the last FIRST day

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Not a traditional FIRST DAY photo, but it’s pure Jack

Today was Jack’s last FIRST DAY of school. In June he’ll be graduating CPNJ Horizon High School and starting life as an adult. An adult who is funny and sweet and handsome AND and adult with special needs. Twelve years in, and we’re finally comfortable with having a child with special needs, but still — we’re bracing ourselves as we approach this new chapter.

I know we will figure this out – that’s what we do – but as Jack got on the bus this morning, I couldn’t help but get struck with that feeling that we’re just ten months away from a new unknown. Trying to distract myself from the panic, I sat on the black iron bench that was once my grandmothers and looked at the last FIRST DAY photos of JackO. What a life this kid has led.

Not able to shake the feeling all day, I dug through our not-yet-unpacked boxes in the basement for hours until I found it. Jack’s first FIRST DAY picture — Morrow Memorial Preschool. Dan had arrived at the church’s Baker Street entrance at midnight on a cold, early spring night, wanting to be sure that Jack’s name would be at the top of the list (in fact, he was the 7th or 8th, but he made it in). It was the school that all our neighbors had promised was the best and we knew our boy deserved the best. When we walked Jack into the doors of the preschool the first day of class*, Jack was a little nervous, but he was so proud. 

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I know today as Jack walked through the doors of his beloved high school he wasn’t nervous one bit. Jack rules that school — his magical smile making up for his lack of words. I’m so proud of our boy, who’s life has changed in more ways that we could have ever imagined 18 years ago. I just want all of his first days to be wonderful.

We have ten months to figure out the best plan for our boy. We will make it happen — even if it means we need to camp out for a week to make sure his is top of the list.

Love, Jack’s mom

* Jack’s first day of school was September 11th and we will always be grateful that Dan took the later train into work that day. ALD aside, we are a very lucky family.

smack in the middle

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I live smack in the middle of two worlds. I know I’m not alone in this. Many special needs parents also have one foot in “typical”. We need to maneuver back and forth all day long. We usually manage to make it look seamless, but trust me – it can be exhausting. And, for our family it’s even more complicated.

Jack didn’t get sick until he was eight years old. Until then, he was reaching all his milestones and moving along like most of his peers. We experienced only “typical” for years before being introduced to “special”. Not sure if that fact makes our situation more difficult, but it certainly sets us apart from many in the special needs population. Sometimes I’m not sure we belong in either group.

Most of our community is part of the “typical” world. Jack was our first child and he was born healthy and strong. As he started school, we developed friendships with his classmates families – many are still our closest friends. We were knee deep in “typical” when ALD busted into our lives. We’re lucky that our friends have stuck by us through our journey. They’ve helped us every step of the way, but few of them can really appreciate what our lives look like day to day. Even those who spend a lot of time with us are rarely in the bathroom trenches, changing Jack’s g-tube or scheduling the countless doctors appointments.

We have made a few connections with other special needs families, but I sometimes feel like an impostor with that crew. They have lived this life longer and seem to have mastered the rules, the language, the ins and outs of all things “special”. They’re a welcoming group, but I’m still insecure with my role as special needs mom. I just float along, trying to do what’s best for my family, while keeping my eyes and ears open so that I don’t miss too many of the requirements of taking care of my special child.

Even though I often feel a little out of place in both worlds, most days I think I do a fairly good job. I can go to a varsity lacrosse game to watch one of my children race down the field and leave at half-time to give my other child hydration through the tube in his stomach. I can open a class schedule full of advanced courses from one school and then sit down to fill out a “seizure action plan” for another school. I can get home from a neighborhood party and, after drinking too much Sauvignon Blanc, text my daughter to remind her of her curfew and then change my son’s soiled diaper. This back and forth has become second nature. Only occasionally does living in the middle of two worlds become tiring. Maybe it’s lack of sleep or maybe I’m still mourning the end of vacation, but today has been one of those days.

This morning I woke to the sound of my alarm for the first time since June. I was so confused by the chime that I managed to incorporate it into my dream. Finally our rotten dog, Finn, got sick of the noise and woke me with a lick (sometimes that dog is so sweet). 6:30 and I are not great friends, but I was excited enough about Anna’s first day of school that I slid out of the cozy sheets and called up to Anna’s third floor teenage palace.

First day Banana! I’ll meet you downstairs. Eggs! You need eggs for your first day.”

“Nope. All I want is a bowl of cereal. Too early for a big breakfast. And, I’m ready. I can do it myself.”

Then, she started walking down the narrow stairs. She had a bright “first day of school” smile and the shortest shorts you’ve ever seen.

For the next few minutes I had an internal conversation with myself. Measuring the benefits of allowing her to go to school with a smile, barley dressed or having a fight. She had such a great summer. She ran a lacrosse camp, conquered Outward Bound, and did more summer work that I think was fair or necessary. We’ve gotten along so well. I started to lean towards letting her leave the house without comment, but then I watched as she reached for a cereal bowl. Her tiny shirt started to rise up and I couldn’t help myself.

“Anna, you need to change.”

That’s when the screaming began. My camera was charged on the kitchen island, ready for that first morning picture. Instead of a sweet photograph, I said goodbye to my daughter and got nothing but a roll of the eyes and a slam of the door. She was wearing black, short cut-offs and a tight white shirt – that was after changing. Parenting Part One “typical” was complete.

I took a deep breath, turned around and walked up the stairs to check on Jack. I poked my head into his room, hoping he was asleep so that I could enjoy an hour or two for myself. I was greeted with a sweet smile and a sour smell. Time for Parenting Part Two “special”. I carefully helped Jack to his feet and walked him to the bathroom. I stripped him down in the shower, trying to avoid Finn disappearing with any of soiled clothing. Once Jack was showered, brushed, and dressed, I started the laundry and brought him downstairs for breakfast and medication.  At least Jack went through the motions with me, never losing his smile – and his silence was almost welcomed after the screams from his sister. Still, it’s been one of those days that my two worlds are not cooperating. I got shat on twice today before I’d even had my first cup of coffee.

Love, Jess

I did receive a text this morning from my princess, “I’m in study hall and bored. Text with me.” I’m pretty sure that’s an apology.

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