One more (wo)man down.

When Jack was in the hospital for his transplant 11+ years ago, there wasn’t much consistency to our days. We would wake up every morning with no idea what the day would bring. Waiting for blood counts, blood transfusions, good news and bad news would trade places several times a day. There was only one thing we could count on — at some point during the day, we would see Mymom.

She would ride her fold-up bike to Washington Heights from her Upper East Side apartment, climb off the bike, flash her visitor’s badge at the front desk of the hospital and head for the elevators. By the time she would reach room 505 there would be no hint that she had just ridden her bike up the gritty city streets in the summer heat.         

Mymom is a woman who you will never see with a hair out of place. Whether she’s sporting her Upper East Side style or Santa Fe hippie chick, she pulls it off. She’s a beauty. Always has been, but the word elegant is a better description of who she is. I look a little like her, but I will never hold myself the way she does. She also happens to be brilliant – a Phd holding, Red Cross working, dynamo with boundless energy. My mother doesn’t ever do anything half-way – even those hospital visits 11+ years ago.

I’m not sure I ever really thanked Mymom for her daily visits while Jack was in the hospital, but this week I got a chance to start to repay the favor. Mymom got a shoulder replacement week. You read that right — it’s the month of shoulders in our family — first Dan, then our Aunt Kathy and now Mymom.

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After a couple of years of fighting her shoulder, Mymom finally gave in and scheduled the surgery. Her biggest worries were that she would need to cancel her Christmas Eve party and what clothes she’d be able to wear. My biggest worries were about Mymom slowing down enough to let her body heal and if I could talk her into binge watching Bravo so we could discuss Dirty John (it’s so gooooooood). I also worried about how I could help as much as she helped us all those years ago.

There really wasn’t much I could do, but be there this week. I went back and forth, providing a little distraction and I wasn’t the only person eager to hang with Mymom. Of corse Nonno has been at her side every step of the way and both of my brothers, my beautiful niece and our cousin spent time in her room sharing gossip and telling stories. It ended up being an unexpected family reunion.

As I left the hospital yesterday, Mymom commented that it’s been such fun having the family together. I looked at her in her hospital bed wearing nothing but a hospital gown and a hint of lipstick left from her attempt to “clean up before her visitors arrived”. I thought, wow — the power of family.

I’m hoping that the next time we all get together Mymom is able to enjoy it while wearing her ultra chic clothes and not a sling.

Love, Jess

Mymom is heading home today and Anna and I are going for a visit tomorrow and meeting up with Kate and Baby Carlos – THAT will make everyone feel great!

THIS is ALD #22 — Alexis, Gerald and Jacob

It’s been a while since I’ve shared a THIS is ALD story, so I reached out to our ALD community. Within a few minutes I heard from several families willing to share their stories. The first is from Kiomara.  

THIS is ALD #22 — Alexis, Gerald and Jacob.

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When I was 8-years-old, my 6-year-old brother Alexis suddenly lost his vision. After a long week at the Puerto Rico University Pediatric Hospital, the doctors told my parents that my brother had Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD). My parents traveled with my brother to Baltimore, MD where they met with Dr. Hugo Moser and Dr. Raymond (leaders in ALD at the Kennedy Krieger Institute at the time). They were told that it was too late for a BMT (bone marrow transplant), but Alexis started taking Lorenzo’s Oil (a mixture of oils thought to slow the progression of the disease). Alexis stayed with us for 12 years, until he lost his battle when he was 18-years-old.

It was a terrible loss for our family, but my sister and I say that Alexis saved his two nephews’ lives. My 31-year-old sister has a 7-year-old son. His name is Gerald. He was diagnosed with ALD at birth because we knew that we were carriers. I am 33-years-old and I have an 18-month-old son named Jacob. When he was born I requested that he be tested for ALD and two weeks later I was told that Jacob tested positive for ALD.

Now we have a long way to go to prevent this disease from winning. Trusting in God and with our angel, Alexis, we know we will win. My sister left Puerto Rico and now lives in Massachusetts and my nephew is evaluated every 6 months by Dr. Eichler (a leader in ALD at Massachusetts General Hospital). I live in Georgia and travel annually for Jacob to be evaluated by Dr. Eichler. Thanks to my beautiful brother, my son and nephew are being monitored and will be treated early if there are any signs of active disease.

I hate this ALD, and don’t want to lose anymore boys in my family to this horrible disease. 

— Kiomara

*******

Learning about Kiomara’s brother Alexis and how he saved his nephew’s lives, made me think about the importance of Newborn Screening. Newborn Screening is a huge topic in the ALD community. ALD is currently on the Newborn Screening Panel in 10 states, will be testing soon in another 5 states and are mobilizing efforts in 12 others. Why is it so important? Because it gives the power back to the family. 

Without an early diagnosis, Alexis was not able to be treated and the disease continued to progress. Because the family knew to look for ALD following Alexis’ passing, Gerald and Jacob had the luxury of an early diagnosis. Their families are working with a top ALD doctor and the boys are being closely monitored. If there is any hint of the disease starting to progress, they are prepared to begin treatment quickly — before significant damage can occur. Looking at the photos of these beautiful boys, I’m grateful that their stories will be different than many with ALD. They are the future of our disease. A future that is far brighter than past generations.

Thank you Kiomara for sharing your family’s story.

Love, Jess

no need for a recount

I try not to get political on this blog. One reason is that I know that there probably isn’t anything I could say that would ever change anyone’s mind AND I’m guessing that considering I’m a pot-brownie baking, Latin American born woman who has a son with disabilities/pre-existing conditions and a daughter who is set to break many glass ceilings – you know where I stand.

In the last two years, the word president has taken on a new definition. Often more of a punchline than a title of respect and honor. So, when I saw this poster hanging on the walls of CPNJ Horizon High School a few months ago I was rather surprised. Who would want THAT job?

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You know our boy is always up for a challenge. Jack ran his campaign with the motto of being the “voice of the high school”. I can assure you that it was not an empty promise. Jack may not speak, but he understands everything and has the pulse on what is important to his classmates. He listens, he understands, and he knows how to get things done. My guess is that had he won, there would have been a few extra dance parties added to the calendar this year.

That’s right. Jack did not win. He lost to a very worthy opponent and Jack conceded with grace. From what I understand he shook the new president’s hand and wished him well (with his iPAD).

When I got the news, I can’t say that my first reaction was as full of grace. It was more, “What the F*%&!?!? How did my boy NOT win!?!?!”Jack’s life fell apart 11 years ago, but we glued (or taped) it back together and now he should get EVERYTHING he wants!!!”

Once I caught my breath, I laughed. Who needs all that work anyway? Besides, I love that his school doesn’t have an “all kids win everything” policy. Just because the students have complicated lives, doesn’t mean that they can’t handle some disappointments. In fact, I’d argue that this is a crew can handle more than most people in Washington.

Still, I worried a little about how Jack was feeling, so I picked him up early and greeted him with a big hug. He didn’t seem an worse for wear. I told him how proud of him we all are and that he should be proud that he ran an honest campaign without any outside interference from Russia. Then, I reminded him that he still won the popular vote at our house. He popped me on the head, smiled and got in the car.

Jack’s up for his next challenge. Maybe Prom King?
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Love, Jess

Halloween 2016 – we thought it was funny. Elections don’t always go as expected.

 

Our Thanksgiving Chime

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The calm before the storm

We have an alarm that sounds every time the front door opens — a two-note chime. It’s usually followed by Finn (bad dog) barking loudly and racing to see who’s arrived and how long he can get away with jumping all over them. Last week, the constant chime exhausted poor Finn so that by Wednesday, all he could manage was to lift his head off the couch for a second to see who’d walked in the door before returning to his nap. 

At the beginning of the week, I too would race to see who’d arrived so that I could give them some love and offer them a snack or something to drink. After a couple of days, I figured everyone knew that I loved them and how to walk to the kitchen.

Anna was home for Thanksgiving (THANKS GOODNESS) and our dear friends – the Mackays – joined us for the holiday week. An extra five people and a dog, adding some noise to our “far too quiet since Anna left for college” house.

We invited another ten people and two dogs for Thanksgiving Day. Nineteen humans, five dogs, two turkeys (one fried), six pies, two stuffings, bourbon sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans, salad, cranberry sauce, and more wine then our poor recycling cans could manage. Crazy, delicious, fun AND constant door chimes.

We said goodbye after Thanksgiving dinner to ten guests and two dogs, but added two more people on Friday (my best friend from college, Enger, and Katie Mackays roommate, Hanna). I feared we’d not have the energy to entertain them, but we managed. We even threw in a little party on Saturday night to round off the week!

The front door kept on chiming.

Yesterday we woke up and everyone did their part cleaning up the house, stripping beds and starting the laundry. Then, one by one everyone headed out – back to college, work, reality. I usually love the quiet after the storm of a holiday, but everything was so perfect last week, that I really didn’t want it to end.

I’ve been stressing lately about some things, but when it comes down to it, our lives are wonderful. Our friends, our family – they’re really all that matters. I can’t wait for the holidays to continue. We need some time with the Torrey side – and our door needs to go back to chiming!!

Love, Jess

PS Anna comes home in 17 days and the Mackays promised to come for New Years!!!!

 

give me some NOISE!!

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!!!

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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.

Love, Jess

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!!!!!!!!!

Mr. Bus

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Last week Jack’s bus driver told me that he was retiring. I’d be lying if I said that we had a close relationship. Sure, I’ve seen Mr. Bus every weekday morning for the last couple of years, but mostly it’s been a series of quick hellos and goodbyes. That said, I did make a point of telling myself to grab a little gift for him as a thank you.

I forgot.

Friday morning I remembered and started scrambling around the house searching for a gift. I usually have some Amazon gift cards handy (you should see the list of teacher gifts we deliver twice a year), but I couldn’t find anything. Then it occurred to me that I could give Mr. Bus a copy of Smiles and Duct Tape. I wrapped up the book with a big gold bow and as I handed it to Mr. Bus I said, “Thank you for everything you’ve done for Jack and his buddies. All these kids have a story. This book is Jack’s story.”

He looked down at the book and I couldn’t help but think he was a little disappointed that it wasn’t a gift card or a nice box of chocolates, but he said, “Thank you.”. I stepped off the bus, closed the door, waved goodbye and walked back into the house — that was it. People often come and go in life without much of an impact.

To my surprise, Mr. Bus returned to our house on Monday. He explained that the new driver couldn’t start for a few days. Then, he said that he’d started the book and wanted to thank me for sharing it, “All these years and I loved working with these kids, but never gave much thought as to how they got here.”

It was sweet and I was relieved that my gift hadn’t ended up on a dusty shelf. We spoke for a few minutes about Jack, our family and Mr. Bus’ retirement plans. Then I stepped off the bus, closed the door, waved goodbye and walked back into the house.

This morning Mr Bus arrived and announced that today was officially his last day. I put Jack in his seat and asked Mr. Bus if I could give him a hug goodbye. He didn’t hesitate. He got out of his seat, climbed off the bus and walked around to the sidewalk. We hugged like old friends, then he grabbed me by the shoulders, looked me in the eyes and said, “Mrs. Torrey, I finished the book and I want you to know that before God comes to take you home, you’re going to hear Jack’s voice again. I had one of those dreams last night.”

I couldn’t really speak through the tears that were suddenly pouring out of me. All I could do was nod and say, “Thank you.”

Mr. Bus climbed back into the bus, gave me a wave goodbye and pulled away. I stood frozen on the sidewalk.

People often come and go in life without much of an impact. Sometimes all you need to do is give a little and it’s amazing what you can get back.

Love, Jess

ALD — crappy disease/amazing people

I hate that I know how to spell Adrenoleukodystrophy and know words like phenotype and chimerism. I hate knowing the difference between stem cell transplantation and gene therapy. I hate that I know dozens of mothers who have watched their sons suffer for months, losing all their abilities before this hideous disease stole them completely. I hate knowing that the disease that has effected every inch of my son’s life may start progressing in me.

I hate ALD — every little part of it except for one. The people!

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I just spent two days surrounded by ALD parents, patients, researchers and doctors at the ALD Connect Annual Meeting and feel overwhelmed by the love and support that filled the room. I’ve walked way feeling extremely lucky to be part of this community.

I talk about our duct tape a lot on this blog. Duct tape representing the people and things that have helped hold us together for the last eleven years. We would not have survived without our friends and family and teachers and doctors and therapists and nurses and dinners and wine. We’re so grateful and now we are adding our ALD family to the mix. At this point in our ALD journey, being part of this community is helping us take back some of the power the disease stole from our family.

The ALD Connect Annual Metting is all about learning and sharing. I have notes about different treatments and potential therapies that may lead to a cure for ALD.  I listened to how other counties are battling our disease. I heard about the remarkable momentum of newborn screening. I heard countless stories of strength and courage. I learned diapering tricks that made some people at our table cringe, but I can’t wait to try out. I shared Jack’s story, spent time with people I’ve known for years and met many who are new to our community.

Thanks to newborn screening, there is a new, quickly growing group in our community. Young families that have just learned of the disease and that their children have the mutation. These families have been thrown into our world and are holding on tightly to their beautiful children as they learn how to monitor and plan for a disease that MAY effect their child sooner or later.

Sitting in a room with parents who have lost children, parents whose children have survived treatment with varies amounts of success, and patients who are struggling every day with symptoms of the disease — I kept going from feeling sorry for these newborn screening parents to being painfully jealous of them.

When Jack was young and healthy, we had the luxury of just living. I can’t imagine having known what his future would hold. All the worry – all the planning. But, the benefit of having the knowledge that an early diagnosis provides, allows these families to prepare for the onset of the disease and will likely prevent following the same path that so many of us have been forced to follow. For two days I kept reminding these young parents that their stories will be different. They have the power in their hands to have treatments ready when/if their children need it. I also kept reminding myself that we can’t change Jack’s path, but if we can help others, we’re kicking ALD where it hurts.

 

Dan, Jack, Nonno and Mymom came down to join the Smiles and Duct Tape Book Club. I got to share our family’s story and it turned into a wonderful opportunity for many to share their own stories. Jack – as always – was a huge hit. For a kid with a lot of challenges, he always seems to have everyone around him smiling. Anna met me as the meeting was winding down, but she got to hear some remarkable presentations that further encouraged her to study hard and keep reaching for her goals.

I’m a little exhausted and need to make sense of my notes, but I’m already looking forward to the next excuse to spend time with our ALD community.

Thank you ALD people — I hate our disease, but I love the people!!!

Love, Jess

PS I was telling a friend about all the amazing people at the conference and kept referring to the newborn screening parents as the Newborn Housewives. My love of Bravo is ever-present and trust me — these ladies (and gentlemen) are as real (and amazing) as they get!!!

 

never too old to dress up;)

I realize that my children are 18 and 20, but they both still LOVE to dress up for Halloween.

Being off at school, Anna left few hints of her plans, other than an Amazon purchase that I did NOT approve (you still owe me $30 Banana). She had two parties this weekend and sent me photos of her costumes. Although I know that it’s inappropriate for my underage girl, I couldn’t help but laugh at her first costume – Whispering Angel.

IMG_3673And, who doesn’t love a good vampire?

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I had to be more hands-on with Jack’s costume. I spent weeks trying to find a clever idea, when it found me at Target last Friday. A large flamingo hat almost screamed at me from an isle full of Michael Myers, Demogorgons and Black Panthers. I introduce you to The Dancing Flamingo!! ****

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I got to spend some time with the Flamingo at the Trunk & Treats event at CPNJ Horizon High School. Always fun to hang with Jack and his schoolmates AND I got to sneak in a little last minute campaigning. Not sure if you’ve heard, but there is an election coming up next week . . .  Jack is running for president!!

 

Tomorrow I head down to Philadelphia for the ALD Connect Annual Meeting and Patient Learning Academy. This year they are hosting a book club where I am leading the discussion on Smiles and Duct Tape. I’m looking forward to spending time with many of our ALD community and introducing Jack (and Dan, Anna, Mymom and Nonno) to the crew.

Love, Jess

**** In case you are new to Smiles and Duct Tape, Dancing Flamingo has been a nickname for our boy for a while. To learn why, CLICK HERE.

 

 

what is normal?

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The other day I was talking with a friend who was bitching about her teenager not doing their chores. She was going on and on about how hard parenting is, when she suddenly stopped mid-sentence and looked at me, “Sorry Jess. I shouldn’t complain to you about all this normal parenting stuff.”

At first I didn’t understand why I shouldn’t be the appropriate audience for her complaints. We’ve been friends for years and I like to think of myself as a pretty good listener. Then I realized what she meant. She shouldn’t complain to me, because parenting for me isn’t normal.

False.

I’m actually a very normal parent. Not just because I have one typical child, but because for me parenting is just about loving your child and doing whatever they need to keep them comfortable, safe and happy (with limits on the happy part if it includes super late curfews, sports cars or jellybeans for dinner).

Maybe my parenting doesn’t look like everybody else’s, but what the hell is normal anyway?

nor·mal
/ˈnôrməl/
adjective
adjective: normal
1 1. 
conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.”it’s quite normal for puppies to bolt their food”

For me it’s completely standard; usual, typical AND expected to:

— Separate laundry, not by light and dark, but by urine-soaked or not (and I sometimes sneak some urine-soaked clothing in with the non urine-soaked stuff).
— Buy diapers in bulk – both XL Goodnights and XS Depends (one of each and we can sometimes prevent leakage).
— Help my son walk up/down the stairs.
— Bathe my 20-year-old son.
— Help my son get into the car and buckle his seatbelt (and check every few minutes to see if he has unhooked it).
— Check on my son at least two times during the night.
— Hydrate my son through a tube in his stomach.
— Change that tube ever couple of months.
— Change my son’s diaper in a parking lot to avoid changing him in a dirty public restroom with people asking, “Why are you bringing him in the bathroom with you?”
— Medicate my son three times a day.
— Check my son’s mouth periodically to retrieve coins, jewelry, etc.
— Brush my son’s teeth twice a day and lie to his dentist twice a year when I tell him that I also floss Jack’s teeth.
— Infuse butter with marijuana and bake cookies to help my son walk, sleep, and eat.
— Feed my son and, when he holds food in his mouth for too long without swallowing, bringing him to the sink and scoop it out of his mouth.
— Bring pee pads any time we go to a friend’s house so that we don’t ruin furniture.    — Only have friends that can handle having their furniture peed on.
— Sing and dance to 70s music in the bathroom to entertain my son while he sits on the toilet for 30 minute stretches.

Some of you might find this list extreme or sad, while others may have similar lists of normal. Either way, know that even though parenting can be a little more hands-on or complicated or messy, anything can seem normal after a while AND Jack makes all these duties quite manageable (and often rather funny). If you don’t believe me, come spend the day with us. I can promise you that you will see a very normal home. And, I can’t speak for every special mom, but one thing that makes me feel less than special, is when people act like my family isn’t normal.

So, I encourage everyone to bitch all they want to me about their kids not making their beds or not mowing the lawn or sneaking a beer from the basement fridge or procrastinating on they college essays.

Treating me normal makes me feel special.

Love, Jess

two hours, some hugs, a godfather and a shave

Anna headed north this weekend to visit her boyfriend, Will, at Fordham. We tried not to give her a hard time for choosing him over us – after all, she’s in college, we just saw her two weeks ago and she’s in love. We followed her through texts and social media as she explored his campus and then headed to see friends at NYU. It’s still strange going from knowing every detail of your kid’s life, to hearing about adventures after the fact — or watching them realtime on my iPhone.

She and Will decided to head home Saturday to hangout with some pals who were in town. We had plans to go to visit family in Pennsylvania, so we left Anna with strict instructions to watch the dogs, lock the doors and NOT have a party. Then we watched her come home for the first time in two months through our Nest cameras — I know it’s creepy (we have them for security).

Anna had a great time (and no party that I could see from my iPhone) and we also had a great time seeing the Perry/Brooklyn Torrey gang, but as soon as we ate breakfast Sunday, we said goodbye so that we could catch Anna before her Bolt Bus took her back to Charm City. It left us with a two hour visit with Bananz.

Two hours with our girl doesn’t sound like a lot, but we made the most of it.

Walking in the door of our house I needed to look passed the stuff littering the foyer floor and pile of dishes in the sink to focus on loving our girl. We hung out around the kitchen island, enjoying sandwiches from the Millburn Deli (Anna’s got her Godfather fix) and hearing all about how everyone is doing. Funny that when I asked about how her pals were doing, Anna started with unfamiliar names. It took me a minute to realize that she was talking about her Hopkins friends — another reminder that things have changed a bit. We did eventually hear about the adventures of the kids we’ve known since elementary school — I miss all those wonderful humans and am thrilled to hear they’re doing well.

After lunch, we got to do what has become an important activity when visiting with Anna. Shaving.

I hate shaving Jack. For some reason shaving my twenty-year-old son, while he’s being held down making horrible faces, is painful for me — as if it puts a spotlight over how different our lives are. Since Anna left for college, I look at anyone who walks into our house as a potential barber. Be warned — if you come for a visit, you could be next. We’ve had a few good volunteers, but no one is as skilled as Anna. She manages to keep Jack smiling and gets every last hair without a nick or a scratch.

The barber decided it was time for to say goodbye to the goatee. I rather liked it, but it’s barber’s choice at our house, and he does look awfully handsome!

After the shave, it was time to say goodbye. It’s always hard to say goodbye to Bananz, but we will see her in two weeks for the ALD Connect meeting and my nephew’s baptism, and Thanksgiving is right around the corner!

I’ve got to say – I am getting better with being a college mom.

Love, Jess

Did you ever read Anna’s college essay? If not – CLICK HERE!