ALD Family Weekend 2020

IMG_0973.jpeg

It took our family a while to feel like part of the ALD community. Part of it was that the ALD community was hard to find in 2007 — Facebook was just for the cool college kids back then and, although the internet was already full of information, it was tough to sort through and finding communities  like ours was a challenge. To be honest, we were also completely overwhelmed with what we were going through.

Early on, I did find a few other parents whose sons were struggling through transplant. It was difficult because this disease (especially with a late diagnosis)  didn’t lead to many happy stories. So I hid for a long timed. Just focused on Jack and his ALD journey (oh, and raising Anna and walking our dogs and keeping house and teaching art and writing). I didn’t really become super active with the ALD community until Smiles and Duct Tape was published and Kathleen O’Sullivan-Fortin (one of my ALD heroes and board member of ALD Connect) reached out and encouraged me to be more active. Thank you Kathleen;)

I’m so impressed by the ALD newborn screening parents. Many of them have jumped right in. Speaking at conferences, talking to legislators, and bringing the ALD community even closer together. I’m inspired by them and very optimistic that their families are the beginning of the next chapter of this disease. A great chapter.

Alison and Nic Adler’s son, Lucas, was diagnosed through newborn screening in California and they wasted no time. No only is their beautiful boy is being monitored by top doctors, but they are working tirelessly to spread the word and bring our community even closer together. They have organized an ALD Family Weekend at the Painted Turtle Camp in Lake Huges, CA May 1-3.

Make sure to check out the video on the link below:

www.aldfamilyweekend.com

Our family is looking forward to this wonderful event. ALD folks – sign up today!!!!

Love, Jess

PS Our first ALD friends, the Cousineaus, are also working to make this happen. We can’t wait to see them again in person!

Invisible-At-First-Glance Disabilities

images-3

The last post got a lot of attention. Many seemed ready to go find minivan lady and make her pay for her comment. Others commiserated on having to fight for recognition for their own invisible (or invisible-at-first-glance) disabilities.  

I was disappointment that Peter was forced to spend time explaining his and Jack’s disabilities to a stranger. The last thing a person with a disability should be forced to do is educate, but unfortunately it often comes with the territory.

Especially when their disabilities are invisible-at-first-glance.

When out and about with Jack I often watch people as they try to figure things out. As if I can see the thought bubble on top of their head, “Why is that mom holding her son’s hand/feeing him/taking him into the bathroom?” “Why is he rocking back and forth?” “Is he licking the wall?”

Sometimes people will stop me and whisper, “My grandson/nephew/daughter/neighbor is autistic”. If I have the energy, I try to explain that although Jack shares some similar behaviors, he in fact has Adrenoleuokodystrophy. “The Lorenzo’s Oil disease – did you see that movie back in the 80s?” If I am tired, I just smile and nod my head knowingly. People seem to love having the connection and who really cares if people think my son is autistic vs effected by ALD.

There have been times that Jack’s invisible-at-first-glance disabilities have lead to awkward moments — like the time we got reprimanded by a woman at a Broadway theater. Jack had been annoying her by grabbing the seat in front of him – her seat. She had asked him several times to please stop. I tried to hold his hands, but Jack is strong and managed to break free for one last grab. She turned to me and loudly whispered, “PLEASE control your son!”

I felt terrible, understanding that it was her night out too and nobody needs to have a stranger touching their chair. At the intermission, I approached her, apologized and explained that my son had challenges and sometimes wasn’t able to control his behavior.

Her eyes widened and then filled with tears as she apologized again and again. That made me cry. There we were, two women in tears, waiting for the intermission to be over so that we could get back to our seats and pretend the whole thing never happened. Jack must have sensed the tense mood in the air and never touched her seat during the second act.

Jack has his share of disabilities and medical complaints, but at first glance, it can be hard to know that he needs a handicap placard. And, Peter has worked tirelessly to overcome and work around his challenges. I guess I can’t fault minivan lady for looking over and seeing two dashing young men get out of their car and think that maybe they hadn’t earned that spot.

All is forgiven, but I do hope that she learned that disabilities aren’t always clearly visible and perhaps she should save her scolding for people who don’t stop for pedestrians or text while driving or turn left into the parking spaces on Maplewood Avenue.

Love, Jess

What is a REAL Disability?

IMG_0895

Jack is blessed with many friends, but he has one bestie. A guy that shows up to our house and Jack doesn’t hesitate to get up and race to greet him at the front door. Even, like today, when Jack had been sitting on the toilet. I apologize to any neighbors who happened to be looking in our windows at the time. Jack can’t help himself when Peter arrives.

But that is not today’s story.

Today’s story is about what happened when Peter and Jack left Speir Drive to head to their favorite spot — The Able Baker. Maplewood Village being a weekend destination for many local folks, the boys needed to do a few loops before finding a free parking spot. It was a handicap space nice and close to their favorite bakery. It’s not just Jack who qualifies for the “luxury” of convenient parking. Peter – Jack’s buddy and Community-Based Instructor/Mentor – also has some challenges. Peter got out of the car and then helped Jack out of the passenger-side, when a women in a minivan stopped her car and loudly ask if they would please, “empty the spot for someone with a real disability. Someone with a wheelchair or walker.”

I don’t know what exact words were exchanged, but Peter was forced to explain that he and Jack were REALLY disabled. That they both qualified to fill the spot and for safety reasons they needed to be close to their destination. I’m sure that Peter said it in a way that was polite and clear. THAT’S who Peter is.

I might not have been polite, but I would have been clear. Judging peoples limitations from the front seat of a minivan is ridiculous and ranking disabilities is crazy. I’m the first person to shame people for needlessly using parking reserved for people with disabilities, but if someone has the placard who am I to need to know WHY they have it. Maybe their disability requires them to use a wheelchair or a walker. Perhaps it’s a heart issue or a back problem OR maybe it’s that maneuvering their companion through a crowded parking lot is dangerous.

So, if you were in Maplewood today and happened to see two handsome young men, enjoying some large cupcakes before getting into a car that was parked in a handicap spot – don’t worry. They earned the spot.

Love, Jess

hApPy NeW dEcAdE!!!!

images

We are prepping for a new year full of celebrations and new beginnings — a new nephew arriving, Jack’s graduation, finding and sending Jack to the best adult program on the planet (we’re getting closer) and Anna surpassing her Chilean-born mother in her ability to speak Spanish (Anna left for Salamanca on Saturday).

We’re also prepping for a new decade full of celebrations and new beginnings. There will be many. I’m sure there will be many, but I know how life works. You can’t plan life too far in advance. It’s a waste of time that just leads to the universe laughing at you. So, I will leave it at . . . 

The 20s are going to be wonderful — LET’S CELEBRATE!!!!

Wishing everyone a very happy, hApPy holiday from our home to yours. May 2020/the entire decade be filled with joy, love and peace. And, laughter . . . lots of laughter!!

Love, Jess

IMG_0877

50

 

images-12

Next month I’m turning 50. I’ve always loved my birthday. For me birthdays are a reminder to reflect on the previous year, an excuse to celebrate the future and … I love presents (honestly, I LOVE PRESENTS). I didn’t just revel in celebrating 10 and 17 and 21, I embraced 25 and 30 and 40, but this birthday feels a little different. It’s 50. 50 sounds so grown-up. 

Shouldn’t I be more responsible? Shouldn’t I know more? Shouldn’t I be able to complete at least the Monday New York Times crossword puzzle? Shouldn’t I have learned to switch to water after the second glass of wine?

Like many of my friends reaching this milestone, I’m finding myself thinking about what I’ve accomplished in the last 5 decades and what I see shaping up for the next half of my life (I could make it to 100).

Overall, I’m fairly pleased with my accomplishments thus far. No fortunes made or much notoriety, but I have plenty that I’m proud of. I survived school (which was tough for me) receiving a bachelor’s and even a master’s degree. I married the love of my life, and with him survived more ups and downs than most couples. I’ve had careers as a photographer, a teacher, a writer and even gotten away with being a nurse when needed. I’ve had three books published (you thought Smiles and Duct Tape was the only one? There’s also Squeeze and Jack and the Pumpkin). I’ve managed to always surround myself with incredible people, who seem to enjoy my company and hold me up when I’m falling. And, I’ve raised two remarkable children – by far, my proudest accomplishment.

Of corse there are things that I regret. I wish that I had learned more languages (at least not lost my first language – Spanish). I wish I had traveled more and not given up on my photography. I wish I invested in Amazon and Apple early on. I wish I had always treated people the way I wanted to be treated. I wish I had learned to always think before I spoke. I wish I had taken more videos of the kids growing up. I wish I had learned how to play the guitar, knit, and sail. . I wish I had pushed for an MRI for Jack, just a few months earlier . . . 

There are things I would change if I could, but for the things I’ve had power over – I’m (mostly) proud. It’s the next half of my life that has me stumped. Dan and I will not have the empty nest that many of our peers are experiencing, but things are quieting down a bit. I’ve been thinking of going back to school to start another career, but am wondering if 50 is too old to start something fresh. I’ve been working further on a few book ideas that have been torturing me from my sleep. I’ve even been thinking about starting a program for adults with special needs – if we can’t find it, we may NEED to build it. All sound ideas, but I’m waiting for that kick in the ass that has always found me when I’ve needed it.

Until then, I am going to busy myself by searching the internet for “good careers for people of a certain age” and “appropriate haircuts for 50-year-old women”. I will also continue to work on finding the perfect adult placement for our boy and maybe sign up for some guitar lessons.

Love, Jess

I will also work on remembering to switch to water after the second glass of wine. No promises.

 

Just another day at HHS!

Since I’ve shared that we’re in the process of searching for the perfect adult program for Jack, people keep asking, “What’s the perfect adult program look like?”

I start by describing a safe, warm, friendly environment. I mention the need for art and music and dance. I describe that we prefer it to be filled with Jack’s peers – ideally peers that he’s known for years. I add that it needs to be lively and fun, while also being therapeutic.

I try to find all the right words, but today Jack came home with video of him working with his therapists at school. Who needs words??? Just another day at CPNJ Horizon High School. As I watched the video, I kept thinking that all me need to do is recreate Jack’s high school.

THIS is what the perfect adult program looks like!! People say it’s impossible, but we’re not gonna quit until we find it!

Love, Jess

 

OURMatch.com

images-3

I’ve been hanging out with an old friend who is returning to the dating scene. It’s a whole different world since Dan and I went off the market. Now there are pictures and profiles and lots of time on the computer. You need to really think about how you present yourself and what you share. All while being super cautious when pouring through prospective daters profiles – things aren’t always exactly as they appear. I’ve had friends share hysterical stories about first dates that quickly revealed ridiculous exaggerations about everything from jobs to height to age to mental stability.  Times are certainly different in the world of dating, but the basics still remain — before you start looking for a partner, you should know what you are looking for AND there always needs to be some chemistry;)

We are knee deep in our “find the perfect adult program for Jack” project. As Jack and I were on our way to our latest tour, I was talking to him about what I’d read online about the program and how bright and clean the facility looked in the photos, “But who knows JackO. We won’t really know until we get there”. As I was chatting with my boy, it occurred to me that the process is similar to modern dating – we’re looking for the perfect match and starting the search online. 

Like dating, our first step has been to figure out what we’re looking for. What do you look for in a partner?

Jack and I have always been drawn to a similar type of person. Cute, smart and funny. Pluses include a love for music and adventure. Negatives include people who don’t appreciate good food, strong hugs, and a good lick once in a while AND liberal political beliefs (okay – that last one might just be me). When we sat down to think about what we’re looking for in a perfect adult program, I kept thinking about this list.

Cute translates to a clean and comfortable facility. Smart means that the program balances time in the facility with programs out in the community, Smart also includes incorporating creative activities with life skills and providing 1 to 1 support as needed. And, funny – the most important – is that the program has the energy that Jack has become accustomed to. We love Horizon High School so much, but it has set us up for a tough comparison.

IMG_6744

We really enjoyed the adult program we saw last week, but we didn’t have much in common and no sparks flew. So, we’re going to keep on looking for our next one and only. We’ve even been tossing out ideas for a new program to be established. It’s not going to be easy, but I keep reminding myself that, although we may need to kiss a lot of frogs along the way, we WILL fine our perfect match.

Love, Jess

Trying to Make Sense

IMG_6601

 

Last month, I went to a wake where the room was filled with laughter and stories. It was a celebration for a great man who enjoyed 101 years of living (or a solid 97 – life got a little uncomfortable after that point). Our family was honored to have known this man well. He lived with his granddaughter and her family who are dear friends of ours. His death left us all feeling sad, but it made sense. It was time. The cycle of life.

Yesterday I attended another wake. One of Jack’s classmates passed away last week. A young man who’s life was filled with challenges, but every time I saw him he wore a bright smile. I hadn’t known this young man well, but he and Jack shared a classroom for the last couple of years and his passing left me lost — not knowing what to do other than to go to the wake and pay my respects to his family. I decided not to bring Jack. Jack knows what happened, but I couldn’t bare having him focus on the loss (there needs to be some advantages to having a challenging life). I made the drive to the wake trying not to think too much about where I was going and was at the wake for less then ten minutes — just enough time to pay my respects and run out of the building before my tears started flowing.

I sat in the car trying to catch my breath and make sense of it all. How can nature can be so cruel and why is life – especially for some – so fragile?

My heart aches for this child and for his family. My heart aches for everyone who knew and loved this child. My heart aches for our entire CPNJ family. My heart aches knowing it could be us.

I’ve been thinking about it all day and the one thing that’s making me feel a little better is thinking about all the people who filled that room yesterday. It was not the celebration that happens following a long life, but this young man clearly touched many lives in his short life. There were a lot of tears in that room, but there was also a lot of love. 

I still can’t really make sense of this untimely loss, but I’m trying. The reminder of just how fragile life can be could have me in a puddle, but instead I’m trying to think of it as a gift. A reminder not to waste time and to enjoy every second with people that I love.

Love, Jess

hApPy BiRtDaY bAnAnZ!

IMG_2707

Special siblings are a remarkable lot. Many people assume that these children grow up with something missing. Lack of attention and fear course through their veins, leaving them lost or even resentful and angry. I understand why people might make that assumption, but I’ve found that it couldn’t be further from the truth. The special siblings I’ve come to know are incredible people. Thoughtful, independent, hardworking, understanding, patient, and compassionate – just like Anna.

I did worry about Anna when Jack got sick. She was only six-years-old when our family’s attention was suddenly completely focused on Jack and his survival. We only had a few weeks to prepare for transplant following the diagnosis, and then Dan and I weren’t just not emotionally present for Anna, we were rarely physically there either.

Even after Jack got home from the hospital, the entire dynamic of our family had changed. We had been a family who was very focused on evenly dividing our attention, love and patience to our two kids — we never wanted to be accused of having favorites. After ALD screamed into our lives, the disease crumbled our “even-steven” approach to parenting.

We have always done our best to be there for Anna. We cheered loudly at lacrosse games (Dan was lovingly called “Loud Dan” for years), we tried never to miss parent conferences and would sit with her for hours over the dinner table discussing the trials and tribulations of childhood. She’s always known we adore her BUT she’s also always known we were just one diaper change or stomach flu away from dropping everything.

Jack’s illness/challenges trump everything (too bad that expression is so complicated now). If Jack needs to be medicated or changed, we need to take care of it and if he starts throwing up or looks like something is brewing, we don’t have the luxury of waiting. No matter if Anna needed help with her homework or we are knee deep in a project – ALD could interrupt our plans without any warning. We’ve all become accustomed to the interruptions  — especially Anna. It’s part of being a special sibling.

Anna learned early that if she needed to get something done, she needed to know how to do it herself – just in case. Don’t tell the MAPSO schools, but I didn’t sign any school paperwork once Anna hit middle school. Permission slips, notes from teachers – even those nightmare “Information Packets”. Anna took care of them herself. It was safer than putting it on my pile. It might have gotten lost in the medical bills/social security/gaurdianship paperwork. 

This early independence translated to a teenager who handled her college applications with minimal help and now that she’s in college, she doesn’t ask us for much help, other than making sure the bills are paid on time. Not that she doesn’t turn to us for guidance, but she knows how to handle things on her own. It’s how she has survived the ALD part of our family. It’s part of being a special sibling.

Independence has not been the only gift from being a special sibling.

I was getting my boobs squished yesterday (by a professional boob squisher — a mammogram) and I was trying to distract myself by making conversation. I asked if they had any fun plans for the weekend as they tightened the panel, “just one more little bit”. When she asked what my weekend plans were I mentioned that my daughter was coming back from college and we were celebrating her birthday. This, of corse led to where she was in school and what she was studying.

“Pre-Med at Hopkins? Are either you or your husband in medicine?”

I simply answered that her older brother is.

Anna was born strong and determined and Dan and I can take a little credit for who she has become, but Jack has been the biggest influence in her life. It was Jack who inspired Anna to study medicine. It was learning at only six-years-old that nature can be cruel. It was knowing that science saved her brother’s life. It was knowing that there is still so much unknown and she wants to be part of unraveling the mysteries of the human body.

Dan and I try to remind Anna that she’s only 19, and that there’s no need to know what she wants to do with her life, “I’m almost 50 and still trying to figure it out.” Anna’s a talented artist and I encourage her to continue making art. Dan and I both want her to study languages and travel and get the broadest education she possibly can. As much as we put in our two cents, but we know our sweet daughter and when she gets an idea, she can’t turn back. She sets a goal and she exceeds it. It’s who she is. BUT BANANZ IF YOU ARE READING THIS, PLEASE KNOW THAT YOU CAN MAKE CHANGES TO THE PLAN. ANY TIME.

Anna is driving up the NJ Turnpike from Baltimore as I am writing this. I can’t wait to get my hands on her and wish her a happy birthday in person. I can’t wait to watch as Jack jumps out of his chair to throw his arms around her until she screams for mercy. I also can’t wait to see where her life takes her. I wish Special Sibling didn’t need to be one of Anna’s titles, but it is and I appreciate some of the things that it’s taught her. With the combination of Jack’s inspiration to go into medicine and what Anna has learned as a result of being a special sibling, I have no doubt that she will do amazing things.

Happy Birthday Anna Banana – our very favorite special sibling.

Love, MoMo

Roll the Footage!

“Good morning”, Jack said with a big smile on his face as I walked into his room at 7:00 am. If you don’t know Jack, you might not have heard the words, but Jack speaks pretty loudly if you know … Continue reading