She can’t sing.
I mean that seriously. She’s terrible. Like – hurt your ears bad. What makes it worse is that she tries. Sings loud and proud, but she shouldn’t. Because she’s dreadful.
I know it sounds mean, but we point it out whenever we have the opportunity. After all, isn’t that our job as parents? We can’t always just be applauding her.
Anna excels at academics, athletics, and artistic ability. She’s kind and graceful and beautiful. She’s generous and funny. It’s a little obnoxious, so we feel like it’s important to remind her that she will never be on The Voice or on Broadway. And, if she cares about people’s hearing — she should never even sing karaoke.
I wish I could take credit for half of who Anna is, but I think she is who she is because everything just came together and fit — like one of those 1000 piece puzzles with a huge amount of sky. You think there’s no way anyone can make it happen, but it does (at least on Block Island with Nana Sue taking the lead).
Anna was born determined and smart and when life changed for our family, she managed to get what she needed and continued growing and learning. I’m proud of all of her accomplishments, but when she does something that I can actually understand, I’m in awe.
Anna wrote a blog piece for Remember the Girls — an incredible organization founded by Taylor Kane, created to give a voice to women/carriers of x-linked diseases. Anna wrote about being tested for ALD. Her voice shines through in this piece and I couldn’t be prouder. She can’t sing, but she can write.
Love you Banana.
Chelette reached out to me to share her son’s story and I was so impressed with how determined she is as a mother. Many of us ALD moms have been forced to fight with doctors to find the correct diagnosis for our sons. In this family’s story, this mom wasn’t just fighting for her son, she was fighting for answers to other questions in her family’s history. Thank you Chelette for sharing Hutch’s ALD story.
THIS is ALD #26 – Hutch
Our son Hutch was a perfect 9lb. baby. As a child he was kind, bright and athletic! Hutch was the kind of kid who never had to be told twice and never needed to be put in a time out or punished. So when he was nine-years-old and we started seeing changes in behavior and struggles in school, I got concerned. I started telling doctors that something was up, but everyone blamed adolescence.
Hutch had febrile seizures as a child that no one seemed concerned with. He had a seizure when he was six (almost out of normal range for febrile seizures) so I spoke with a neurologist, but he was not concerned. Then Hutch had another seizure when he was nine, so I saw another neurologist. She actually told me he would never have another seizure and not to worry about anything. This was not believable to me. At every neurologist visit I would always share that my dad had a neurological disorder, but still no one listened to me. They all blamed adolescence.
My father had some neurological issues that started around age 28. His gait changed and he started to drag his legs while walking. No one was ever able to give him a true diagnosis. They said he had spastic familiar paraparesis, which never felt right to me. His skin was very dark and he was bald. By the end of his life, he was wheelchair bound (he could walk, but it was too taxing on him). He died during an angiogram at age 51.
I became so concerned by the time Hutch was nine-years-old, that I took him to see a neuropsychologist, an audiologist, a few neurologists. No one seemed concerned. He had what seemed to be auditory processing disorder and he had attention issues but no hyperactivity so again doctors were not convinced there was anything significantly wrong. Every direction I turned, we could not find an answer.
In November of 2015, 3 days before his 13th birthday, Hutch had a 90 minute seizure. Yep, that wasn’t a typo, he had a 90 minute seizure … I didn’t think we would see him again. Miraculously he survived and that seizure was an important piece to the puzzle. The hospital we were in didn’t have a pediatric neurologist so they consulted with a pediatric neurologist at Tulane. When we were being discharged, they told us the neurologist had ordered a metabolic evaluation. I knew at that moment we were finally going to get the answers we needed.
Two weeks later we sat in that neurologist office and he spoke those words that we were not prepared to hear. He said our son had Adrenoleukodystrophy, that he would more than likely die within 2 to 4 years, most of which would be in a minimally conscious state, unable to walk, talk, eat, etc.. (he actually used the word vegetative state but I hate that word because people are not vegetables). He said Hutch would most likely die during a seizure and there was nothing that we could do to help or stop the disease as he was too far progressed (spoiler alert, he was wrong about the last part!).
My husband was completely devastated. Oddly, I was still so grateful that Hutch had survived the seizure that finding out we had 2 to 4 more years with him still seemed like a gift. Within a week we were in a geneticist office, he asked what our plans were and we told him that we have been vetting hospitals just to find out more about the disease and what our lives would look like. He pointed us in the direction of the University of Minnesota. He told us they had treated more boys with ALD than anybody in the world. At this point we did not think Hutch was a candidate for transplant based on what the neurologist we met with had told us — thank God he was wrong.
One thing led to another, and the first week of January 2016 we were consulting with an amazing team of doctors at University of Minnesota to see if our son would be a candidate for a bone marrow transplant. At the end of our time there, they told us that they felt like Hutch would be a candidate. They didn’t know if he’d be able to live an independent life as an adult but they felt like BMT would preserve his physical abilities. We were thrilled AND scared to death!
Two months later, on March 16, 2016, we moved to Minneapolis for a BMT that took place on March 22. We lived in the hospital for 40 days and then stayed in Minneapolis for the next 2 months. Hutch did exceptionally well through his transplant and we moved home at the very end on June. Then life got really difficult.
Hutch‘s case is different than most boys with ALD — his disease started in the front of his brain and there is no damage to the back of his brain. This means he has all of his physical ability still intact, but the front of his brain is profoundly damaged, so he can often look like a traumatic brain injury patient — he is impulsive, often inappropriate, and has no filter.
Anger and rage took over his body once we got home from Minneapolis. Our girls, who were 15 & 10, had to move out of the house for a while because he was so out of control. Thankfully, better management of his dosing schedule of hydrocortisone, some amazing vitamins and blood pressure medicine worked and little by little we got our life back.
It took about two years following transplant for us to see a little light at the end of the tunnel, but now Hutch is in school and and loving life. He swam on his high school’s swim team and played golf for his school team also! He needs many accommodations, but he is smarter than he appears on paper.
We are very grateful for Hutch’s diagnosis, because as hard as it is, it saved his life and it explained all of the issues he was having. With Hutch’s diagnosis we determined that my dad had AMN (adult onset version of ALD) and more than likely died during an angiogram due to undiagnosed adrenal insufficiency.
Our lives are very different than we ever imagined, but also better than we expected following transplant. Because of Hutch is a poor decision maker and struggles to self-regulate, he needs constant supervision. But, he is here and has taught us a lot about life and the dignity of life. ALD took a lot away from us but it also gave us more than we could have ever imagined.
Special siblings are a remarkable lot. Many people assume that these children grow up with something missing. Lack of attention and fear course through their veins, leaving them lost or even resentful and angry. I understand why people might make that assumption, but I’ve found that it couldn’t be further from the truth. The special siblings I’ve come to know are incredible people. Thoughtful, independent, hardworking, understanding, patient, and compassionate – just like Anna.
I did worry about Anna when Jack got sick. She was only six-years-old when our family’s attention was suddenly completely focused on Jack and his survival. We only had a few weeks to prepare for transplant following the diagnosis, and then Dan and I weren’t just not emotionally present for Anna, we were rarely physically there either.
Even after Jack got home from the hospital, the entire dynamic of our family had changed. We had been a family who was very focused on evenly dividing our attention, love and patience to our two kids — we never wanted to be accused of having favorites. After ALD screamed into our lives, the disease crumbled our “even-steven” approach to parenting.
We have always done our best to be there for Anna. We cheered loudly at lacrosse games (Dan was lovingly called “Loud Dan” for years), we tried never to miss parent conferences and would sit with her for hours over the dinner table discussing the trials and tribulations of childhood. She’s always known we adore her BUT she’s also always known we were just one diaper change or stomach flu away from dropping everything.
Jack’s illness/challenges trump everything (too bad that expression is so complicated now). If Jack needs to be medicated or changed, we need to take care of it and if he starts throwing up or looks like something is brewing, we don’t have the luxury of waiting. No matter if Anna needed help with her homework or we are knee deep in a project – ALD could interrupt our plans without any warning. We’ve all become accustomed to the interruptions — especially Anna. It’s part of being a special sibling.
Anna learned early that if she needed to get something done, she needed to know how to do it herself – just in case. Don’t tell the MAPSO schools, but I didn’t sign any school paperwork once Anna hit middle school. Permission slips, notes from teachers – even those nightmare “Information Packets”. Anna took care of them herself. It was safer than putting it on my pile. It might have gotten lost in the medical bills/social security/gaurdianship paperwork.
This early independence translated to a teenager who handled her college applications with minimal help and now that she’s in college, she doesn’t ask us for much help, other than making sure the bills are paid on time. Not that she doesn’t turn to us for guidance, but she knows how to handle things on her own. It’s how she has survived the ALD part of our family. It’s part of being a special sibling.
Independence has not been the only gift from being a special sibling.
I was getting my boobs squished yesterday (by a professional boob squisher — a mammogram) and I was trying to distract myself by making conversation. I asked if they had any fun plans for the weekend as they tightened the panel, “just one more little bit”. When she asked what my weekend plans were I mentioned that my daughter was coming back from college and we were celebrating her birthday. This, of corse led to where she was in school and what she was studying.
“Pre-Med at Hopkins? Are either you or your husband in medicine?”
I simply answered that her older brother is.
Anna was born strong and determined and Dan and I can take a little credit for who she has become, but Jack has been the biggest influence in her life. It was Jack who inspired Anna to study medicine. It was learning at only six-years-old that nature can be cruel. It was knowing that science saved her brother’s life. It was knowing that there is still so much unknown and she wants to be part of unraveling the mysteries of the human body.
Dan and I try to remind Anna that she’s only 19, and that there’s no need to know what she wants to do with her life, “I’m almost 50 and still trying to figure it out.” Anna’s a talented artist and I encourage her to continue making art. Dan and I both want her to study languages and travel and get the broadest education she possibly can. As much as we put in our two cents, but we know our sweet daughter and when she gets an idea, she can’t turn back. She sets a goal and she exceeds it. It’s who she is. BUT BANANZ IF YOU ARE READING THIS, PLEASE KNOW THAT YOU CAN MAKE CHANGES TO THE PLAN. ANY TIME.
Anna is driving up the NJ Turnpike from Baltimore as I am writing this. I can’t wait to get my hands on her and wish her a happy birthday in person. I can’t wait to watch as Jack jumps out of his chair to throw his arms around her until she screams for mercy. I also can’t wait to see where her life takes her. I wish Special Sibling didn’t need to be one of Anna’s titles, but it is and I appreciate some of the things that it’s taught her. With the combination of Jack’s inspiration to go into medicine and what Anna has learned as a result of being a special sibling, I have no doubt that she will do amazing things.
Happy Birthday Anna Banana – our very favorite special sibling.
“Good morning”, Jack said with a big smile on his face as I walked into his room at 7:00 am. If you don’t know Jack, you might not have heard the words, but Jack speaks pretty loudly if you know … Continue reading
In the old days – before Anna left for college – I loved that moment when I closed the front door after putting Jack on the bus. Besides my four-legged friends, I had a quiet house to myself for the next seven hours. The mornings at our house are rather chaotic, and the silence of that moment was a welcome guest. These days, I close the door and crave some noise.
The quiet is driving me nuts!!!
I’ve always loved every inch of our girl, but I never appreciated the noise Anna omitted. The music blaring from the bathroom as she showered. The sound of her feet pounding up and down the stairs as she searched for her missing keys. Her screaming down from her third floor hideaway that she will be down for breakfast in, “JUST ONE MORE MINUTE!!”
And, the afternoons were filled with more noisy commotion. Anna would walk in the door from school sharing tales from the high-school hallways. Crazy teachers, teenage gossip, mean girls, unfair/interesting/unusual assignments. Often her boyfriend, Will, would be at her side filling any gaps in the conversation with stories of his own. I sometimes wished that they would slow down and catch a breath, but now I miss those loud afternoons.
It’s not just me who is missing the noise. I need to be careful about the silence with JackO, especially when Dan is away. Dan’s always traveled more than most, and our family has adapted over the years. I hate when he’s gone for more than a few days, but short trips have always been fine. A time to simplify dinners, finish house projects and catch up on Bravo. Now when he travels, I’m finding I need to fill our time and the silence with more than just frozen dinners, cleaning closets and Real Housewives.
Yesterday, I picked up Jack from school and we came home, made dinner, ate dinner and started our hydration/medication routine when I realized that we hadn’t said a word for over an hour. To be fair, Jack hasn’t said a word in 11 years, but I have no excuse. Just because he doesn’t speak, doesn’t mean that Jack doesn’t crave some conversation.
Last night when I noticed the silence filling our house, I quickly turned on some music and started telling Jack stories about my day. Then we sat down and face-timed Anna and then Dan. This morning I made sure to get through our morning routine with more than just CBS News filling the air. We chatted, looked at Jack Mackay’s video (one of our Jack’s oldest friends, favorite humans and now one of his heros) a dozen times, and took some pictures.
First he strangles — then he demands a kiss;)
After Jack got on the bus and I closed the front door, I thought of all the things I could do to continue filling my day with noise. I turned up the music and reminded myself that Dan gets home soon and our noisy girl gets home on Friday! Life is good.
PS Next week I suspect I will be sharing that I need some quiet — 19 people and 5 dogs are coming for Thanksgiving. I can’t wait!!!!!!!!!
In case you missed Wednesday’s post – CLICK HERE.
seven hours of driving + a quick tour of campus + lunch with our girl = best day EVER!
It was just what we all needed. Seeing Anna in her element helped me let go of my nerves about how she’s doing. She’s thriving. Her classwork is interesting, she loves exploring Baltimore and has made many wonderful new friends (we got to meet several). Two hours of showing us around her new turf and a fun lunch and we were on our way. Saying goodbye was not easy, but we will see Anna for Parent’s Weekend in a couple of weeks and again in early November for Cousin Carlos’ Baptism. Thank goodness – we need more Anna time!
Thank you for all the love and support this week. I heard from many moms that they’re feeling the same way and I’m not alone in the crazy drive/hug/lunch/hug/drive. I also heard from a few kids who shared that they appreciate crazy drive/hug/lunch/hug/drives! I sure hope Anna did, because I have a feeling this won’t be the only time I pull this stunt;)
Thank you Anna for being you and, thank you Jack and Mymom for being my partners in crime!!!!!!
Several years ago, I was getting my nails done when I ran into a friend whose son had just left for college in Boston. We were chatting all about the excitement of drop-off and what it felt like getting home one kid down. She admitted that the transition had left her feeling a little lost and that she was planning to head up the next day to take her son out to lunch, “What? For lunch? In Boston?”
Maplewood to Boston is a 4 1/2 hour drive. I walked away from the conversation relieved that I would never be THAT crazy.
Jack, Mymom and I are driving to Baltimore to see Anna tomorrow. For lunch.
We’ve been busy trying to get into the rhythm of our new nest. I’m feeling a little less lost than I had expected, but it’s not easy. As long as I stay busy I’m okay, but when the chaos of life quiets, I get teary. The result is that our house has never been as clean and I seem to be very on top of my my TO DO list and piles of paperwork. I am looking for anything that can distract me from the quiet. Things like writing and walking are a little harder to do – too much time to think about how much I miss our girl. It’s better for me to stay in motion.
FaceTime is a luxury that I hadn’t expected. I’m trying not to over-do it, but at least once a day we sit down for our call.
Thirty years ago, there were two pay phones at the end of my dorm hallway. My parents would call on Sunday mornings at 10:00 am. It wasn’t just their chance to catch up, but it was assurance that I was awake at 10:00 am on a Sunday (As soon as I got off the phone, I would crawl back into bed). Within a few months, I got a phone in my dorm room. Still, the phone calls from home were limited. It’s not that my folks weren’t eager to speak with me, but times were different.
There is a lot of talk among my circle of friends — maybe we shouldn’t call too much. We need to let our kids fly. They need their independence. We need our independence.
Perhaps this generation is too in touch, but I don’t care. I love chatting with Anna as she’s walking across campus in the sticky Baltimore heat. I love that I am starting to learn the names of her new pals and a little about her classes. AND, I love that Jack is able to not just hear his sister, but see her. This transition has been hard for all of us, but for Jack it’s been particularly difficult.
Although we’d been preparing for months for this new reality, Jack seems to be constantly waiting for his favorite person to walk into the room. When her picture appears on the iPhone screen, he lights up. They spend a few minutes making their silly faces as Banana tells her Booger how much she misses him. Parent’s Weekend is just a couple of weeks away, but we can’t wait.
So . . . we’re getting in the car tomorrow morning and driving 4 hours to take our Anna out for lunch. If anyone asks, I tell them that it’s because Mymom hasn’t seen Anna in a few months and the Jack really NEEDS a visit. That’s not completely true. It will be a lot of driving for a short visit, but I’ve never been as excited for a day trip in my life.
To my friend from the nail salon – I owe you one. A lunch visit is a fine idea – NOTHING CRAZY ABOUT IT!!!!
How’d college drop-off go?
As soon as we left the house, I grabbed Anna’s hand and said, “It took us eighteen years to prepare for this drive.” I was bawling before we left Clinton Avenue.
It was a long two days of loading and unloading and setting up and last minute shopping and crying, before we kissed Anna good-bye and headed home to our new chapter. The house seems a little too quiet, but I’m not as sad as I’d expected. Sad would mean that I’m waking up in the middle of the night crying and sitting in Anna’s room counting the days until she comes home for Thanksgiving break (81 – maybe I am counting a little, but I’m staying clear of her room). I’m not sad, instead I’d describe it as feeling lost.
I’m getting along fine and then something will hit me. The empty stool at the kitchen island or the missing pile of shoes at the front door. I’m missing that fight in the morning when there’s no milk for my coffee because Anna and her friends had late-night bowls of cereal while watching Gilmore Girls. I miss Anna’s boyfriend, Will, racing into our house and wrestling a hug out of Jack. I miss the dirty dishes in the sink. I keep wondering when Anna will be home for dinner before remembering that she won’t be home for three months.
I also miss the chaos of being an everyday parent of a typical kid.
Anna has been our anchor to typical parenting. She’s linked us to her typical schools with their typical sports and typical classes. She’s had piles of typical friends that filled our house with typical snacks and typical teenage drama. She allowed us to get distracted from IEPs and changing G-tubes, because we needed to worry about curfews and grades and other typical stuff.
Being Jack’s mother is my honor and I love (almost) every ounce of parenting him, but it’s different. It’s not the parenting that you read about in novels or watch in movies. It’s not the parenting that MOST of my friends have experienced. It’s not the same parenting that raised me or raised Dan. I pride myself in not needing to be like everyone else, but it has been nice to be part of the conversation when people are talking about t-ball, middle school drama, first boyfriends, driving tests, and college essays.
I’m scared that without my anchor I will be left adrift.
The biggest accomplishments of my life have been as a mother. I am not pretending that I’ve been a perfect parent. There’s a long list of mistakes I’ve made along the way (things I wish I had taken more seriously – things that I did that make me cringe) but, when I look at our two children, I’m so proud of what I helped to create. I’ve grown to embrace being part of Jack’s beautiful, complicated life, and I’ve also loved being anchored to the day-to-day typical parenting world thanks to Anna.
I know that parenting isn’t over when kids head off to school or go to work or start their own families. I just hurt my toe (long story that means I will never go into Trader Joe’s again without wearing boots), and the first person I called was my mother. The last few days Anna has reached out to share stories about her first days on campus. I know I will be part of Anna’s life forever, but my anchor is now 156 miles away. She will no longer share every detail of her experiences. She will make friends that I will never meet and do things that I haven’t signed off on or understand. She is starting her new life. I’ll always be part of it, but a smaller part than I was a week ago.
I’m trying to get my bearings and am really trying not to overdo the calling/texting/face-timing. I want to give Anna space to fly, but it’s hard not to hear her voice around the house, “Mooommmmmm, where’s my backpack/curling iron/charger?” “Mooommmmmmm, what’s for dinner?!?” “Mooommmm, can I take the car?!?”
Jack is doing a great job of keeping me distracted. As I’m writing this (on the couch, with my foot elevated and covered with a pile of ice), Jack is sitting next to me laughing at his Impractical Jokers. Jack might not be “typical”, but he sure is great company!
PS Anna isn’t just a pleasure to parent, she’s the best friend I could ever ask for. Maybe I am a little sad. Just a little. Enjoy every second Blue Jay Banana, but don’t forget to FaceTime!!!
Just getting home from Block Island. It was a quiet stay this year and we loved having solo time with PopPop and Sue and getting to spend time just the four of us. Have I mentioned that Anna is leaving for college soon?
On our second day we went to Block Island’s Labyrinth. There was something about quietly walking a labyrinth that seemed like the perfect activity for our family as we prepare for a ton of change. Years ago I photographed a labyrinth for a local paper. I Googled the word before I left for the shoot, not really understanding the particulars of the definition. The three stages of the walk are releasing, receiving and returning. As you follow the path within, you are to shed your thoughts, quiet your mind and open your heart. While at the center, you meditate or pray, allowing yourself to receive guidance. Then you follow the same path out, thinking more clearly and feeling empowered. The whole thing sounded kinda cheesy, but after the shoot, I gave it a try and I found it more powerful than I’d expected. I felt calm and at peace. Last week I was looking for some calm and peace and wanted to share the experience with my family.
I encouraged them to take it seriously, “No talking. Just walk. Take it all in. Follow the path and let your thoughts wander.”
Knowing I’m a little fragile these days, my family hid their rolling eyes and agreed. Anna led the way, trying to help her brother along. It was quiet and beautiful. There are no decisions to be made when walking a labyrinth. It winds around, but there is only one way in and you follow the same path out. A needed departure from the endless decisions we make every day. One step at a time we all moved forward. Within a minute, Jack got distracted, let go of his sister’s hand and started making his own path. I laughed at the image of Dan, Anna and I staying the course as our boy did his own thing. Very much our family, no matter the circumstances. We all stayed silent and I started to really get into it – I felt more relaxed than I had in a long time, enjoying the rhythm of my steps on the sandy path.
Half-way through, the spell was abruptly broken. Dan yelled, “Crap – Jack STOPPPPP!”
I looked up and saw Dad run after Jack as he bolted down the hill toward the street. Just a few moments of no one watching and he had managed to plan an escape. Block Island is not known for it’s traffic, but Jack heading to Corn Neck Road without assistance was enough to have us all in a panic. I imagined a pile of mopeds piled up on our boy.
Just when you think everything is perfect, Jack likes to shake things up for us.
Thank goodness for the stone wall at the end of the path. Jack reached the bottom of the path in record time, but took one look at the wall and the ladder to climb to the other side and gave up his plan. Too much work for our boy. He turned around to the arms of his dad. He and Dan walked back up the hill with his mischievous smile telling us all he knew exactly what he was doing. The boys watched from a stone bench as their girls finished up the Labyrinth. Jack had given us all a little detour from our relaxation, but our family is used to detours.
We drop off Banana tomorrow. Just another detour;)