Archives for posts with tag: Family

IMG-0121Grace and Kevin entered the empty waiting bus for the State Fair first.  Graham and I followed.  The bus driver had everyone else wait while he and Kevin made sure Grace was all fastened down for the ride. Graham chose seats for he and I.  He chose the bench right by the accordion on the double bus.  We were all settled when the rest of the people filed in and eventually the bus took off.  There were three people across the aisle from Graham and I.  I can only guess a mom, dad, and college-aged daughter. Two of three wore Iowa State shirts, the other a shirt with the American flag.  They all wore Nike shoes that had seen better days.  I noticed the man’s gaze settle on Grace.  “I’m surprised someone would go to all the work to bring her out here,” the man said.  He was looking right at Grace as he said it.  I leaned forward but looked down.  His wife didn’t say anything immediately but then she said “Maybe they just take her to a few things”.  After a pause he spoke again saying “Maybe they get more out of things then I know.”

If the two of them said any more I missed it.  I missed it because Graham was psyched to see the accordion of the bus expand and there were trains – so many trains below.

The conversation has haunted me in a way.  I wonder if I should have inserted myself? But what would I have said?

First, I’d like to think I’d say thank you for noticing the work we do.  It is work to do things with Grace.  There’s a level of planning for her that we don’t worry about with Graham.  There are things she has to have, and not just things we can pick up somewhere on the fairgrounds if we forget.  There are the hills we get to push her up. There’s the trying to find a space in a crowd of people for a girl in a wheelchair to be up front and see what you want her to see.  The crowd just doesn’t split when a wheelchair draws near.

Then I’d have confirmed we do take her to a few things we know she loves.  The DNR building has the fish.  We saw dancing at the Bill Riley talent show.  We hung out with Abby Brown at the PBS booth for just a few minutes.  There was music everywhere.  We ran into one of our favorite people, Hannah.  Plus she was just outside.  It’s summer.  Kids should be outside.  She also endures the things the rest of like!

As for his last comment, I don’t know what I would have said.  He’d touched on one of the great mysteries of Grace.  The amount she takes in and what she does with that input is hard to discern.  But here’s the thing, she didn’t complain.  She looked at the doll houses.  She watched the bands.  She slept a few minutes when Graham couldn’t decide what his one thing to do on the midway would be.  She watched the dancing.  She watched the people.

But there’s also this…we were there as a family.  We attended the state fair together.  Sure we split up at times because Grace can’t do the same things that Graham does.  For example, he likes to ride the skyglider.  Even if we did get Grace on there someone would still have to run her wheelchair up to the other end of the lift.  But we came together, left together, and hung out quite a bit together that day.  Family time is important.  Tradition is important.

I’m sure it would have been too much to tell him that there are also bits of grief mixed in for something seemingly just normal.  There were girls who look her age walking around the fair in groups together, no parents in sight.  There were girls her age in the talent show who I watched wondering about what could have been.  I looked at what girls Grace’s age were wearing and wondered if they would think it was strange if I asked them where they got their clothes.  I feel like Grace is in a bit of a fashion rut…out of kid sizes and the places I’ve relied on to clothe her!  (I find myself unsure where to shop for her now.  I want more than anything to keep her relevant.  She’s already got plenty, not in her favor I don’t need to set her up for anything based on how I dress her.)  Middle school looms and has me anxious for her, that’s a different blog I’m sure.  There are the looks.  The people who feel sorry for her.  The people who feel sorry for us.  The people who look away when you make eye contact.  There are the little kids who crane their necks backward to keep their eyes on her even as their parents holding their hands pull them forward.  There are families getting on the skyglider, families walking together hands linked, families who appear more nimble than ours.  The grief just lies on the edges, I’m aware of it, but on this day I could process it and keep going.

Finally, I’d say I’m grateful the man could acknowledge that he didn’t know what he didn’t know.  Some people count her out automatically with just one quick look.  I sometimes have said that it takes a special person to really see Grace.  I’m not so sure special is the right word-it’s not enough.  What I’ve learned is that it takes someone with an open mind, an open heart, and a willingness to take the time to see that matters.

It’s a bit strange to consider how many of the conversations like the one I heard that day about Grace I’ve missed as random people have encountered us.  As I finish writing I’d just encourage you to keep an open mind, and open heart, and be willing to see what you may not have experienced.

Joy

 

 

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IMG-3938We were in my hometown over the weekend for Farmer’s Day.  We arrived Friday afternoon and made our way downtown to find my Dad.  I knew just where he would be he’s there every Farmer’s Day weekend.  My godparents were there and I loved seeing both of them.  We got supper at a local booth, watched some singing, Graham wrangled two carnival games out of us and won a small stuffed shark.  Then it was time to go back to my parent’s house.  One of the carnival workers stopped us as we were walking back and said he wanted to give something to Grace.  He proceeded to pull down from the booth a large pink unicorn with lots of sparkles.  It was perfect for Grace, I wondered how he could just look at her and know!  I asked if he was sure, not quite believing he would just give away such a large stuffed animal.  We held it in front of Grace, she totally checked it out, and we thanked him.  Graham volunteered to carry it back to my mom and dad’s house.  This from a boy who 30 seconds earlier was complaining he was too tired to make the walk.

As we walked Kevin and Grace got further and further ahead of us.  I considered asking a question all while knowing I would be wandering into potentially dangerous territory but Graham had been oohing and ahhing over the unicorn.  He had made no comparison to the much smaller and very plain in comparison shark he’d had to work to win.  I wondered why.

“Why do you think that man gave the unicorn to Grace?” I asked.

“Because she’s in a wheelchair.” He said simply.

“Is that the only reason? I asked prodding further.

“She can’t play the games Mom.” End of conversation.

He started talking about other things. But then a few minutes later said, “That was really nice of that man to give this unicorn to Grace.” He carried the unicorn happily all the way. He’d just taken it all in stride.

The next day he was not near as generous with his sister. I was doing something with her and he wanted me to be with him. Now that he’s learned to write he began to write me notes and pass them to me as I fed Grace. One read “Stop Now.” The other just read “No”. Not being able to leave her – because sometimes I just can’t leave her – and him needing or wanting attention from me that I can’t give makes me feel the heavy weight of mom guilt like few other things.

Later that day there was a point when I had to bow out of the fun because Grace needed some time out of her chair, air conditioning, and rest. Graham had a choice at this point. He could either come with me and Grace or he could stay downtown riding rides with his aunt, uncle, and cousins.  I was not surprised in the least when he chose them.  Although I knew he’d be fine part of me hated to leave him, hated to miss him experiencing Farmer’s Day and his cousins, and part of me felt guilty because he’s my responsibility. Watching Graham with his cousins, the banter, the love, even the arguing is sad in a way and fills me with a regret that he doesn’t have typical siblings but I also love to see him join in the fray and I’m so grateful for how my brother’s family embraces him.

There’s a part of me that hates that this is his reality.  It’s not always people giving us pink unicorns.  There aren’t always cousins to ease that we are choosing her over him.  But it is our reality.  We all make sacrifices.  I can only hope that he knows how much he is loved and continue to embrace the pink unicorn moments.  And for those times when he feels he’s being overlooked, I have to hope he can see that in a family you can’t always be first but by no means does that mean you are unloved.

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

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