Archives for posts with tag: Family

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

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Around Christmas time Kevin and I decided that we were going to take Grace and Graham to Disney World. It was pricey, it was intimidating, we were experiencing much unrest about the world, but it was time for us to do something fun. We quietly planned, telling only a few people initially. In some ways, it felt irresponsible. We should have been saving those vacation hours because you never know with Grace. We should have been saving the money because you never know with politics. But truth be told we always feel like we play it safe. Our family deserved a chance to try something different.

Graham was ecstatic. Grace quietly listened to our planning knowing long before her brother that this was in the works. Oh my goodness, we planned. Kevin searched websites and mastered the Disney app. I bought a book and searched Pinterest. We borrowed suitcases from my parents.   Kevin reached out to Kamp-Rite the folks who make the tent Grace sleeps in when we travel with questions about a new compact version they have that folds up smaller. Someone there took a minute to click on the link to our blog in Kevin’s email signature. Low and behold they sent us a traveling tent as a gift. Their messages conveyed delight for our family. Their only request was that we send them a pic of us at Disney World when we returned. We were humbled and grateful and in the end sent them several pictures of our trip.

I could barely sleep the night before our trip. I was so anxious. Could we do this? Would it be fun? Could we meet both Grace and Graham’s needs?  We’d be hours away from the team that holds Grace together.

We flew out of Des Moines on a Thursday afternoon and arrived on a bus at our Disney Resort a little after 8 pm that night. We found our room, got food, and watched fireworks before we went to bed that night.

We couldn’t get going as fast as we’d wanted to our first full day there. We finally made it to the park but we were not aware of the multiple steps of security and of course got in line behind a family that just couldn’t make their tickets on their phone work. We made it to our scheduled first stop – a meet the princess with Elena and Cinderella barely on time. As we made it into the room with the two princesses we found ourselves next in line and Grace having a seizure. Kevin was so calm about it asking the family behind us to go ahead. The Disney workers were a bit taken aback by this but quickly recovered when I explained that we just wanted a little more time for Grace to get through her seizure. At some point, the doors were closed and our family – just the four of us- were in a room all by ourselves with the princesses, photographers, and their helpers. In no way did I feel rushed.  We were invited to learn magic and sing along with the music in Avalor and offered carriage rides with Cinderella and the Prince. Cinderella talked to Graham prince lessons but he wasn’t so sure about that.   There were pictures taken with each princess and pictures of all of us together.   As we exited through the Cinderella/Elena gift shop my eyes filled with tears and I wasn’t so sure that I wasn’t just going to sit down and cry. Those minutes, that interaction, somehow they had made all the worry, all the planning, worth it.   We could have gone home then and I would have raved about the experience. But I’m glad we didn’t.

Over the next four days, we did our best to take advantage of all the things we thought our kids would like. Beauty and the Beast, Finding Nemo, the Little Mermaid, Frozen, Jake the Pirate, Snow White, Sofia the First, Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan, race cars, a safari, and the Swiss Family Robinson tree house. We visited Epcot, the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios. Graham showed his first interest in Star Wars watching Chewbacca, Storm Troopers, and Darth Vader on stage. We had character dinners and met several of the princesses.   We watched Graham dance with Pluto. We watched Grace light up from pixie dust as we approached Tinkerbell and saw her longingly look towards Rapunzel’s hair. We all rode the Dumbo ride and It’s a Small World. We swam in the pool at the resort.  There was a single duck who frequently joined us in the pool. We rode buses, the monorail, and boats. We saw fireworks sitting on a boat out in the water.

Graham declared on a daily basis “wouldn’t in be fun if we lived at Disney?” He commonly expressed that things were awesome or amazing. Grace’s communication device didn’t work too well in the bright Florida sun, but we caught her smiling more than she normally does and had to watch her hands carefully as she encountered characters in beautiful dresses.

As with all great vacations, there have to be things that don’t go quite the way you expect. We had several mishaps where the monorail stopped working temporarily. We started joking that there is regular time, Grace time, and Disney time. We were amazed by how long we could be eating a meal waiting for the various characters to stop by. Bedtime was pretty late a few nights.

I worried about the disability/accessibility aspect of our trip. I shouldn’t have worried Disney was very accommodating. Apart from having to wait one time for the next boat, they were always ready for a wheelchair. We met other families like ours and had a few minutes to talk about wheelchairs and meds as we waited for the monorail to get fixed. There were “normal” families who went out of their way to approach Grace, help flag down a bus driver, or hold Graham’s Winnie the Pooh when it became apparent that our hands were full.   The one thing I did struggle with was the looks we sometimes got from families as we were loaded onto boats, buses, and monorails first. Yes, we were first, but we were always last getting off. I wondered to myself if they noticed that.

We’ve been home a few days now. We are back in the regular world. I miss the weather in Florida. I miss the attention to detail. I miss feeling like my primary responsibility is to just hang out with my family and experience magic.

But the thing is now I know the magic exists. I know that our family can thrive in a situation that is just about fun. The Disney magic gave us some confidence and some beautiful memories. Kevin has already begun planning our next vacation.

Joy

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-7-11-35-amWhen my mom and dad were here a few weeks ago I handed them their copy of our Christmas card. My Dad looked at it for a minute and then said: “Dan Wardell made the Christmas card?” I only replied with a yes and a smile.

Our card has many pictures on it this year – having time to get a family picture taken just didn’t happen.   Kevin and I ended up picking some of our favorite pictures from the year to include.

There are multiple shots of Grace dancing.  Dancing continues to be her “thing”. We are incredibly grateful for dancing!

Graham is shown at the Iowa State Fair proudly holding his peanut butter sandwich on a stick. (They custom made it for him since he doesn’t like jelly).

There are pics of Grace and Graham both from the summer camp we attended as a family – one is a beautiful picture of Grace with a big smile on her face having ridden a horse after way too much time away from horses. The second is Graham on the horse; he decided that he would give it a try after watching Grace ride. I love when having a big sister works in his favor in more of a typical way.

One of our summer bucket list items, a trip to the High Trestle Trail Bridge is featured. When we made the list we knew Grace’s medical needs would be a factor in our ability to complete it but we had no idea how much of our summer would be spent with her in the hospital. There were several things on the list we didn’t get done during summer, several that we accomplished but we had to wait until fall and a few that we will start our list for next year with.  I’m so grateful that it wasn’t worse – the trip to the bridge shows we did manage to accomplish some fun!

Grace is shown getting her new bike on the Variety Club telethon this year.   We were all on TV.   Fareway sponsored the bike and the executive who presented it to her mentioned that she perhaps could ride her bike to the new store they were building in our neighborhood.   Grace picked the color – bright orange. It’s amazing all the ways a bike can be adapted and we are tickled to be able to take her out for a ride!

There’s a picture of both Grace and Graham in their Halloween costumes. They each had the opportunity to wear their costumes a couple of times. Graham chose Ryder from Paw Patrol and was always on the lookout for fellow Paw Patrol costumes when we were out and about. Grace we chose to dress as Super Girl. We thought the costume was perfect for her – she consistently displays a strength that I can’t help but admire.

There’s Graham grinning like crazy the night he got his first bike and we went to “Old McDonald’s” (McDonald’s) to celebrate.

We made sure there was one picture of each of us. There’s a picture of Graham and Kevin the day they rode their tag-along tandem bike to the “golden castle” – the Iowa Capitol Building for those of you who don’t speak Graham. They were exhausted but so proud of themselves for doing it; a nearly 20-mile bike ride.

The picture I’m in is of Grace and I the day we had her 10-year-old pictures taken at the Botanical Center. Her turning a decade in January was a huge deal for us. Epilepsy for 10 years. Appointments for 10 years. Doctors, nurses, therapies, the grind, wear and tear, and wonder for 10 years. With everything that’s happened to her medically in the last six months, it sometimes feels as though another decade should have passed by now.

And finally, there’s the shot of Graham and Dan Wardell. Graham is a big fan of Dan Wardell from Iowa Public Television. So much so that when we taught Graham the game 20 questions on the way to Thanksgiving he had selected Dan Wardell in his mind to have us guess. Kevin and I struggled to figure out who he was thinking. Graham ended up giving us a clue that he is a man who wore a cape but not a superhero. We were so impressed that Graham had thought of him – until then the game had been focused on cousins, grandparents, and kids in his class at daycare. Graham’s brain and what it is able to capture, process, and remember makes us marvel.

Graham went to see Dan Wardell several times this year including breakfast at the zoo, the PBS kids clubhouse kick off and Dan’s birthday party hosted at the IPTV studios. The one that meant the most to Kevin and I though was when Graham attended story hour in Marshalltown so he could see Dan Wardell on his reading tour of Iowa. That day happened to be one of the many days last summer we were dropping Graham off to be with my mom and dad because something was going on with Grace and she needed our full attention. Somehow that he was seeing Dan Wardell was a distraction that Graham needed, and made us feel better as parents that we weren’t neglecting what he loves and needs as we took care of all of Grace’s needs. When I called Mom and Dad later that day to check on Graham he was still talking about what Dan Wardell had told him that morning. I was so grateful for that.

There are no pictures of Grace in the hospital or even remotely medical on the Christmas card. As we look back over the last year that’s not where we wanted to focus. We wanted to focus on the fun, the inspiration, on what makes our family run outside of medical stuff: dance, bucket lists, summer camp, Halloween and fall traditions, grinning because you have your first bike, and carrying out the end of show advice of Dan Wardell that Graham repeats. “Get outside and play, read a good book, use your imagination, and eat healthy foods.” (Graham refuses to believe that Dan Wardell includes vegetables in the healthy foods category. We will keep working on that.)

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from us!

Kevin, Joy, Grace and Graham

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

 

 

 

IMG_8871Yesterday Kevin’s mom sent us an email about Christmas. Christmas seems so far away and I had a hard time wrapping my brain around it. That’s when I realized I have descended back into surgery mode. Surgery mode is about making it through the next few weeks.   Nothing beyond those weeks factors in. I’m planning for those weeks, preparing however I can. Surgery mode is complicated by the outside world which has given us a new nurse and a new speech therapist. ( I can’t even think about not having our old speech therapist- too many feelings). Emails from school are starting to come in – transportation, school supplies. I have more responsibility at work. And although not part of the outside world we have two kids. Graham is four, he fights bedtimes and asks questions about why dirt is black, why someone would want to hurt a policeman, and why we go to heaven twice.

I’m mourning the loss of Grace’s stomach – soon it will look different some kind of medical thing will be there. I worry about how it will look in a leotard for dance. I worry about the surgery. Will it go well? Will it not? Will there be leaking when it’s all done? Will the surgeon be having a good day or a bad day? (She’s just a human.) I worry about Grace. How will she handle it all? How will we know what she needs? I worry about Graham. How will this affect him? How do we make sure he knows we love him when his sister is taking us away from him? I worry about Kevin and I. Will we be able to juggle everything that needs to be juggled?

I’ve enjoyed our reclaimed summer. We did family vacation bible school. We had dinner with friends. We went to fireworks over the fourth. Graham is still talking about a firework that went a bit crooked and landed in a tree not far from where we were. We’ve swung outside. We all went to Farmer’s Day and rode the ferris wheel. Grace and Graham both took summer dance classes. We checked a few things like sparklers, Trainland USA, and frozen lemonade off our summer list. We did it all able to keep surgery mode at bay, I’d thought. I know now I was fooling myself a bit. In all that time we were regularly taking samples to the lab. They all came back fine. We were making new plans to be gone 3-10 days. We were also hedging our bets that it could actually happen this time.

A week from today she will have the surgery. Our last lab checked out fine. History and physical tomorrow and then technically nothing can stop us. One day at a time will get us through.   There will be moments of panic- plenty of planning- hopefully some good rest – worry- but we will make it. The world doesn’t stop – but we can carefully determine how we keep up and what we may need to let go for just a bit.

Joy