img_8807Well, we are into 2019 and we haven’t yet written our summary of 2018. December flew by in a blur of Graham’s birthday, taekwondo, work, cub scouts, church, holidays and school. Our Christmas tree is still up for a few more days so I figure I’m good to write this.

2018 was the year:

  • We took a spring break vacation to St. Louis. The arch visitor center was under construction and I very much feared we might never find the entrance! And then when we did Graham decided there was no way he was going to go up that high. Luckily we were able to talk him into it.
  • Graham completed kindergarten and declared that he would have his very first summer vacation (because up until now he’d always had to be at daycare year round).
  • Grace completed fifth grade leaving behind a group of women in her special needs classroom who’d been there for her since kindergarten. She seems to have acclimated to middle school relatively easily thanks to spending some time there over the summer and her new special education teacher spending the time to get to know her and make sure everything was ready.
  • Kevin headed to Minnesota for an APO function and thoroughly enjoyed time with his friends and a road trip without any interruptions to stop for a bathroom or change out a movie. He listened to Bruce Springsteen all the way.
  • I invested a lot of time at work in a project that’s been happening off and on for 10ish years. I’m happy to report that the Iowa Department of Public Health is officially an accredited state health department. As the pressure on government mounts, I find myself in awe of the work that we all show up to do day after day.
  • Grace got a new wheelchair. It tilts and reclines. Functions we would never have guessed we would need. Grace picked the color “Sugarplum purple”. Of course, it sparkles and of her love of ballet seems to shine through in the name of her color choice.
  • We became the proud (but anxious) owners of a wheelchair van. The cost had always been a reason to wait…we were getting by. But Grace’s new wheelchair is much heavier than her last, and Grace hasn’t stopped growing! The wheelchair van has brought with it new challenges but also new opportunities.
  • We took the new wheelchair van and new topper (because there’s little room to pack in a wheelchair van to South Dakota). We saw the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, took a steam engine powered train ride to a small town where we panned for gold and took old time pictures, and ultimately made our way to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming because it was “so close.” It’s amazing to be able to get out in world with Grace. Not everything is handicapped accessible but we push the boundaries and I imagine as we grow more confident we’ll push them even more.
  • Kevin and I continue to serve on the Dance Without Limits Board. Our Dance Without Limits family continues to grow and the ballerinas and ballet engineer who have helped Grace over the years continue to amaze us.
  • Graham became a Tiger Cub. In his first few weeks he was in a parade and helped with a flag presentation at the Johnston High School homecoming game.   What a way to begin!
  • Grace stayed relatively healthy although there have been various concerns that have popped up through the year. Her sodium level is too low. Her urine grew some strange bacteria-twice! She had a pressure sore we couldn’t get to heal. Her seizures are changing…which is good according to the doctor (we are going with that for now).   She also outgrew the braces she wears on her legs in four months; usually braces last 9 – 12 months.
  • I have been listening to musicals on repeat…Hamilton, Waitress, and The Greatest Showman were the soundtrack of my year.
  • Kevin began collecting stickers of places we’ve been to stick on the topper as a badge of honor. His wanderlust finally getting a chance shine.

That seems like enough to get you a taste of our year. We look forward to the year ahead. Kevin has multiple summer vacations planned, we’ll have to pick one.   Graham is expressing interest not only in taekwondo but also in basketball, and he’s hinted about baseball. I’m hoping to talk him into show choir camp this summer. Grace will continue to dance and play baseball and I find myself already preparing for her 13th birthday at the end of the month. I can’t help but wonder what her version of teenager years will look like. I’m going to try and read more books and actually print out more of the pictures I take.

Thank you for looking in on our 2018. We wish you all a Happy 2019!

Joy

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Romans 12:9

On Wednesday nights I take Grace to church. She participates in the jr. high ministry program. (Seriously…jr. high ministry…hardly seems possible).

We were there last week. Grace and I were in the front row. We were with the other kids in her special needs class and all the 6th graders.   It was “Ask the Pastor” night. We’ve been talking about the Bible and the week before kids were asked to submit questions that they had for the pastors to answer. The two pastors walked out with what looked to be a pretty substantial stack of questions. In the midst of answering questions about why there are no dinosaurs in the Bible, why God made cancer, why it’s important to go to church, how long it takes God to forgive, and where God came from, the kids in Grace’s special needs class were all over the place. One girl was up out of her seat multiple times. I could hear the volunteer behind me encouraging the boy next to him to stay seated and quiet. One volunteer jumped from kid to kid helping where she was needed. The sign language interpreter just kept signing. We were disruptive.  I kept waiting for someone to walk one of the kids out of the sanctuary.  I watched for glaring looks or raised eyebrows to come from the pastors answering those 6th grader questions – but none of that happened.  Our class was exactly who we are. During communion, Grace added to the disruption in her own way.  Pulling away from me at times to walk towards the band as they played, the pull of the guitar, the lights, and the patterns behind the power point slide showing the lyrics all drawing her away from our seats.

Frankly, it felt unreal and I continued to wait for the shoe to drop. Would our class leave early? Was there an alternate route for Grace’s wheelchair if I had to get out of there quickly?   I panicked a bit when I realized there wasn’t. We were blocked in.  We would have to leave through the crowd and out the main doors. We were part of the group for better or for worse. But my worrying was for nothing.   We stayed and continued to just be us. We were there the whole time and then after a prayer made our way to our classroom for our own lesson.

I told Kevin about it when we got home. I still think about it. It was this glimpse of how all are welcome…eerily accompanied by the pastors answering questions that pointed to everyone being loved and that everyone has a place and a purpose.

The first memory verse of Grace’s junior high ministry years is from Romans 12:9. It starts like this…”Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them.”

That really uncomfortable (for me) 35 minutes felt like real love. Real love that I can’t explain.

I have so many questions about disabilities and the church. It’s one of those areas that Grace has pushed us into just because she’s Grace. Just like learning how to give a shot or replace a g-tube it’s a competency area I gave no thought to prior to Grace’s diagnosis. But once you learn something new you can’t help but see it.

As I walked through our church on Sunday morning I saw multiple kids with disabilities. There were volunteers sitting with them in nooks and crannies. Volunteers dancing with a partner where there was no music. A volunteer in a hallway carefully holding a hand and walking slowly while chatting about nothing I could overhear. I wondered if other people saw them?  Do the people that work and go to this church know what that group of volunteers is doing for those kids and their families?  Do they know how welcoming it is that when you get to church and find the handicapped seats are all taken but the congregation is so quick about making room the ushers don’t even have to intervene? Do they know that with the few days they give me to prep I can make most any lesson adaptable for Grace and I’m happy to do it?  Do they know what it means when they can admit upfront they aren’t perfect but they are willing to work with you?  I wonder.

Someday I want to have something profound to say about disabilities and the church. In the meantime, I’ll keep watching.

Joy

When we were younger

15 years ago this month Kevin and I went on our first date at Living History Farms.

14 years ago tomorrow we were married there.

We were so young but felt a little old at the time to just be getting married…sigh.

I see our wedding picture every day and I almost don’t recognize us.

I don’t feel like we’ve looked like that since Grace was diagnosed. What I see now in our pictures are two people who look a little bit tired. Two people working so hard to keep everything afloat and smiling (but not as big) while doing it.

Never in our dating did I consider if Kevin would be a good medical supply orderer. If he’d be able to princess carry our daughter long after I couldn’t. If he’d be ok cleaning up poop.   How he’d respond when a doctor said: “Frankly, I’m at a loss…”.   If he’d have a hidden knack for adjusting a wheelchair or whipping up a changing table using IKEA bookshelves.

We had no way of knowing all of that and more was in our future.

We joke with people sometimes that we have five or six “date afternoons” a year. We’ve been getting season tickets to the Civic Center for the last several years. Somehow we’ve managed to never miss a show. We’ve been able to do that through a combination of help from family and respite providers who we are very grateful for.   When we were first married I admit I imagined there would be more date nights. But the reality of finding someone to care for Grace is that it’s hard. I sometimes get jealous of date nights and parent trips that others seem to take with such ease. I know social media is all perception but it just seems so far from our reality.

I struggle sometimes to understand the effect of Grace’s needs on our marriage. She arrived a year and a half into it and by our second year of marriage, we were playing by completely different rules. Graham changed the rules again when he arrived. I don’t mean to oversimplify but one of the big differences I see in parenting the two are the logistics Grace brings with her that Graham doesn’t.  There are so many people to schedule appointments with, people to communicate with, meetings to go to, labs to get, paperwork to fill out, things to have in a bag before we leave the house. If we forget anything for Graham we can pick it up at any Target or gas station. If we forget certain things for Grace she doesn’t eat and has to wait until we get home. Grace has forced Kevin and I to combine our brainpower and up our organization. Sometimes we have it all. Sometimes we forget things.

The other thing she’s forced is conversations I’m hoping most married couples don’t have. Brain surgery?…Yes or no? Try the experimental drug? Get the medicine from Amsterdam? Are our expectations for inclusion fair? Can we afford the wheelchair van? What will happen to her when she’s done with high school, how will she spend her day? How will she not get isolated?

I’ve been thinking about all this because we had a nurse today in our home who wasn’t with us all summer. She asked if we took any vacation this summer. I told her we did. We did Mt. Rushmore, the Badlands, Devil’s Tower. I went on to explain that the wheelchair van had made it possible. That Graham being older helps a ton. That Kevin’s research on van toppers and ability to pack in tight spaces was key. That it went well enough we are planning another summer vacation.

“Good for you,” she said.   “It was good” I replied.

This thing that the younger Kevin and I started is going ok. We are doing good things. Maybe not the things we imagined but things that are important.

I’m glad they didn’t know… the younger Kevin and I. We’ve probably done best learning together as we go.

Joy

 

 

IMG-0121Grace and Kevin entered the empty waiting bus for the State Fair first.  Graham and I followed.  The bus driver had everyone else wait while he and Kevin made sure Grace was all fastened down for the ride. Graham chose seats for he and I.  He chose the bench right by the accordion on the double bus.  We were all settled when the rest of the people filed in and eventually the bus took off.  There were three people across the aisle from Graham and I.  I can only guess a mom, dad, and college-aged daughter. Two of three wore Iowa State shirts, the other a shirt with the American flag.  They all wore Nike shoes that had seen better days.  I noticed the man’s gaze settle on Grace.  “I’m surprised someone would go to all the work to bring her out here,” the man said.  He was looking right at Grace as he said it.  I leaned forward but looked down.  His wife didn’t say anything immediately but then she said “Maybe they just take her to a few things”.  After a pause he spoke again saying “Maybe they get more out of things then I know.”

If the two of them said any more I missed it.  I missed it because Graham was psyched to see the accordion of the bus expand and there were trains – so many trains below.

The conversation has haunted me in a way.  I wonder if I should have inserted myself? But what would I have said?

First, I’d like to think I’d say thank you for noticing the work we do.  It is work to do things with Grace.  There’s a level of planning for her that we don’t worry about with Graham.  There are things she has to have, and not just things we can pick up somewhere on the fairgrounds if we forget.  There are the hills we get to push her up. There’s the trying to find a space in a crowd of people for a girl in a wheelchair to be up front and see what you want her to see.  The crowd just doesn’t split when a wheelchair draws near.

Then I’d have confirmed we do take her to a few things we know she loves.  The DNR building has the fish.  We saw dancing at the Bill Riley talent show.  We hung out with Abby Brown at the PBS booth for just a few minutes.  There was music everywhere.  We ran into one of our favorite people, Hannah.  Plus she was just outside.  It’s summer.  Kids should be outside.  She also endures the things the rest of like!

As for his last comment, I don’t know what I would have said.  He’d touched on one of the great mysteries of Grace.  The amount she takes in and what she does with that input is hard to discern.  But here’s the thing, she didn’t complain.  She looked at the doll houses.  She watched the bands.  She slept a few minutes when Graham couldn’t decide what his one thing to do on the midway would be.  She watched the dancing.  She watched the people.

But there’s also this…we were there as a family.  We attended the state fair together.  Sure we split up at times because Grace can’t do the same things that Graham does.  For example, he likes to ride the skyglider.  Even if we did get Grace on there someone would still have to run her wheelchair up to the other end of the lift.  But we came together, left together, and hung out quite a bit together that day.  Family time is important.  Tradition is important.

I’m sure it would have been too much to tell him that there are also bits of grief mixed in for something seemingly just normal.  There were girls who look her age walking around the fair in groups together, no parents in sight.  There were girls her age in the talent show who I watched wondering about what could have been.  I looked at what girls Grace’s age were wearing and wondered if they would think it was strange if I asked them where they got their clothes.  I feel like Grace is in a bit of a fashion rut…out of kid sizes and the places I’ve relied on to clothe her!  (I find myself unsure where to shop for her now.  I want more than anything to keep her relevant.  She’s already got plenty, not in her favor I don’t need to set her up for anything based on how I dress her.)  Middle school looms and has me anxious for her, that’s a different blog I’m sure.  There are the looks.  The people who feel sorry for her.  The people who feel sorry for us.  The people who look away when you make eye contact.  There are the little kids who crane their necks backward to keep their eyes on her even as their parents holding their hands pull them forward.  There are families getting on the skyglider, families walking together hands linked, families who appear more nimble than ours.  The grief just lies on the edges, I’m aware of it, but on this day I could process it and keep going.

Finally, I’d say I’m grateful the man could acknowledge that he didn’t know what he didn’t know.  Some people count her out automatically with just one quick look.  I sometimes have said that it takes a special person to really see Grace.  I’m not so sure special is the right word-it’s not enough.  What I’ve learned is that it takes someone with an open mind, an open heart, and a willingness to take the time to see that matters.

It’s a bit strange to consider how many of the conversations like the one I heard that day about Grace I’ve missed as random people have encountered us.  As I finish writing I’d just encourage you to keep an open mind, and open heart, and be willing to see what you may not have experienced.

Joy

 

 

IMG-3938We were in my hometown over the weekend for Farmer’s Day.  We arrived Friday afternoon and made our way downtown to find my Dad.  I knew just where he would be he’s there every Farmer’s Day weekend.  My godparents were there and I loved seeing both of them.  We got supper at a local booth, watched some singing, Graham wrangled two carnival games out of us and won a small stuffed shark.  Then it was time to go back to my parent’s house.  One of the carnival workers stopped us as we were walking back and said he wanted to give something to Grace.  He proceeded to pull down from the booth a large pink unicorn with lots of sparkles.  It was perfect for Grace, I wondered how he could just look at her and know!  I asked if he was sure, not quite believing he would just give away such a large stuffed animal.  We held it in front of Grace, she totally checked it out, and we thanked him.  Graham volunteered to carry it back to my mom and dad’s house.  This from a boy who 30 seconds earlier was complaining he was too tired to make the walk.

As we walked Kevin and Grace got further and further ahead of us.  I considered asking a question all while knowing I would be wandering into potentially dangerous territory but Graham had been oohing and ahhing over the unicorn.  He had made no comparison to the much smaller and very plain in comparison shark he’d had to work to win.  I wondered why.

“Why do you think that man gave the unicorn to Grace?” I asked.

“Because she’s in a wheelchair.” He said simply.

“Is that the only reason? I asked prodding further.

“She can’t play the games Mom.” End of conversation.

He started talking about other things. But then a few minutes later said, “That was really nice of that man to give this unicorn to Grace.” He carried the unicorn happily all the way. He’d just taken it all in stride.

The next day he was not near as generous with his sister. I was doing something with her and he wanted me to be with him. Now that he’s learned to write he began to write me notes and pass them to me as I fed Grace. One read “Stop Now.” The other just read “No”. Not being able to leave her – because sometimes I just can’t leave her – and him needing or wanting attention from me that I can’t give makes me feel the heavy weight of mom guilt like few other things.

Later that day there was a point when I had to bow out of the fun because Grace needed some time out of her chair, air conditioning, and rest. Graham had a choice at this point. He could either come with me and Grace or he could stay downtown riding rides with his aunt, uncle, and cousins.  I was not surprised in the least when he chose them.  Although I knew he’d be fine part of me hated to leave him, hated to miss him experiencing Farmer’s Day and his cousins, and part of me felt guilty because he’s my responsibility. Watching Graham with his cousins, the banter, the love, even the arguing is sad in a way and fills me with a regret that he doesn’t have typical siblings but I also love to see him join in the fray and I’m so grateful for how my brother’s family embraces him.

There’s a part of me that hates that this is his reality.  It’s not always people giving us pink unicorns.  There aren’t always cousins to ease that we are choosing her over him.  But it is our reality.  We all make sacrifices.  I can only hope that he knows how much he is loved and continue to embrace the pink unicorn moments.  And for those times when he feels he’s being overlooked, I have to hope he can see that in a family you can’t always be first but by no means does that mean you are unloved.

Joy