12262Grace turned 12 last weekend.

Twelve.

I can’t fathom how time has moved both that fast and that slow.

Grace’s birthday usually finds me a little down. It is hard to celebrate what is while also very aware of what could have been. One of her presents was a very large Sofia the First balloon. I walked out of the store feeling half excited because I knew she’d love it and half sad because her likes aren’t more age appropriate. Having said that I also feel like I should state for the record my sadness doesn’t take anything away from my love for Grace. My love for her is big, life-changing and powerful.

We took Grace to see Stomp for her birthday. She loved it. I did too. There was so much energy on the stage. So much non-verbal communication flowing between the performers and out to the audience. They did it all using objects that were not made to be musical. (Plastic Target sacks and newspapers became musical instruments at times.)

There was a point in the show when all the performers were standing in a line across the front of the stage using only lighters (clicks and flames) to deliver that section of the performance. All the lights were out- it was pitch black. Accompanying Grace in her wheelchair we were in the very front row so we could see the concentration on the performers’ faces as they clicked and burned their way through the piece. It was phenomenal to see. Being able to see it added something to the performance for me.   The look of their combined work was very precise. Small lights in a large dark room danced across the stage. The concentration on each of their faces showed their determination to make it happen.   With all that focus they made it look effortless. It seemed shorter in length than some of the other pieces but I think it was my favorite piece.

It was understated but effective.

It was potentially easy to overlook as a person relives the show because it wasn’t loud or high energy.

It was a little dangerous to learn I’m sure.

Mistakes could be easily seen by a large group of people. There was no way to hide them.

Each performer had to do the work to make it happen.

I think Grace is a bit understated but worthy. She’s easy to miss because she’s quiet and doesn’t show a lot of emotion. Loving her is dangerous in that all parenting takes courage, but special needs parenting perhaps takes a bit more daring. Parenting Grace takes place in front of a huge audience, there are many people who weigh in, many people to judge, many people to bless her, and many who help determine her future.   We are working to make sure all their input comes together and results in a growing and thriving Grace.   We are doing it all with the tools that we have. We are making our own music. Grace loves music. She can love Sofia the First and Stomp!

So here’s to her 12th year! It will be an adventure.

Joy

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MK_PFTHPURPLEB1CHAR_20170227_7962999163.jpegWhen I was growing up my parents got us a Christmas ornament every year. It was a tradition. I love unpacking those ornaments each year- seeing my mom’s handwriting listing my name and the year I received the ornament on the boxes. When Kevin and I were married those were the only Christmas ornaments we had for our tree.

It’s a tradition I wanted to continue with my kids. For Grace’s first Christmas we’d been through a lot and I remember struggling to find an ornament that represented that time- something we’d want to celebrate and remember every year about baby Grace as we unpacked that ornament. Ultimately I settled on an ornament of Dumbo taking a bath in a tub. The note I wrote on the box was one sentence in length that says “Because Grace loves taking a tubby!” One year it was a Cinderella ornament that marked her invitation to a princess birthday party. The first year she rode a horse-it was a horse. The year we flew to see her Aunt Heather and Uncle Drue married in Virginia it was a plane. This Christmas it was a Rapunzel ornament that we bought her at Disney World when we visited.   Each year I write a note on the box about why we chose that ornament for the year.

My mom never wrote messages on the box about why she chose the ornament. She never had to because I know and I can tell the story. I started writing out the reasons on the ornaments we buy for our kids because I knew Grace wouldn’t be able to tell the story.

Special needs grief is a funny thing because this year as I was packing those ornaments carefully away I got to wondering if it mattered.   If anything happened to us would those ornaments really follow Grace? When she grows up and if she were to live apart from us would anyone read the notes to her? Put up the ornaments? Was I just creating more for Graham to have to go through someday?   Was it an unnecessary tradition? And in a larger sense if we are the sole keeper of Grace’s story and why she matters a few ornaments won’t begin to tell the story.

I feel different about Graham’s box. His ornaments are for him to have so that one day he can remember his growing up by going through a few ornaments that represent snapshots of what he liked and how he grew. I can picture him sharing them with his kids telling them about what Dad was like when he was little.

Ultimately Grace’s ornaments got packed in her box. I came to no conclusions other than it’s not a waste. If those ornaments are only ultimately for me then they are only ultimately for me. I chalked it up to grief sneaking up on me. Grief on a normal Sunday when we’d been to church, I was doing laundry, Grace was playing happily on the floor pulling every toy out of the basket in front of her, Graham and Kevin were out playing in the snow, and we were planning on Casey’s pizza for supper. It was grief that comes from the helplessness of not knowing. Grief because I’m not sure what to dream for Grace in the future. A grief that her experience will never be all that I dreamed for her.  And the thing is I have a level of acceptance about all of this. I do. I swear. But even with acceptance, there are moments that catch you off guard and then all you can do is take the time to acknowledge the grief, share it if you need to, process it until it’s processed and then keep going.   The ornaments are packed away but the work continues.

Joy

FullSizeRenderI was having trouble starting this Christmas letter until I got on my phone and scrolled back through the pictures I’ve taken over the last year. I’ve taken so many pictures – a full year of little moments, big things, memories that make me laugh, and memories that make me tear up.

Graham’s love of sunglasses and selfies is in there. There are pictures of donuts and legos. There are pictures of his last days at Childserve’s Daycare where he was loved well for over five years. There are pictures of his first day of kindergarten.   There are pictures of him at taekwondo. I even have a screenshot of directions for tying a taekwondo belt.

Grace is also a fan of the selfie – but most times I’m in the picture with her to help her take the shot. There are so many pictures of Grace dancing. There are pictures of her swinging. Pictures in waiting rooms and doctor’s offices abound. There’s her first day of 5th-grade picture. I had her in a shirt that in pink shiny lettering said “This girl can” for that day. There are also a few shots of her in her “Nevertheless She Persisted” shirt. Finally, there are lots of shots of baseball. Her last game she played with either Kevin or I holding an umbrella over her head because it was raining – but she played anyway.

Kevin appears in pictures of baking with Graham, snuggling with either kid, flying kites at Johnston’s Kite Festival, sitting behind the steering wheel of the van, and across the table from me when we have had a chance to go to dinner just the two of us.

I’m usually paired with Grace or Graham in the pictures of me. There are a few from work. There are a few early morning shots that Graham took – that even though I don’t like I just can’t bring myself to delete.

What strikes me most in reviewing the pictures is that we really did life this year as a family. We went to Disneyworld-which was Amazing! (I have a crazy number of pictures from those days.) We also accomplished many of our summer bucket list items. We saw fireworks at the Golden Castle (that’s what Graham calls the state capitol building) for the Fourth of July. We had lemonade at Farmer’s Day. We went miniature golfing. We went to the Pappajohn Sculpture Park. We went to the zoo. We were at the State Fair. We went to family camp. We went on a vacation to Duluth Minnesota. We went to Reiman Gardens. We swung in the backyard and had one officially documented picnic. We stayed in a hotel or two. This fall we were at Living History Farms, we had family pictures taken, and we went to see Disney on Ice.

What all that tells me is that we are finding some balance between feeling limited and just going for it. We are keeping Grace both in the world and in activities that allow her to excel that are more specialized. I can see that Graham had 1:1 time with me – and I know that he did with Kevin. The two of them take Saturday morning trips to the Farmer’s Market that are well documented on Kevin’s phone.

I can also see our kids grow, which is ultimately their job.

We plan to spend the holiday season celebrating together – with a few movies, some cousins, some legos, and Disney princess dolls thrown in. I’m sure I’ll take lots of pictures.

Thanks to those of you who check in on us. Those of you who laugh and cry with us. We appreciate you.

From all of us to you – Merry Christmas!

Joy

IMG-5708Grace was discharged from speech therapy today for reasons that I don’t think are fair. It was disheartening, to say the least. We handled our disappointment I think pretty well and left on positive terms – but I cried. I wanted to just sit down and cry when we left and told Kevin – “I wish there were special needs crying days”. What I meant was a day where no one needed anything from me and I was just able to be sad, process what I was feeling, etc. But I know – and have known for a long time now – that there’s just no such luxury. Reality is I cried myself to work, dried my tears, and went to work. I led some meetings, sat on a conference call, and responded to emails. My coworkers were incredibly kind, or else I hid the crying really well, in the end, no one said anything.

Now I’m home and there are expectations to meet here. Laundry. Supper. Snuggling. Sight words. Cathing. Meds. Laundry. Baths. Bedtime stories. Dishes. Picking woodchips out of Graham’s coat (long story). But I’m taking a break from that to write this. I need to somehow express that I’m sad. That I feel inadequate to advocate for Grace in a world where the rules are veiled in shades of gray. That in my heart of hearts I don’t actually know what to expect from Grace in the area of communication and that I recognize that makes it harder to advocate for her. That having a nonverbal child is challenging on so many levels.   To describe those levels in words doesn’t seem possible.   I can only tell you that Grace’s silence often makes my heart ache – however a smile from Grace, and a long look straight in my eye can make me feel wonderful.

There is value in being able to communicate. There is value in taking the time to figure out how those around you communicate. There is value in listening with not only your ears, but with your mind, heart, and eyes.  Grace’s inability to communicate the “regular” way takes nothing away from the value of what she has to say.   We regularly communicate about Grace with those who speak for her and even have tried to describe in words what we think her communication style is. We do this because it’s important that her voice be consistent. Here’s what we say in Grace’s resume: “If you are serving as my voice my parents think my voice is largely optimistic, shows a sense of humor, is a little stubborn, is reassuring, and gets to the point. They don’t want my voice to be negative, put anyone down, or be disrespectful.”

Grace being nonverbal has been a constant struggle and will continue to be. I wish there were answers. But true to form Grace is Grace. She’s ours and we love her. We love her on crying days and good days. Her presence in our family is no less because of her inability to talk. We will continue in our own way to figure out how to make sure she’s heard.

Joy

IMG-9604This is Grace’s communication book from school. She’s had a lot of “not great” days this year. I’m glad the school tells us, but it’s hard to see. First, it makes me sad. I want her to do well. I want her to pay attention, learn, be part of the action. I want her to succeed. I want her to not cause her teachers more stress than she should.

Then I wonder what I can do about it.   She could get a “not great” related to seizures, tiredness, or unwillingness to participate.

Seizure control continues to evade us. (I don’t expect total seizure control – I expect minimal disruption from seizures). She went through a period where she was having some really hard seizures. That period seems to have passed.   But we still have some med changes to get through.   I’ve been putting off the med changes because I just don’t feel like she’s ready.  At times I feel guilty about that.  I don’t want to have her on more meds than she needs, but every time we change her meds it messes up her equilibrium. Sometimes it’s easier to stay with what you know than to take a risk that things will be worse. That’s especially true when things feel hectic.

If seizures aren’t bad enough seizures make you tired. But she’s also tired on days when she isn’t having a lot of seizures. This weekend I woke her up at 9 am. I’m 100% certain she would have kept sleeping but she had to play baseball. Is she just tired because she’s 11? Is she tired because her brain activity isn’t allowing her to rest well? Is she tired from meds? Is she tired from stress? Is she just bored? Is it something else? I don’t know.

And then there’s the whole thing about her being unwilling to participate. So then I wonder if what she’s doing is not interesting to her? Is she bored? How do we spark her energy? How much imagination does she have? There are times I delight in her attitude – it means she has spunk! “Not great” days don’t really bring out that delight.

I can’t incentivize her. I can’t punish her. I can pep talk her all I want but all she does then is look me in the eye or lean her cheek toward me to rest her head on mine.

So I’m stuck. The “not greats” tell me something but the rest of the picture is incredibly vague.

In the midst of not knowing I have to stick to what I do know. Something will become clear, but in Grace’s time, not mine. I can’t be scared to push – she needs that. I know her team is working hard. I continue to thank them and try to signal I hear what they are telling me. I update them on all things Grace I can think of.  And finally, I just have to believe that this will pass. The good and great can come again.

Joy