TOGETHER — ALONE

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Yesterday we just received Jack’s cap and gown with a note regarding his graduation celebration. Each graduating student will be scheduling a time when their teachers/therapists/principle will arrive at our homes and, from the safety of their cars, the staff will play Pomp and Circumstance. The students, dressed in their graduation finery, will pick up their diplomas from the lawn as the school films them. There will be a virtual graduation in June to watch Jack and all his classmates TOGETHER — ALONE.

I’m proud of his school for organizing such a thoughtful event, but unpacking the cap and gown brought me to tears. It’s so unfair that these kids, who have each suffered so much in their lives, are having yet another thing stolen from them.

I know we are supposed to focus on being ALONE — TOGETHER, but this virtual reality we are living sometimes feels more TOGETHER — ALONE.

Our family has done very well for the last 69 days. We’ve not complained (too much) about our current circumstances. Instead, we’ve focused on being grateful for our health and full fridge and paychecks and toilet paper. I think part of our positive attitude has been because our family has dealt with being quarantined before — first in a hospital and then at home for months and months following Jack’s stem cell transplant. This time, we haven’t been in charge of IV medications and taking turns sleeping in Jack’s room to make sure he was still breathing. AND, this time we haven’t been alone. All our friends and family have been doing the same thing. Most of the world has been at home.

So, instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, our family has taken the opportunity of this crazy time to slow down and do what we can. We’ve created a rather magical garden in our backyard. We’ve cleaned out closets and revisited hobbies like yoga and puzzles and painting.

Sure, we’ve all missed some things. Anna missed much of her second semester living at school. She missed parties and lacrosse games and The Preakness. Dan missed business travel and planned hikes and baseball. I missed teaching and spending time with my new nephews and trips and being in Listen to Your Mother. Jack’s missed school and friends and hugging (and licking) people other than his family.

Now he’s missing his graduation.

Like being quarantined, I’m trying to remember that he’s not alone in missing his graduation at school. Many of our friends have children celebrating their high school/college graduations virtually, and that does make it a little easier. There is power and strength in numbers, but it still stinks. I do hope that once this crazy time is over, Jack can return to his beloved high school and march in a ceremony with his classmates. They deserve it.

Until then, we will continue to settle down and continue to settle in, but we are starting to open our lives a little. Starting to plan some time with friends — is a SAFE way (or safeish). Dan met a friend to go fishing for an afternoon and, from a distance, got to catch up and share stories. Anna had a couple friends over the other night and they sat 6 feet apart around a fire pit. I sat out with them longer than I probably should of, craving in-person conversation (sorry girls). I can forgo haircuts and restaurants for a while longer, but I’ve missed my  friends terribly. I’ve started to make some safe (ish) plans with pals and I can’t wait for Jack to get to do the same with his friends. Not sure when, but we are going to get the graduating class of Pillar High School together again.

Until then — Congratulations Class of 2020!!!

Love, Jess

A year ago today. Really?

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Thank you Speir Drive. Not that spending 49 days inside your walls with limited company* has been super fun, but you’ve made it bearable. Dan has a proper office that’s removed from distraction. Anna has the second floor to herself. Even JackO has found spaces to attend his Zoom classes. We have all settled into our new routine fairly easily. Each day Dan’s at “work”, the kids are at “school” and I’m the cook/housekeeper/teacher/baker/online shopping ninja/puzzle solver (okay, maybe I’m not completely settled in, but at least I’m busy(ish)).
When we’re not working (and the weather is cooperating), we’re all enjoying the quiet oasis that is our backyard. We’ve cleaned things up and built a lovely garden that we’re going to fill with vegetables and herbs as soon as the fear of a frost is off the table. We’ve even had the pool folks out to start fixing it up for a long — hopefully not lonely — season (Dan thinks I am nuts, but I have a feeling that he will appreciate it once it’s open and has a working heater).
We loved Clinton Avenue, and will forever miss our neighbors, but this is our home now and we are grateful for it’s flat living and ability to provide private space for everyone and a nice open living area when we want to meet up at the end of the day.
We bought this house last year to make life a little easier. We sold our 1905 center hall colonial with it’s three floors and traded it for a modified mid-century ranch. Jack could live without steps and it’s open floor plan seemed better suited for keeping an eye on him. Dan and I were excited about an attached garage that fit our cars and our old doggies appreciated being able to get to the yard without steep steps. The pool wasn’t part of the plan, but all of us thought it was a fun plus.
We never imagined when we moved in last year that our first spring in this house would arrive with a pandemic. We never pictured Anna coming home in mid march and taking college classes online from her new bedroom OR Jack doing his classes and therapies from a computer on the kitchen island OR Dan taking zoom business meetings in his pajama pants OR me looking forward to using the new mop that was just delivered by a UPS driver wearing a mask and gloves OR using our dog sheers to cut Dan and Jack’s hair OR freaking out when we’re running low on Clorox wipes OR realizing we haven’t purchased gas in six weeks OR needing to check the computer to see what day it is . . .
We never imagined any of this when we moved in last May, BUT this is where we are, and this house has helped us while we’ve been adjusting to this new TEMPORARY normal.
COVID-19 has made life complicated for everyone on the planet. As strange as it’s been for our family, I know how lucky we are. We are all healthy, Dan is able to work from home, we have a fridge full of food, our bathrooms have extra toilet paper, we have a beautiful yard to enjoy the fresh air, my parents have been able to visit, Maria (Jack’s caregiver) is still coming to help out with Jack, and our family is (mostly) enjoying each other’s company AND our quirky new house.
Happy Anniversary Speir Drive! Thanks for keeping us warm and safe this year. We look forward to many more years living here and can’t wait to fill you up again with friends and family — Jack’s graduation? Anna’s birthday? July 4th? Labor Day? Thanksgiving? 
Love, Jess
* My parents have joined us several times and Maria (Jack’s caregiver) is still coming. All three of them have been safely quarantining at home when not here.

Day 35

What does Jack think about quarantine?

I usually feel confident that Jack understands everything, but sometimes is hard to know for sure. This is one of those times.

I’ve been getting Jack up around 9:00 every morning and when I walk into his room, he pops right up and smiles. He doesn’t have the bags under his eyes that are becoming my new signature look. When I check the camera app to see how many times he woke up in the night, there’s no significant change since the old days (before COVID-19). Dan and I have been experimenting with night-time teas and melatonin and pm medications and one more glass of wine to help with sleep (maybe it’s just me who is trying the “one more glass of wine” method — it doesn’t really work, but I’m gonna keep trying). Jack doesn’t seem to need any help transitioning from the day to a restful nights sleep. 

Jack definitely knows that his family is all home, but that it’s not a normal weekend or vacation. After his morning shower, he marches into the office – where he knows his Dad will be. And after breakfast, he starts walking towards the stairs, wanting to go wake his sister.

He no longer watches out the dinning-room window looking for his school bus to pull into the driveway. Instead he knows it’s time to sit at the kitchen island or out on the patio in front of the computer. When he sees his classmates or friends on Zoom, he smiles and stays on his stool so that he can hear what’s going on.

My parents and Maria (Jack’s wonderful caregiver) are the only other people who have entered the house is 36 days. Jack is always happy to see them, but seems to understand the there are no more hugs or licks and signs I love you from several feet away. 

He definitely knows that life has changed for now, but doesn’t seem too worried. Jack has always lived in the moment. Long before ALD, he was never a kid who stressed too much about what’s coming — or what might be coming. He trusts us and trusts things will be okay.

That trust/faith was strengthened 14 years ago when we promised him that we would keep him safe. With the help of wonderful doctors, nurses, tons of prayer/positive energy and luck, we were able to keep him safe then and we are trying our hardest to keep him safe now. It’s worrying about his safety, and the safety of our entire circle of friends and family, that has me up at night and yelling at the television during the day.

I’m so worried that no matter how careful we are, bad news might find it’s way into our lives. This is a terrible virus and there is still so much unknown and no clear path to reaching the end of it’s horror.

I’m trying to hold it together, but Jack has witnessed me melting down several times over the last five weeks. Just last night he found me in bed, yelling at the television screen and he walked over and climbed onto the bed next to me. I haven’t seen him do something like that so seamlessly in a very long time (any task with more than one step can be a challenge for our boy). It was just what I needed. Jack might be silent, but he is able to share his heart, strength and faith clearly.

So, what does Jack think about quarantine? This is all I know for sure — he’s missing school, but loving having his family around all the time. He’s missing his buddies, but enjoying long walks and the spring weather. And, he’s living in today and trusting that things will be okay.

Stay strong, wash your hands and try to live in today.

Love, Jess

 

Knock, Knock

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Yesterday our Ring camera alerted me that there was someone approaching our front door. I looked out Jack’s bedroom window to see my friend, Gail, with a bag in her hand. I glance down to my phone and noticed a text from her, “I’m going to drop a few masks in your mailbox in a minute. They have been washed in hot water using scent free detergent and softener, but I would wash again just to be safe. I delivered using disinfectant wipes.”

As she walked back to her car, I knocked at the window and waved. We gave each other the sign for I love you.

Last week my friend, Blake, knocked at our dinning room window. I’d been fighting with our cable box and the knock had startled me, but once I realized who it was I opened our front door. She stepped away from the house so that we could talk from a distance. She told me that she had stopped by the day before and had knocked at Jack’s window and waved with Jack, “Did he tell you I stopped by?”

Jack’s good at keeping secrets, but he must have loved seeing another person in the flesh. And, Jack and I have been doing yoga with Blake every morning for the last couple of weeks. Her yoga studio has made online versions of their classes and her calm voice and goofy sense of humor is always welcome – especially now.

The beauty of having friends who are spending their days creating masks for hospitals and people in need. The generosity of friends who are turning their local businesses into helpful additions to long days. The frustration of being trapped in the house. The horror of not knowing how long this will last. These are the thoughts that are scrambling around my mind these days. These are the thoughts that have me feeling extremely grateful and really scared/frustrated/overwhelmed – depending what moment you catch me.

How did we get here?

Just a few weeks ago our lives were frantic. Our spring calendars were packed with travel plans, school events and parties. Now our days are filled with Zoom calls, online yoga classes, cleaning out drawers, Tiger King and watching friends through windows.

Sending love from Speir Drive.

Love, Jess

Day 14

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Writing has always helped me process difficult times. Finding words to describe what I’m feeling has allowed me to work through my emotions. Sometimes it’s like figuring out a complicated puzzle — when I realize I’ve broken the code, I’m often exhausted but relieved.

The last couple of weeks I’ve had trouble finding the right words.

I’ve shared our family’s journey for 14 years. I’ve shared our struggles and triumphs. I’ve shared so that people could understand what it’s like to live a complicated life. Now everyone’s life is complicated. We are all in the same boat, so I guess I don’t really need to find the right words.

It’s surreal to live in the most powerful country on the planet and within weeks, we’ve all been brought to our knees. We are all home, watching the news, worried about our health and our country and our 401Ks. Although some people are suggesting that we will reach the other side of this within a few weeks, I think most of us understand that this will not be over by Easter. This may not be over by Memorial Day or Thanksgiving or New Years. It may be years before we nonchalantly give a hug to an old friend or meet up with pals at a crowded bar or travel abroad (or locally for that matter).

It’s been two weeks since our family has left the house (except for a few errands run by Dan – clad in a mask and gloves). Day 14 makes me a little less worried about anything lurking here, but I am worried about plenty. I’m worried about our family and friends. I’m worried that if anyone I love does get sick, I can’t be there with them. I’m worried about all of the doctors and nurses we adore putting themselves in harms way daily — without the proper protective gear. I’m worried that we will run out of toilet paper.

But, life needs to march on.

Life at home has been strange, but we are finding our rhythm. We’re on our third puzzle and are all taking long walks every day. When I’m not cooking (LOTS of cooking and dishes) we’re ordering in from our favorite restaurants (trying do help them stay in business). Dan has his office set up and seems to be getting a ton done and Anna is up in her room attending college. Not sure how labs or Life Drawing is going to work, but so far it’s been okay. Jack and I are keeping busy with online yoga classes, bad TV,  and (If Jack’s teachers ask) he and I are doing 7 hours of school work a day.

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We’ve also been catching up with friends and family every day. It’s one nice benefit of this crazy time. Everyone’s eager to connect with each other. JackO really looks forward to these calls. He’s kinda sick of us at this point  – thank goodness for FaceTime and Zoom.

We hope everyone is doing okay and heeding the recommendations to stay home. Sending a huge shout-out to all the doctors and nurses and grocery store workers and EMTs and postal workers and UPS drivers and everyone else who is out there so that we can stay home.

Stay safe!!

Love, Jess

Suspended Classes, Learning from Home and Sex in the 80s

Yesterday Johns Hopkins University announced that in-person classes were suspended through the end of the semester. No spring formals or sorority secret week or lacrosse games or baseball games or ordering Insomnia Cookies for late night study sessions. Anna will be completing her second semester sophomore year of college, in her bedroom at home. Alone (except for her wonderful, super fun family).

We sat around the kitchen island last night and I asked Anna how she was taking the news. She told me that she had been prepared. All the schools had been making the same decision, “It stinks for all of us, but I feel REALLY bad for the seniors. Their missing their last spring on campus and now a virtual commencement.”

I looked at Jack and my stomach fell. Jack’s a senior. His school has not yet made the announcement that in-person school is suspended through June, but I know it’s going to happen. How could it not? Jack and his classmates are the definition of “medically fragile”. Jack will likely not return to school this year – his senior year. No prom, no celebrations, no graduation. On top of that, he’s stuck at home with just the three of us for months. We’re fun company, but we’re not therapists or special needs educators. 

Jack’s school, Pillar High, has created an “academic binder” that’s being delivered today. At first, I laughed at the idea that we would be homeschooling our children with special needs. Jack and his classmates can’t log in and sit in front of a computer to do their work, and none of us are experts in special education. A binder’s advice couldn’t come close to recreating what they get at school — the education, the experiences, the therapy AND the connections.

But, last night when I was up at 2:32 am (the time my body decides it’s gotten just enough sleep to wake up and let my mind spin), I started imagining all the work that went into creating a binder for each individual student. I thought about all the love and devotion I know that the staff at Pillar has for the students. I realized I needed to take it seriously. We’re now in charge of Jack’s education for the next few weeks/months and Jack needs us to try to mimic at least some of what he gets in school. And, a schedule might not be such a bad thing right now.

I’m looking forward to see what the school is recommending. I’ll keep you all posted on how it goes with teaching JackO at home. I’m sure relieved that Anna isn’t counting on me for any help with Physics II.

ONE MORE THING —

I’m begging everyone to PLEASE listen to all the recommendations about social distancing. The more people comply, the quicker we can get to the other side of this. It’s going to be hard on all of us, but we NEED to be in this together!!!

My brother described the danger of people dismissing the importance of social distancing as “People don’t really know who they’re in contact with and who those people have been in contact with.  It’s like having sex in the 80s with someone you met at a nightclub. You weren’t just sleeping with one person, you were sleeping with everyone they’d slept with.”

Great point Brother, but weren’t you only 14 when the 80s ended . . . 

Love, Jess

If you haven’t seen it already – take a LOOK at Jack’s school, Pillar High, in action.

Day 2

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I haven’t been this out-of-sorts in years — since 2007/2008, when we lived with a suitcase always loaded in our car in case of an unexpected trip to the hospital. The difference is that this time it’s not just our family that’s living with the anxiety of the unknown. It’s our entire country/planet.

Like an eerie calm before the storm, and we don’t know what the storm is going to bring. There are limited cases of COVID-19 in our area, but we assume that it’s just a matter of time. Will things get as bad as China or Italy? Who knows, but this has already effected school and work and parties and conferences and trips and Dan’s beloved March Madness.

Our family is social distancing because we’re scared that the virus can be lurking without symptoms for days and COVID-19 seems to be very contagious. There’s so much we don’t yet know and I don’t want to look back and wish we had done more to protect ourselves — to protect our community.

I’m scared about Jack’s health and about the health of all of our friends and family. I’m scared about hospital beds filling and a lack of respirators. I’m scared about small businesses suffering and the entire economy crumbling. I am also a little scared that Anna and I are going to kill each other.*

It’s not that our family is just sitting in front of the news all day. We’re all trying to distract ourselves. Anna is heading out to play some tennis with friends, I’m going for a long walk with JackO and Dan has a pile of yard work (we figure outside is safe). My folks even came today for lunch and we had a nice time, but there were no hugs. I can’t wait to go back to normal — I could really use a Mymom/Nonno hug right now. 

Love, Jess

* Kids are suffering terribly. Their lives have halted indefinitely. They’re missing school and work and parties and games. My heart goes out to my sweet girl and to all of her peers. IT’S HORRIBLE. Now, get home, wash your hands and be nice to your parents.

 

 

Social Distancing – Day 1

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I got to sleep a little later than usual. There is something nice about not having to frantically get Jack organized with the deadline of a bus pulling into the driveway at 8:20. It was raining and foggy, so even the dogs seemed okay with having a slow morning. I checked my phone and spent a few minutes reading through emails before getting out of bed. When I peeked into Jack’s room, he was still asleep. A quiet cup of coffee before the morning madness is always a treat, so I quietly walked into the living room.

Our usually tidy living room coffee table was littered with paints, brushes and a remarkable painting of Michelle Obama — Anna’s major is Molecular Biology but she minors in Art. There was a deck of cards thrown carelessly on the couch and there were empty wine glasses and soda cans on the side table. I turned to the kitchen and Dan was sitting at the table in his pajamas, cup of tea in his hand and his laptop open.

This is social distancing Day 1.

Dan’s office is closed with the majority of the company working from home. Hopkins sent Anna home on Wednesday and, although Jack’s school remains open for now, it’s seeming like a good idea just to hunker down. 

Jack would have a difficult time fighting the symptoms of COVID-19. That’s a nice way of saying that he likely would not survive. We’ve worked very hard for 13 years to avoid germs and COVID-19 — IS NOT THE FLU. We are going to avoid any unnecessary outings and try to just hang out here and enjoy some quiet family time. It’s the right thing to do for our family and the right thing to do for our community.

Anna and I did have a long and LOUD conversation yesterday about our family and social distancing. She thinks I’m crazy, but I think we are all on the same page now. At least for today.

Besides, perhaps slowing down for a few weeks as we wait this out will be a good thing. As long as we don’t focus too much on the news or the stock market or the giant mess in my living-room.

Good luck folks, try to hunker down and don’t forget to wash your hands!!!

Love, Jess

In other news — Jack’s school released this wonderful video. You might recognize some of the people.

Worried. Not Freaking Out, But Worried

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I tend to overreact. I’ve even been accused of exaggerating. I find a thrill in impending storms and even secretly look forward to being trapped at home for a couple of days with only puzzles, old movies and leftovers. At first, I found the COVID-19 scare oddly exciting. There’s something about a shared fear which promotes conversation with EVERYONE – friends, family, the person behind you in line at Target, the Uber driver, the mail carrier. Us again nature. And, there’s something thrilling for me to walk into the grocery store and find empty shelves.

Then our trip to Florence got cancelled. 

Anna and I were meeting another mother/daughter pair in Florence — dear friends and the daughter was studying in Florence for the semester. We’d planned this trip for months and were really looking forward to an adventure with a girl we’ve known since diaper-days as our tour-guide. I got a little concerned as the news about COVID-19 started coming out, but I didn’t need to be the worrier who demanded we cancel the trip – she was sent home. All the university students studying abroad in Italy were sent home. And then all the schools in Italy closed. We tried to stay positive and modified our trip — a road trip to Hilton Head to see our friend’s brother and family. We traded wine tours and cooking classes in Tuscany to drinking beer and eating burgers, while listening to live music. No problem — our foursome would still have a ball.

Now, I’m not sure THAT trip is going to happen.

Every time I turn on the news there’s more information about COVID-19. More cases, more deaths, more schools/office closings.

I keep washing my hands and preparing. I haven’t gone crazy, but I do have previsions for a couple of weeks and I’m starting to think that we may actually need them. I’m assuming at some point Jack’s school will close and Hopkins is considering extending spring break for a couple of weeks. Dan’s office has discussed contingency plans and even South by Southwest has been cancelled – I wasn’t planning on going, but that news seemed to make it all super real for me.

I understand that COVID-19 can effect people in a variety of ways and that 80% of people seem to skate through with minimal symptoms, but we are a family that has seen the worst case senecio more than once.

We live every day the way the “typical” public is living today. Worried, preparing, constantly thinking “what if”. Germs have been our enemy for 13 years. Simple stomach bugs and fevers land us in the hospital quickly. So, I’m worried about Dan on the train and the subway in NYC. I’m worried that I won’t be able to get extra bottles of Keppra and Hydrocortisone for Jack in case we can’t leave the house. And, I’m worried about, not just Jack getting sick with COVID-19, but all the other reasons Jack might need medical attention and he can’t get it, because now there’s a clog in the system.

I am not freaking out. Promise. I’m just sharing my perspective as a mother of a “medically fragile person”. I just asked Jack’s buddy, Peter, to plan on watching a movie in Jack’s room and not a theater, but I’m not wearing a mask around or hiding at home. Tonight Dan and I are heading out to celebrate our brother-in-law’s birthday. We are leaving Jack in capable hands and won’t spend much time thinking about COVID-19. BUT, if I hear anyone cough, I will be hopping back into the car in record time.

Stay well and wash your hands!

Love, Jess

Class of 2020 Challenge & Rare Disease Day

Are you sick of the Class of 2020 Challenge on Facebook?

I found all the baby photos adorable, but started to get a little tired of all the prom, varsity sport and college sweatshirt photos. ln fact, I was getting ready to toss my laptop out the window (although in our new ranch it might not have been such a big deal). I’ve already been through the torture of watching Jack’s former classmates have their photos posted all over social media as they graduated high school and moved on to their next adventures. And, now I was sitting watching their younger siblings move on, feeling a little sorry for Jack – for myself, until my friend Jen asked if I wanted to join in. “Jack’s class of 2020”, she reminded me.

Thanks Jen. 

When your child has special needs, they get the luxury of three extra years of education paid for by the state (we can only hope that that continues – don’t forget to vote in November).  Thanks to Jen, I realized that Jack IS class of 2020 and who cares if he’s three years older!

As I sort through the photos of Jack over the years, it’s a constant reminder of before and after ALD. A reminder of what life could have been. What life could have been had we known that ALD was lurking in his body. Had we known and treated him a year earlier, Jack would likely have been class of 2017. He would be in college asking for an emergency Venmo for the Uber he had to take to go to the Trader Joes to get Riced Cauliflower. Now we just have Anna making that request.

Saturday is Rare Disease Day – or as I like to call it – The Day When People with Rare Diseases get to Remind People WITHOUT Rare Diseases that We Exist.

I’m not asking for donations, just to read about Aidan’s Law , sign THIS and pass it along to every single person you know (I was asked to send it to 5 people, but that’s lame).

If you haven’t seen what a rare disease looks like at our house, take a peek HERE.

And, if you want to see Jacko’s Class of  2020 Challenge – here you go!

Love, Jess