Archive for the ‘Gratitude’ Category

SIXTEEN FOREVER
September 20, 2017

My boy turns sixteen today. Sixteen! How in the world did sixteen years go by so quickly?

At sixteen, he’s leading a relatively happy life, especially considering the challenges he deals with day in and day out. He’s matured quite a bit this past year, more noticeably so than any past year. The self he presents to the outside world is considerably more self reliant, intuitive, and communicative than the one he shares with us.

I suppose that’s typical of most teens, but knowing that he uses communication resources fairly regularly at school and during this past summer at camp, sharing deep, considered thoughts, like when asked what he has had to persevere during his life, he answered that he’s persevered through several surgeries and recoveries, and then conveyed that one of his future concerns is what will become of him when he graduates from high school. Like I said, deep, considered thoughts.

He continues to love music, and is willing to try new bands and singers, but in times where comfort is needed, still reverts to favorites from his early childhood. He’s the same way with television programs. He can watch endless episodes of Little Bill and his favorite cooking shows (Barefoot Contessa and Pioneer Woman) but now has a great love of Modern Family. There’s less of a willingness to try new programs despite the endless accessibility to heaps of programming he would likely love if he gave it a shot.

He loves sports, and water activities, though if asked, he’d say skiing is his favorite. We’re building a swimming pool for him after years of consideration, because he’s always thrived in water, and never as much as he has this past summer doing aquatic therapy with a new therapist. His last hip surgeries left him not able to stand or take steps but since working with her he’s building so much strength that he’s standing tall, taking steps in the pool wearing 5lb ankle weight. With the strength comes confidence. Having a pool of our own will give him the opportunity to move his body at the end of a long school day, sitting, or on hot weekends, and it will inherently boost his social life because inviting friends to swim is an easy, fun social activity.

Baseball too has become a fun, social activity. He has friends who play in his Champions league, and friends who volunteer as buddies in the league. He enjoys the thrill of “running” the bases (as fast as his buddies can push him) and the cheers he gets as he passes each set of bleachers. The smile is infectious and elicits cheers from both sides.

High school is going well. Now a sophomore, he continues to love riding the bus to and from school, especially because he has a good friend who rides too. They listen to music and watch cooking videos on his Tobii. He has friends in class and if his recent report card is any indication (straight A’s), is focused on doing well in school. Knowing he’s happy at school, simple as it may be, is a huge relief.

So all in all, he’s doing well at sixteen.

He and I have talked about some of things that cause him sorrow, one of the biggest being that this is an age when most of his friends are learning to drive and getting their licenses. He knows he won’t be. I’ve told him that if he can get to a point where he can successfully communicate his needs on his Tobii, we could consider a ride share service sometime, or more to his liking, he could drive with friends. But he has to be able to clearly make his needs and wants known. I see it as incentive for him to be more reliant on the device.

He wants to have a first kiss. He has loved girls since he was small and he has loved specific girls at times in his life. He had a girlfriend last year in school (she’s since graduated), and after observing them together one night at our house when she came over to watch “SING”, I could feel the giddy love between them. She also has cerebral palsy so they sat in chairs next to one another and spent the movie trying to hold hands and making eyes at one another. The feelings were there and I wish I could have better facilitated their evening so they could be nearer to one another. It was pure sweetness.

He wants to spend time without his parents. This summer we had an amazing caregiver for the last couple of weeks with whom he did so many fun things and who brought out the best in Cole. I think he’d like to have someone like that in his life more consistently so that he could go to the mall on weekend day and shop and wander, or who could take him to the movies or lunch or out with friends. It’s on my list…it’s just hard to find someone quite a special, as perfect a fit, as we had this summer.

All pretty typical things boys want at sixteen.

To me, he’s forever going to be my baby. I don’t mean to suggest that I view him as a baby in anyway. He’s my heart. He’s the reason I exist. We have a connection to one another that sometimes takes my breath away. When he’s feeling disconnected from me, and I lay my head down next to his or reach out and take his hand, the look he gives me is that of pure love. It melts me to the core.

For sixteen years I’ve been blessed to be his mom. My experience is not the typical mom experience, but it’s a journey that has shaped me as a person in ways nothing else could, and it’s my been my privilege and pleasure to be known as Cole’s mom in many circles.

Happy Birthday to my beautiful boy, my joy! I wish you could stay sixteen forever…

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JUST LIKE STARTING OVER
September 19, 2017

I’m one month out, post surgery. I got the clearance to begin easing back into physical activity. I can walk with vigor, exercise moderately, and tend to some of Cole’s needs (still not quite ready for heavy lifting, but can move towards it over the next few weeks). I’ve been back in the office since the start of the third week. I tired quickly at first but I feel like myself again.

Yesterday all of the surgical tape was removed, and I got my first clear view of my new self. While the procedure was prompted by health concerns and constant pain, I must say the superficial benefits of it are pretty amazing. I actually have breasts that fit my frame and compliment my body. I feel lighter, stand taller, and am completely inspired to get the rest of me in better shape to better suit my new boobs. All of my clothes fit differently too.

As I wrote previously, the aching pain I have suffered from for twenty odd years is gone. Though I haven’t been able to lift Cole yet, I can tell that not having so much body in front of me, will be an asset in lifting him safely and more comfortably, especially as I move deeper into my fifties and beyond. The need to lift him and support his body whilst taking care of personal needs and dressing is not going to end.

It will be several months before I’m completely healed, and at least one or two more before my new breasts settle into their final size, but even just four weeks in, I have to say it was worth all of the hardship I’ve inflicted on my poor husband and child, who have had to make adjustments to their routines to accommodate my needs. At the end of the day, it’s just a few months in the lifetime we will continue to share. From here on out, each day will give me a chance to get stronger, healthier and to become more the self I dream of.

Doing something this major, largely for myself, has taught me that it’s okay to take chances on myself. I view it as an opportunity to reset some of the habits I’ve fallen into over the years of my adult life. I am eager to continue transforming myself both physically, through better eating and regular exercise, mentally, by engaging in things that interest me and feed my soul, and emotionally, by trying to be a better wife, mom, friend, daughter, sister – a better me. My guys and my friends have shown tremendous kindness, support and love during this process and I want to keep that alive in all of my relationships.

Who knew that new boobs could lead to such a whole being revolution?

CHANGES
September 18, 2017

It’s not often that parents of special needs kids do anything to radically rock the boat, but I recently did something radical that impacted everyone in my family. I got a breast reduction. I have contemplated doing so for the better part of fifteen years but held back for any number of reasons – cost, time off work, the physical restrictions, my weight, and the fact that electing to have surgery made me nervous.

I researched and researched and finally decided to just go in for a consultation so I could learn my options, my potential outcomes and whether it could be covered by insurance. My surgeon took one look at my bare, braless breasts and exclaimed, “They’re huge!” Followed by “Please let me help you”. I was simultaneously amused and taken a back. She’s a breast surgeon; surely she’s seen large boobs. Apparently mine were in a class of their own. Who knew?

I learned that there was little doubt that my insurance would approve the reduction and that the surgery itself is considered a fairly simple surgery. There’s no muscle or organ cutting and it generally is a 3-4 hour procedure. I learned about the post-op care, very limited movement for the first couple of weeks, and no lifting or sweat worthy exertion for several more. This again gave me pause because I have a 15 years old child who I lift and transfer and dress and change. How would that work with just one of us being able to do that for nearly two months?

My husband was supportive and cleared his travel schedule (he travels a lot for work). He assured me we could get through this and that it if this surgery was necessary and wanted, we’d figure it out. We do have a history of getting through all kinds of challenges, obstacles and uncertainties. Part of it comes with the territory of special needs parenting (you have to be very malleable) and part of it comes from us being a pretty good team.

So I moved forward and got it on the books. It was initially scheduled for August 14th, the day before Cole started his sophomore year of high school, but it got moved to the next, his first day of school just weeks before. We enlisted childcare to be home when his school bus arrived in case we weren’t yet home (the surgery was supposed to be 3-4 hours, starting at 10am so chances were good we’d be home on time), but just to be safe…childcare in place.

I cleared it with work, with the plan to work from home after the first week and then take it from there. I’ve been at the same company for many years and had their full support. It goes without saying that telling your male bosses that you’re having breast reduction surgery is quite a funny experience! Lots of gulping on both sides and averted eyes!

I got cleared by internist and again by the surgeon, and off we went.

My surgery lasted hours longer than a typical reduction, over six hours. I felt groggy leaving the surgical center, but immediately noticed the effect of the reduction. My neck, shoulder and back pain lifted. I had drains and tubing sticking out of my sides, obstructing most of my arm movement and I felt sore. I was warned that they do a lot of lifting of your torso and twisting during the surgery to ensure that everything is even, and in place properly and symmetrically. The after effects of that did not go unnoticed.

It will be months before my new breasts are completely healed and able to lead a normal life but almost instantaneously the effects of the surgery are life changing.

More to come…

LEAN ON ME
September 15, 2017

The value of a quality caregiver is unrivaled, and it can come in different forms, each fulfilling a specific need or time in our children’s lives.

Summer care is always difficult for us as a special needs family. My husband and I both work full time, and up until this year, we’ve been fortunate to have summer school and day camp at my son’s school, that cover all but a couple of weeks of the summer time off. We usually do a family week vacation or staycation depending upon what’s going on with us financially and schedule wise, and find full day child care and support for the other time off. There’s cost involved, but we’ve been fortunate thus far to have had the school programs to rely upon.

Cole finished up his freshman year in high school, and had over two months off school. Because he has an IEP, he qualifies for Extended School Year (ESY), which is sort of summer school. It’s not quite four weeks of casual education at one of five LAUSD campuses, running from 8:00 am to 12:15 pm. It’s something, but it left us needing childcare for his entire summer holiday, because he still needed someone to be at the house when he arrived home from ESY and for the six hours left in the workday.

Finding childcare is a challenge in itself. We again have been fortunate thus far to have maintained contact with a few of the great support staffers at our former school, and were able to offer competitive salary during the summer and the comfort for us is that we have people we know, like and most importantly, trust with Cole. They know him, he has trust with them and they know how to care for him and to engage with him.

The value of that trust is priceless.

The first weeks of summer were easy and comfortable for Cole. We employed a woman who worked with him at his former school and who he enjoys spending time with, mostly chilling out. He has his moments when he likes nothing better than chatting, watching cooking shows and relaxing. It worked well for the post ESY afternoons, when he felt a little taxed from ESY and was happy to relax.

We then took a few days off for family time in Carlsbad, a little beach town in San Diego County that we all enjoy. Mornings were spent doing some visits to museums and the aquarium, and afternoons in the pool. Cole’s idea of perfect vacation!

At the end of this summer I engaged a former staffer from his school, who we’ve maintained a friendship with for the years since he left the school and went on to pursue his higher education in Northern California, as well as fitness and wellness interests. I thought that it might nice for Cole to have a male caregiver, and I wanted him to get out and do some stuff. The first week they watched a little cooking on the telly and then went out and shopped for ingredients and prepared some of the recipes they watched! They met friends for lunch and went to a local art studio and did some painting and they headed over to our neighbors house for a swim one afternoon.

The second week they attended a day camp I found for Cole. Their summer program was for kids aged 14 and up. Cole was amongst the youngest but really loved being among teens. Each day they did all sorts of fun activities, ranging from gardening, to cooking, to working out, to creating art. They even filmed a movie in iMovie, and did some literacy studies and practice. Their final day was a beach outing. They both made a lot of friends and pretty much had a great time. As a parent, I couldn’t have asked for more.

The bond between these two is pretty special, and having a male caregiver is something that Cole needs. He was respected, treated as a nearly sixteen year old, and engaged in age appropriate, fun, activities. The balance between being a friend, mentor, and caregiver was just that perfectly balanced. He thrived. He soared.

We now need to find someone who can be all of those things to Cole who lives nearby so that he can enjoy some independence away from his parents, and perhaps even with friends, but with someone trusted, creative, and kind, who can also balance friendship, mentorship and caregiving.

Any recommendations???

 

 

 

SPEECHLESS
September 22, 2016

A new television series, a family sitcom, debuted last night on prime time ABC called SPEECHLESS. The show revolves around a family of five, where the eldest son, JJ, has cerebral palsy and depicts the inner workings of this family as they navigate life.

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I heard about the show early on because someone approached us about having Cole audition for the role of JJ since he’s kind of living that character already and he’s shown interest in performing over the years. After consideration, he decided not to. I think nerves and the start of high school made him think it might be too much, and he’s probably right.

The boy who earned the role is good. He too has cerebral palsy, though I suspect he does actually speak. There are certain truths about the character that wouldn’t be in the show if he actually used a communication device to speak because either he, or his parents, would know better. They wouldn’t be seeking a “voice” for their son. They still would want a wonderfully capable, engaging support for him at school, but not to serve as his “voice”. JJ uses a laser pointer in one scene so I questioned why he would not have a voice output device that operated with a laser pointer, or like Cole, by eye-gaze?

Despite my natural predilection for pointing out the things that I think are wrong with the show, which I know are things that only I would notice or care about (or perhaps other green parents), there are a great many things that are right. I’m thrilled that there’s a family not unlike my own on television. Families of all sorts are now represented on television and finally ours. It’s a huge thing to make something like a kid being in a wheelchair, attending school, and out in the community, a familiar thing.

The value in depicting a family like ours, showing some of the struggles and challenges, but more importantly, the regular life joys and relationships and dreams, is priceless. JJ, like Cole, is a boy who wants to be defined by his interests and abilities, not by his disabilities. He’s a funny, thoughtful typical high school boy, who happens to have cerebral palsy.

The beauty of Speechless is that they do a great job of portraying everyday family life, which in most ways is no different than any other, except that some of the challenges they deal with are a little different. Every family has challenges, all siblings feel neglected at one time or another, all parents fight for what their kids need and all kids are kids, no matter what their diagnoses.

My hope is that by having a family like mine on prime time television being portrayed in an authentic manner, which includes the good, the bad, and the ugly and everything in between, with humor (because who doesn’t find humor in some of the craziness we deal with?), care, and honesty, will make people understand that despite some obvious differences, at the heart, we are all more a like than we are not.

HAPPY
September 15, 2016

We’re now almost a month in and dare I say, high school is going well. There were big bumps leading up to the first day, and a small one on the actual first day – the aide who was supposed to ride the bus with him didn’t show up in the morning so he rode alone with the driver until they picked up the next kid. Apparently, not legal so we made the wrong decision in allowing him to go, but the aide did eventually catch up to him on the route and he arrived safely for his first day.

His schedule got sorted out and he even has a close friend from CHIME in one of his general education classes. I think it’s helpful because having a typical, cute, volleyball team, girl chatting with you and laughing with you goes along way to inspiring other kids, kids who have not previously attended school with someone like you, to talk to you too. He’s making friends, slowly, but it’s happening.

School friends…not necessarily the friends you do stuff with on the weekends. That seems harder to navigate in high school, where parents are interacting in the same way and the community itself if much larger. At this age, kids generally start to take charge of their social lives so for a kid like Cole that becomes a bit more challenging without parental support and intervention. We’ll see.

Overall, the school has shown a great interest in making sure he’s supported, challenged and engaged. He really likes his main teacher, his special education teacher, who he has for several classes, and the general education teachers likewise are making efforts to ensure that he’s participating and part of their classroom community. It’s really quite impressive.

All that said, and I’m really not complaining, but it’s still not exactly what was promised. The LAUSD high school system is very different in terms of how it approaches kids like mine. Inclusion is not a concept that is implemented at the high school level. They mainstream, which is more a sink or swim concept, and where I’m thankful he’s at a school where the administration has more than a passing interest in inclusion more so than mainstreaming.

At the end of the day, this month has gone well. He comes home tired, but happy. He’s adjusting to the crazy schedule – being picked up at 6:10 am by the bus and returned to our door sometime before 5 pm at the end of each day. Him happy, it’s all that matters. The other stuff can work itself out.

THANK YOU
November 27, 2015

I meant to post this on Wednesday and time got away from me…I hope everyone had a lovely holiday!

With Thanksgiving just days away, it’s only natural that one starts to contemplate the things they’re thankful for so that when the question is inevitably posed to the feasting table of friends, family and others, you have the seemingly perfect spontaneous response.

That’s not meant to be cynical at all. I just suspect that I’m not the only one who does better at public, yes, even a table of eighteen is considered public in my book, speaking when somewhat prepared. Besides, it’s good practice to be thankful and appreciative. Many wellness proponents recommend daily gratitude exercises as a means of learning to be positive, thoughtful and kind.

I’m thankful for quite a lot.

The middle of this year was stressful and trying and while it’s continued to be more difficult than anticipated in terms of the healing process for Cole, both physically and emotionally, the light is starting to peek through a bit and I feel positive about the year to come. So, I ‘m thankful for Cole truly starting to heal and to quite literally finding his footing again.

I’m thankful that my mom is near, and that she and Cole have such a loving, sweet relationship. I so look forward to seeing her each weekend, mostly because I love how much Cole adores her and enjoys getting lost and lunching with her.

Her boyfriend (yes, my mom has a boyfriend, which sounds funny for seventy somethings!) also has my gratitude. He’s never treated Cole as anything but one of the guys. Cole loves their covert conversations about girls and getting into trouble and delights in his stories. Cole’s desperate to have him teach him to play poker!

I’m beyond appreciative of all of the people who reached out with cards, letters, and treats for Cole when he was recovering. The support was amazing and the practice of reading each card, and learning about the author, and writing back was a great diversion from both recovery and TV! The love was overwhelming.

Along those lines, on a daily basis, I appreciate and would be lost without my growing and deepening network of friends who inspire, teach, support, and love me every single day. Without you I don’t think I’d have my sanity. I take example from each of you on how to be a parent, advocate, friend, and partner. You’re there when I need to laugh, cry, bitch, share a glass a wine (or two).

Finally, I’m thankful for my family. I am blessed to have a husband who is one hundred percent dedicated to our family and who does his best to see that Cole’s life is as rich and full as possible, and to have a son who makes every day brighter. Being Cole’s mom has taught me more about grace, determination, compassion, and love than I thought a single person could. I’m blessed for every day I get to be his mom.

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