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

MANIC MONDAY
October 9, 2017

Generally I don’t have anything against Mondays. I view Monday as the beginning of the week and I tend to like beginnings, as opposed to endings. The start of things, days, events, have an optimism and hope that aren’t as certain to be carried through to the ending.manic-monday

This morning the boy struggled to wake and was grumpy. Granted, I’m not keen on our 5:30 wake-up time either and I find as he matures into his teens, it’s harder and harder for him. Don’t get me wrong he’ll never be the sleep until noon kind of teen, sleeping in to him is more like 6:30am or, gasp, 7:00am! I think he’s just a point where his preference is not be awakened, but to wake naturally, even it were to be at 5:30am, which is what happens often on weekends, when he can actually sleep in! Then, he wakes happily, wanting nothing more than to lounge in bed, watching something mindless, or snuggling.

This morning though, he was a bit of a bear. My solution? Loud music and crazy dancing. First laying next to him, helping to move his arms and waving my hands and legs in the air like an upturned beetle, then me dancing around the room while he shook off his morning blues and eventually laughed, and laughed. On occasion, I can be hilarious! It worked though and to my mind, a quick bit of dancing is a nice way to get the day started.

With that in mind, I haven’t shared the songs that make up my post titles for quite a while because I’ve been so terrible about posting so I thought I’d use this post to do so. Since the last time I shared, here are the songs and artists of recent blog titles:

Manic Monday (The Bangles)
Don’t Stop Believing (Journey)
Swimming Lesson (The Eels)
Sixteen Forever (The Dictators)
Just Like Starting Over (John Lennon)
Changes (David Bowie)
Lean on Me (Bill Withers)
Sharp Dressed Man (ZZ Top)
Summeritme Blues (Eddie Cochran)
Sound of Your Voice (Bare Naked Ladies)
Speechless (Michael Jackson)
Making Plans for Nigel (XTC)

Looking forward to a cheerier Tuesday…

 

 

 

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?

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.

HAPPY
July 17, 2017

Just found this unposted blog…Sort of relates to the one I just posted…

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.

 

 

 

 

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…

 

 

 

TAKE A CHANCE ON ME
February 23, 2016

The high school process continues. The great news is that Cole got into our top choice for him. The bad news is that the hard work is still ahead of us. The school he got into is an independent charter high school. It’s small, fully inclusive, and open to the challenge of having a diverse student body. It’s a performing arts charter but Cole was accepted to their liberal arts program.

They’ve never had a kid like him, but the reality is very few schools have. Cole’s unique beyond just his obvious challenges. I’m not sure where kids like Cole go to school but this process has shown me that very few schools are open to the unknown. Spectrum diagnoses are now apparently commonplace enough that they do not rattle most mainstream schools, and there are endless private options available to these kids.

The task of managing a child with physical needs is apparently more daunting to school administrations, than say some of the significant behavioral issues that can accompany many spectrum diagnoses. Add in the non-verbal component and he becomes even more so. The reality of a kid like Cole, who is by all accounts friendly, interested, cooperative, and bright in class, is that once people know how to manage his physical needs and to work with his technological accouterments (i.e. his Tobii), he’s a pretty easy kid.

Yes, he needs modifications for some of his schoolwork, and even the occasional accommodation, usually extra time, but even that isn’t terribly taxing. The big problem as I see it is that there just aren’t enough kids like Cole in general, and more pointedly, who want to be fully included. There aren’t even enough to motivate an innovative school or non-profit to start a specialized school for kids like him, as we’ve seen happen in the last decade or so for kids on the spectrum.

Neil Young started a very tiny school, which I believe emerged initially from a camp program that focuses on assistive technology for kids with cerebral palsy. It’s for younger kids, and handful at that, who can afford the private tuition. I’d love to send Cole to the camp to better his Tobii skills, and to perhaps help motivate him use it in social settings, and not just at school.

For Cole, whose only education experience has been in fully inclusive settings, and his only social group is a diverse pool of kids, mostly typical, the best, least restrictive setting for him is a high school that can provide the same. He’s motivated by peers and teachers who are seeing him, Cole, not the wheelchair, not the Tobii, just Cole, the boy.

Getting a school to take the chance of having him as part of their community is proving to be harder than anyone led us to think it would be. If the school of our choice can be convinced to take the leap and to go for it, the rewards of having a kid like him in their student body would be far greater than the accommodations and modifications that would be required to do so.

He brings something unique to the party and it happens everywhere he goes. I know I’m his mom, but I’ve seen it happen everywhere he goes. He has the ability to attract people, to make peers feel comfortable, cared for and important, and to make a lasting imprint on teachers and staff. He has countless checkout people at our regular haunts, and waitress staff at favorite restaurants that count on smiles from him and return them just as openly.

If he can continue his education at this school, he’ll find his place quickly, routines will become established, and life will go on, just slightly altered, and most certainly improved, by him being there.

Please!!!!  Take a chance on Cole!