IMG_6440When people ask me how Grace is doing a lot of times I respond by talking about how grateful I am that she’s been out of the hospital this summer. Facebook has been reminding me everyday lately about Grace’s surgery, a trip to the ICU, and all the complications of last summer. I have to take a minute to say that I’m crazy grateful for how far she has come in the last year.   Our girl – the one with spunk- has fully returned!   Having the mitrofanoff has made it much easier to care for her- allowing us a flexibility I never even really dreamed possible.   We can be spontaneous with less planning!

Even though she’s been out of the hospital this summer she’s never really settled.   We are constantly tweaking things or watching something. As of this writing, one of the things I feel like we are chasing is the noise that Grace has been making. Our normally quiet girl has taken to being very noisy. Sometimes I think she’s just “talking”. Other times it seems to be a sign of distress. We’ve been trying to figure out why this is. The school year rapidly approaching adds a bit of pressure as even after doctor visits, x-rays, changes in meds, even a dentist check, we still don’t know what is causing her discomfort. We snuggle her at home when she gets to sounding distressed and that calms her. I can’t see that working at school in the same way. I have fears of her being ushered out of classrooms because she’s interrupting others learning. Next week she will be in her last year of elementary school. I’m increasingly aware that opportunities for integration will only become fewer and I want her to soak up every last drop this coming year.

Yesterday I was at Hy-Vee picking up Pedialyte. It had been decided that we needed to give her stomach a break and see if that would perhaps bring her more comfort. I left work 10 minutes earlier than I regularly do and found myself standing in front of several kinds of Pedialyte. Most had prebiotics. I have no idea what prebiotics are and didn’t have time to do any googling. (Grace is not allowed probiotics because of her port so my hunch was that prebiotics maybe shouldn’t be in her wheelhouse either.) So anyhow I found a bottle that didn’t say the word prebiotics on it and went to check out. Luckily there was someone at the express checkout and no line because I was pushing my time. I had to be to daycare to get Graham (who doesn’t always want to leave right away) and be home for Grace’s nurse to be able to go home. Anyhow, I found myself in the express line face to face with this very young looking man and to my horror, I start hearing the music playing in the store and my eyes tear up.

It was Miley Cyrus…It’s the Climb. The part I began listening in on goes like this…

“There’s always gonna be another mountain
I’m always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be an uphill battle
Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose
Ain’t about how fast I get there
Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side
It’s the climb”

So anyhow I start tearing up.   The chasing the noise to no avail. The weight of the past year. The fear. The constantly trying to get caught up. The advocating. The defending her. The unknown.

It all takes a toll. A really real one.

So much about Grace feels like an uphill battle. I wish sometimes it weren’t a battle just a slow and steady climb. But the battle sometimes is a war within ourselves trying to decide the right thing to do. Sometimes the battle is getting what we think she needs. Sometimes it’s about deciding what fights to fight and which ones to let go.

We want Grace to keep growing and learning and getting stronger. That’s the wanting to make the mountain move. She’s got crazy tough epilepsy that affects so much. Growing Grace is slow, long work that requires much perseverance and so much patience.   More perseverance and patience than I have some days.

We don’t know what’s on the other side for Grace. We are taking this one day at a time. That journey – that’s the climb if the song holds true.

So I realized it was a bit much – me getting all teary eyed in a store. I tried to put it in perspective. The tears receded. I was doing what I could for that day. I’d been on the phone with three of her doctors’ primary nurses. I’d been with Grace when she had a hard seizure that morning before I left her. I’d taken her to speech therapy. I’d given her meds, cathed her, dressed her, kissed her cheek, and handed her toys. I’d held her hand. And now I was going to give her Pedialyte and report to the doctor the next day.

I walked out of the store and away from the song.  I was, however, grateful that I had heard it play. Somehow it encouraged me to keep going.

Joy

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IMG_6048Graham fell on Saturday on a metal slide that he loves.  When he got back up there was a pretty good gash on his chin.  Enough that we knew he needed stitches. Graham did not want to go to the doctor.  I almost laughed out loud when Kevin tried to comfort him by telling Graham that “Mommy and I are really good at emergency rooms.”

When we arrived and saw the triage nurse I was amazed how fast it went.   After birthdate, address, etc. it went like this:

Nurse: What happened?   Me: He fell on a slide. We think he might need stitches.

Nurse: Any medications?   Me: No

Nurse: Any allergies?   Me: No

Nurse: Is he generally healthy?   Me: Yes

And once they had his blood pressure, oxygen, etc. They took us back to a room.

The nurse chatted with Graham despite his reluctance to talk back. Graham whispered a few answers in my ear and then asked me for my phone so he could show the nurse a picture of the horse he rode earlier on the carousel.  From there he proceeded to other pictures – the donut he ate for breakfast, the ice cream he had after his dance recital…I was slightly embarrassed that there were no pictures of healthy food for Graham to show the nurse, but he doesn’t ask to take pictures of fruit!

Anyhow the nurse left and it was just the two of us.  Graham glued to my side – still not talking out loud.  He warmed up when I pointed out a picture in the room.  A hot air balloon made out of several different stickers.  We took turns picking out shapes and pointing them out to each other.  I was so grateful for that picture – I thought quickly about how I don’t really notice the artwork when I’m there with Grace.

The staff seemed charmed by Graham.  Everyone was very kind.  There was no rushing him.  The pace and atmosphere were wholly different from times in the ER with Grace.

In the end, we came home with bath toys.  A saline bottle they’d used to clean his chin before they put in the stitches.  A syringe that they’d used to give him medicine to make him relaxed before they put in the stitches.  No one’s ever offered Grace medical equipment for a bath toy.

We also came home with a boy with five stitches in his chin for the next five days.

I write about it here because the difference between answering all of those questions from the triage nurse with no instead of yes was really pointed out to me.  I don’t think of Grace as unhealthy.  I don’t think of Graham as healthy.  They are just my kids.  I hate for either of them to be in ER.  But I’m thankful it’s there for both of them.  I’m thankful that the ER is able to ramp up for Grace or look at pictures on a cell phone to calm an anxious Graham.

Joy

S4300599Last week at this time Kevin, Grace, Graham, and I were just home from a family camp that serves special needs families. As part of the programming, the mom’s were all pulled together for some focused time.  In that time there was a comment made about the club of special needs motherhood.  Some of the women in that group joined voluntarily by adopting a child or children with special needs – others like me never anticipated being in the club; we were voluntold.

I’ve thought a lot about the club over the last week. I didn’t find it right away when Grace was diagnosed.  I caught glimpses of it when Grace was hospitalized on the epilepsy unit and we’d meet people and talk about epilepsy and seizures in this really frank way.  When Grace was little I felt much more held together by the professionals who assisted her through early access then I did by any kind of special needs community.  I think the intimacy of those professionals being in your home is part of that.

I’ve since discovered that when I wasn’t looking the club seems to have formed around me.  This is heartbreaking and such a relief.

I grieve a little when a new mom joins the club. It’s not like there is a membership card – but a new diagnosis that grants you entry. This is a not an easy journey. And even with the club, it can be lonely.

What I’ve learned from being in the club is that there is a lot of ability in disability. Ability looks different in different people – there is no standard.  Even though I knew some disabilities were invisible I didn’t think about it much.  I do now.  I’ve learned to never compare – the same thing in two kids can look very different.  I’ve learned to reserve my judgment – you just never know what someone else is dealing with.  I’ve learned the power of empathy.  I’m reminded of the importance of laughter.  I’ve learned how to live in a continuous cycle of grief.  I’ve learned that to encourage sometimes all you have to do is smile.  Sometimes you send a text.  Sometimes you bring a meal. Sometimes you just listen to someone explain why they are angry – and you don’t tell them they shouldn’t be.  I’ve learned that you don’t have to agree with someone on everything to be a support – it’s not an everything or nothing kind of thing. I’ve been reminded of the importance of celebrating what should be celebrated and not glossing over it because it doesn’t seem big enough to celebrate.  I’ve learned what it means to wait.  I’ve learned that what you say and how you say it really does count.  I’ve learned what it means to be vulnerable. I’ve learned about optimism even when it seems crazy to be optimistic.

I’ve learned that you need both. You need people outside and inside the “club” in life if at all possible.  In some ways, it’s harder to add the people outside the club to your life because you are in the club to begin with.

And to sum it up I’d say the hardest part of being in the club is that there is a certain amount of uncertainty you just have to be ok with.  If you aren’t its hard to enjoy the good stuff.

I’m grateful the club found me.  I can’t imagine doing it alone.  Sharing life is such an important part of living it.

Joy

 

 

 

IMG_5585I am looking forward to summer.

I want lemonade, fresh fruit, berry crisp, miniature golfing, and the feeling of the sun and heat soaking in.

I want less responsibility. Fewer things to juggle. A break.

To get to summer we’ve had to get past the last few weeks.

Grace had surgery last week in Minnesota to revise her mitrofanoff. We are hoping that will be her only surgery for the foreseeable future! She’s recovering well.

While we were in Minnesota Grace got all hooked up for an EEG. We were disappointed to discover that Grace’s EEG (a study of her brain activity) hasn’t shown any improvement since fall.   Her brain continues to experience a lot of back ground noise. We’d really thought it would be better after the addition of a new medication. In the last few months, we’ve seen better focus and more emotion. We’ve had her smile at us more. Her looks and eye contact have been so much fun. Her doctor reminded us that she’s not her EEG- if we are happy with what we are seeing that’s what counts.

Amid the highly scheduled past few weeks, we were alerted that there’s potential concern for her sodium levels so we are following up with some additional testing.

It’s easy to get trapped in the thought that Grace is all the things about her that we monitor and watch so carefully.   We have to remember she is none of those things. She’s a girl who loves to swing, loves music, loves to play, digs sparkle, and has a stubborn streak.

I saw that girl after her surgery. All snuggled under a blanket.

Before surgery I found myself overwhelmed with all the things about Grace. Her scars. Her medicine. Her past experience with anesthesia, etc. There is a crazy amount of information to pass on to the team of people we are entrusting with her care for an hour and a half.

I want a summer for Grace too. She deserves a break. We’ll never be rid of all the things about her. She’ll never drink lemonade or enjoy berry crisp. But she loves flowers, swinging, getting wet (as long as the water isn’t too cold) and being outside on a beautiful day.  We’ll work to spend the summer letting those things be the focus. I look forward to it.

Joy

GraceChangesEverythingI was up at 2:30 this morning worrying about what Kevin and I will do if insurance coverage for those with pre-existing conditions would again be denied. Or what we would do if it were to cost a zillion dollars to have bad insurance? I kid you not my anxiety around this does not go away. It just sits below the surface.

I thought about Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue about his infant son’s cardiac condition and treatment. I watched it last night holding Grace on my lap. I cried throughout. I feel for him – the grief, the horror, the vulnerability, the gratitude. The standing in a room full of people worried about your child and the utter helplessness of knowing you are the least informed person in the room. I find myself jealous of his ability to thank the nurses and doctors and therapists who were there so publicly. I would love to sing the praises of members of Grace’s team to a national audience. They are just as deserving. I started planning my speech in my head- because that’s what you do at 3am.

I thought about how Grace hasn’t complained about the first bras I’ve ever bought her. I researched so much to find something soft, comfortable, nothing to poke her, etc. etc.   They sent the bras beautifully wrapped, bright yellow ribbon tied on the outside. We opened them together. Grace chewed on the ribbon- not exactly what they had in mind I’m sure.   But I guess we had our mother/daughter moment! I wondered if her not complaining means I found the right ones?

I thought about confirmation Sunday at church just a few days ago and wondered what that will look like for Grace in 4 short years.

I wondered if I’m doing enough anywhere.

I thought about how on Saturday it had dawned on me that if Grace was a typical 11-year old I could have left her alone for a few minutes to run to the grocery store. I honestly don’t know if I’d ever thought about it before.

I wondered if we’d be able to keep Grace healthy so she can have surgery in 2 weeks. (Kevin was coughing beside me at that point). I wondered if this would be the last surgery she’d need for her mitrofanoff. I worried that my insurance through the state is only guaranteed to cover her through December, then who knows what will happen.

I went over the points of the dance recital meeting I went to last night for Graham in my head. I thought that maybe having a boy dancer is easier? I thought about how much I enjoy that he dances. I thought about how much I hate that we won’t be around for the class dance pictures.

I worried about work. I thought about grabbing my computer and sending emails right then and there. But, I didn’t want people to know I was up in the middle of the night worrying so I kept trying to go back to sleep.

I thought about how epilepsy touches everything that we do.

I thought about how we could plant a few vegetables in the back yard this summer and how that would be good for Graham.

I laughed at myself because I’ve been wishing for some time and space just to process things. Life. Grace. Graham. Work. Home. The pressure has been relentless. It shows no sign of letting up.   The 2:30 am wake up…perhaps that was the time and space I’d been hoping for.   But I’d come to no conclusions, and I didn’t really feel better, so maybe that wasn’t it.

What actually made me feel better was a sign in our kitchen I glanced early this morning. We’d picked it up at Hobby Lobby about a month or so ago. It states “Grace changes everything”. Our Grace wasn’t the original intent of the maker, and I’ll never find a “Graham changes everything” sign although it’s also true. The thing that made me smile was the unspoken words that Kevin and I exchanged when we saw the sign. We were getting it- no question. Frankly, I think it could have been horrid looking but that simple statement reflects our reality, reminds us that we are not in charge, and is just a truth we have to embrace. Fighting against it does us no good. We are left to do what we can, where we are, with love, fierceness, perseverance, and hope.

Joy