It’s a GIRL!

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My daughter/sister/bestie is 17 today!

Anna left at the crack of dawn for the DMV, and returned with a huge smile on her face and a driver’s license in her wallet. Once I was done jumping up and down with her in the driveway, I found myself in a puddle of tears. And, the tears aren’t stopping.

I’m hoping that some time here on the computer will help me sort out why I’m finding today so overwhelming. If I can just find the words, I might be able to make some sense out of all these emotions.

I’m excited for Anna. 17 is huge and getting your license is a great achievement. I know that some kids these days aren’t too interested in driving, but our girl has been obsessed with cars since we let her drive up the driveway on Block Island when she was twelve years old. She organized a driving instructor and even talked us into giving her Dan’s car over a year ago (he took the train today – anyone selling a car?). When our girl gets her mind set on something, she’s all in. And, Dan and I have also been looking forward to this milestone. Not needing to worry about getting Anna to and from school and lacrosse practice – AND having her help with errands is going to be wonderful.

So, what’s with all these tears? Here’s what I’ve up with:

1.) There is always the “Jack Factor”. That punch in the gut when there’s a bold reminder of something that Jack will never experience. That was further highlighted today when I realized that the rest of my day included stocking up on his diapers at Target, dealing with Medicaid, and setting up some doctor’s appointments. That punch never goes away.

2.) The phone call to our insurance company adding Anna to our plan. Even with the “good student discount”, the increase to our policy was startling. Probably not enough to make me cry, but it certainly made me pause.

3.) As much as I love having a daughter/sister/bestie I can’t believe I no longer have a little girl. Wasn’t she just born?

I won’t go into all the details of the day Anna arrived, but I will share that it wasn’t quite as beautiful as I had imagined the birth would be. I had begged my doctor to allow me to have a VBAC (vaginal birth after c-section). Jack had been breech and 10 pounds – a scheduled c-section. I’d felt cheated from having a typical “birth story”, and thought that this was a great idea. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as fun as I expected. I had signed up for a VBAC, not for a natural delivery, but by the time Anna arrived, any bit of pain medication was gone. GONE.

Needless to say, I was in agony. The only thing that kept me from continuing my four-letter-word rant, was when I heard the doctor say, “It’s a girl!”

I stopped screaming to ask, “Are you sure?”

Dan and I didn’t know the gender of either Jack or Anna before they arrived. We loved the idea of the “ultimate surprise”, but truthfully I wasn’t ever expecting to have a daughter. Dan’s sister, April, is the only girl of her generation on the Torrey side. And, Pop Pop (Dan’s father) is one of four boys. When Dan and I started our family, I really pictured myself as a mom of a couple of boys. “It’s a girl” was a complete surprise. We had no name prepared and nothing pink waiting for her arrival. I just stared at this little peanut as she was placed on my chest, wondering what it was going to be like to have a daughter.

It’s been amazing, but how did the time go so quickly? How is that little girl with no name or pink blankets driving a car to pick up her boyfriend and go out to lunch?

Okay – I got it. I’m hysterical because my job as Anna’s mom is reaching the end. Thank goodness MyMom is on her way for a visit. I need some love. Hey, wait a minute . . .

 

Love, Jess

Happy Birthday Banana! You can come home now. I’m done crying for now;)

 

 

 

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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Now really matters

Remember when Facebook was a safe place to scroll through photos of old friends and cute puppy videos? Now I find myself taking a deep breath before sitting down at the computer and diving in.

Apparently, our family has been living in a bubble. A beautiful, diverse, inclusive bubble. A place where all people are accepted and we all believe in science (climate change is a FACT). Where everyone feels safe and neighbors are always there the help or lend some sugar. Where you walk down the street and you are greeted with smiles and hellos. Where teenagers get busted for their parties because they recycle their empties (true story – it’s happened more than once. Teens here risk getting grounded just to be Green). It’s called Maplewood. I’m not saying that our town is perfect, but it’s pretty darn close.

Unfortunately, the last two weeks have made it clear that some people in our country really want to pop our bubble. I’m getting scared.

Building walls, defunding NPR and the National Endowment for the Arts, potential (very conservative) judicial nominees, changes to immigration, Sessions, DeVos. Politics used to be background noise in my life and now it’s center stage — there’s so much information – my brain is spinning!

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It takes a lot to get me to talk about politics. Part of it is that I want everyone to love me and being opinionated can discourage love, but the biggest reason I’ve avoided political talk is because I don’t want to be questioned. I know what I believe, but have always been a little fuzzy on the details necessary to have a chance of winning a debate.

Now that Facebook has gone from being a fun place to a scary civics lesson, I realize that it’s time for this mom to start being informed and prepared to defend her beliefs. Anna and I marched together in New York last weekend. It was a beautiful day and the energy from the crowd was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Thousands of people marching as one. Marching is a good start, but walking with sweet signs is just the beginning. I have a feeling this is going to be a long road.

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This blog is about our family. Our family is the one thing in the world where I AM an expert. I am not an expert when it comes to politics, but I do know when I feel that my family is at risk – when the country that I treasure is at risk. I have done a lot for my children. I have fought with doctors and insurance companies (even an occasional pharmacist), but fighting for my children can’t stop now. Now really matters.

Love, Jess (the mother of a strong, independent young woman and a teenage boy who has special needs and more “preexisting conditions” than I can count. Oh, and a human that loves the arts, choices, our melting pot and our planet)

Do as I say – not as your brother does

The response to It Shouldn’t be a Secret has been a little overwhelming. I went from not being sure if I was ready to share the news that Jack was using medical marijuana, to having over 4000 people read the post and fielding tons for phone calls, emails and texts filled with stories and questions.

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Overall, there has been very little judgement. In fact, it seems that everyone has a friend or family member who has used cannabis for medical reasons. Some of the most conservative people I know seemed almost relieved to share their stories that they had hidden away as if they had done something criminal. Wait – in much of our country marijuana IS criminal – THAT’S part of the problem.

The one hint of criticism came in a question asked repeatedly. How did we explain to Anna that her brother was going to experiment with pot?

First – Jack is not “experimenting with pot” – he’s trialing the medical benefits of cannabis (that sounds way more official).

We did approach the conversation carefully, but we were honest with Anna from the start. Anna is only sixteen, and by all means we do not condone the use of any substances by young people, but — BREAKING NEWS — teenagers have seen more than you think. Anna knows people who use pot for other reasons than trying to alleviate the spasms in their feet. She was not shocked by the word “marijuana” and she understands that what’s good for her brother is NOT good for her (or her curfew).

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Also, people need to remember that Anna is not your average kid. She was six-years-old when her family scattered and she was told that her brother might not survive. She has witnessed the reality of life changing overnight and the fact that there is often not a right and a wrong answer when searching for solutions. Instead there is often a “maybe if we . . . “ and “let’s see if this works”. Anna is interested in studying biomedical engineering. It took me a while to truly understand what that means other than many, many years of education post high school. My limited understanding now appreciates that Anna wants to help create treatments to save lives. ALD, cancer, ALS – watch out. When Anna sets her sites on something, she’s all in.

Now that medical marijuana has been a success in our house Anna seems to be wondering less about the smell in our kitchen and more about what in cannabis is helping Jack. The scientist in her is fascinated. Lucky for us, because I’m more interested in the fact that it’s working then why — it’s probably good to have one person in the house who understands the science behind it.

As far as the stigma on marijuana – we’re getting over that. The more research we do, the more solid we are in our belief that marijuana is a remarkable drug with a host of benefits. Just last week, top scientists at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine weighed in on marijuana and it’s health effects. After considering more that 10,000 studies, they concluded that marijuana is helpful for pain relief, muscle spasms related to MS (a disease similar to ALD), and for treating nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy. I think it’s time we all take a look at our medicine cabinets and realize they’re filled with far more harmful things than cannabis. Hopefully we will continue to see positive change in policies regarding marijuana (although after today, who knows?).

So, that’s how we handled the Anna situation. We were honest. I’m not sure how Dan and I would have parented teenagers under different circumstances, but we have ended up be the kind of parents who answer questions honestly and openly. Anna might not know every detail of our histories or every decision we make now, but she knows her share, and Anna has turned into quite an incredible person – I guess we’re not doing such a bad job.

Love, Jess

Anna’s not completely without complaint. When I am baking for Jack, she always reminds me that I NEVER bake for her. Sorry.

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