Archives for posts with tag: grace

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we were younger

15 years ago this month Kevin and I went on our first date at Living History Farms.

14 years ago tomorrow we were married there.

We were so young but felt a little old at the time to just be getting married…sigh.

I see our wedding picture every day and I almost don’t recognize us.

I don’t feel like we’ve looked like that since Grace was diagnosed. What I see now in our pictures are two people who look a little bit tired. Two people working so hard to keep everything afloat and smiling (but not as big) while doing it.

Never in our dating did I consider if Kevin would be a good medical supply orderer. If he’d be able to princess carry our daughter long after I couldn’t. If he’d be ok cleaning up poop.   How he’d respond when a doctor said: “Frankly, I’m at a loss…”.   If he’d have a hidden knack for adjusting a wheelchair or whipping up a changing table using IKEA bookshelves.

We had no way of knowing all of that and more was in our future.

We joke with people sometimes that we have five or six “date afternoons” a year. We’ve been getting season tickets to the Civic Center for the last several years. Somehow we’ve managed to never miss a show. We’ve been able to do that through a combination of help from family and respite providers who we are very grateful for.   When we were first married I admit I imagined there would be more date nights. But the reality of finding someone to care for Grace is that it’s hard. I sometimes get jealous of date nights and parent trips that others seem to take with such ease. I know social media is all perception but it just seems so far from our reality.

I struggle sometimes to understand the effect of Grace’s needs on our marriage. She arrived a year and a half into it and by our second year of marriage, we were playing by completely different rules. Graham changed the rules again when he arrived. I don’t mean to oversimplify but one of the big differences I see in parenting the two are the logistics Grace brings with her that Graham doesn’t.  There are so many people to schedule appointments with, people to communicate with, meetings to go to, labs to get, paperwork to fill out, things to have in a bag before we leave the house. If we forget anything for Graham we can pick it up at any Target or gas station. If we forget certain things for Grace she doesn’t eat and has to wait until we get home. Grace has forced Kevin and I to combine our brainpower and up our organization. Sometimes we have it all. Sometimes we forget things.

The other thing she’s forced is conversations I’m hoping most married couples don’t have. Brain surgery?…Yes or no? Try the experimental drug? Get the medicine from Amsterdam? Are our expectations for inclusion fair? Can we afford the wheelchair van? What will happen to her when she’s done with high school, how will she spend her day? How will she not get isolated?

I’ve been thinking about all this because we had a nurse today in our home who wasn’t with us all summer. She asked if we took any vacation this summer. I told her we did. We did Mt. Rushmore, the Badlands, Devil’s Tower. I went on to explain that the wheelchair van had made it possible. That Graham being older helps a ton. That Kevin’s research on van toppers and ability to pack in tight spaces was key. That it went well enough we are planning another summer vacation.

“Good for you,” she said.   “It was good” I replied.

This thing that the younger Kevin and I started is going ok. We are doing good things. Maybe not the things we imagined but things that are important.

I’m glad they didn’t know… the younger Kevin and I. We’ve probably done best learning together as we go.

Joy

 

 

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

 

 

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