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 19th!

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I’m happy to report that we did not take any bit of HaPpY out of Happy Birthday (if you don’t know what I am talking about, click here)! JackO enjoyed every minute of his 19th Birthday and looks forward to celebrating all month long. Thank you for all your birthday notes – keep them coming!!

 

 

Love, Jess

PS HaPpY Birthday PopPop!!! We will celebrate soon Block Island style;)

 

I refuse to steal the HAPPY out of HAPPY BIRTHDAY

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I don’t remember all of my birthdays, but 19 was especially memorable. My friend, Dave, took me out for dinner. It was our favorite Chinese restaurant and I’m sure there was a Scorpion Bowl or Mai Tais or something else really sweet and really strong. We stuffed ourselves with beef and broccoli, and then Dave insisted on ordering dessert. Who does that at a Chinese restaurant? Fried ice cream or something odd and I could hardly fit in a bite. Besides, I was anxious to get back to the apartment. It was my birthday and I wanted to grab our friends and go out.

I felt like Dave was going in slow motion as we made our way back to the Woodrow (think rundown/gritty/college three-story apartment building in Baltimore). I was so focused on how lame he was being that I didn’t considered WHY he was moving so slowly until we walked through the door.

“Surprise!!!!”

I’ve never been so shocked. Somehow, without me having even a clue, my mother had contacted my best friend, Enger, and sent her some cash to plan something nice for my birthday (remember this was years before cell phones). I’m guessing that my mother had envisioned sparkling wine and canapés, but instead there were pizza boxes and a keg of beer. It was one of the funnest nights of my life. Rowdy, loud, and silly. 19.

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JackO is turning 19 on Saturday.

Each milestone that we reach comes with a little reminder of what coulda/shoulda been and I hate that. I hate that there is any hesitation on focusing on the happy part of happy birthday. I hate that I spend even a second wondering if I would have sent money to Jack’s college friends to buy some booze and party favors (probably not – 2017 is not 1988 – I’d probably end up in jail for contributing to the delinquency of minors). I hate that I wonder where Jack would have gone off to college. I hate that I use any ounce of energy cursing ALD — AGAIN.

But I do. I can’t help it.

When I started writing this, it was for me to post on Jack’s birthday, but I’m not going to wait until Saturday. It’s not fair to Jack. It’s not fair to his birthday. His birthday is for celebrating. He deserves it. He is the happiest person I know and NOONE likes a celebration more than our boy;)

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So — enough of the coulda/shoulda. We are going to celebrate all weekend. Heading to the beach with some of our closest friends. We’re going to eat pizza and cake and maybe even find ourselves a Mai Tai!!!!! Then, on Monday we will celebrate again with his pals at school. And, when we head to Block Island later in the month — we will have more cake and do more singing.

I will send some photos of all the fun on his actual birthday. In the meantime – send Jack a note. On Facebook or right here. Scroll down. See “Leave a reply”? Go for it!

Love, JackO’s mom

PS Once I have written down my feelings, I feel much better. No need for weepy phone calls or awkward hugs if you see me. I promise I’m now focusing on WackO JackO and his big, fun day/week/month.

PPS I wrote this last night and, as I was falling asleep, it occurred to me that I might have actually been remembering my 20th birthday. Enger? Dave? Betsey? Deb? Anyone?

 

 

Five Stages of a Day at Social Security

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I spent Wednesday at the Social Security office in Newark, NJ. It was an emotional day.

Denial

As I walked into the large waiting room, I was surprised that it was so crowded. How could every seat be filled on a Wednesday in the middle of the month? Deep breath. This is going to be fine. Today will be the last time I need to come to this office. I have everything they might need right here in my green Whole Foods bag filled with paper.

Ninety minutes later, I hear my number, I grab my green Whole Foods bag and race up to the counter. I give Jack’s social security number and the woman behind the counter starts typing frantically on her keyboard. Five minutes later she looks up, “I’m sorry Mrs. Torrey. It looks like you need to speak with Ms. @#$%. I can make you an appointment for next week.”

Anger

“Are you kidding me? I’ve been here for ninety minutes already and I called Ms. @#$% 17 times in the last two weeks. 17 TIMES! She has not returned one of those phone calls. THAT IS WHY I AM HERE! I can’t come back next week. I need to see someone NOW!”

I’m not sure if it was my strong words or my teary eyes that got to her, but suddenly the woman behind the counter told me to wait, went back to her keyboard, typed in some magic, and then directed me to another desk. I was introduced to the allusive Ms. @#$%.

Hopeful/Bargaining

I took a deep breath and put on the sweetest smile I could muster, “Thank you so much for seeing me Ms. @#$%. I’m sorry that I have been calling so much, it’s just that we are anxious to get this done. I promise I have ANYTHING you might need here in this bag.”

As I held up the green Whole Foods bag, she started shaking her head. “I just don’t think we can get this done quickly. I need a little more information from you and to have our lawyers look at your son’s case again. I will get back to you next week.”

Depression

Tears are now rolling down my face and I set down my green bag, “Next week? You can’t understand how complicated our lives are. My son turned eighteen last summer. We’ve been working on this for eight months. He should be worried about getting accepted into college this year – not whether he qualifies of SSI.”

The word “college” really got me going and I sat down with my head in my hands, “My son qualities for Social Security. He’s disabled. YOU know that he is! We’ve shown medical records and you have his school information. He will never work a day in his life. It’s not that he doesn’t want to – he can’t. HE can’t do anything on his own. We have given you all our his information. We have followed all the rules. We have filled out all of the paperwork you asked for. How on earth do you not have an answer?”

Ms. @#$% sat looking up at me and didn’t seem to know what to say. She turned around and I was worried she was going to call security, but instead she came back with a box of tissues, “Mrs. Torrey I’m going to get started on this right now. Just let me see your guardianship papers and the other account information we discussed. We are going to find out as soon as we can how to proceed. What is your cell number? I will call you as soon as I hear anything.”

I was shocked. Not prepared for her to be so helpful. I opened my green Whole Foods bag, pulled out the paperwork she asked for and said “Thank you.” There was nothing more for me to say. This is our life. It’s filled with paperwork, disappointments and reminders of what could have/should have been.

Without another word, I stood up, grabbed my green Whole Foods bag and turned around to walk away. I cried the whole way home and then went into the house and cried some more. I called Dan and cried. Then I called Mymom and cried. Once all the tears were done, I took a warm shower and started my day again.

I needed to pick up Jack early so that we could go watch Anna play lacrosse. As Jack and I made our way to the field arm in arm, I realized my mood had completely turned around. Our life is not just filled with paperwork and disappointments – it’s also filled with sunny days, fun games and magical hugs. THAT should be our focus.

Acceptance

Love, Jess

UPDATE: Ms. @#$% called yesterday at 4:59 pm. Jack has been approved for Social Security. Before I hung up the phone the tears started flowing again. She must think I am nuts.

Michael and Hans (I mean, Pierre) Part 3

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Eight years ago our family hosted a party to celebrate Jack’s second transplant birthday. There was a cake and balloons and (like any good party) a table so that people could sign up for the Bone Marrow Registry. 79 people signed up that day. One was a friend of a friend, Michael Steiner. I’ve shared his story before, but it continues — here’s the update:

So I did the marrow (“Drill baby! Drill!”) donation back in September 2015. Then a few months after that I did the white blood cell donation (“Spin baby! Spin!”) for my cousin, … because we’re all cousins. #ScienceIsReal

I knew he was in Europe, but I guessed he was in Germany (biggest country, my dad is ethnically German… so odds were on Deutschland over all others.). But it turns out Hans, is not Hans; he’s Pierre. Yes, he’s in France. I was thinking I would call him Francois, but I can never be sure to spell that with i-o or o-i. Oy!

Anyway, I found out the France part because Be The Match called me again in December 2016 to do another white blood cell donation, but this time a nurse would jack me up with some filgrastim over 5 days before the “harvest”. The filgrastim would make my body over-produce the white blood cells so the machine can spin out a better dose for Pierre.

The procedure was set for February 1st (aka “February Fools’ Day”).

I didn’t have many side-effects from the filgrastim. Only some sleeplessness and a low fever because the body gets confused with all those white blood cells around. “What’s the matter? What’s with all the white blood cells? Are we sick? What the heck?” HA! I got to stay in a hotel in the city the night before the harvest because my appointment with the needles was at 7:30am.

Since white blood cells only last a few days, Pierre got the “booster pack” within 24 hours of the harvest. I thought that was pretty cool.

Unfortunately, I’m very unlikely to be able to help Pierre again, at least with regards to his Leukemia. My handler at Be The Match told me I’m “getting to old for this s**t.” (Roger Murtaugh – Lethal Weapon). But seriously, I can be in great shape, but I’m already 45, and my cells aren’t going to be helpful to Pierre after a certain age. (I imagine the bag of white blood cells arriving in France and them saying “Ça sent un vieil homme.” Don’t you love how “old” in French looks like “vile”?)

I probably won’t get an update on how Pierre is doing, and I don’t need one. I hope he hangs in there for a long time, but I know how it all ends!

A big merci beaucoup to Jesse Cappello Torrey who had that “swab party” those years ago.

Merci to you Michael!!!!

Love, Jess

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The Eagle has landed. Smiles and Duct Tape has been released. It’s out of my hands and out there for all to see – and read – and judge – AHHHHHHHHH!

I have lived my life trying to keep expectations low. If you strive for an A and end up with a B, you’re disappointed. If you strive for a C and end up with a B, you’re thrilled. I‘ve been a solid B most of my life and proud of that accomplishment. I pat myself on the back almost every day. Even days when I’m making dinner still unshowered in my yoga pants, if my family made it through the day and is being fed, it’s been a successful day!

Smiles and Duct Tape is the first time that people have rather high expectations for me. I do think that my writing has improved over the last ten years, and I’m proud of my 500 word essays on this blog, but the book is 49,000 words – in a row, it’s about the worst 1000 days our family has ever been through, AND I’ve never written a book. I hope people are looking for a solid C performance and give me a big high-five when they discover it’s a B, maybe B+.

If you read Smiles and Duct Tape and enjoy it, I encourage you to write a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. If you read it and think I should stick to 500 words at a time, please keep that information to yourself.

The book is currently available at Deeds Publishing, at our beautiful local bookstore WORDS, Amazon (paperback and eBook) and my basement. Please contact me for quantity purchases (i.e. book clubs/super fun holiday gifts for the whole family) and I will give you a deal.

Love, Jess

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Guardianship – Jack made it easy(ish)

I guess there are worse reasons to take your eighteen-year-old son to court, BUT today was a tough day.

When a person turns 18, they legally become an adult and are expected to make decisions about their life – medical treatment, finances, education, etc. Guardianship is a legal proceeding in which the court is asked to find the person in question unable to manage his/her affairs effectively. A guardian (or guardians) is/are appointed to make all decisions on behalf of the person.

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Today Dan, Jack and I went to court to prove to the State of NJ that Jack is too disabled to care for himself. He is too limited to make decisions regarding his care and well-being. He is (and will always be) dependent on us. Heartbreaking.

Like most heartbreaking things having to do with Jack – it was Jack that made it bearable. He was in a great mood this morning as we got him scrubbed and ready to make a good impression on the judge. He smiled the whole way to Newark, eager to see his buddy Adam (our lawyer) and to meet a few new friends. Jack always loves an adventure.

When we told Jack it was going to be like Law and Order he didn’t seem impressed, but when Dan said, “I wonder if Judge Judy works here”, our boy laughed and laughed. It’s hard to take things too seriously when you have Jack chuckling next to you, but when we needed to go in front of the judge, I could feel the tears start filling my eyes.

Everything went off without a hitch. We just needed to sit as the judge read through all the paperwork – proof that Jack needs us to be his legal guardians (doctor’s notes, school information, interviews with us and others who know Jack). I did my best to ignore the details of Jack’s limitations get repeated over and over again. I’ve developed a talent of keeping a smile on my face and nodding politely as I block out information. Dan’s bruised hand was the only evidence that any of the words actually made it to my ears.

I’ve accepted Jack’s challenges and understand that, as a special family, we need to do this stuff. The only thing that really bothered me about the whole experience today was the use of the word, incapacitated. It was used through the hearing over and over and over again.

incapacitated
(adjective)
 Ivan did not expect to be incapacitated for more than a few days: disabled, debilitated,           indisposed, unfit, impaired; immobilized, paralyzed, out of action, out of commission,    hors de combat; informal laid up. ANTONYMS fit.

I know that words need to be attached to circumstances, but of all things to call Jack — incapacitated is not one I would ever use. He’s more full of life than anyone I know. I understand that he needs (and will likely always need) our care, but as I heard that word I couldn’t help but want to stand up and scream “I OBJECT!”

I didn’t – I played the role of calm mom and didn’t even let myself even cry until I kissed Dan goodbye and dropped Jack safely off at school. I am so #$%^ing glad that it’s over.

Love, Jess (proud guardian of JackO)

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Jack makes things easy(ish)

10 days.

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Ten days until the release of Smiles and Duct Tape and I’m suddenly in a full-blown panic.

Here’s the thing – As excited as I am to get the book out there, I’m nervous about letting it go. I keep wondering if I’ve forgotten anything or anyone. I’m used to writing 500-word blog posts that I can edit if needed – a book feels so permanent. I’m also worried about the content. I’ve shared our family through the blog for almost ten years, and have been honest, but not quite THIS honest. The book is pretty raw. It follows the first 1000 days of our journey with ALD, and I don’t hold back on the reality of what we went through. I hope that readers appreciate the candor.

If you know our family (or read this blog), you know the ending. You know that Jack survived transplant and so did our family. You know that Dan and I are still married and that Anna has turned into a remarkable young woman. You know that the Torreys are pretty much back to being the family we once were – just with a few complicated issues.

So why did I write this book?

1.) I told people I was writing a book and have a history of not finishing projects. There was no way I was going to “pull a Jess” with this.

2.) I wanted to thank everyone who has helped our family and I’ve never been good with thank you notes.

3.) For typical/normal/non-challenged (insert appropriate PC word here) families to see that differently-abled/complicated/special (insert appropriate PC word here) families are just families.

4.) I want Smiles and Duct Tape to finds it’s way to families going through crisis. Not necessarily ALD (or even illness),  just lives that have turned upside-down. I want to share how our family managed to survive.

So, the book is written and in ten days is will be out there. I’m nervous, excited, and kinda feel like I’m going to throw up.

To PRE-ORDER your very own copy of Smiles and Duct Tape – CLICK HERE!

Love, Jess

PS I’m happy to speak at schools or book clubs or to anyone that might want to hear about how our family survived and accepted a new normal. Please email me to something up.

Meet the Torreys

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It’s getting closer.

The manuscript has been sent to the printer and by the end of this week we should have a copy of SMILES AND DUCT TAPE in our hands. Not your hands . . . you need to wait a tiny bit longer. The current release date is October 24. That’s two weeks folks!

In the meantime I am working on ways to promote the book and one idea I stumbled across was making a slideshow to introduce the readers to the book. SMILES AND DUCT TAPE is a book about our family. I would like to introduce you to The Torreys.

 

 

Love, Jess

If you would like to PRE-ORDER your copy of SMILES AND DUCT TAPE, please CLICK HERE.

 

ps I tried to add these images, but it was too late;(

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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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