Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

WONDERFUL WORLD, BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE
October 16, 2017

“Take a look at the world,
and the state that it’s in today,
I am sure you’ll agree,
We all could make it a better way.
With our love put together,
Ev’rybody learn to love each other,
Instead of fussing and fighting.”
Jimmy Cliff

There have been so many natural and human disasters around the world recently. It seems endless and it seems impossible to know what to do to help besides throwing whatever money one can afford to throw. But that doesn’t feel like it’s enough and it precludes any direct connection with the victims, and fall out.

After seeing the devastation in Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, and the tragic aftermath of the senseless shootings in Las Vegas, or the massive loss of life in Somalia due to two car bombings, we look to one another for answers, comfort, and relief. We hold our loved ones tighter and make effort to let those we love, know we love them. We join campaigns and donate to organizations to provide assistance. We hope that our own cities won’t be the next struck by any kind of tragedy, natural or manmade. And we then we go about our lives feeling we’ve helped.

And we have. Being kind to one another is important and providing much needed funds to relief efforts is necessary. Going about our normal daily lives is also important both for our communities, our families, and us.

But there are some people who think outside the box and make effort to effect change and to impart a different kind of care, the care of action. I am blessed to know one such angel, and I want to share what she did in the wake of the Las Vegas tragedy. She made a pilgrimage of kindness to Las Vegas; where she did fifty-eight acts of kindness, encouraging each recipient to pay it forward themselves, in honor of each of the fifty-eight victims.

The deeds ranged from surprising random diners in Flaming Fajitas with gift cards to cover their meals, to presenting flowers to a senior in an assisted living home, to paying for haircuts at a local Fantastic Sam’s, to bringing pizzas to the first responding police station, to providing her cab driver with a generous tip, that he then donated to a collection his company had going to provide aid to the victims, and so much more. Each deed was accompanied by a note with the name, hometown and age of the shooting victim she was honoring. Many of the recipients had stories of their own to share with her and ideas for paying her kindness forward on their own.

She touched an entire city. She connected with people on a whole different level. The local paper caught wind of her mission and wrote about her. She shared the journey on Facebook and had lots of supporters wanting to help facilitate her passion. She took the idea of helping a step further than most of us even conceive. I know her to be one of the kindest, most caring, friendly, enthusiastic people I’ve ever met and I’ve been inspired by her since she came into my life. I aim to think outside the box like she does. I hope you will find inspiration in her actions too.

58 Acts of Kindness

DON’T STOP BELIEVING
October 6, 2017

Today is World CP Day.

I like that there are agencies and organizations that strive to educate and inform the public about cerebral palsy. It affects millions of families and individuals, some more obviously than others, and from my experience is often misunderstood in terms of the perception most people have about CP.

For my family, everyday is CP Day.

Cole came into this world not breathing. Not breathing for twelve minutes. The lack of oxygen to his brain caused injury. In his case, his physical abilities are largely compromised. He is non-ambulatory, non-verbal, g-tube fed, and has fine and gross motor skill compromise. His cognitive function is fully in tact. He is bright, witty, compassionate, loving and kind. He has delays both socially and educationally, largely due to the effects of the physical disabilities, but he has friends and loves school.

 

From birth, doctors prepared us for everything he wouldn’t, couldn’t or shouldn’t do or be. Their collective portrait was not particularly optimistic. We believed otherwise. We poured ourselves into doing everything we could to make sure he had every opportunity to lead a full, happy life.

There’s no handbook for raising a child like mine. There are doctors, friends, teachers, peers, who you can look to for advice, experience and support, and there are more and more non-profit opportunities for social activities, sports, and fun for kids with special needs. There are endless sources on the Internet now and on line and off line parent support groups that give strength, support, and experience too.

There are also countless therapies, treatments and interventions that can help a lot, or more often nominally, and it’s an easy source of parental angst for me, and others I know, how to know whether you’re putting your child through hours and hours of effort that may not go anywhere, for yourself or for the good of you child, and whether or not there is more value in finding some sort of balance between therapies and interventions, and providing your child with a semblance of a normal childhood, spent with friends having fun and enjoying life. It’s a catch-22 situation because you’re always left with that nagging, what if we had tried “XX”? Or maybe we should be doing “YY”.

I grapple with those nagging what if’s but I also do believe that we’ve managed to raise a boy who is exceeding expectations of what his life would be like, and who gracefully handles the lot he’s been handed. It’s not all sunshine and there have been dark periods in both his life, and in our family life, but overall, he’s leading a life that is not wholly unlike that of his typical peers, and for that I am grateful.  I will never stop believing in the power of Cole.  He challenges me to think beyond myself and inspires me to dream.

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SWIMMING LESSON
September 26, 2017

We’re back to our usual routine after what felt like endless birthday celebrations! September is a busy month for us! The celebrating fun as it is, is also exhausting. I’m looking forward to a few weeks of whatever normal life might be considered.

The big fun right now is that we have a giant hole in our backyard, and heaps of dirt, that will eventually become a swimming pool and lovely outdoor kitchen. The project started a few weeks ago and is now hostage to some permitting that requires both DWP and the city to approve, so your guess is as good as mine as to how long that will take.

After years and years of wishing and contemplating the idea of putting a pool in our backyard, my father in law kind of got the ball rolling for us. Cole has always loved water and swimming, and thrives doing aquatic therapy, so it will be amazing for him to have a pool of his own.

It’s also a great social activity for him. He’s at an age where social things have become harder to come by and fewer between. Teenagers don’t really want an adult infiltrating their outings activities, nor are they necessarily mature enough to be asked to be responsible for Cole on a solo outing. It’s hard. But inviting friends to swim and hang out is an easy, fun social activity that they all enjoy and that will hopefully keep his social calendar filled.

We’ve been blessed to have many friends over the years, who have generously shared their pools and backyards with us, so our hope is to pay it forward by having a sort of open invitation to all of our friends to come spend time lounging and swimming. We tend to be home quite a lot and plan to make great use of the new backyard in terms of swimming, hanging out and cooking, and we love to have company for all of those things!

I am already envisioning next spring and summer being filled with afternoons of swimming and goofing around with friends that turn in to casual dinners and night swims. I’m fantasizing about putting a moveable screen outside so we can do impromptu movie nights viewed drifting on floats in the pool or snuggled up on a cozy lounge chair. I imagine my husband and myself doing all kinds of aquatic workouts, including swimming laps, but also enjoying the resistance of water for other aquatic exercise.

I see Cole coming home from school and taking a daily afternoon swim. It will be a fabulous chance for him to stretch out his body and to move a bit after a day in his wheelchair. I can’t imagine how good that will feel to him. The freedom he has in the water is unlike anywhere else. He has more control over himself and more strength in water. And it’s definitely his happy place!

I’m beyond excited about the seemingly endless benefits our backyard transformation will provide! Even looking at the giant hole and mounds of dirt, I can picture the family frolicking in the cool water on sunny days…

I hope you’ll join us!  (maybe not until next spring!)

 

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???

 

 

 

SHARP DRESSED MAN
July 24, 2017

My boy is growing up.

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Sometimes it’s hard to see the subtle changes in his personality, demeanor, and interests as he ages. There are delays to be sure, and some changes are diminished because he simply doesn’t have the communication skills necessary to adequately express everything that he’s feeling internally. I like to think, hope, that we’ve all (me, Dan and Cole) got some of the communication down to where the important things, especially, are eventually made known.

This past weekend, after running a few necessary errands, Cole vehemently did not want to go home. Having groceries in the hot car, we agreed to stop at home so Dan could run things inside, while I talked to Cole about where he wanted to go. He actually really seemed to need to go somewhere. Turns out he really wanted to go to the mall to do a little clothes shopping for himself.

I’m a big fan of on-line shopping, especially for his clothes. He hasn’t shown much interest in what he wears until recently so it works out pretty well. I made a promise along time ago not to dress him stupidly and I’ve managed to keep it thus far. I frequently ask for his opinion of things and recently he showed interest in selecting a new swim suit ( a cute crew cuts pair of navy trunks with little orange embroidered stars) and rash guard for an upcoming beach get-away.

Needless to say, the mall excursion came as a bit of surprise. He happily searched through Gap Kids looking for, what exactly, I don’t know. We left with a cheery striped polo shirt and a pair of madras plaid Bermuda shorts. Both confidently selected by the boy. He tightly held on to the bag as we continued through the mall (and even into the car). We didn’t find anything else he was keen on, and he made it pretty clear that this trip was not intended for parent browsing or shopping (though his dad did manage to snag a little something on sale at Lucky, despite protests from the boy).

He proudly wore his shirt to summer school today, and has already requested that it be cleaned and ready to pack for our trip. I’ve promised to involve him in any future shopping for his needs. It adds another layer to the process but it will be interesting and fun to see where his taste takes him. Just another reminder of how important it is for him to have every opportunity to express himself, with wardrobe, words, and whatever other ways he finds.

Summertime Blues
July 17, 2017

I’m baaacccckkkk…

For better or worse, it’s been nearly a year since I added new posts to I Love Your Brain. I think about it often and I miss writing but these months have been charged with all sorts of new stresses and joys.

The most notable event of the “lost months” is that Cole started high school. He’s actually now successfully and happily completed his freshman year at a public LAUSD high school. He did well, enjoyed school, made friends (even had a girlfriend) and is now contentedly enjoying four weeks of summer school.

Filling nearly ten weeks of summer with two working parents is challenging, so we take activity where we can! Thankfully, he still loves school so summer school is a good, free option for part of summer.

The relief I feel about Cole liking his new high school and adapting to the new environment, teachers, schedule and transportation can’t be measured. The stress leading up to finding what we hoped would be the right school was immense for all of us. We’d been spoiled by CHIME. Cole had only known inclusion. How would this work at the high school level, in a school district that doesn’t practice inclusion at the high school level?

Interestingly enough, his school was open to allowing him to take some classes under general ed and some, including his home room under special ed. At first he really liked having his day split between the two, and he did well in all of his classes. He had support for the general ed classes through his special ed teacher and made some friends outside of the special ed class.

But somewhere midway through the year, he started to prefer his special education classes to the general education classes. He made more friends in that class and felt more comfortable and confident there. For the first time in his fifteen years he’s starting to identify more with kids who have disabilities or are more similarly abled to him. One hand it seems like a natural trend. High school is where most teens start to regroup and find their peeps.

On the other hand, it’s been harder for my husband and I to accept. We both recognize that it’s Cole’s choice and that his happiness is most important but in that way that most special needs parents have to let go of their own notions of what their child’s experience is supposed to look like and adapt to what it does look like, we have had to let go of the idea that having an inclusive education at this level is what’s best for Cole. It’s hard.

Despite the successful school year he’s had, it’s also come with a fair amount of loneliness. He’s made a lot of friends at school, kids he spends every school day with and some riding the bus to and from and school with (so spending roughly from 6:15am until 5pm together), but he doesn’t see these kids outside of school, except one movie date night earlier this summer.

Nor does he see much of his old friends. There are some kids who he was really close to at CHIME who he hasn’t seen since leaving CHIME. I understand it’s the ways things naturally go at this stage in their young lives, but I’m not sure how much he does. The reality is that there’s little intervention that I as a parent can offer. It breaks my heart.

Right now, I’m just hoping the rest of summer will pass quickly and that we can get back to routine of sophomore year, full school days. We’re in the process of building a swimming pool so next summer Cole will be able to enjoy his favorite activity any time he wants…swimming – in his own swimming pool in his own backyard! Hopefully it will provide some social opportunities for him too!

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SOUND OF YOUR VOICE
September 26, 2016

A friend recently shared information about a service that can create a voice for people who do not speak and rely on the use of a voice output device to communicate. Vocal ID can create a voice that closely resembles what your actual voice likely sounds like by using both sound recordings of utterances if you can make them and accessing a voice bank they have to find your vocal match.

I love the sound of Cole’s voice when he uses it successful to speak, and especially when it rings with laughter. I can’t quite imagine how I’d feel hearing him speak and sound like him. The voice his Tobii device uses is a computer generated voice that is somewhat age appropriate, but a voice that is shared by countless others who are of similar age and sex and who use voice output devices. It’s not unique.

Our voices are one of the most unique things about each one of us. With closed eyes, I think I could correctly identify most people I know by their voice. Cole’s is a voice I never imagined hearing, save for the limited vocalizations he makes. To have conversations with him using his Tobii but sounding like Cole would be overwhelming and life changing. I feel like conversation becomes that much more intimate in knowing it would be his voice, unique to him.

I’m just starting to explore how to go about having his voice imprinted and put on his Tobii. I’ll share more as I myself learn more and begin the process. I signed up as a donor too, to bank my voice with the hope that it could be used to help shape someone else’s own voice.

Stay tuned…