Two-Armed Sister Clutch

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You’ve heard from me for ten years. Now, it’s Anna’s turn. When it came time for her to write her college essay I was excited to help, but like all things academic, she insisted on doing it on her own.

Two-Armed Sister Clutch

        I have to hold his torso carefully so that he can’t bite me. For years, as my brother has gotten stronger, my technique has evolved from a simple shoulder hold into the now perfect “Two-Armed Sister Clutch.” My dad takes care of his head to keep it propped up—after all, the neck is the most important part. After ten minutes of very cautiously carving away at his beard, the world’s brightest smile emerges from his newly exposed face. I’ve just shaved my nineteen-year-old brother for the third time this week; my favorite chore with my favorite person.
        A sharp automatic razor and Jack—that’s my brother—make for a very interesting endeavor. But despite the chaos of the project, it always gets me thinking clearly. I think about the disease that forced its way into Jack’s brain ten years ago and made him this dependent on me, and about the fact it has been TEN years. I think about who he was before his disease—my typical big brother, goofy and in love with life. I think about who he is now—my silent and disabled big brother, goofy and in love with life. And finally, I think about who I am, and who his disease has made ME.
        Shaving my brother is a difficult task. I start off by trimming the top layer of the every-so-gnarly hairs. The first layer of Jack’s story is one very long word (the first word with more than six letters that I ever learned): Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD). That is the neurodegenerative disease that turned my family from one straight out of a J. Crew catalog to the very quirky, “special” family that we are today. I was six, Jack eight, when he was diagnosed with ALD and his brain function slowly unraveled. Suddenly, my brother’s voice wasn’t around to fill up my house with jokes and curiosity. Suddenly, I had to be the athlete of the family…and the social butterfly… and the nerd. And now, a decade later, I am a hop skip and a jump away from being a professional groomer, too.
        After I trim Jack’s beard, its time to crank the razor up and dig down through all the brush, rounding the jawline and inching in to each crevice. Shedding that hair makes Jack look so presentable,… so professional… so normal. I get flashes of Jack Torrey as an adult (Doctor? Lawyer? Artist?), walking the streets of a big city, wife and kids by his side, living a normal life. I see myself meeting him for a bagel and talking about our careers, our friends, or our families. Sometimes I just picture us talking. It has been ten years since Jack last spoke.
        Luckily, my feeling sorry for myself is quickly interrupted by the most amazing laugh to ever exist. The disease that stole Jack’s words and independence did not manage to steal his laughter. I look at him and see what that sweat-inducing work out really uncovered: a giant, radiating smile. I let go of him and he wanders around the kitchen, slowly making his way back to me, tongue out and eyebrows raised, to give the best hug any sister has ever gotten from their big brother. That is Jack’s way of saying thank you.
        I’ll never have a typical sibling to show me the ropes of life and gossip with when I’m older, but Ill always have Jack. I’ll have his smile to tell me to always work as hard as I can. I’ll always have his laugh to encourage me to give back to other people and other families. I’ll always have his hugs after a lacrosse game or job interview gone wrong. And, I’ll always have an escape when I want to think about these things all over again—after all, that boy could always use a shave.

Anna Cappello Torrey
Johns Hopkins University Class of 2022 (we just got the news!!)

 

Love, Proud Mom

 

 

 

THIS is ALD #2 — Sean

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The odds of winning the Powerball lottery are one in 175 million. The odds of being born with the Adrenoleukodystrophy gene are one in 17 thousand.

And yet, everyone has heard of the Powerball, while most people give me a funny look when I share Jack’s diagnosis.

My go-to response is, “It’s that disease from the movie Lorenzio’s Oil.”

When that doesn’t work, I say something like, “It’s a genetic disease that effects the adrenal gland and destroys the myelin in the brain. It’s worse when it starts advancing as a child. That’s what happened to Jack. Yes – he was totally fine until he was eight-years-old and then . . . well, he kinda fell apart. He did have a stem cell transplant and it stopped the disease from progressing, but he lost a lot during that time. He can’t speak anymore and needs help with just about everything – eating, bathing, getting dressed, even walking down the street. He can eat. He does need to be fed and he has a tube in his belly for hydration. Oh, and he also needs a whole lot of medicine to keep him going. Steroids for his Addison’s Disease – did I mention that his adrenal glad doesn’t work? THAT is pretty common with people with ALD. Not everyone, but most. Jack also needs medicine for his seizures. That’s another thing a lot of the boys deal with. I’m not sure about the men with AMN. AMN is what older men with the ALD mutation get — if they get anything. Some men seem fine. And, most women are fine, at least until they’re older. Then they seem to have trouble walking and with their bladder and bowels. Yea, I know that’s scary. I sure don’t want to deal with any of that. Good news is that my mom’s doing well and she has the mutation. Oh, but that doesn’t really mean anything. Not with ALD. ALD doesn’t seem to have a memory when it comes down a family line. Anyway, Jack has Adrenoleukodystrophy.”

 
As my description demonstrates, ALD doesn’t always look the same. As readers of Smiles and Duct Tape, you know Jack and you know Jack’s ALD, but, there are many phenotypes – Childhood Cerebral, Adolescent Cerebral, Adrenomyeloneuropathy (AMN), Adult Cerebral, Addison Disease only, Carrier’s Syndrome and the lucky few who are completely asymptomatic. There are also several treatments (no cures): dietary therapies, transplant, gene therapy, treatment for adrenal insufficiency. I could show you charts and explain all the science surrounding the disease, but instead I’m going to introduce you to ALD through it’s people. It will be a chance to get to know ALD — our not-so-rare disease.

 
A couple of times a month I’m going to share a story about someone (or a whole family) with our disease. Don’t worry – you’re still stuck with me posting stories about JackO and our not-so-special family. THIS is ALD will be a little extra treat.

 
THIS is ALD #2
Sean Suppan
(Jack was #1)

 
One of my ALD stranger-friends (now friend) is Ellen Suppan. She and I met years ago when her son, Sean, was starting the transplant process. I remember getting off the phone with her almost breathless. Even though our family was two years ahead of them in the process, it was hard for me to imagine what they were going through. Their ALD journey seemed so much more complicated.

 
She shared their story with University of Minnesota Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Center in 2009. These are her words as Sean was going through transplant:

 
“In 2003, after a lot of doctor visits, we were told that my other son David
had ALD. He was 7. I had no family history, but it has to start somewhere.
Back then, there was nothing we could do for him. Within 3 months, he was
in a bedridden state, and then went to a vegetative state, and he was like that
for 4 years. David passed away in October 2006. We miss him but were
relieved he was no longer hurting.

 
Shortly after David’s diagnosis, I found out that we were expecting and later
learned I was carrying a boy. And yes, he carried the gene, but had a 50/50
chance of not developing symptoms. With Sean, we were very proactive. We
have known since he was born that he has ALD. When Sean was only 3, he
came down with a high fever and we did an MRI, and everything was clear.
We did another MRI 4 months later and there was a spot there. We were
shocked. David was 5 when this happened.

 
My main concern was to get Sean where he needed to be. There are good
hospitals. They have done a couple of transplants, but not as many as the
University of Minnesota. The most transplants for ALD have been done here,
pioneered here and they are still working on it.

 
The downside of going through the transplant is that the chemo may bring
on more advancement. It’s a no-win situation. If I don’t do anything, I have
seen the course it takes. But, we at least know that he will not get to the stage
that my other son had to endure for four years. We are thinking positive.

 
I am thankful and grateful that Dr. Orchard came up with this treatment. It is bittersweet for me. Back in 2003, they did not do transplants for symptomatic
kids like David. The progression with David was very cruel for a parent to
watch. We are doing for Sean what we could not do for David.

 
Don’t expect anything to be normal. It’s a new normal. It’s a new way of
doing things. Be ready. I always keep my gas tank half full, because I don’t
know when I’ll need to go to the hospital. Live in the moment. All the other
things will fit into place.”

 
What isn’t mentioned in this piece is that while the Suppan family was losing their son, David, in the fall of 2006, their daughter Ashling was diagnosed with AML Leukemia (she has just celebrated 11 years in remission). They were still mourning David as they went through treatment with Ashling and were diligently monitoring Sean. Then, as Ashling was enjoying life after her treatment, it was time for Sean’s transplant. Ellen shared with me that she missed her daughter’s high school graduation because she was in Minnesota with Sean recovering from his transplant. ALD often steals a lot from a family.

 
Eight years after our first correspondence, I finally had the pleasure of meeting Ellen, her husband David and Sean in person. I tried not to, but I couldn’t help but watch Sean closely and compare him to Jack. Sean has the same engaging bright smile and is eager to be part of the conversation. He is able to speak and to the untrained eye appears very typical. I did see a few hints of ALD, but needed to ask Ellen for specifics.

 
Ellen shared that following transplant they were most concerned about Sean’s vision, but gradually it seemed to improve. He does have difficulty processing new surroundings and has issues with his depth perception. Other challenges include short term memory problems and some behaviors like making odd noises, chewing on shirt collars (THAT is so Jack) and shrugging his head almost violently. He is able to feed himself, but needs help with other activities of daily living. Sean is currently in the seventh grade and moves between a special needs classroom and a few mainstream classes.

Overall Sean is doing great. The Suppan family is grateful that Sean was able to be monitored closely and received his transplant early. Ellen shared a note she received from his teacher. I think it says it all.

 

Hi Mrs. Suppan,
I wanted to share with you that Sean is doing terrific. I am so proud of him. Today he came up in front of the class and shared with him things he is thankful for. What an accomplishment for him – we appreciate him everyday and are thankful to know him. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

 

“ . . . we appriciate him every day and are thankful to know him.” THAT is how I feel about Ellen. I hate ALD and the chaos it’s created in our families, but I am honored and grateful to have Ellen as a friend AND to have met Sean. Stay strong little man and I look forward to meeting you again soon – next time with JackO!!

 

Love, Jess

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THIS is ALD

the new normal

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Smiles and Duct Tape went to Wisconsin last weekend. I’ve been speaking a bunch with the ALD and the special needs worlds, but this was the first time I was sharing our story at a book festival with regular folks. This is what I learned — Regular folks are special, just like us.

I tried not to, but I couldn’t help myself from reading through the bios of all the authors attending the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books. MFAs, PhDs, awards, long lists of writing accomplishments. As I boarded the flight to Milwaukee, I couldn’t help but be nervous. How could I compete with all these real authors? And, why on earth would anyone want to go to The New Normal panel when they could go hear about The Poet as Historian or From Page to Stage or Teaching, Writing and Thinking about Queer History?

As soon as I landed, I was put at ease by the warm smile on the face of the man picking me up. He also had a sign with my name on it (I love that whole sign thing). As we got into the car, I asked about his connection to the Book Festival. He shared that he was not just a big fan of the event, but a dedicated volunteer and a former English teacher. My nerves ramped up again as I imagined him editing my work. Why was I here? Maybe Candy invited me on a whim, never thinking I would actually get on a plane and travel the 870 miles. I kept telling myself to breathe. Candy’s an old friend (from elementary school), but she was under no obligation to extend the invite and send me that plane ticket. She must have read the book and thought it would be a good fit for the festival, right? Breathe.

We arrived at the hotel and as soon as I checked in, another author quickly put out his hand and introduced himself. He couldn’t have been nicer and I quickly got over his PhD and other credentials. He was warm, sincere and interested in chatting. Then, I met up with an author who was part of The New Normal panel, and within a few minutes she felt like family. I thought – if everyone here is this friendly, I’m going to be okay.

They were, and I was.

The New Normal drew a larger crowd than I expected and I managed to keep up with the two other panelists. We each had very different stories, but all sorts of connections. I’ve never given a talk with other people and didn’t know what to expect, but it felt natural and I don’t think I even did my usual shaking. I also got to enjoy attending talks by an assortment of talented writers and to reconnect with my old friend Candy (and a pile of her creative/talented friends). All weekend was spent sharing and listening – lots of talking. This was a group that likes words written AND spoken.

As I think about the experience and all the people I met, I’m amazed by the fact that nearly every person I talked with understood “special”. Since I was there to share our family’s journey, people felt comfortable sharing details about their own lives. Many had gone through incredible challenges themselves or helped family through the horrors of illness or depression. They all had been witness to a new normal. Perhaps that’s true about everyone. I think we need a new word for “special”. Human?

Being around such a creative assortment of humans for two days was incredible. Everyone had a story and everyone was eager to hear mine. I walked away energized and eager to start my next writing project (I’ll fill you in on that soon).

I’ve been getting out of my comfort zone quite a bit of that lately. It’s been exhausting, but I’m honored to share Jack’s story with a broad audience. I’m learning a lot about the world and myself along the way.

It’s also good to come home.

Love, Jess

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My reading list:

 

Carolyn Walker’s Every Least Sparrow

Mary Jo Balistreri’s Best Brothers, Joy in the Morning, Along the Way, and Gathering the Harvest

Das Jenssen’s Phenomenal Gender: What Transgender Experience Discoloses

Jeaneete Hurt’s Drink Like a Woman

Nickolas Butler’s The Hearts of Men

AND if this show comes to a city near you —- GO! The Pink Hulk 

 

hApPy bIrThDaY smiles and duct tape!

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HaPpY BiRtHdAy Smiles and Duct Tape!!

When the book was released last year, I had my fingers and toes crossed that it would find its way into the world, but in my wildest dreams, I never imagined that it would find its way into so many of the right hands.

Smiles and Duct Tape is not winning awards or getting nominated for prizes, but this is better – it’s helping people. ALD parents, special needs families, and people looking to better understand special needs and/or our little, not-as-rare-as-you-might-think disease, Adrenoleukodystrophy.

A highlight of this first year was our family being invited to meet the folks at bluebird bio earlier this week. Last month, the New England Journal of Medicine released a study that indicates that gene therapy is a promising option for boys with ALD. bluebird bio is behind that research.

Thanks to Smiles and Duct Tape, and my need to share every detail of our lives, bluebird bio found us and asked us to come up to Cambridge and talk to their team.

I liked bluebird bio from the start because they have the same relationship with capital letters as I do (my oh-so-cool not capitalizing my post titles), but when I did a little research, I really fell in love: “we are committed to our vision of transforming lives and making hope a reality for patients . . . ” AND one of the diseases that they’re determined to beat is ALD.

They are not just leading studies on new treatments, they are working to truly understand what the current treatments look like – that’s where we came in. We are the face of what ALD looks like with the current standard of care—a stem cell transplant— and without the luxury of an early diagnose. They wanted to hear more about our story and had dozens of questions for all of us (Anna answered questions with such confidence and grace AND Jack won a lot of hearts with his smile). They asked all about the transplant and details about what life looks like post-transplant. The goal of bluebird bio is to provide a treatment with fewer risks and a better after-treatment quality of life.

With all the crap going on these days, it’s hard not to lose a little faith in our world, but spending the day at bluebird bio felt like stepping into the future – a better future. Brilliant minds who are determined to make a difference. AND they invited us into their nest with open arms. We spoke, we ate, and we got an incredible tour of their facilities. These folks are warm and friendly and wicked smaaaht.

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With increased pressure to add newborn screening for ALD across the US and this promising research on gene therapy, the future looks bright for the next generation of ALD boys. If us Torreys can help even a tiny bit, sign us up!

Tomorrow I am off to the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books. Yet another exciting opportunity to share our story. I’ll share stories and pictures next week.

Love, Jess

https://www.thedailybeast.com/can-two-brothers-struck-with-lorenzos-oil-disease-be-saved?source=TDB&via=FB_Page

 

 

 

cringing and shaking, but okay

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When I was a junior in college, I took an Old Testament class. It was a small class and most of it consisted of open discussions around a large round table. One week in, I approached the professor and told him I was sorry, but I needed to drop the class; “I just can’t do it. My heart races just thinking about speaking in front of everyone.”

Had you known me at that age, you might find my anxiety surprising. I wasn’t someone who hid in a corner or didn’t like attention. It was the combination of academics and public speaking that made me panic. School hadn’t been easy for me thanks to some learning issues, so when I was at school, I did my best to stay safely in the back of the room. I saved my loud, social self for after class time.

To make a long story short — the professor would not let me drop the class. He bargained with me, promising that he would not make me speak until the last class of the semester. I sat silently for months in a class of maybe a dozen people – until the last day. Of course that made things rather awkward. Everyone had thought there was something wrong with me and couldn’t believe it when I actually opened my mouth that day. I did manage to get my words out, but not without a whole lot of “Ahhhhhhh”s and “Uhmmmmmm”s.

After that class, I promised myself that I would never again speak in public. Then, I decided I wanted to be an art teacher. My first few attempts to model lessons in graduate school were painful, but I got over it and managed to become comfortable . . . in front of a classroom of children.

As an adult I have done a little more public speaking. I spoke at a fundraiser for The PG Chambers School, and to some small school groups with our service dog, Keegan. I even spoke at Listen to Your Mother. Each time I walked away cringing and shaking, wondering when it would get easier.

Since Smiles and Duct Tape was published, I’ve had the opportunity to speak more — at bookstores and schools. And, it’s really ramped up this month. I spoke to a psychology class at Seton Hall University about “exceptional children” and was honored to speak at a CPNJ fundraiser sharing our story and our love for CPNJ Horizon High School. Next week I’m speaking about ALD up in Boston and then heading to Wisconsin for the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books. I can’t say I feel completely comfortable as I start a presentation, but I do think I am getting the hang of it.

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It’s so strange how life can send you in a direction that you never expected. The girl who got Cs in English, wrote a book. The girl who couldn’t stand up in front of a small group of classmates, now speaks in front of large audiences of ADULTS. It’s not without plenty of nerves and a whole lot of shaking (honestly – it’s unreal how my whole body shakes), but I am doing it. If it helps other families going through similar situations or helps students trying to understand what “special” looks like or helps people understand ALD or if it encourages people to support wonderful organizations like CPNJ – I’ll do it.

It’s my way of taking back some control. It’s my way of proving that our family has reached the other side of hell. It’s my way of not letting ALD win.

 

Love, Jess

 

 

 

lucky mom

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Every weekday morning, Anna races downstairs making sure she gets a chance to give her Boogie* a hug before his bus arrives. It makes my heart melt. No matter what’s going on in our family, our country, or the planet, I try to pause and enjoy the love that these kids have for each other. Siblings/best friends – the strongest bond I’ve ever witnessed. I’m a lucky mom.

That is all.

Love, Jess

* Jack AKA Boogie, Boogie Brown, Boogs, Boogs McGee, JackO, WackO, The Weasel

 

Progress? This might be the key(board)

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Jack’s progress doesn’t always follow a straight path. Brain injuries are complicated, and sometimes things move forward and then backward. Sometimes even sideways. It’s only after months of consistency with something new, that we feel comfortable that it’s here to stay. Perhaps that’s why I waited to share this story. But just this week I was given more proof that Jack has found a new skill. Typing.

I will start at the beginning.

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Jack has been using an app called Proloquo2Go for 6 years. It’s a communication program that uses words and symbols that when touched, speak for him. Every speech therapist Jack’s had since he has gotten the app has been excited by the possibilities and worked with it hoping to make communication easier for our boy. Each therapist has played with the format on Proloquo2Go —making words/symbols bigger on each page, making words/symbols smaller again, limiting the amount of information, increasing the amount of information, etc.

There’s always hope, and there have been times over the years that we have seen some improvement, particularly at school (like all kids, Jack does more at school than at home). Although there have been some successes, I’ve never been 100% convinced that his “successes” haven’t been a little guided. When Jack uses his iPad he needs someone to support his elbow — it helps with accuracy. I’ve always worried that his guides might be guiding more than they realize. Like when you use a Ouija board and subconsciously you direct the movement (unless the spirits are really sending subtle notes like GET OUT to every teenager who has ever played with a Ouija board).

This summer, Jack’s speech therapist added a keyboard page to the Proloquo2Go mix. I thought she was reaching a little. If Jack can’t consistently articulate a sentence when given entire words, then how could he manage to type in a whole word? But, instead of arguing, I said what I usually do to his eager, optimistic team, “THAT sounds awesome!”

All summer both Jack’s aide, Monica, and his therapists swore that they were seeing improvement, but I didn’t pay much attention. Until . . .

Last month, Monica took Jack on an adventure to pick something out for his birthday. As they wandered through the mall to find the perfect gift, they walked into a store that had a large selection of socks. Socks are the new cool thing for teenage boys, and Jack seemed excited to take a look. He searched through the rack of socks before grabbing a pair that had a pattern with something that Monica didn’t recognize. She said, “Jack, do you know what that is?”

Jack smiled and nodded his head so Monica took out his iPad and asked him to spell out the word. This is what he wrote:

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Marijuana has helped Jack so much for the last year and now it’s helping prove to the rest of us that Jack’s progress is real!

I loved this story, but I tried not to get too excited. At home, Jack focuses very little on the keyboard page on Proloquo2Go and more on the I’M HUGRY and I LOVE YOU buttons (that’s a good one). I’ve been waiting for more proof that the keyboard might really be the key to something. I finally got some proof this week. Jack’s speech therapist sent me a note sharing with me that she was telling Jack a joke and handed him his iPad for a response. Jack typed “LOL”. Maybe not as impressive as “mariguana”, but I will take it!

Love, Jess

* Monica is not just Jack’s aide. She’s his school mom and my dear friend. And Caitlin is Jack’s therapist who cracks jokes and makes magic happen.

* Okay folks – laugh all you want. I know that it’s funny that MY son has taken up  a hobby that involves spelling. I’ve confused pallets with platelets and angels with angles and wander with wonder. I’ve never claimed to be a good speller and apparently Jack hasn’t perfected it either – but we both get our point across.

 

 

 

Thrown Back into Reality

As if leaving Block Island isn’t hard enough, we had a doozy of a ferry ride home on Sunday. Within a few minutes of leaving the dock, the boat was pitching frantically over the angry ocean and water was pouring in the open windows. Then, the vomiting started. At one point Keegan’s leash slipped out of Anna’s hand and he slid across the width of the ferry. Fifteen minutes into the hell, a young man next to us took his head out of a garbage can to announced, “We have 45 more minutes of this.”

We had known that it was likely to be a rough ride. Our friends had left the island an hour earlier and reported back that their journey to the mainland had been a nightmare. Dan sat with Anna and the dogs and I chose a seat where I could brace myself while holding onto Jack and we could sit facing the horizon. I was worried about Jack getting sea sick, but once we started moving I worried less about a little vomit and more about a seizure. He was sitting between my legs and I could feel the sweat pouring down his neck and his body melting. Jack’s body isn’t built for stress. He has Addison’s Disease (another gift from ALD) and his body doesn’t produce cortisol to help deal with added stress to his system. A seizure can be a result of his body being overwhelmed, and a boat that’s slapping in the water at strange angles is not an ideal place to manage a seizure.

My mind was racing with planning how to get Jack to a safe spot to lay him down and how on earth one of us could manage to grab his emergency medication that was in the back of our over-packed car two floors down. I was in a panic, but as always, my family calmed me. Anna kept looking over and whispering “I love you.” and “Boogie’s going to be fine.” And, Dan knowing that I can get hysterical fairly easily, kept saying things like, “This isn’t so bad.” – he admitted later that the ride was the worst he’d ever experienced and that Jack’s face (that I couldn’t see) had been a bright color of green. Jack also managed to keep me calm. I spent the hour whispering into his ear that everything was going to be okay. His trust in me and little squeezes back let me know that it was going to be okay.

We were literally thrown back into reality. I haven’t been that scared in a long time, but we survived. No injuries. No seizures. No vomit.

It took a couple of hours before we could recover and returned to our usual chatty car-talks reliving our Block Island adventures, but we are determined not to let that last hour ruin an amazing two week vacation.

Two weeks on Block Island where life is slow, days are long and sunsets are pure magic. Beach time, kayaking, tennis, biking, hiking, puzzles, cards, weaving, paddle boarding, large meals, large cocktails, even a reading of Smiles and Duct Tape at Island Bound Bookstore (thanks to all who attended). We had time with family and friends and, besides the extra few pounds around my belly, we are bringing back a load of good memories. Thank you Block Island for recharging us. And, thank you PopPop and Sue for hosting.

Jack and Anna are back at school, Dan is in Chicago, and I am working on my list of fall “to dos” (lots going on with Smiles and Duct Tape and a new project underway – I will fill you in later).

Welcome back to reality folks.

Love, Jess

 

what would you do?

Is the truth always necessary – sometimes even mean? Have you ever wished you had lied?

Last night I found myself wishing I could swallow the words that were pouring out of my mouth.

It all started with a fun dinner with one of my oldest and best friends (Hi Maura). We make an effort to get together every couple of months, and our nights are always filled with stories of life now mixed with ridiculous anecdotes of our high-school days. With Maura, I am just Jess. Same girl that she met 32 years ago. It’s awesome.

We had a great cuban meal and our usual share of Sauvignon Blanc, before we hugged goodbye and got into our separate Ubers.

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I climbed into the Toyota Highlander in a great mood and was delighted to be greeted with a driver who had a warm smile and bottle of water for me. Before long, we were busy chatting. I love talking with strangers. Everyone has a story, and if you’re willing to dig a little, fascinating tales are plentiful.

It took a little while – it usually does for guys – but finally my driver, Mohammad, started talking. He immigrated to The States as a young adult, and most of his family is either still in India or in Australia (which I must get to soon – he swears it’s “beyond beautiful)”. He misses his extended family, but feels like it’s too late to make another big move. He’s married to the love of his life (sweet story) and has two girls who he’s finally getting to spend time with now because he’s in-between steady work. Apparently, the restaurant chain he was managing did not appreciate the month he took off while his oldest daughter was recovering from a terrible accident.

At this point in his story, Mohammad got upset and I didn’t get all the details, only that his daughter suffered two very serious leg factors that required several surgeries and 14 days in the hospital. It was a horrible time and losing his job has put a great deal of stress on his family, but he is trying to focus on how wonderful it’s been to spend time with his girls, “I’ve gone from working 13 hour days/7 days a week and only seeing my daughters when they are sleeping, to picking them up at school and cooking dinner with them. The accident was horrible, but I’ve gained a new perspective and real appreciation for what’s really important. I need to find steady work soon, but I won’t go back to my old schedule. I would miss having time with my girls.”

We were stuck on the Pulaski Skyway, when Mohammad turned around and thanked me for listening to his story. Then he asked, “So what about you? Do you have any kids?”

I tried to have him continue sharing, but he insisted on hearing a little about me, so I kept it short and sweet, “I have two kids. My son is 18 and my daughter is 16. Great kids.”

He didn’t miss a beat, “Wow! Where’s your 18-year-old headed this year?”

It would have been so much easier if I had just said that my son was taking some time to find himself (not really a lie) or made up some sort of story. Mohammad had just opened up (something I’m guessing he doesn’t do often). I knew what was going to happen if I shared too much about our family. It makes people feel uncomfortable. Especially if they have just shared a “dark” moment. As if there is some sort of hierarchy of disasters and you aren’t allowed to complain if your’s doesn’t rank in the top ten.

The problem is that I feel bad about lying – as if I am ashamed of who Jack is and what his life looks like. A huge part of who I am is a mom. A mother of a beautiful, brilliant daughter who is going to do amazing things and the mother of a handsome, funny,  son who lights up a room with his smile, but can’t speak or take care of himself. How can I leave out the truth?

I tried for a quick soundbite.

“My son has some disabilities. He will stay at his high school for a few more years. College won’t be part of his future . . . but he’s great. Super happy!”

The silence that swept through the Toyota Highlander was painful as this guy tried to find the right words. I could see that he was trying to figure out what to do next, took a deep breath and asked for details. And, he didn’t give up after my simple explanation of “My son has a rare disease that left him with some challenges.”

“How old was your son when he got sick?”

“What was the treatment?”

“How long was he is the hospital?”

“HOW long?!?!?”

“Can he walk/talk/care for himself?”

I gave Mohammad the cliff notes of our journey, ending every sentence with, “ . . . but he is doing GREAT! Jack is super happy and my daughter, Anna, is doing great too!”

I felt terrible. I could see Mohammad’s eyes in the rearview mirror as he heard each answer. He was lovely and kept saying all the “right things”, but I couldn’t help but feel like I had ruined his moment of reflection. The rest of the drive home was awkward as I wished I could take back the truth. When we pulled up to my house, we were both relieved that the trip was over.

“Bye. Thanks for the ride and good luck with the job search. And, enjoy every second with your girls!”

“Bye. I will be praying for your son and your whole family.” – I wonder how many people hear THAT from their Uber driver.

Why hadn’t I just said that Jack was on his way to Goucher College (home of the Gophers/my alma mater)?

So what do we think? Is it ever okay to lie? Should I keep a good answer in my back pocket for the next time I am chatting with a friendly, water toting, stranger and they ask about my kids?

Love, Jess

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This is my truth.

tired but smiling

 

Ever need a vacation after a vacation? As much as we love our time on Block Island, we do tend to come home a bit worn out – especially after the Fourth of July. Picture 19 people, four dogs, sand, Scrabble, fireworks, a parade, loads of food and a whole lot of wine.

Although we are all there for four or five days, we act like our hours are limited. It’s the only time each year that all of us Torrey/Perry/Pastores are together and we fill the time with memories – some a little blurry, but always wonderful.

Thank you PopPop and Nanna Sue (and Block Island) for a particularly lovely holiday. We came home tired but smiling. See you in August!!!

Love, Jess

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