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

National Daughter’s Day

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I missed National Daughter’s Day. Just one day without looking at my Facebook feed, and when I returned I was bombarded with piles of sweet pictures of everyone’s daughters. I felt like crap. How could I have missed National Daughter’s Day?!?

I went instantly to my phone, searching for the cutest photo of me and my girl to show everyone that I’m NOT a bad mom and that my daughter is way better than everyone else’s. I narrowed it down to a few good shots and thought about FaceTiming Anna for her advice, before realizing that I was acting crazy. I don’t need a National Day to remember I have a daughter or to celebrate her — I do a pretty good job doing those things on my own.

Not sure about you, but I can’t keep up. It seems that every day there is another National Day/Month reminding us to celebrate, remember or eat.

There are some great ones:

October 5 — World Teacher’s Day
June — Pride Month
June 20 — World Refugee Day
September — Leukodystrophy Awareness Month (for us, every month is Leukodystrophy Awareness Month)
November 27 — Giving Tuesday

Those are good ones, but then there are these:

January 4 — National Spaghetti Day
June — Turkey Lover’s Month
October 5 — National Do Something Nice Day (we need a day for this?)
June 1 — National Donut Day
June 9 — National Rose Day (I didn’t see one for Sauvignon Blanc, but June 14 is National Bourbon Day and September 7 is National Beer Lover’s Day)
October 15 — Global Hand Washing Day
September 16 — Wife Appreciation Day (just one day?)
March 10 — National Landline Telephone Day
June 21 — National Selfie Day
April 10 — Be Kind to Lawyers Day

The problem with these holidays is they distracted from things that should truly be celebrated AND they have people scrambling to join in. If you don’t eat ice cream on July 15, you’re missing out. If you don’t post a cute picture of your daughter on National Daughter’s Day you are a bad mom. So we keep going. I’m all for celebrating, but don’t you think it’s getting a little ridiculous? When we celebrate everything from quiche (May 14) to paperclips (April 4) to watches (June 19) to kite flying (February 8) isn’t it taking away from living in the moment? What if I don’t want quiche on May 14th, but I’m really digging the clam chowder that’s in front of me (National Clam Chowder Day is February 25) — should I feel guilty?

Perhaps we should consider celebrating things we love every single day.

I am trying to stop, but now I can’t stop looking at the National Days list. I wondered what National Days corresponded with our birthdays.

Dan’s Birthday (March 2) — National Read Across America Day (Dan does like to read and he loves America).

Anna’s Birthday (June 28) — National Tapioca Day (and National Nude Day, but let’s focus on tapioca . . . not sure if Anna has ever tasted tapioca, but I bet she would like it).

Jack’s Birthday (August 5) — National Underwear Day (NOT National Diaper Day? There is a Diaper Need Awareness Week in September, which is a lovely, but we need a new day on the calendar just for 20-year-old men who wear diapers). August 5 is also National Sister Day (THAT is perfect!!!)

My Birthday (November 19) — World Toilet Day (if you’ve spent time with me and my small, ALD affected bladder you know that this makes perfect sense).

In case you’re wondering. Today, September 27th, is National Chocolate Milk Day Day. Who knew???

Love, Jess

I don’t think I need to, but why not share some photos of my sweet daughter;)

Happy Belated Daughter’s Day!!!

lunch – the recap

In case you missed Wednesday’s post – CLICK HERE.

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seven hours of driving + a quick tour of campus + lunch with our girl = best day EVER!

It was just what we all needed. Seeing Anna in her element helped me let go of my nerves about how she’s doing. She’s thriving. Her classwork is interesting, she loves exploring Baltimore and has made many wonderful new friends (we got to meet several). Two hours of showing us around her new turf and a fun lunch and we were on our way. Saying goodbye was not easy, but we will see Anna for Parent’s Weekend in a couple of weeks and again in early November for Cousin Carlos’ Baptism. Thank goodness – we need more Anna time!

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Saying goodbye wasn’t easy.

Thank you for all the love and support this week. I heard from many moms that they’re feeling the same way and I’m not alone in the crazy drive/hug/lunch/hug/drive. I also heard from a few kids who shared that they appreciate crazy drive/hug/lunch/hug/drives! I sure hope Anna did, because I have a feeling this won’t be the only time I pull this stunt;)

Thank you Anna for being you and, thank you Jack and Mymom for being my partners in crime!!!!!!

Love, Jess

 

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Several years ago, I was getting my nails done when I ran into a friend whose son had just left for college in Boston. We were chatting all about the excitement of drop-off and what it felt like getting home one kid down. She admitted that the transition had left her feeling a little lost and that she was planning to head up the next day to take her son out to lunch, “What? For lunch? In Boston?”

Maplewood to Boston is a 4 1/2 hour drive. I walked away from the conversation relieved that I would never be THAT crazy.

Jack, Mymom and I are driving to Baltimore to see Anna tomorrow. For lunch.

We’ve been busy trying to get into the rhythm of our new nest. I’m feeling a little less lost than I had expected, but it’s not easy. As long as I stay busy I’m okay, but when the chaos of life quiets, I get teary. The result is that our house has never been as clean and I seem to be very on top of my my TO DO list and piles of paperwork. I am looking for anything that can distract me from the quiet. Things like writing and walking are a little harder to do – too much time to think about how much I miss our girl. It’s better for me to stay in motion.

FaceTime is a luxury that I hadn’t expected. I’m trying not to over-do it, but at least once a day we sit down for our call.

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Thirty years ago, there were two pay phones at the end of my dorm hallway. My parents would call on Sunday mornings at 10:00 am. It wasn’t just their chance to catch up, but it was assurance that I was awake at 10:00 am on a Sunday (As soon as I got off the phone, I would crawl back into bed). Within a few months, I got a phone in my dorm room. Still, the phone calls from home were limited. It’s not that my folks weren’t eager to speak with me, but times were different. 

There is a lot of talk among my circle of friends — maybe we shouldn’t call too much. We need to let our kids fly. They need their independence. We need our independence.

Perhaps this generation is too in touch, but I don’t care. I love chatting with Anna as she’s walking across campus in the sticky Baltimore heat. I love that I am starting to learn the names of her new pals and a little about her classes. AND, I love that Jack is able to not just hear his sister, but see her. This transition has been hard for all of us, but for Jack it’s been particularly difficult. 

Although we’d been preparing for months for this new reality, Jack seems to be constantly waiting for his favorite person to walk into the room. When her picture appears on the iPhone  screen, he lights up. They spend a few minutes making their silly faces as Banana tells her Booger how much she misses him. Parent’s Weekend is just a couple of weeks away, but we can’t wait.

So . . . we’re getting in the car tomorrow morning and driving 4 hours to take our Anna out for lunch. If anyone asks, I tell them that it’s because Mymom hasn’t seen Anna in a few months and the Jack really NEEDS a visit. That’s not completely true. It will be a lot of driving for a short visit, but I’ve never been as excited for a day trip in my life.

Love, Jess

To my friend from the nail salon – I owe you one. A lunch visit is a fine idea – NOTHING CRAZY ABOUT IT!!!!

a table full of girls

Over the weekend we attended another graduation party celebrating a dear friend of Anna. They’ve known each other since they were tiny, and she has spent so much time with our family, that I consider her to be another daughter. Dan loves her too and Jack would think of her as a sister, if he didn’t have such a massive crush on her.

She’s not alone. Jack has crushes on all of Anna’s girlfriends. And these girls are wonderful to our boy. When they come to our house, the first thing they do when they walk in our door is ask, “Where’s Jack?” and then seek him out to give him a smooch. Some days I find Jack in the middle of the sofa surrounded by beautiful teenage girls watching Gilmore Girls or lose track of him to discover that he’s made his way up to Anna’s room to listen to some girlie gossip.

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Jack and some of the gals a few years ago.

Most of Anna’s circle of friends she’s known since diaper days. They knew Anna when she was a chubby little girl with a crooked smile. They knew our first house over on Jefferson Avenue and they knew Dan and I before we had gray hair. These kids also knew our family before ALD came screeching into our lives. They knew Jack when he was just a year ahead of them in school, loved to ride his bike and was one of the MCs in the school talent show (the only video we have where we can hear him speaking . . . ).

I realized while watching the girls at the party that I’m not just saying goodbye to Anna as she heads out to college — I’m saying goodbye to her buddies too. And, so is Jack.

I know Anna will find a wonderful new cluster of friends at college. She has good taste in friends and seems to always be surrounded by a funny, smart, kind assortment of people. I’m sure she will share a lot about her family with these new friends. About her loud Dad who graduated from Hopkins and loves history, music, lacrosse and the Yankees. She will undoubtedly share stories of her mother who insists on family dinners, needs constant help with wardrobe advice and spelling, and drinks a little more white wine than she should. And, I’m sure Anna’s new friends will hear a ton about her brother – the person who she adores more than anyone on the planet. They will hear what happened when Anna was only six-years-old and how it shaped so much of who she is now and what she longs to do with her life. Her new friends will see pictures of all of us and maybe even meet us over the next few years, but they will never know the whole story. They will never really know Jack the way that Anna’s childhood friends do.

I know that some of the relationships Anna has with her childhood crew will ebb and flow for a while. They are scattering all over the US for the next four years. It will be hard, but I really hope that they all make an effort to meet up again whenever they can. I’m lucky to still be close with a few of my childhood friends and it’s amazing how they know me on a level that newer friends just can’t reach. There’s something magical about childhood friends.

The graduation party was wonderful — good food, some white wine for me, and a lot of familiar faces. As I sat inside to escape the heat, I watched Jack through a large picture window. He was sitting next to Anna at a table full of some of his favorite girls. He had a grin from ear to ear. I know there will be more parties and tables full of these girls, but they will be a further apart now that many of the kids are heading off. I want to make sure that I savor them while I can and make sure JackO gets to enjoy as much girl time as possible before the summer comes to a close.

Love, Jess

Tupperware marked JACK ONLY;)

Mail isn’t what it used to be. Most days it’s just a pile of catalogs and junk. I sometimes go days without even glancing at my mailbox, but lately I’ve been checking it twice a day. I’ve felt like a kid at camp waiting for a care package.

Yesterday my care package arrived! It wasn’t a big box — just a slim envelop from the NJ Department of Health – our brand new NJ Medicinal Marijuana Program cards!!!

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Jack’s on plenty of medications – Hydrocortisone, Keppra, Fludrocortisone. He’s also had prescriptions for Ativan, Oxcycodone, and many others. Any time we need a refill, it’s easy. Drugs in this country are usually just a phone call and a quick trip to CVS away. Within an hour, we can have a pile of  medicine (many FAR more dangerous than marijuana) in our hands. Not so with the one medication that has truly transformed Jack’s life.

Not sure if you remember, but three years ago Jack started hopping (click here for that story). Sounds cute, right? It wasn’t. It was like he was stuttering as he walked. It made walking across a room tedious and a walk down the street nearly impossible. His PTs and OTs worked tirelessly. We all tried a variety of techniques and nothing seemed to work. Then I stumbled onto some research about how marijuana can help with spasticity (what we suspected was the underlying cause for Jack’s hopping). You can legally buy some marijuana/hemp products in most states (that are high in CBD – the non-intoxicating compound in marijuana and low in THC – the part of marijuana that makes you high), and I thought it was worth a shot. Before introducing anything to Jack’s medication list, I always check with his neurologist. I felt a little strange bringing up such an “alternative medication” for my 16-year-old. She quietly listened to me ramble on about my research, starting every sentence with, “Don’t judge and please don’t think I’m crazy.” She assured me that she wasn’t judging and brought in her colleague who was more knowledgeable about the benefits marijuana. Again, I told Jack’s story and filled him in on my research. He met Jack, looked over his chart and said, “Don’t buy anything online. I think Jack needs some THC and to be on Medicinal Marijuana. Let’s get him in the program.”

Seemed so easy — it wasn’t.

It took six months, piles of paperwork. loads of money and three doctors (including a psychiatrist for our non-verbal son) before getting our original cards. By the time we were able to go to the medicinal marijuana dispensary we were super excited to get started, but quickly learned our waiting wasn’t over. I needed to learn how to administer the herb to our boy. All they sell in NJ is the flower. The flower is the seed bearing part of the plant, including the buds that are smoked. Jack can’t smoke. I had to learn how to turn that flower into a butter and then into an edible (Jack’s favorite is a chocolate chip cookie). Even our wonderful doctor who had written the prescription, had little advice for us. It took some time and a few wasted batches, but we finally figured it out the right recipe.

It’s been a life changer. Jack’s walking better, sleeping better and all around more focused (odd because pot makes me anything but focused – not that I’ve ever experimented with marijuana. That would be illegal and immoral and just plan old bad). Two years in and we have our rhythm. Once every three weeks I infuse butter, bake, and fill the large Tupperware container in the fridge marked JACK ONLY — it is more work that it should be, but we’re all set.

Every 60 days we do need to get a new certification from our doctor. We’re grateful that our doctor doesn’t require a $200 visit every time. She seems to be one of the few people that understands that Jack is not going to grow out of his challenges (don’t worry — we do see her at least twice a year).

Everything has been going great until a few weeks ago when we received an email that we needed to re-register with the NJ Department of Health. More paperwork, more photos, more money and more proof that Jack still has spasticity.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

Governor Phil Murphy spent a whole lot of time running for office talking about his commitment to not just opening up NJ’s Medicinal Marijuana Program to include things like oils and edibles, but making marijuana completely legal in NJ. I do support the legalization of recreational marijuana and could go on and on about the benefits to the NJ economy and that marijuana is far safer than alcohol or nicotine or half the drugs we all have in our medicine cabinets, but I want to focus more on those individuals – like Jack –  who are provided more comfort, less pain and better quality of life because of their access to medicinal marijuana. All I really want to say is – MAKE IT EASIER FOR PATIENTS. PLEASE TELL ME THIS IS THE LAST TIME I NEED TO REAPPLY FOR THESE SILLY CARDS and if you can’t do that, at least HURRY UP WITH THE EDIBLES!

I am tired of infusing and baking and having my house smell like a fraternity. I’m also looking forward knowing exactly what dose I’m giving my son without needing to test it myself (which I would never do because THAT is illegal and immoral and plan old bad). I’m also tired of any paperwork that involves proving that Jack is sick enough/disabled enough to do anything/to take anything that will help him enjoy the best quality of life possible.

Our new cards expire July 2020. Fingers crossed that changes won’t take that long.

For more about our cannabis journey click here.

Love, Jess

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Day +4003 (not a great day)

Day +4004 . . .

4004 days since Jack’s transplant. Almost 11 years. Over half of Jack’s life.

Our family lives our lives marking everything with before or after ALD barged into our world. Don’t read that last sentence and feel sorry for us. Most days after ALD are just fine, and many days after have been wonderful.

We’ve created lives that work – thanks to smiles and our duct tape. We have our Anna’s sweet disposition and busy schedule keeping us on our toes and filling our dinner-time with stories. And, we have Jack’s mood that sets the tone for everything we do. Sometimes I feel like I float between two worlds. Attending an IEP meeting in the morning where we discuss things like “teeth brushing” and “using a fork” as long-term goals and then head off to watch Anna run down a lacrosse field effortlessly to score several goals. Most days I go back and forth seamlessly, enjoying each of my children and their lives.

Yesterday was NOT one of those days.

Yesterday started shitty. I won’t go into too much detail, but just imagine cleaning up a nineteen-year-old and his bed after what I’m assuming was a mexican lunch the day before. I was scrambling to get through that mess, when I noticed that dear Anna had managed to switch the laundry the night before WITHOUT switching anything that did not belong to her. This was followed by a lot of yelling up to her bedroom (those stairs are too steep for me), “This is not a hotel!! You need to do your part around here! You are NOT in college yet young lady!”.

I was already fuming as Jack and I then went through the rest of our morning routine as quickly as possible so that we could head off to the Social Security Administration. It seems that we had been “randomly been selected” to come in for a follow-up interview to determine if Jack still qualifies for Social Security. This was our fifth visit and third time being “randomly selected” in less than two years.

 

Flash forward five hours —— I was crying uncontrollably to the young woman across the plexi-glass, “How many times do I need to tell you guys that my son is disabled? We have countless letters from doctors and teachers. He is not going to get better! He will never have a job. Never! His disease has stolen any hope of a normal life where he can work and live independently and support himself.”

I wasn’t finished, “There might be people in that waiting-room over there that are trying to take advantage of the system. I assure you that Jack is NOT one of them! Wanna look up ALD on Google? Wanna spend a day with Jack and tell me that there’s a chance of him NOT qualifying for Social Security? Why are you wasting your time and tax dollars on cases like ours?” and “No – our address hasn’t changed. No – our phone number hasn’t changed. No – Jack does not have any new pay-stubs to share with you. Why the hell couldn’t we have answered these questions over the phone? WHAT the hell is wrong with you people?!?”

After my rant, she apologized, but all I could do was help Jack off his seat, grab the paperwork (where she’d added her direct number “just in case we get another letter”) and walked out the door without a word.

I drove home yelling at the world and then laughing with Jack who I could see in the rearview mirror making funny faces at me. The wait, the questions – none of that seemed to bother our boy, but his crazy mother he sure found hysterical.

I realized half way home that I’d forgotten that I was teaching an art class at 2:30. It was 2:00 and we hadn’t eaten since breakfast (Social Secuirty rules include: no eating, no drinking, no phone calls, and go to the bathroom at your own risk – you miss your number? too bad). I called my boss and explained that I would be late and I would be bringing a special guest to my class.

I usually love the opportunity to introduce Jack to children, but I was running so late that I was too worried about finishing our project to do much of an introduction. My kindergardeners kept looking up from their Blue Dog inspired paintings to check out Jack and ask things like, “If he can’t speak how do you know what he wants for dinner?” and “What’s with those funny leg things he’s wearing?” and “Why is he trying to eat the craypas?”

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I did my best to answer their questions with a lite, age appropriate spin, but at one point I got so distracted that I rammed my toe against a table. It was like The Powers that Be were having a lot of fun torturing me. I’ve never been happier to see parents arrive for pick-up.

Our last event of the day was Anna’s lacrosse game. Swinging back to a fun event seemed like a great idea, but after ten minutes of watching the Cougars, a storm rolled in and we needed to run (Jack hopped) to the car to drive home in the wicked weather. Jack and I walked into the house drenched.

I went through the motions of dinner, bath, bed, just wanting the day to be over. I was starting to breathe again, even laughing with Dan and Anna about the events of the day, but the crappy day was not quite over.

As I got into bed, I felt a sharp pain. My toenail had fallen off.

Love, Jess

Today is a much better day. No sad looks if you see me at the grocery store. I promise I am back to being cheery mom/wife/friend/teacher/writer. Day 4003 stunk, but most days after ALD are just fine. 4004 days and counting!!

 

 

eleven years of sharing

This month marks eleven years of our family’s ALD story. I’m proud of the way that I’ve been able to share our story honestly and clearly for so long, but sometimes I do wonder how long I can keep it up. Sharing can be exhausting and sharing with a smile on your face can really wipe you out. Lately, I’ve been weighing the pros and cons of (over)sharing. This is what I’ve come up with.

I spoke at Seton Hall University last week. It’s the second time my friend Alison has invited me to speak to her class about “exceptional children” (children who differ from the norm, either above or below). I guess I am a bit of an expert. After all, I have two exceptional children – one on each side of the norm.

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my exceptional children

I was defiantly nervous going into it – everything seems to have me nervous lately. When I arrived at Seton Hall, I needed to sit in the parking lot for a few minutes to regain my composure (there was a whole lot of breathing and imagining being “behind the waterfall” and trying to remember what the acronym RAIN stands for and defusing essential oils into my face). It took several minutes, but I finally made myself get out of the car and once I got up in front of the students the nerves faded quickly. The kids were all ears as they listened to Jack and Anna’s stories, and thanks to the slideshow I created, most eyes were on the photos of my beautiful kiddies and not on my shaking hands.

Then, the following day, I was interviewed by a speech therapy student about Jack and his experiences in school and with therapies. A one-on-one discussion is very different from standing up in front of an audience with a speech prepared. I managed to get through the long list of questions, but there were a few long pauses as I was forced to swallow hard and hold back the tears. I’m okay with the stuff that I’ve shared often – like I have the script so memorized that the words are just words. It’s those questions that come out of left-field that can make me need to catch my breath as I find the right words without losing it.

I’ve considered that all this sharing might be adding to my feeling a little “less fierce” lately, and perhaps walking away from my (over)sharing might be a good idea. After some soul searching, I’ve decided I’m not going to. Although it’s often now accompanied with a little stress, overall I think sharing makes me stronger. I’m taking some control and (I hope) I’m doing something important. It’s helpful for other “special” families to hear what our family has gone through and that we’ve survived – even happy. And it’s important for people to understand what our lives look like. Many of the students I spoke with last week have their sites set on working with special children as teachers or occupational therapists or speech therapists. I’m in awe of this new generation, particularly those who are determined to better the world. They are strong and smart, but they can’t learn everything from books. They need to meet people who are living with disabilities. They need to meet people who work with people with disabilities. And, it can’t hurt to meet a mom of a magical son with disabilities.

I hope they walked away thinking — That could have been me. That could have been my family.

My goal isn’t to scare people, but people need to understand that you never really know how your story is going to play out. You can prepare and be careful. You can eat all your vegetables and exercise five days a week. You can make straight As and go to church every Sunday, but that doesn’t guarantee that life wont throw you a curveball (or many). It’s what you do when those curveballs hit that defines who you are.

Jack is just one example of an “exceptional” child who has taken his curveballs and knocked them on their ass. His story is a good lesson. Jack’s a good lesson with a killer smile. I am honored to be his voice and I will keep it up. It’s Important.

Love, Jess

PS The one-on-one interview was made more comfortable thanks to my warm hosts and enjoying a delicious meal at La Pergola in Millburn, NJ. If you haven’t been – go and tell them JackO sent you;)

 

 

 

 

 

the bearded boy . . . man

 

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Jack’s been trying out a new look lately. It was Anna’s idea and, as Jack’s personal shaver, we let her run with it. Jack’s now sporting a goatee. He looks like a man — I no longer have a child-child with special needs, I have an adult-child with special needs.

It’s different and it’s scaring me.

I remember sitting on the beach on Block Island several years ago when I saw a couple walking down the beach hand-in-hand. My first thought was that I was proud of living in a country that people didn’t need to hid their love. These men looked so happy as they were enjoying the sunshine and each other. Then, as they got closer, I noticed that one of the men was clearly helping the other manage the sand and the water. They weren’t lovers, they were friends or brothers and one had special needs.

Before that day, I hadn’t spent much time thinking about what life would be like once Jack was an adult. We’d done all the responsible things to prepare (wills and trusts and guardianship plans), but I hadn’t really thought about what day-to-day life would look like once Jack’s childhood was over. Suddenly I was filled with questions. How/where do you change a diaper inconspicuously? What kinds of programs are available for adults with special needs? What will JackO do without his beloved Banana’s hugs every morning? Will we need to move? Will we need live-in help to help bathe/dress/care for our son?

Like most thoughts that make me uncomfortable, I stored them away in the back of my mind. They’ve been living quietly there, but now when I look at Jack and his hipster beard, the thoughts and questions are flooding to the surface.

The problem is that I don’t know what to expect with this new chapter. I’ve worked really hard for us to be “a normal family with a special child” (I know “normal” isn’t the right word – What is normal? Perhaps a better word would be typical or standard.  I hope you understand what I’m saying). It’s taken ten years, but our family has finally reached a place where our lives (mostly) parallel the lives of our friends and neighbors. Sure, we can’t do everything that we could do before ALD, but with a few adaptations we’ve managed pretty well to keep things in line with our pre-ALD existence. We’ve learned to focus on what Jack CAN do, not his challenges. We’ve found schools and programs that have supported our goals and Jack gets to go to school each day with kids that we’ve come to know and a staff that’s devoted to these special teens. Our family has worked out ways to continue to do things we love. We spend time with family, go on long walks, visit with friends, travel.

We’ve also had Anna and all of her “normal” activities to keep us safely anchored in the normal/typical/standard world. Our lives work. We are happy, well adjusted, very few complaints.

Now Jack and his beard are a constant reminder that change is on the horizon. Our next IEP is focusing on preparing for his transition as he ages out of high school (there is some time, but we need to start the process) and Anna and all her “normal everyday stuff” is leaving for Baltimore before long. I’m not clear as to what our days will look like once these changes happen.

CHANGE is a four letter word.

I’m trying everything — books, breathing, essential oils, therapy. I need to figure out the optimal strategies for making this transition bearable — even positive. I’m making some strides, but I think what I really need to do is to remember that couple on the beach on Block Island. Neither seemed to be focused on anything but each other, the sand and the sunshine. They were acting the way that we do TODAY when we walk through life with our boy . . . our MAN.

We will get there. That’s what we do.

Love, Jess

 

 

 

a ski weekend, the Jack Pack, and next year

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Just getting back from a ski weekend in Vermont with friends. Over the years we’ve done a lot of these weekends. We rent a house with a few families. Most everyone skis, but there are always a couple of people who linger with me and Jack. Our days are filled with quieter activities, but we always manage to have fun.

Each morning the house scrambles to life as the kids all frantically run around searching for their gear while the parents try to get some breakfast into everyone and make the lunches for the mountain. Depending on how late the previous night’s festivities went, the skiing crew heads out the door between 9:00 am and 10:00 am — then the house falls silent. That’s when the non-skiing crew makes a plan.

This trip included an awesome hike, a three hour/10,000 calorie lunch, an adventure to visit my oldest friend and her daughter AND a whole lot of girl talk – the rest of non-skiiers were ladies (sorry Jack). Jack is accustom to hanging with the ladies, and knows more than his share about the local gossip and just how many Weight Watchers points are in a margarita, but he always knows that by the end of the day he will be reunited with his peers. They will all walk in the door and, without missing a beat, find JackO to greet him and fill him with stories from their day’s escapades. Anna is always the leader of the Jack Pack – the best sister on the planet.

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But what about next year?

THAT’S the question that seems to fill my mind constantly these days. We just had an amazing weekend in a beautiful log cabin in Vermont — enjoying friends and the landscape and late nights singing along with music from our high school years (sorry I am not allowed to post any activities that took place after 9:00 pm). A perfect weekend and my biggest take-away is — What about next year?!?

Anna will be starting her second semester of college by February next year. Will Dan, Jack and I still head up to a mountain for a long winter weekend? What will it be like to travel with Jack as the only Torrey kid? Is it worth trying to continue these annual traditions or is it better to start new ones?

I know what you’re thinking — Anna isn’t moving away permanently. She’s going to college. College kids are home as much as they are gone AND she is only going to be 180.6 miles away. There will be many more family trips.

BUT, it is going to be different once she heads off to Baltimore. Her priorities will be — should be — on her life, on her future. It will be the beginning of her life as an adult and the beginning of our nest changing – again. The house is going to be so quiet when she isn’t around. Who is going to remind us what Jack should be wearing and listening too? Who is going to protect Jack from the endless hours in front of Bravo (with me) and PBS (with Dan)?

We will figure it out. Anna will only be a phone call away with her fashion advice and Dan and I will learn to control our TV habits (we know how to find TruTV). And, as far as the ski trip goes — we can go earlier in the winter if a ski trip is a “must do” Torrey activity. We can also forgo skiing altogether and go down to Baltimore and eat some crabs with Anna.

THIS is the real issue. THIS seems to be my go-to solution to all “my nest is changing” worries. Sorry Anna.

Love, Mom