the bearded boy . . . man

 

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Jack’s been trying out a new look lately. It was Anna’s idea and, as Jack’s personal shaver, we let her run with it. Jack’s now sporting a goatee. He looks like a man — I no longer have a child-child with special needs, I have an adult-child with special needs.

It’s different and it’s scaring me.

I remember sitting on the beach on Block Island several years ago when I saw a couple walking down the beach hand-in-hand. My first thought was that I was proud of living in a country that people didn’t need to hid their love. These men looked so happy as they were enjoying the sunshine and each other. Then, as they got closer, I noticed that one of the men was clearly helping the other manage the sand and the water. They weren’t lovers, they were friends or brothers and one had special needs.

Before that day, I hadn’t spent much time thinking about what life would be like once Jack was an adult. We’d done all the responsible things to prepare (wills and trusts and guardianship plans), but I hadn’t really thought about what day-to-day life would look like once Jack’s childhood was over. Suddenly I was filled with questions. How/where do you change a diaper inconspicuously? What kinds of programs are available for adults with special needs? What will JackO do without his beloved Banana’s hugs every morning? Will we need to move? Will we need live-in help to help bathe/dress/care for our son?

Like most thoughts that make me uncomfortable, I stored them away in the back of my mind. They’ve been living quietly there, but now when I look at Jack and his hipster beard, the thoughts and questions are flooding to the surface.

The problem is that I don’t know what to expect with this new chapter. I’ve worked really hard for us to be “a normal family with a special child” (I know “normal” isn’t the right word – What is normal? Perhaps a better word would be typical or standard.  I hope you understand what I’m saying). It’s taken ten years, but our family has finally reached a place where our lives (mostly) parallel the lives of our friends and neighbors. Sure, we can’t do everything that we could do before ALD, but with a few adaptations we’ve managed pretty well to keep things in line with our pre-ALD existence. We’ve learned to focus on what Jack CAN do, not his challenges. We’ve found schools and programs that have supported our goals and Jack gets to go to school each day with kids that we’ve come to know and a staff that’s devoted to these special teens. Our family has worked out ways to continue to do things we love. We spend time with family, go on long walks, visit with friends, travel.

We’ve also had Anna and all of her “normal” activities to keep us safely anchored in the normal/typical/standard world. Our lives work. We are happy, well adjusted, very few complaints.

Now Jack and his beard are a constant reminder that change is on the horizon. Our next IEP is focusing on preparing for his transition as he ages out of high school (there is some time, but we need to start the process) and Anna and all her “normal everyday stuff” is leaving for Baltimore before long. I’m not clear as to what our days will look like once these changes happen.

CHANGE is a four letter word.

I’m trying everything — books, breathing, essential oils, therapy. I need to figure out the optimal strategies for making this transition bearable — even positive. I’m making some strides, but I think what I really need to do is to remember that couple on the beach on Block Island. Neither seemed to be focused on anything but each other, the sand and the sunshine. They were acting the way that we do TODAY when we walk through life with our boy . . . our MAN.

We will get there. That’s what we do.

Love, Jess

 

 

 

Poop, shower and shave

Jack’s school, Horizon High School (HHS), is having their annual fundraiser and I wanted to write a post encouraging everyone to make a donation. My first draft was filled with all the extraordinary experiences offered to the children at HHS. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, a school store, student government, theater, aqua therapy, an outdoor garden. This is all on top of academic subjects (modified versions of Science, Career Skills, Social Studies, Language Arts, Life Skills, Drama, World Cultures, Art, Music, Technology, and Math).

Horizon High School is amazing for all those reasons, but there is one other reason that not all parents will admit. Horizon High School gives me a break.

I’m always happy when the small white van (no yellow bus for us) arrives, and today when I saw the bus out our front window, I started crying happy tears.

This morning was particularly tough at 26 Clinton Avenue. I knew it would be as soon as I walked into Jack’s room. Even Jack’s brilliant smile couldn’t mask the odor. “Come on JackO! This is gonna require a long shower and some extra cologne.”

If I keep Jack laughing, I have a chance at survival.

Eight years into this new life and I have developed an amazing skill where I can almost shut off my eyesight and sense of smell, so that I can go through motions required to clean up after a messy situation. I can’t even describe this morning’s shower fully, but we went through a half dozen washcloths and I needed to wash the tub when we were finished.

Just as I was getting Jack out of the shower, he surprised us both by peeing on the bathroom floor. One more quick rinse in the shower and I added the floor to my list of cleaning duties. As I got Jack dressed, I glanced at my watch and realized that we had lost valuable minutes and needed to rush through the normal “upstairs routine” in record time – teeth, deodorant, hair brushing. If only I hadn’t told Dan my plan for today. We still had our “downstairs routine” – breakfast, medication, hydration, and those cumbersome leg braces to deal with. And, now I had to shave Jack too. Alone.

I’m not entirely sure why I thought telling Dan that I would shave Jack was going to make the chore disappear. Jack was already in bed when I shared my plan. I couldn’t have expected Dan to wake up his son to shave him. And, I knew the fuzzy hair wasn’t going to evaporate on it’s own. But, it had been over a week since his last shave and Jack was starting to sport a look that was a cross between gangster and homeless. I couldn’t help but mention the need for a shave and that “I guess I will be the one to do it.”

After our “upstairs routine” was over, I helped Jack down the flight of stairs and I fed him, gave him his medication and 12 ounces of water through his g-tube. Then I sat him down on our steps to put on his leg braces and sneakers, already cursing as he did very little to help with the process. Once we were done, I took a deep breath, put Jack in a headlock and took out the electric razor.

As soon as Jack heard the motor, he started wrestling. If anyone had witnessed the scene, I would defiantly have lost my parental rights. He was wiggling and trying to grab my hand as if I was pummeling his face. I did my best to keep him safe and I attacked the beard while yelling one four letter word after another. After about five minutes we were both exhausted and Jack’s face looked better – not great, but better.

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Now, we were ready for the bus. Just an hour since the alarm went off and I was already in need of a nap. Horizon High School to the rescue!

Horizon High School is amazing for so many reasons – it’s individualized curriculums, warm and brilliant staff, beautiful facilities, but sometimes the thing I love most is that it’s a place that Jack can go every day, be safe and loved AND I’M NOT IN CHARGE. I love our boy and can deal with a lot of crap, but sometimes I need a break.

Love, Jess

Please consider supporting our wonderful school.  DONATE TO HORIZON HIGH SCHOOL