music and memories

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Dan and I have never allowed our kids to choose the music. Not in the house and definitely not in the car. We don’t have the patience for what “kids these days” listen to and we love our own music too much. When Dan and I first started dating, there were arguments over James Taylor vs Jimi Hendrix (I love him, but not for lounging out) and Simon and Garfunkel vs Rush (Dan will NEVER win that argument), but we settled into a groove quickly and found that there is plenty of music we both love. Jack and Anna have grown up with the Dead and Son Volt and Steely Dan and REM and Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson and Tom Petty and Bob Dylan and and and and. Even now that the kids are older (and Jack is Jack), if you peek in our windows after dinner some nights, you might find us all dancing in the kitchen.

Music is part of our duct tape.

They say that smell is the sense that is most closely linked to memory, but there is something primal that happens when you hear a song that you love. Tangled Up in Blue and Forever Young make me stop what I’m doing and sing out loud (sorry) and I’ve found myself sitting in grocery store parking lots more than once with tears running down my face because of a song on the radio – Beautiful Boy gets me every time. Then there are the songs that remind you of a time in your life – American Pie while I played with my dolls in the basement on Mountain Avenue next to my mother on her sawing machine, Free Bird at my first middle school dance, Me and Bobby McGee blaring from the jukebox at Long John’s Bar during my college years, Hey Ya as life saving stem cells went into my son’s veins in 2007.

As a teenager, my friends and I would make each other mixed tapes with our favorite music. We would send them to each other when we were in college – better than brownies. And, a mixed tape from a guy was way better than flowers or jewelry. It said so much about who they were and what they thought of you. I still have a pile of tapes in my box of memories. I’ll never part with them.

Dan’s love of music is fierce. His album collection is his most prized possession. A few years ago I made four large wall hangings – each with 15 of his favorite album covers. My plan was to hang them in his office, but they quickly found their way downstairs. We like to be surrounded by music.

Jack and Anna are a little older now and have their opinions. Jack found One Direction on his own, and if you play him just a second of one of their songs, he will shoot out of his seat and jump up and down. And, Anna’s room is always loud with music and some of it is lame, but I’m happy to report that much of it is familiar.

Anna got her driver’s license last month and we gave her Dan’s old car. She’s made it her own with new bumpers stickers and snacks in the glovebox. She also changed the radio stations. I can’t say that I approve of all of them, but I noticed last week that Tom Petty Radio was saved on channel one. All I could think was that we’d had done a pretty good job raising her.

This week has been horrific. My heart goes out to all the families/friends of those who lived through the horror and those who died in Las Vegas Sunday night (when is this going to end folks?). Mexico, Puerto Rico, Las Vegas — Watching the news has become so difficult the last few days, that I find myself avoiding television and leaning on music for entertainment. And, music isn’t safe either.

We’ve lost a lot of legends the last year. Just to name a few: Prince, George Michael, Glenn Frey, David Bowie, Gregg Allman, and now – Tom Petty. Anna was the first person I called when I heard the news that he had died. I heard Petty coming from her room last night as I went to bed and I played a lot of his music yesterday. Many of his songs hold some wonderful memories.

That high school reunion I talked about a couple of weeks ago is this weekend. I forgot to lose the five pounds and don’t really have the perfect outfit, but I am looking forward to it. I think seeing some old friends, laughing about old times and listening to good music sounds pretty darn awesome.

Love, Jess

“It’s sort of hope amongst the ruins, I think. To me we’re all in the great wide open. I think life is pretty wild; I really want to like the world, but at the same time I have to write about what I see.” (Tom Petty 1991)

 

 

If it weren’t for ALD . . .

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I ask myself a lot of questions that start with, “If it weren’t for ALD . . .”

If it weren’t for ALD . . . would I still be a photographer?

If it weren’t for ALD . . . would I have ever written anything besides shopping lists?

If it weren’t for ALD . . . what would Dan and my relationship look like?

If it weren’t for ALD . . . would we travel more?

If it weren’t for ALD . . . would Jack love music so much?

If it weren’t for ALD . . . would Anna be thinking about studying art over medicine?

If it weren’t for ALD . . . would Jack’s laughter be as loud?

If it weren’t for ALD . . . what would this year feel like?

I knew that this was coming, and did my best to brace for it, but I am still having a hard time. I open up Facebook and I’m faced with dozens of pictures of dorm rooms and college gear. Smiling family portraits of the last hug before mom and dad get in their car to leave their kids that are starting their next chapter.

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I thought I was okay, but the other day while getting Jack’s haircut, we were approached by one of his old friends. Jack was delighted and didn’t miss a beat – he went right in for a hug and a lick. Jack was fine, but seeing her beautiful smile and hearing about her plans had me crying before I knew what was happening.

So many tears.

I’ve been asking myself — If it weren’t for ALD . . . would I be crying this much as I said goodbye to these kids?

I’m a girl that cries at commercials and the cheesiest of Hallmark cards, so I’m guessing this milestone would have arrived with plenty of tears if Jack were among his college bound peers, but I know that it’s made more intense because ALD did happened – because Jack won’t ever reach this milestone, because it’s another thing he’s missing, because he’s being left behind.

If it weren’t for ALD . . . where would Jack be headed? Would we be driving or flying? Would he be off to study history or art or a language? Would we be excited to empty our nest a bit or dreading the goodbye? How can I NOT wonder “If it weren’t for ALD . . . ?” And, how can I NOT be sad?

So, my tears are flowing these days, as I expected they would be, but I’m realizing that there is another, unexpected layer to my sorrow.

I’m suddenly aware that a big life chapter is coming to a close — not just for the kids heading off, but for everyone they’re leaving behind. So much of my life for the last 19 years has been, not just as a mother to my own children, but watching all these other little humans go from babies to toddlers to school-age children to young women and men. I can’t believe that these kids are starting to move on, leaving everyone in their wake to figure out what they’re supposed to do with our new “freedom”. My nest will always remain full, but the focus of my circle of friends is changing. Friends are talking about selling their houses and starting new projects and careers.

How did we get here? What does that mean for our family? Just when I reached a place where I felt comfortable with my roll in the world, it’s changing. If it weren’t for ALD . . . would I be so uncomfortable with this change?

Crap.

Love, Jess

Today brings the hardest blow yet. Katie V and Katie M each head out for college (RJ is just a week away). These are not just family friends, they are family. Kids that have been been with us — held us up — before, during and after. We are going to miss you guys. Good luck, have fun, and feel free to call Aunt Jess with anything that your mom and dad might not want to hear;)

 

Happy Father’s Day DanO!

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I would like to record what happens in Jack’s bathroom on Sunday mornings. It’s a routine that takes at least 40 minutes and involves laughing, singing and plenty of four-letter-words. Dan does it so that I can have a break from the morning routine, but I usually can’t sleep through the commotion. Instead, I lay in bed and count my blessings.

Dan has always been a hands-on father with both the kids. He once spent an entire night waiting in line to insure Jack got into our favorite pre-school, and coached Anna’s lacrosse team for so long that I sometimes need to apologize to her varsity coaches now for Dan’s sideline behavior. Even with all his business travel, Dan tries to make every home lacrosse game to cheer on Number 22 (Bananz/Anna) and schedules business around IEP meetings and important school events for JackO.

I sometimes wonder what our family would have looked like without ALD taking center stage. Would we have hung together so tightly or would we have gotten distracted by trivial nonsense and focused less on family? I can’t say for sure, but I can say that, no matter the reason, I do appreciate how close our little foursome is.

I get a lot of credit for holding up our house of cards, but the truth is that while I do my share, it’s Dan that really holds it all together. He knows what each of us needs. Heated discussions with Anna about political topics, snuggling on the couch with Jack watching his favorite Impractical Jokers. And, he is the calm voice of reason, balancing out my crazy. When I get stuck under my pile of Social Security/Medicaid/medical bills bullshit, he reminds me of what is important. AND that we are a family that survives, “Just take things day by day.”

This morning we woke up in Connecticut where we were visiting family. Despite a long night of festivities and it being Father’s Day, Dan still managed to continue his Sunday morning ritual – bathing, changing, toiling his eighteen year old son. It takes parenting to a whole new level. There is a fair amount of cursing that goes on in the bathroom on Sunday mornings, but there is also a song for everything. Not sure how you manage to keep coming up with new ones, but keep singing DanO!

Happy Father’s Day!

Love, Jess

I’d also like to mention two other remarkable fathers – Nonno and PopPop. We love you both!!!

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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The Other “C” Word – Part 2

“Come on JackO! We need to keep up!”

I am not sure how many times I said those words, but it felt like thousands. I really didn’t want to miss a minute of the tours. Jack did managed to keep up pretty well – he hopped his way through three campuses over the weekend.

We spent the weekend in Boston looking at colleges. I’ve been dreading the “C” word for years and now we are here – smack in the middle of it. The clock is ticking so loudly that our family is having trouble focusing on much else.

Let me start by saying that we are thrilled for Anna. She has worked hard to be able to walk through college campuses with confidence. It’s not just top grades in top classes, but she runs clubs, has organized camps, has had an incredible internship, and is athlete too. She lives her life wasting very little time with nonsense. I’m sure she will have many wonderful options. And, she will (even if it kills me) have a family that supports her every step – or hop – of the way.

BUT

This new stage has been hard for me and it came out sporadically all weekend. The “C” word is bitter or sweet depending on what second you catch me. Just ask my family. This weekend I would go from cracking jokes, asking lengthy questions to the college guides and demanding selfies — to hiding in the bathroom and yelling things like, “I will take my own Uber home!”.

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My skin is just really thin these days. I am trying so hard to make it fun for Anna. It should be. It’s an exciting time and she has worked tirelessly to make this next step in life. And, college is amazing – the classes, the clubs, the parties! How can I not be excited for her to go?

… FOR HER TO GO

To leave us here without her daily dose of humor. To leave us here without her long stories of teenage angst. Who is going to steal my clothes and call bullshit on me trying to serve leftovers for three days in a row? It’s going to be so quiet here on Clinton Avenue. I imagine I am not alone. I bet all parents have their hearts break a little when they imagine their birdies flying. Change is never easy.

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And then we have an added heartbreak. The other side. The child who cannot fly. Jack who will not be going off to college. I try not to focus on the on this too much, but there are reminders everywhere we turn.

We were literally surrounded by college-bound faces all weekend. Kids that are Jack’s peers. Kids with the same mischievous smiles. The same stubbly faces. At first glance, they all look the same as our boy, but the are not the same. They didn’t have Adrenoleukodystrophy storm into their lives (and brains) as a child.

Even at home, we are being reminded. All of Jack’s childhood friends are either already in college or are anxiously waiting to hear where they’ll be heading. It breaks me when I think of what Adreoleukodystrophy stole from Jack.

ENOUGH

I need to focus on all of adventures that lie ahead for Anna. It’s going to be amazing and lead her further towards her goals. She will get closer to medical school or a PHD in something I will never understand. She will meet new people, travel, have incredible experiences and tons of fun.

I ‘m going to toughen up and be okay with all of this change. By the time we go for our next college tour in North Carolina, I am going to be carrying a strong, bright smile and leave the tissues behind . . . but if I can’t — I apologize in advance.

Love, Jess

Jack doesn’t seem upset in the slightest. He loves any chance of exploring with his family. Jack just hops through his life with a smile.

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Thanks for including me JackO

I was shaking when Dan, Jack and I arrived at Jefferson School this morning. I’ve been a teacher most of my adult life, but that doesn’t mean I’m a natural at public speaking. Standing in front of twenty students and a pile art supplies is WAY different then standing in front of over a hundred people with nothing but some notes and a copy of Smiles and Duct Tape to protect me.

I’ve now had a few opportunities to speak in front of audiences. I keep thinking it will get easier, but I still feel the adrenaline racing threw my blood and every bit of my body trembling. I wonder if that ever goes away . . .

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Luckily, this audience was kind.

There were a few familiar faces in the crowd, and I could see Jack and Dan sitting in the back of the library. Their smiles always give me strength. So, once the kids arrived and settled themselves in their seats, I dove in and the talk seemed to go well.

When I was approached about talking to this group of fifth graders, I wondered what I would talk about. February is “Kindness” month at Jefferson. I am pretty nice (unless you bring out the Scorpio in me), but any expertise I have in kindness has been earned because of the kindness that our family has witnessed over the years.

Today I talked a little about what our family has gone through and all the wonderful ways people showered us with kindness. I discussed how people can be kind and how kindness is contagious. I even shared a passage from Smiles and Duct Tape. I’m proud to announce that I maintained the attention of a room full of fifth graders for almost an hour – FIFTH graders!

Once it was time for Q&A, I was shocked by how many thoughtful questions were posed about our family, about ALD, and about Jack. Everyone seemed very interested — did I mention they were fifth graders!?! It was a remarkable group.

We ended the presentation by introducing Jack and he showed-off by presenting everyone his favorite (and only) sign – LOVE. Honestly, I’m pretty sure that alone would have made the day a success;)

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Jack then gave each person a high-five as they left the room. I did most of the talking today, but Jack is the real teacher when it comes to kindness. I’m just lucky that Jack includes me in his speaking engagements.

Love, Jack

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How to raise a great kid – HANDS OFF!

I had a super stressful dream last night. Not my typical, “I forgot to wear pants to the grocery store” dream. This was new and I woke up sweating.

I dreamt that I was having trouble with my college essays and not sure if I would get my applications done on time. I could read into it, but I think it’s pretty clear what my subconscious was trying to tell me — it’s time to relax and go back to HANDS OFF parenting Anna.

The truth is I’m usually a pretty hands off parent with Anna. Not to say that I don’t grill her after every party and open her report cards, but both Dan and I generally allow Anna to make most of her choices without too much guidance. Safety is (of course) important, but other than a curfew, she has very few rules (and even that is pretty negotiable).

It started when Jack got sick. Anna was only six years old and her family scattered. She went from having a father who was available every day to toss a ball with her after dinner and a mother who was always finding random excuses to show up at her school, to not knowing who would be home to tuck her in bed each night. She knew her family loved her, but she also knew that if she needed something, sometimes it was just easier to make it happen herself. Siblings of special needs kids have a perspective that their “typical” peers don’t.

Although I appreciate how fun it would be to helicopter around and watch everything Anna does while adding my two-cents, I just don’t have the time or the energy. If Jack needs me, it means he needs assistance with eating or needs his diaper changed. I can’t NOT do it. If Anna has a question about her homework, Google is faster than waiting outside of the bathroom door.

As IF I could help with her homework.

Don’t think that Anna’s not getting any attention from me. We talk and text throughout the day about everything from clothes to friends to our relationships with God. We have breakfast and dinner together (“breakfast” is her eating an Eggo waffle and me drinking coffee, but dinner is an actual meal that I have prepared). We are so close that we are starting to look like each other. When people see us together they call her “Mini-Me” and it’s not just that we look alike, our mannerisms and senses of humor are the same – it’s almost creepy.

We’re close – what I mean by HANDS OFF parenting is that I don’t micromanage her. I don’t watch over her constantly to make sure she is doing things just so. She needed to get her driving permit a couple of weeks ago and all I said was, “Great. Just ask around and tell me who to hire. I will make the first phone call, then it’s all you.”

When she was planning her course-load for junior year, instead of digging through all the choices, Dan and I just sat back and watched her come up with her perfect schedule. My only input was “I think I would prefer AP Art to AP Calculus, but if that’s your thing – have at it!”

We trust Anna because she has proven that she can be trusted. She is a great student and has a wonderful circle of friends. She makes good choices (mostly – she IS a teenager). She is kind to her brother and when I watch her interact with other people I am proud of who she is.

We’ve been so relaxed with Anna that I was surprised that Dan and I climbed on board the “college train” with such intensity. Looking through college books, long talks around the dinner table, planning trips to see schools. Perhaps it’s a distraction from NOT working on the project with Jack or maybe it’s just super fun because Anna has an impressive transcript —  And, maybe part of it is that Dan and I really, really, really want to go back to college ourselves;). But, I need to be careful. I’ve found myself checking Powerschool daily and questioning grades, looking at that giant book of colleges even when Anna isn’t home, thinking about essay topics and waiting anxiously for the next round of ACT scores. I’m getting dizzy with all the information and Anna is not appreciating the frantic input.

“Mom, you know I have this covered, right?”

Yes, I know you do baby girl. You have turned into a remarkable young woman and I know you will do amazing things. Mom will go back to HANDS OFF parenting. Just let me know when you need me.

And, when can we plan that trip to Virginia and North Carolina . . . and Boston – we need to go to Boston!dsc00726

Love, Jess

 

A Birthday for Bananz!

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There are no parenting books that recommend being friends with your teenager. We are always told that our responsibility as parents is to parent.

My problem is that I do so much parenting with Jack. I need to be ON all the time. Missing the medication or hydration could be disastrous, and when he needs a diaper change, he needs a diaper change. I can’t slack – not even for a minute (this is not completely true. I do slack, thanks to a wonderful team of people, but I need to arrange so that I can slack).

When it comes to parenting Anna, she tends to direct. She tells me when to call the SAT/ACT tutor and when I need to drive her to school. She announces when it’s time for a new curfew (THAT we did need to negotiate), but also knows when she needs to call it a night so that she has time to work on her summer assignments. And, although we spend many dinner conversations discussing Anna’s schoolwork, we are rarely asked to help or edit. It’s not just because she has surpassed our expertise in many subjects, it’s because she has always had to be independent.

This is not to say that we do not spend quality time together. Anna and I spend hours watching and discussing groundbreaking television (i.e. The Challenge on MTV) and pouring through high school gossip. Anna and Dan also have a close relationship. He isn’t as fond of the rumor talk as I am, but he and Anna can discuss history or lacrosse stats all day long. And, watching Anna snuggle with her brother is one of the most magical things on the planet.

Anna has turned out to be a remarkable human and I love being her mother/friend. I just look at her, and I am in awe. Brilliant, beautiful, patient, compassionate, kind and happy. Everything I ever hoped my daughter would be.

Dan and I get all sorts of credit for raising this unbelievable child, when the truth is that Anna really deserves most of the credit.

Happy Birthday Bananz!! Sweet 16!!!

Love, Mom

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Dan, the man

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Happy Father Day!

Here’s a truth. I fell off the “Perfect Parent Pedestal” years ago. Jack and Anna discovered early in their lives that I am human. They adore me and respect me (most of the time), but they are fully aware that I am full of faults.

Dan still lives high up on a pedestal. He walks into a room, and both of his children light up. Anna’s in awe of her father’s knack for languages and amazed each night watching him play Jeopardy. There is very little he doesn’t know. And Jack – to Jack, Dan is a superhero. He is the person who takes him on adventures and doesn’t complain when there is a necessary bathroom stop.

Sometimes I’m a little jealous of Dan, but here’s another truth – he has earned his role as a superhero. Most men would cower at the challenges our family has faced. Most men would focus all of their attention on their careers or a bottle. Not Dan. Although he’s had a successful career, his priority has always been his family and his proudest accomplishment has been his children.

Even now, as life has things scattered a bit, Dan comes home and doesn’t miss a beat. Before he has a chance to take off his jacket, we all fight over “first hug” as Dan dives right into “How’d finals go?”, “Any news about Jack’s new class?”, “How many more days until Block Island?”.

Next time you see Dan, ask him about his kids. Listen to him talk about his beautiful Bananz (aka Anna), who rocks it as much on the field as in the classroom. Listen to him talk about Booger Brown (aka Jack) and his bravery and strength. Better yet, come to Clinton Avenue and listen to Dan talk to Anna about history and then listen to him sing loudly as he bathes his teenage son. You will walk away (in tears) knowing that Dan is truly an amazing father and we are one LUCKY family.

Love you Dan. And, special love being sent to Nonno and PopPop – our two other favorite Dads!!

Love, Jess

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FYI 10 more days until Block Island.

Lucky 21!

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You are all thinking the same thing – How old were we? No lines on our faces or worries in our eyes. In such a hurry to settle down and get started as adults. We were looking forward to adventures and children and making a home. We’ve enjoyed all those things. Not exactly as we’d planned them, but have managed to enjoy them all the same.

21 years.

Not many couples can say they’ve made it 21 years, and even fewer can say that they’ve enjoyed MOST OF those days. Thank you Dan for all of your love and support and respect. I am still that lucky girl you see in the photo who is looking forward to adventures and children (not more, just the ones we’ve already made) and making a home (wherever our next chapter takes us). Just don’t put your glasses on, and I even look about the same.

Love, Jess