Archives for posts with tag: communication

2B692091-A0AD-4844-AFD3-6755D0873689Summer has officially begun. Grace and Graham were done with school last Wednesday. I’ve unpacked a lot of the school stuff. Communication book, drumsticks, catheters, formula, diapers and unused pencils for Grace. For Graham a video showing kindergarten highlights, and so much of evidence of all he learned over the last year. We puzzled through some of the spellings in his work and marveled at his drawings, letters, and numbers. He learned so much in kindergarten!

I’d say their only year together in the same school turned out to be a success. Both of Grace’s teachers mentioned that Graham frequently sought them out to say hello. On the day he used his dragon tracks to be principal for a half a day he came home and reported to us that he’d been able to choose some classrooms to go to with the principal. He went to his own kindergarten room, but he also asked to go to Grace’s general ed room. When Grace wasn’t in that room the principal took him to the special ed room. And when she wasn’t there they went to the band room where Grace’s class was hanging out because the air conditioning in the special ed room was broken. I thought it was very cool that Graham used the opportunity to look for Grace.

For her part as a 5th grader, Grace got the chance to make afternoon deliveries to all classrooms. Evidently, they frequently peeked in on Graham.

There was one day this year when I dropped Grace off at school after therapy and was stopped by the school nurse asking for me to come to her office as soon as I had Grace settled. And then she winked at me. After another trip to the van to get the rest of Grace’s stuff and a kiss on her cheek goodbye, I reported to the nurse’s office to find Graham there. His stomach was hurting. But after a few hugs and a snuggle, he skipped off to kindergarten. I waited for the nurse to call me that day but she never did. He was fine. I was so grateful to have had the chance to be there for both of them that morning.

On Wednesday I attended the end of the year assembly. After songs to make me cry the siblings of 5th graders were offered a chance to line up in the middle of the gym. I saw Graham’s kindergarten teacher help him get into place. Once everyone was lined up the fifth graders “left the building” through a tunnel of high fives. This is what I’ve come to understand is the 5th grade clap out. Grace went second. It all happened so fast I got zero pictures. Graham told me later he got tons of high fives but none from Grace or her nurse Garrett. He was a little sad about it –but glad he got to be right up front.

As I left the gym after her in a hurry I walked by and made eye contact with Grace’s third-grade teacher and then her kindergarten teacher. Obviously tearful I only managed quick greetings–torn between getting to my girl and telling them one last time how much I was thankful for them I ended up following my girl.

And when I got to Grace her nurse and her aide were in hurry to get her water and get her cathed and get her to the park.   This huge moment was done. Life was going on. I walked out of the building crying and cried most of the way home. I swear a few trees cried with me as the wind blew and small leaves blew down around me.

Grace was done with the school she’d been at six years. “We have them the longest” her special ed teacher had said when we had Grace’s transition meeting to middle school. “It makes it harder to let them go” the speech therapist continued.

I’d been up to 11 the night before her last day trying to find words to thank so many people on Grace’s team the past six years. People who have loved her, cared for her, spoken for her, assured she wasn’t passed over. They’ve been with her literally half of her life. How do you thank people for that? And the thing is…the thing that makes me feel so helpless is that I imagine I only have an inkling of what she experienced there. That longing for communication, for knowing what it meant for Grace to be loved by them in what I’m sure were a million small and big ways escape me.   I’m sure that I’m not yet done processing what it means for Grace to be moving on from them. I’m sure there is more crying in my future on the topic.

But to bring this to an end I’d just say that on their last day of school in the same building I missed the opportunity to get a picture of them together. It didn’t work in the morning because they don’t get ready at the same time. After school Grace had a wheelchair appointment, Graham had taekwondo and that was that.

I’m so grateful they had their year- that they experienced sharing in this way this one time. I’m grateful for all the people who were in each of their stories their kindergarten and fifth-grade years.

And now we begin summer stories…

Joy

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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-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

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