Archives for posts with tag: Birthday

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Grace turns thirteen tomorrow.  13.

Thirteen is supposed to be the start of teenager-dom.  It’s supposed to be about navigating friendships, big emotions, limits, learning, taking steps toward independence. We should be a year away from teaching her to drive. For us though 13 will be very much like 12, 11, 10 and the years that came before those. For better or for worse Grace is Grace, and while she’s always got something going on in many ways she is the same. She’s completely dependent on us. We feed her, get her dressed, brush her teeth, comb her hair, change her diaper, crush the medicine and put it through her g-tube in the hopes of fewer seizures and leveling off the chemistry of her body that’s just not quite “right”. Much like an infant or toddler, her schedule knows some flexibility but there are always consequences if we don’t follow the schedule. We don’t have the flexibility with Grace that should come with a 13-year-old.

In some ways, it’s a miracle that she is where she is. That she is doing as well as she is. What would raising Grace look like 40+ years ago when my parents were raising me? Or what would it have looked like if she were being raised when they were? I know the world has come a crazy long way. Accessibility has. Pink helmets have. Medicine has. Education has. Technology has. But sometimes it’s not enough to know how far we’ve come. I just want more. More normalization. More kindness. More accessibility. Less isolation. More flexibility. Less jumping through hoops.

Grace’s teacher recently let us know that at Grace’s IEP meeting in a few weeks it will be Grace’s first transition meeting. To be honest I haven’t studied up on that whole thing as much as I should have. I haven’t wanted to deal with her transition to what happens after high school. You are supposed to send your kids to college, not try to find a group home, or ways to keep your child in your own home (on purpose). I don’t think I’m ready for all of that yet. She’s this beautiful girl, as I write this she sits across the room from me in princess pajamas, playing with a toy meant for a 6-month-old. I can’t even imagine what our world looks like when she’s done with high school. It feels like we are preparing for her to just drop off the face of the earth- years before it’s scheduled to happen.   Of course, Kevin and I will not let her fall off the face of the earth. And as her IEP approaches, we’ll do the paperwork and ready ourselves for the first of many conversations. What choice do we have?

I wish I was happier to celebrate her birthday but I’m not. Graham’s been pushing. He can’t understand why we wouldn’t have a party. It feels cruel to explain to him that it’s because her birthday makes me sad. He shouldn’t have to process any of that – and I’m so grateful that he’s not sad.

So at this point, my conclusion is that I need to be sad when I need to be. I have a few hours marked out on my work calendar as vacation time to just be on my own this week. Other than that I’m getting ready for her birthday and blaming her lack of a celebration on the weather and that her birthday is on a school day. I will hang up the birthday banner. Wrap the presents. Sing. Take her picture like I do every year. Send light up balloons to her special ed room at school. Invite our friends to go bowling next weekend or come over to the house for a bit. And I will celebrate her attitude. Because of all things, teenagers are supposed to have; Grace has attitude. She can be so stubborn. So persistent. So fired up. Her spark inside continues to develop against all odds. I love her more than I can ever say. And I will continue to look for ways to have her and her “tude” shine.

Joy

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

img_2413While Graham and Kevin ran to the library and then to get Grace birthday cupcakes today I fed Grace. As I fed her I turned on Gilmore Girls- the pilot episode.

When I was home on maternity leave with Grace – no knowledge of what was to come- only dreams of how it would be as she grew- we watched a lot of Gilmore Girls. I loved all the relationships on the show – some complicated, some easy, some fun, some hard, all with some kind of love holding them together.

 

And the theme song…
Where you lead, I will follow
Anywhere that you tell me to
If you need, you need me to be with you
I will follow where you lead

As a new mom, I was sure that I’d be able to go wherever Grace led. I imagined our family as a team navigating life ahead. I never considered that we’d take an alternate path.

As I held her today in my lap, feeding her formula through a syringe and tube, watching Gilmore Girls, in some ways, it wasn’t so different from those long ago days snug in the living room of our house on Carpenter Ave. In reality, though it’s much different.

She’s four feet six inches tall now (a foot shorter than me), currently weighing in at 76 pounds. Holding her and feeding her is becoming a bit more challenging. She’s undergone several surgeries. She has seizures. Once they started we’ve never really been able to make them stop. We had to leave our little Carpenter house for a house in Johnston in order to achieve the integration and education we wanted for her. In some ways that has been brilliant, in other ways it’s a continuous struggle. We’ve never had long conversations or embarrassing ones. She did, however, the other night at dinner use her talker several times during the meal to say “I love you,” “no,” and “I want to watch TV”. She’s not playing any musical instruments, singing, or playing any competitive sports. She is, however, a pretty good tambourine player when accompanied by her music therapist, loves toys that play music, calms when I sing to her, and plays a little baseball – where no one ever loses-with Miracle League.

Way back then I’m sure I wanted her to try dancing – although I didn’t imagine the team it would take to have her dance. I’m very grateful that dream came true.

Even when we’d just had Grace we always knew we wanted a brother or sister to join her – to make our family complete. Graham has brought noise to Grace’s life and competition for our attention that she doesn’t always appreciate. This morning when she would rather have slept in Graham insisted she get up at 7 am. As Kevin went in to wake her up Graham turned out all the lights and asked me to hide in the kitchen with him so we could jump out and yell surprise when she came into the living room. I never would have thought to do that. But Graham has forced Kevin and I to think bigger. There were so many things we didn’t know about growing up based on our experience with Grace.

There are a lot of things I wish for her that I’m unsure of still.

I wish I knew that she had friends in her class in school. On tough days I find myself annoyed that any child that comes into contact with Grace seems to be referred to as her friend. I’m feeling truer friendships just won’t ever come and stick.  This does not mean that she is unloved or doesn’t have a community. It’s not the same as that. It’s so hard to explain.

I wish she could have the independence that comes with an experience like college or a trip by yourself. But she will always be dependent.

I wish for her to experience some of the really fun and beautiful places in the world but recognize it will be physically harder for her.

I wish for her to not fade as she gets older. I don’t want her to be less and less in the world.

I wish for her likes and interests to expand because as you get older the world gets bigger. Kevin and I will have to drive that for her.

All of that to say that it’s not going to be exactly the Gilmore Girls song way.

There are times we will lead Grace, way more than we ever will for Graham.

There are also times we will follow her as we work through the system of checks and balances in place for her in the world. We will also follow as her health needs, physical abilities, and communication change. And we will lead the teams and people that surround her to accommodate those changes.

It will be complicated at times, easy at others. I hope we will have fun, but the reality is there will be hard times. Through it all our future will always be based in love.

As the past 11 years have gone by I’ve often caught myself singing Grace the Gilmore Girls theme song. I still will. Even though the meaning isn’t the same as when I began singing it to her – it still applies.

So Happy Birthday Gracie Lou! I can’t believe you are 11. You are wonderful. You are kind. You are funny. You are brave. You are strong. You are quick. You should not be underestimated. I love you very, very much.

 

And …
Where you lead, I will follow
Anywhere that you tell me to
If you need, you need me to be with you
I will follow where you lead

Love, Mom

img_1506As I write this Grace is sleeping in the tent we use for traveling. We are in a hotel room in Minnesota in December. It turns out all the tricks in the world couldn’t keep Grace from having to have one more surgery in 2016.

We had this really normal weekend at home; birthday cake for Graham, Christmas program practice at church for Grace and Graham, Kevin and I at the Civic Center to see the Carole King Musical, the actual Christmas program at church, and seeing the Nutcracker at Hoyt Sherman, complete with an intermission visit from some of our very favorite dancers.

The second we got home from the Nutcracker it changed a bit. We had to get Graham packed to go home with my mom and dad for a few days because Grace was having surgery. I’m very thankful that Graham hasn’t had to be there the day of any of Grace’s surgeries this year. The rooms where you wait with her before and with her after are small. Waiting rooms are hushed. There is a multitude of instructions. I have a hard enough time with my own feelings- as we wash her with the special soap, get her in the gown, answer the questions, sign the forms, talk to the doctor, the anesthesiologist, the nurse, try to get her to be still enough for the blood pressure machine to work, it’s so much.

While we were doing all of that Graham was building a sled for his Curious George and playing outside in the snow. He was hanging out with his cousins.  He was experiencing five-year-old boy perfection.

We drove north yesterday morning. The roads had been plowed pretty well, the trees were beautiful all covered with snow, the sky bright blue. It was crazy cold when we started and just got colder as got closer to Minnesota. So cold that we drove straight through not giving Grace her customary breaks to stretch her legs along the way. Our girl hates cold. Hates it. We did everything in our power to get her somewhere warm quickly.

When we arrived we hadn’t even checked in yet when Grace’s doctor – all dressed in her surgery garb- greeted us. She greeted us so warmly and told us she wanted to get Grace going early so she could get us home. We’d talk with her two more times – once more before the surgery where we showed her the pictures of everything that’s been going on with Grace’s mitrofanoff and we talked through how Kevin and I would take care of Grace for the next 7-10 days as she healed. We saw her again when it was all done when she explained to us what she’d found and confirmed that we were right to not wait to get the mitrofanoff revised now. It wasn’t going to get any better without a surgical intervention.

Grace took her sweet time waking up. The first time she woke she complained a lot. We asked that she be given some more pain medication. With that on board she slept a bit longer, and the second time she woke up she was pretty good. A bit groggy, but she made an attempt to grab some tubing and play. We got her dressed. Got her some formula in her stomach. Got her in her wheelchair and got her to the hotel. She played for a bit. Then we snuggled. She played a bit longer and then we got her to bed.

We have pain meds to get her home. There are antibiotics we will give her for six more days. There’s a catheter in her that we pray she doesn’t pull out. When everything’s had time to heal (it could take about 10 days) Kevin and I have a special syringe that we’ll use to take the catheter out of her and we will go about our normal business.

So for anyone who’s counting – that’s 4 surgeries in 6 months for our girl. That is way too many.   I for one am hopeful for 2017 that brings: health and strength to our girl, less worry and more together time for our boy, and energy, inspiration, and courage for Kevin and I to take our family out in the world and enjoy it.

Joy