ Horizon High School. I love you;)

Love, Jess

If you would like to support Jack and his wonderful school, their annual Wheelin N Walkin Challenge is coming up soon. Every class walks/wheels proudly sharing their class banner. It’s a beautiful site to see. It also happens to be a fundraiser . . .

https://interland3.donorperfect.net/weblink/weblink.aspx?name=cpnj&id=71&cfifid=11

 

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 . . .

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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

 

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What’s NVRN spell? Nothing.

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This is the smile that gets me through the hard stuff.

 

At my tennis lesson last week, I saw a young woman who looked familiar. She was a little older than Anna, and I was having trouble placing her. I went back to trying to focus on my forehand when it hit me, “Hey. Did you happen to go to Morrow Preschool?”

“Yes.”

Suddenly I could picture this slim young woman as a little girl a dozen years ago, with rosy cheeks and a glowing smile, playing with Jack on the playground at their preschool.

“You were in my son Jack’s class.”

“Wow. I’m not sure I remember him. Does he go to the high school?”

I sometimes freeze when I get hit with what’s happened. Maplewood is usually a safe place, where everyone knows our story. Where I don’t need to say things out loud. My stomach turned as I tried to choose my words so that we could simply go back to groundstrokes and drop shots, “No. Jack goes to a special school. His life’s kinda complicated.”

Now that we were both feeling awkward, I wished I hadn’t started this exchange and quickly looked for a transition. Her sweatshirt was bright and new with the name of her future, WESLEYAN, “You’re a senior this year? Heading off to Wesleyan in the fall? That’s wonderful.”

That’s all it took. Her smile grew, as she went from wondering what happened to her old classmate, to thinking about the adventures that lay ahead. We were both allowed to continue with our lesson, focusing on easier things than how complicated life can be.

When I got home from the lesson, I went into Jack’s room to say goodnight. He was sitting up in bed, and as soon as I walked in the door, he gave me a big smile as if he’d been waiting for me to tuck him in. I gave him a kiss on his forehead and laid him back down. As I covered him up, I realized he was wearing the bright purple NORTHWESTERN sweatshirt that we’d gotten him last year while visiting my parent’s alma mater.

The sweatshirt is missing all but 3 1/2 of it’s letters. Jack has somehow managed to eat the rest. He has eaten the O,R,T,H, most of the W, E, S, T, and E.

I can’t make this stuff up. It is a college sweatshirt that’s missing the college.

Love, Jess

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It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s Jack!

Poor Jack. His life is so limited.

It’s such a shame he needs to go to school every day. He probably just sits there, staring at the clock, hoping for time to pass quickly.

OR, He gets to fly across a stage!

 

 

Jack’s school mom, Monica, sends us pictures and videos almost every day of his school adventures. Yesterday’s was particularly amazing. Jack just might be the luckiest kid on the planet!

No need to feel sorry for our boy;)

Love, Jess