As the music plays, I lay my head on his shoulder and feel his breath on my face. I wrap my arm around him so I can stroke his hair and wonder when he’ll lose the rest. He doesn’t seem to know that he’s aged, but the years have come and gone and he’s showing signs of a complicated life. He loves this song. I can tell by the way his body is rocking. He’s not been able to speak for many years, but I’m able to translate. Our connection is deeper than the scars his disease has left behind.
We enjoy today and hope for a lot of tomorrows.
That’s how I answered a question I was asked yesterday on one of my Facebook pages. The person was asking how to live knowing that there will likely be a “future loss”.
You might think it was a cruel question for parents with children with ALD – or any special situation leaving their child medically fragile, but trust me – it’s a question that we all have struggled with.
The pain of knowing that you will likely outlive your child and the fear that you won’t – who, other than you, can you trust to care for your child? You worry about a simple cold leading to a fever and then a seizure. You worry about what you might find when you open your child’s door in the morning. You try to plan for a future, but limit the future to a few years, not decades. Worried that being too greedy might somehow jinx things.
Everyone worries about their children — typical and fragile. Anna has no underlying conditions, but we worry about her making poor college choices that could put her in danger. We worry about her traveling alone, working too hard, falling asleep with a candle still lit. The other night I woke up at 3:00 am and spend two hours worried that we had somehow pressured her into following a career path towards medicine (I called her in the morning and asked if she felt pressured, “You’re nuts, but I love you” was her answer.
Everyone worries about their children, but the worry about special/fragile children is more profound, because IT IS more real.
Despite all the worry, your special/fragile children eventually teach you not to waste time with too much worry. You need to enjoy today because tomorrow is not assured. You need to slow down and enjoy the sunsets, the song playing on the radio, the newest episode of Impractical Jokers. .
I’m not saying that I never have moments where fear/despair/dread/depression take over. I bargain with the universe. I yell and cry. But, then I remember my role in all this is to help provide Jack the best life possible. I get up, wash my face, move forward and enjoy today.
The parent who asked the question yesterday was new to this life. It will take some time, but I know they will find their footing and it will be their special/fragile child that will lead the way.
The fact is folks — we are all fragile. We are all going to die. None of us are assured unlimited days.
Our family tries to enjoy and appreciate as many moments as possible. I encourage you all to do the same.
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!
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.
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.
To my friend from the nail salon – I owe you one. A lunch visit is a fine idea – NOTHING CRAZY ABOUT IT!!!!
I was seven when my younger brother Phil was born. It was before the days that hospitals allowed siblings to visit the maternity ward, so the first time I met my brother was when my mother walked into the house, holding him wrapped up like the most magical present I’d ever seen. My very own living doll.
I loved having a little brother who I could dress up and cuddle, but as we got older the seven years between us meant that we were always at different stages. When I was in high school, Phil was the nosy kid who always seemed to ruin the fun. And when he was busy enjoying his own high school angst, I was the older sister acting like a lame extra parent. Phil was still in college when I got married and barely out when Dan and I started a family. He was living the single life, as a creative sole, when I was busy raising kids and then dealing with our ALD journey/nightmare. I think Phil and I both spent much of the last twenty years loving each other, but not really getting each other.
Last week, that baby that I held 41 years ago welcomed his own baby into the world, Carlos Michael Cappello. Not only am I thrilled to have another baby in the family, but when I watched my brother hold his son, I realized that for the first time in a long time, our paths are overlapping.
Phil’s beautiful wife, Kate, bravely suffered through 27 hours of labor before needing a c-section. A cruel introduction to parenthood. Learning from the get-go that no matter how much you plan, kids have a way of directing things. And, despite their exhaustion, both my brother and sister-in-law quickly discovered that, no matter what complications your kid puts you through, you push on with a smile, because you would do anything for your child.
Little Carlito is the most beautiful baby. He is strong and healthy and I swear he was smiling yesterday while his parents were holding him. He knows he’s in great hands. Phil and Kate are already amazing parents.
Welcome to the world beautiful boy! And, welcome to parenthood my brother. May you enjoy every beautiful, messy moment. And, if you ever need anything I am here for you. I get you;)
Love, Aunt Jess
If your wondering if spending time with my new nephew made me start thinking about Jack and ALD and if onlys. Sure. As I held Carlito with Jack by my side, I couldn’t help but think of all the hopes and dreams we had for our boy when we first brought him into the world. How, almost twenty years later, many of those dreams are out of reach. But, then I quickly brought myself back to where we are and who Jack is and how we can’t focus on the if onlys. If onlys don’t really get you too far. All they really do is make you blind to what’s in front of you. And, what’s in front of us is a new, beautiful boy who we can hold and dress up and cuddle and then hand back to his parents when he needs a diaper change.
Besides, our biggest goal for our boy was for him to be happy and who’s happier than Jack?
Anna is missing from the photos because she’s at BEACH WEEK with her buddies. allowing her to go was not by proudest moment as a parent, but so far she is safe and sound and hasn’t gotten into too much trouble. She can’t wait to meet Carlito!
I’ve had mixed emotions anticipating this spring. So many things to celebrate, but each celebration highlights that we’re closing a chapter. There have been a lot of “lasts” lately and tonight is another one — the last Columbia Girls Lacrosse Banquet.
I’m going to be honest. If you’ve had kids who’ve played sports, you might not agree (maybe I’m a terrible mom), but I spent many years dreading the lacrosse season. It’s not that I don’t enjoy watching the sport, it’s that the season seems to have us spectators either wrapped in blankets, freezing OR trying desperately to find a sliver of shade to protect us from the hot sun. I also would look at the lacrosse schedule at the beginning of each season and wonder why on earth we couldn’t just play neighboring towns – instead each year we needed to shlep all around northern NJ to sit in the freezing cold or scorching heat.
Then, there’s the driving. I must have inherited it from Mymom. She HATED being carpool mom. My mother once said to the headmistress of my elementary school, “What do you mean you removed the bike rack because of all the snow this year? It’s going to take Jesse an hour to get to school without her bike.” I haven’t avoided getting behind the wheel as much as she did, but those after-practice pick-ups that hit right in the middle of dinnertime made me crazy.
For years I would use the “Jack excuse”. My friends helped out with the practice pick-ups and Jack would be used to make an early exit or avoid games altogether. “It’s too cold for him.” “It’s way too hot for my boy.” “Poor Jack can’t get much sun with all his medication.”
Luckily Dan was the opposite. He didn’t seem to be bothered by the heat or the cold or the miles. Not only did he coach Anna’s team for years, but he would rearrange business trips so that he wouldn’t miss games. And, when he was there, everyone knew. “Loud Dan” isn’t his nickname for nothing!
As this lacrosse season approached, I changed my tune and became full-blow LAX MOM. I didn’t want to miss a minute of the season – the last season. I kept blankets and extra jackets in the car and, as the heat arrived, I had an umbrella to protect Jacko’s skin from the sun. I picked up Jack early from school so that we wouldn’t miss the first face-off of games and used WAZE to get us around towns I’d never heard of. The cold, the heat – nothing really bothered me as long as I could watch 22 on the field.
I’m so proud of Banana. I love watching her bound down the field with the same determination she has for all things. I love saying “She gets all her skills from her mama.” And, I love that everyone laughs because they know that it couldn’t be farther from the truth. Dan and I made her, but Anna is her own girl . . . young woman AND she is amazing.
Columbia Girls Lacrosse has had a great season and I’m so glad I didn’t miss it. They might not have the best record in NJ, but they have heart and they kicked plenty of a$$ this year – go COUGARS!!!
Today is also Jack’s 11th transplant birthday. Happy Birthday JackO!! We are thrilled for him, but letting this day be about his sister – his favorite athlete and human;)
Love, LAX MOM (last day)
PS Mymom didn’t love driving us around, but she always had homemade bread with fresh butter and cinnamon-sugar waiting for us when we got home from our walks/bikerides.
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.
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?
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;)
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!!
PS HaPpY Birthday PopPop!!! We will celebrate soon Block Island style;)
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.
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.
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;)
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?
I spent Wednesday at the Social Security office in Newark, NJ. It was an emotional day.
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. @#$%. I can make you an appointment for next week.”
“Are you kidding me? I’ve been here for ninety minutes already and I called Ms. @#$% 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. @#$%.
I took a deep breath and put on the sweetest smile I could muster, “Thank you so much for seeing me Ms. @#$%. 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.”
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. @#$% sat looking up at me and didn’t seem to know what to say. She turned around and I was worried she was going to call security, but instead she came back with a box of tissues, “Mrs. Torrey I’m going to get started on this right now. Just let me see your guardianship papers and the other account information we discussed. We are going to find out as soon as we can how to proceed. What is your cell number? I will call you as soon as I hear anything.”
I was shocked. Not prepared for her to be so helpful. I opened my green Whole Foods bag, pulled out the paperwork she asked for and said “Thank you.” There was nothing more for me to say. This is our life. It’s filled with paperwork, disappointments and reminders of what could have/should have been.
Without another word, I stood up, grabbed my green Whole Foods bag and turned around to walk away. I cried the whole way home and then went into the house and cried some more. I called Dan and cried. Then I called Mymom and cried. Once all the tears were done, I took a warm shower and started my day again.
I needed to pick up Jack early so that we could go watch Anna play lacrosse. As Jack and I made our way to the field arm in arm, I realized my mood had completely turned around. Our life is not just filled with paperwork and disappointments – it’s also filled with sunny days, fun games and magical hugs. THAT should be our focus.
UPDATE: Ms. @#$% 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.