CHANGE

Dan and I are usually on the same page about things. Or, maybe not the same page, but at least on the same chapter. I think that’s how we’ve managed to hold things together for the last 25 years. We want the same things out of life. We treasure our family and friends and value experiences over things (although we like some of our things too). We’ve agreed on how and where we wanted to raise our kids and, when Jack got sick, we never fought about how we wanted to face those challenges. If you’ve ever made life and death decisions when it comes to your children, you know this is huge.

 

One thing where we differ completely is how we face CHANGE. Dan waits until the CHANGE is upon us and then calmly adapts and sometimes even politely welcomes it to the family. I frantically tear apart every side of of any pending CHANGE for months — thinking that if I fully understand every inch of it, I will somehow not give it any power. I know this sounds crazy, but I even consider the worst case scenario and visualize what it would feel like. I guess I’ve learned the hard way that sometimes the worst case scenario can happen.

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Crazy vs Calm

So that’s what I’ve been doing for the last six months. I’ve been spending a huge amount of time and energy focusing on all the CHANGES our family is facing – the biggest being Anna heading off to college. I’ve been picturing a painfully quiet house and the three of us non-college-bound Torreys spending all of our time just counting days between Anna visits.

My gephyrophobia (fear of bridges) was an unwelcome result of my growing anxiety. The good news is that it did encourage me to seek some outside help – books, meditation and a wonderful therapist who’s helped me more calmly face the CHANGES that are approaching and stop referring to myself using words like pathetic, weak, broken and nuts. A few weeks ago, I realized I was no longer waking up in the middle of the night or crying out of nowhere or not being able to cross a bridge without having a nervous breakdown.

Huge relief.

We’re now six weeks away from Anna heading off to college. We’ve gotten through prom and graduation and even Beach Week (Anna and her pals at the beach with nothing but their phones linking them to their parents — THAT was not an easy thing for this parent). Anna and I have been busy choosing first semester classes and important things like duvet covers and under-bed storage. Every time we start a new project I take a deep breath and remind myself that this is a big step, but Anna is ready. We are all ready.

I’ve got to say – there hasn’t been nearly the amount of tears that I had expected. I think Anna was even a little surprised that I managed an entire trip to Bed and Bath without so much as a quiet, “Please don’t goooooooooo!”

I know It’s going to be hard. Getting back into the car next month after dropping off Anna, with just our beautiful boy in the backseat, is going to feel strange. I’m sure I will go through my share of tissues for a while, but when I think about drop off now, mostly I’m so darn excited for our girl as she marches towards her dreams.

Now that I feel better, my focus is on Dan. I’m grateful that he doesn’t share my approach to facing CHANGE. I can’t imagine what it would be like if the two of us were freaking out for the last six months, but I hope he’s ready for all this. Is he prepared for his Jeopardy partner to be 200 miles away? Is he okay with watching sports with Jack and I barley pretending to be interested? What’s he going to do without live-in tech support?

Here I go. NOW I have something else to worry about. Dan. And then there is Jack . . .
My therapist will be happy to know she still has a loyal client.

Love, Jess

welcome to the world beautiful boy!

I was seven when my younger brother Phil was born. It was before the days that hospitals allowed siblings to visit the maternity ward, so the first time I met my brother was when my mother walked into the house, holding him wrapped up like the most magical present I’d ever seen. My very own living doll.

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I loved having a little brother who I could dress up and cuddle, but as we got older the seven years between us meant that we were always at different stages. When I was in high school, Phil was the nosy kid who always seemed to ruin the fun. And when he was busy enjoying his own high school angst, I was the older sister acting like a lame extra parent. Phil was still in college when I got married and barely out when Dan and I started a family. He was living the single life, as a creative sole, when I was busy raising kids and then dealing with our ALD journey/nightmare. I think Phil and I both spent much of the last twenty years loving each other, but not really getting each other.

Last week, that baby that I held 41 years ago welcomed his own baby into the world, Carlos Michael Cappello. Not only am I thrilled to have another baby in the family, but when I watched my brother hold his son, I realized that for the first time in a long time, our paths are overlapping.

Phil’s beautiful wife, Kate, bravely suffered through 27 hours of labor before needing a c-section. A cruel introduction to parenthood. Learning from the get-go that no matter how much you plan, kids have a way of directing things. And, despite their exhaustion, both my brother and sister-in-law quickly discovered that, no matter what complications your kid puts you through, you push on with a smile, because you would do anything for your child.

Little Carlito is the most beautiful baby. He is strong and healthy and I swear he was smiling yesterday while his parents were holding him. He knows he’s in great hands. Phil and Kate are already amazing parents.

Welcome to the world beautiful boy! And, welcome to parenthood my brother. May you enjoy every beautiful, messy moment. And, if you ever need anything I am here for you. I get you;)

Love, Aunt Jess

 

 

If your wondering if spending time with my new nephew made me start thinking about Jack and ALD and if onlys. Sure. As I held Carlito with Jack by my side, I couldn’t help but think of all the hopes and dreams we had for our boy when we first brought him into the world. How, almost twenty years later, many of those dreams are out of reach. But, then I quickly brought myself back to where we are and who Jack is and how we can’t focus on the if onlys. If onlys don’t really get you too far. All they really do is make you blind to what’s in front of you. And, what’s in front of us is a new, beautiful boy who we can hold and dress up and cuddle and then hand back to his parents when he needs a diaper change.

Besides, our biggest goal for our boy was for him to be happy and who’s happier than Jack?

Anna is missing from the photos because she’s at BEACH WEEK with her buddies. allowing her to go was not by proudest moment as a parent, but so far she is safe and sound and hasn’t gotten into too much trouble. She can’t wait to meet Carlito!

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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still spinning.

Not feeling like I can find the right words to adequately describe all the milestones/celebrations we’re enjoying right now. The only words I can think of are unreal, overwhelming, beautiful, magic and coffee (I can’t seem to get enough).

When words don’t work, I turn to photos. Here are some favorites from the first five days of The Torrey’s Crazy 14 Days of Non-Stop Celebrations, or maybe it should be The Crazy Torreys 14 Days of Non-Stop Celebrations.

Graduation parties, Father’s Day, a birthday celebration for JackO (between his transplant and typical birthdays) – complete with incredible live music and delicious cupcakes, and Prom.

 

 

I’m loving every minute of each event and haven’t cried as much as I’d anticipated, but trust me – my brain is still spinning.

Next stop – Graduation.

Love, Jess

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THIS is ALD #20 — Manh Cuong

 

When I reached out to the ALD community to share their THIS is ALD stories it’s mostly been mothers who have responded. I appreciate all of the input from mothers, but I’ve been wondering about the rest of the family. When ALD strikes, it doesn’t just strike the person and it doesn’t just strike their mothers — ALD strikes the entire family (the entire community if you live in a place like Maplewood). Tra My reached out to share her brother’s story and I jumped at the chance to share it with all of you. Meet Tra My and her brother, Manh Cuong.

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This is ALD # 9 — Manh Cuong
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This is my brother’s picture soon after he was diagnosed with ALD in September, 2000. We lived in Hanoi, Vietnam in a happy family with my parents. My brother, Manh Cuong, was born healthy in 1992 and he was a smart, funny and kind child. He loved playing football and drawing. He was a very clever boy, as my Mum would often say.

The symptoms of ALD started in the beginning of 2000. Manh Cuong grade’s slipped and he wrote badly as his vision declined. Unfortunately we didn’t get the right medical advice at that time, so we just thought that he was naughty and the bad writing was normal for a small and active eight-year-old boy.

We were wrong. An MRI showed that his brain’s white matter was damaged widely and only one doctor in Vietnam could conclude that it was ALD. The disease had progressed so fast that we couldn’t do anything. A bone marrow was too expensive to afford and too risky.

My mother is a brave woman. She took my brother to Paris with the hope that maybe a hospital in Paris may help. When they arrived in Paris, my brother could walk and within a month he was forced to sit in a wheelchair. When they came back to Hanoi, he quickly lost his ability to communicate. It was too late to do anything.

From the period that my brother became ill, until he lost his consciousness, he was always a kind hearted, funny and positive person. He encouraged my parents not to worry about him, he will get well soon. I still had hope that one day he could be healthy again so once in a lifetime we could see the sun together again, play Legos again.

My brother lived two and a half years after he was diagnosed – one of those years in a coma. He got his wings in May, 2013. He was ten years old. For us, his death wasn’t so bad. We are grateful that he doesn’t suffer any pain and has been released from a vegetative state – he is free. Grief hasn’t killed us, but made us stronger.

I am also a ALD carrier, but the situation is better now. I live happily with my husband and my daughter. My partner knows about my mutation and if we have a second baby, there is newborn screening in Singapore. ALD gives me chances to meet people like us, sharing information and medical aids and the boys could have better chances to live. Recently, I’ve started searching and searching to get more sources of information. In Vietnam, some families asked to share their story, avoid talking about it. I think differently — the more we share our situation, the better results we get so I am very open to talk about ALD.

My brother’s tomb is in the family cemetery. We visited him quarterly, bringing him roses to remember him, keeping in mind that we must be brave and live positively. We always love you Manh Cuong.

– Tra My

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Thank you for sharing your brother’s story with us, Tra My. Getting a sister’s perspective is interesting and your love for him is beautiful. Another fascinating layer of the story is that your family lived Vietnam and access to doctors who could recognize and understand our disease was limited. Your mother was brave to have done all she could do to find treatment for your brother, but time is limited with ALD — once it starts, it moves so quickly. Education for ALD needs to improve not just here in the States, but around the world.

Further proof that newborn screening needs to be accessible in the US and around the world so that we can change the future of ALD for everyone.

Love, Jess

 

 

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