lucky mom

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Every weekday morning, Anna races downstairs making sure she gets a chance to give her Boogie* a hug before his bus arrives. It makes my heart melt. No matter what’s going on in our family, our country, or the planet, I try to pause and enjoy the love that these kids have for each other. Siblings/best friends – the strongest bond I’ve ever witnessed. I’m a lucky mom.

That is all.

Love, Jess

* Jack AKA Boogie, Boogie Brown, Boogs, Boogs McGee, JackO, WackO, The Weasel

 

What I realized while in Paris

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Sitting at a dinner table in the heart of Paris I watched my mother and daughter debate everything from single-sex college dorms to the definition of rape. Suddenly it occurred to me that I was watching two extraordinary women. Two of my closest friends.

I’ve always been close to my mother – first as a daughter and then as a friend. I remember when our relationship turned from mother/daughter to friend/friend. I was older than Anna. I needed to be older than Anna. I needed guidance well into my twenties (okay – I still need guidance, but my mother is much better at slipping her advice into polite conversation – usually).

It’s strange when your mother becomes your friend because she becomes human. She’s no longer the person behind a curtain who you fear but can’t really see. This new person makes mistakes and bad decisions (not you, Mymom – I’m just trying to describe most mothers). She goes from telling you what to do, to what she did and how she learned. This women asks you for advice and helps you without needing to take over. I loved when our relationship switched, but I was an adult when my mother’s curtain fell. My curtain seemed to fall off without me even noticing.

Anna learned early in life that I am human. I blame ALD for the weakened grip on my motherhood curtain. ALD has a way of stripping down resilience. Too much energy is taken with worry and late nights. It been quite a while since I was careful with my answers to even the most “adult” questions and I’m certainly not great at hiding four-letter words or less-than-perfect mother behavior. Fortunately, Anna has always loved me unconditionally and she seems to know which of her mother’s characteristics to emulate and which to stay away from . . . She has grown into a remarkable young woman. Anna’s not just a good student, but she’s smart – not always the same thing. And, she’s funny and kind. I’ve known all this for a while, but in Paris while sitting at the dinner table covered with a thin white tablecloth, I gained an appreciation that she has also become incredibly self-assured and well-spoken. Watching her with my mother, debating rather inappropriate topics for a sixteen-year-old and her grandmother, I thought WOW I want to be just like Anna when I grow up.

Anna and I have talked about going to Paris since she was a little girl – a girl’s trip to celebrate her sweet-sixteen. We invited all the women in the family to join us, but life is complicated for everyone and Mymom was the only taker. As disappointed as we were not to have the whole crew, it was lovely to have just the three of us on this adventure. Museums, long walks through the city, elegant meals, even a Segway tour (don’t ask Mymom about it – she’s still recovering). It was all perfection, but my favorite part was watching these two people that I adore debating each night at dinner. I came from one and created the other. Nothing is more amazing than that.

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This week has been busy with Smiles and Duct Tape getting out there. I’ve been distracted with marketing strategies and thank yous and begging for reviews on Amazon (not that I am doing that here), but I keep thinking about our magical weekend in Paris. I have two such strong, impressive (opinionated) women in my life. Lucky me.

Love, Jess

PS Anna still has a curfew. She might be mature and amazing, but she’s still only sixteen.

I’m gonna say it. It’s not appropriate or good parenting by any stretch. I can’t believe I am going to put this in writing, but her it goes — my daughter is my best friend.

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How to raise a great kid – HANDS OFF!

I had a super stressful dream last night. Not my typical, “I forgot to wear pants to the grocery store” dream. This was new and I woke up sweating.

I dreamt that I was having trouble with my college essays and not sure if I would get my applications done on time. I could read into it, but I think it’s pretty clear what my subconscious was trying to tell me — it’s time to relax and go back to HANDS OFF parenting Anna.

The truth is I’m usually a pretty hands off parent with Anna. Not to say that I don’t grill her after every party and open her report cards, but both Dan and I generally allow Anna to make most of her choices without too much guidance. Safety is (of course) important, but other than a curfew, she has very few rules (and even that is pretty negotiable).

It started when Jack got sick. Anna was only six years old and her family scattered. She went from having a father who was available every day to toss a ball with her after dinner and a mother who was always finding random excuses to show up at her school, to not knowing who would be home to tuck her in bed each night. She knew her family loved her, but she also knew that if she needed something, sometimes it was just easier to make it happen herself. Siblings of special needs kids have a perspective that their “typical” peers don’t.

Although I appreciate how fun it would be to helicopter around and watch everything Anna does while adding my two-cents, I just don’t have the time or the energy. If Jack needs me, it means he needs assistance with eating or needs his diaper changed. I can’t NOT do it. If Anna has a question about her homework, Google is faster than waiting outside of the bathroom door.

As IF I could help with her homework.

Don’t think that Anna’s not getting any attention from me. We talk and text throughout the day about everything from clothes to friends to our relationships with God. We have breakfast and dinner together (“breakfast” is her eating an Eggo waffle and me drinking coffee, but dinner is an actual meal that I have prepared). We are so close that we are starting to look like each other. When people see us together they call her “Mini-Me” and it’s not just that we look alike, our mannerisms and senses of humor are the same – it’s almost creepy.

We’re close – what I mean by HANDS OFF parenting is that I don’t micromanage her. I don’t watch over her constantly to make sure she is doing things just so. She needed to get her driving permit a couple of weeks ago and all I said was, “Great. Just ask around and tell me who to hire. I will make the first phone call, then it’s all you.”

When she was planning her course-load for junior year, instead of digging through all the choices, Dan and I just sat back and watched her come up with her perfect schedule. My only input was “I think I would prefer AP Art to AP Calculus, but if that’s your thing – have at it!”

We trust Anna because she has proven that she can be trusted. She is a great student and has a wonderful circle of friends. She makes good choices (mostly – she IS a teenager). She is kind to her brother and when I watch her interact with other people I am proud of who she is.

We’ve been so relaxed with Anna that I was surprised that Dan and I climbed on board the “college train” with such intensity. Looking through college books, long talks around the dinner table, planning trips to see schools. Perhaps it’s a distraction from NOT working on the project with Jack or maybe it’s just super fun because Anna has an impressive transcript —  And, maybe part of it is that Dan and I really, really, really want to go back to college ourselves;). But, I need to be careful. I’ve found myself checking Powerschool daily and questioning grades, looking at that giant book of colleges even when Anna isn’t home, thinking about essay topics and waiting anxiously for the next round of ACT scores. I’m getting dizzy with all the information and Anna is not appreciating the frantic input.

“Mom, you know I have this covered, right?”

Yes, I know you do baby girl. You have turned into a remarkable young woman and I know you will do amazing things. Mom will go back to HANDS OFF parenting. Just let me know when you need me.

And, when can we plan that trip to Virginia and North Carolina . . . and Boston – we need to go to Boston!dsc00726

Love, Jess

 

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

Anna just keeps pedaling

 

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When Anna was five years old, she came home from her friend Zoe’s house and told me that I needed to take the training wheels off her bicycle, “Today Mommy. You need to take them off today.”

Even as a little girl, Anna would get a look in her big blue eyes and I would know that she meant business, but I was curious about the timing, “Why Anna? Can’t we wait a bit longer? Don’t you like the safety of the extra wheels?”

“Moooommmm. I’m five. Besides, Zoe showed me today that she can ride her bike ALL BY HERSELF!”

That was it. There was no way that my daughter was going to let someone else enjoy even a second of glory without jumping into the game. That’s Anna. She was born determined to prove that she could do anything. It’s who she is to the core. And, it’s never been just to show off. She never really even required a witness. She just needs to prove it to herself.

That afternoon, I dug Anna’s bike out of the garage and took off the training wheels. We strapped on her Dora the Explora helmet and off she went. She started on our front lawn, “This is what Zoe said worked for her.”

There were a few spills on the soft grass before she got the hang of it. Within a half hour she progressed to the sidewalk and she’s been pedaling ever since.

Anna is now in high school, and her determination seems more indestructible than ever. It’s not just in the classroom and on the lacrosse field that she has a need to succeed. She seems equally determined to master everything from a Rubix Cube to memorizing presidents, country capitals and the Periodic Table. To date, she has yet to find something that she cannot master, but Dan and I can’t help but worry.

When is too much — too much?

I was never much of a shining star as a girl. One benefit of being mediocre is that no one expects too much from you. In fact, you get all sorts of encouragement and support and plenty of “clap outs” for every small accomplishment (I do love this). Dan, like Anna, was born determined, and it certainly reflected positively on his school work and career, but it has caused some disappointments and significant stress along the way. And, he did not have the added pressure that we fear Anna carries.

Anna is our only child who gets grades and plays sports. She is our only child who will go to college and have a career. She is our only child who will fall in love and have a family.* Dan and I try our best to alleviate the pressure and not focus too much on “being the best”, but it’s there. It’s been part of who Anna is since she was a little girl. As much as she does it for herself, Anna also loves to see her parents applauding her accomplishments. She knows we have our plates full with Jack, and is determined to make parenting her as easy as possible. This silent pressure must be stressful, but I’m not sure what to do about it.

How do we proceed? Do we stop posting her report cards on the fridge or cheering loudly at her lacrosse games? Do we discourage her from signing up for another AP class or stop her from all of her extracurricular activities?

We have tried praising more of her behavior and less of her accomplishments. We also try to remind her that she is not a grade on a paper or goal on a field. She is Anna, our daughter, Jack’s sister, a wonderful friend and beautiful human.

Special needs siblings are taught early that life is not fair and that their needs aren’t always the priority. They learn that their parents can’t take too much extra nonsense without potentially cracking. I’ve seen it again and again — special needs siblings grow up early, carrying more than their share. So far, this extra weight has added to Anna’s muscles, I just hope it doesn’t some day weigh her down.

For now, Dan and I just keep reminding her, to take it easy. “Work hard, try your best, but remember you’re just a kid.”

We keep talking and talking, but no matter what we say, I’m not sure we will change anything in our girl. Anna is Anna. She just smiles at us and keeps on pedaling.

Love, Jess

 

* In fact, Jack falls in love often and has plenty of girlfriends to prove it. I’m not sure how realistic it is that Jack will have a family of his own, but stranger things have happened – just turn on CNN.