Archives for posts with tag: school

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

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“I didn’t know Grace had a brother” I heard a teacher say as the four of us walked past inDSC00327 the hallway at school. Today was Meet the Teacher day. In my opinion, it’s madness – in an hour and a half, every kid in the building is technically supposed to find their room, meet their teacher, put away their supplies, and then be ready. You have exactly 2 minutes with each teacher to ask questions while they are trying to take care of everyone else there and for me, the whole thing just lacks personality. Graham was anxious, not sure of what was going on. Grace kept yawning. Kevin and I ran around trying to unload the four bags of supplies necessary in the places where we thought they should be.

Anyhow – that’s a blog for another day!

So, back to the teacher’s comment about Graham… it was really the tone of which it was said that caught me. I heard it as “Wow, Grace has a brother.” It’s not the first time I’ve heard the tone. It happens more than you might think. My impression is that a lot of people think maybe we are a bit crazy to have had a second child when Grace is so Grace.

I choose to think of it this way. Graham wasn’t an accident we had him on purpose. We waited to have him until we felt like Grace was stable so that we’d be able to be there for him like we wanted to.   We had him because our family didn’t feel complete – we’d always talked about having two kids.   Some days I think of Graham as a visible sign of our faith and optimism.

That’s not to say we weren’t scared when we had him.  But we wanted him. We took a risk on him.

He’s stretched our parenting in different ways. He teaches us things that are quite frankly amazing and humbling.

I’m looking forward to finding out what school is like on the normal side of parenting. Even though Grace has been there I just have to imagine it will be different.

So this year, this one year Grace and Graham will be in the same school building. I’m anxious to see what this will be like for both of them. What will it mean for Grace to have a little brother in the building? And what will it mean for Graham to be Grace’s little brother?

We shall see!

Joy

 

IMG_6440When people ask me how Grace is doing a lot of times I respond by talking about how grateful I am that she’s been out of the hospital this summer. Facebook has been reminding me everyday lately about Grace’s surgery, a trip to the ICU, and all the complications of last summer. I have to take a minute to say that I’m crazy grateful for how far she has come in the last year.   Our girl – the one with spunk- has fully returned!   Having the mitrofanoff has made it much easier to care for her- allowing us a flexibility I never even really dreamed possible.   We can be spontaneous with less planning!

Even though she’s been out of the hospital this summer she’s never really settled.   We are constantly tweaking things or watching something. As of this writing, one of the things I feel like we are chasing is the noise that Grace has been making. Our normally quiet girl has taken to being very noisy. Sometimes I think she’s just “talking”. Other times it seems to be a sign of distress. We’ve been trying to figure out why this is. The school year rapidly approaching adds a bit of pressure as even after doctor visits, x-rays, changes in meds, even a dentist check, we still don’t know what is causing her discomfort. We snuggle her at home when she gets to sounding distressed and that calms her. I can’t see that working at school in the same way. I have fears of her being ushered out of classrooms because she’s interrupting others learning. Next week she will be in her last year of elementary school. I’m increasingly aware that opportunities for integration will only become fewer and I want her to soak up every last drop this coming year.

Yesterday I was at Hy-Vee picking up Pedialyte. It had been decided that we needed to give her stomach a break and see if that would perhaps bring her more comfort. I left work 10 minutes earlier than I regularly do and found myself standing in front of several kinds of Pedialyte. Most had prebiotics. I have no idea what prebiotics are and didn’t have time to do any googling. (Grace is not allowed probiotics because of her port so my hunch was that prebiotics maybe shouldn’t be in her wheelhouse either.) So anyhow I found a bottle that didn’t say the word prebiotics on it and went to check out. Luckily there was someone at the express checkout and no line because I was pushing my time. I had to be to daycare to get Graham (who doesn’t always want to leave right away) and be home for Grace’s nurse to be able to go home. Anyhow, I found myself in the express line face to face with this very young looking man and to my horror, I start hearing the music playing in the store and my eyes tear up.

It was Miley Cyrus…It’s the Climb. The part I began listening in on goes like this…

“There’s always gonna be another mountain
I’m always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be an uphill battle
Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose
Ain’t about how fast I get there
Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side
It’s the climb”

So anyhow I start tearing up.   The chasing the noise to no avail. The weight of the past year. The fear. The constantly trying to get caught up. The advocating. The defending her. The unknown.

It all takes a toll. A really real one.

So much about Grace feels like an uphill battle. I wish sometimes it weren’t a battle just a slow and steady climb. But the battle sometimes is a war within ourselves trying to decide the right thing to do. Sometimes the battle is getting what we think she needs. Sometimes it’s about deciding what fights to fight and which ones to let go.

We want Grace to keep growing and learning and getting stronger. That’s the wanting to make the mountain move. She’s got crazy tough epilepsy that affects so much. Growing Grace is slow, long work that requires much perseverance and so much patience.   More perseverance and patience than I have some days.

We don’t know what’s on the other side for Grace. We are taking this one day at a time. That journey – that’s the climb if the song holds true.

So I realized it was a bit much – me getting all teary eyed in a store. I tried to put it in perspective. The tears receded. I was doing what I could for that day. I’d been on the phone with three of her doctors’ primary nurses. I’d been with Grace when she had a hard seizure that morning before I left her. I’d taken her to speech therapy. I’d given her meds, cathed her, dressed her, kissed her cheek, and handed her toys. I’d held her hand. And now I was going to give her Pedialyte and report to the doctor the next day.

I walked out of the store and away from the song.  I was, however, grateful that I had heard it play. Somehow it encouraged me to keep going.

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_0955I hesitate to even write this. I hesitate to even begin. I’m not one to post on politics. I choose more often to focus on the less controversial topics that we deal with as a special needs family. My hesitation is also based on me finding myself trying really hard not to judge based on political views. I don’t want to be judged for mine.

But the truth is I am struggling. In large part, we write this blog to serve as a record of our journey with Grace. I forget. I move from one thing to the next and details get foggy.   At this time, I can’t ignore the weight of the outcomes of state and national elections on Grace or our family. It’s worth including here as part of the story.

If I boil it down to what I think might be the root of the struggle it’s the possibility that the affordable care act could be repealed and more specifically that insurance companies could again elect not to cover someone with a pre-existing condition.

When Grace was born we made all the calls and filled out all the paperwork to get her covered by my health insurance company. When Grace was 15 days old we got life insurance for her. She was diagnosed at around 5 months of age.

The life insurance agent has told us in the past we were smart to get the insurance when we did if we had waited until after she was diagnosed her policy would have been denied.

When she was diagnosed there was no such thing as the Affordable Care Act. That’s when pre-existing conditions became part of our vocabulary. We looked at changing insurance at one point but because of her diagnosis, Grace wouldn’t have been covered. Do you remember those stories about families who went bankrupt and were homeless because they were caring for the medical needs of someone they loved? Those stories have haunted me. The very first medication we gave Grace cost thousands of dollars.  A month’s supply of the medication was more than I paid for a brand new car.

Grace is expensive.   There is no getting around it. She’s also evolving, growing up. Her needs will change. It’s not just epilepsy we are dealing with. Sure that might be the first thing we say but she has more than 10 doctors. She receives physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy privately. Yes, she can get those things at school, but in reality what we get are consults from those professionals, not the intense work we are able to get through private therapy services.

Insurance makes it possible for her to have those therapies. Those therapies have helped her walk, made her stronger, addressed sensory defensiveness, allowed her to find a means of communication.

Insurance also means we can take her out of state to doctors who can care for her. Often, even living in the Des Moines area, Grace’s needs require a level of specialty not available here.

Insurance pays for the supplies she needs. Boxes of supplies show up at our home on a regular basis.

There’s also a wheelchair, braces, her talker, etc.

Yes, there’s Medicaid, but it has its limits. It’s also under fire.

Neither pays for many things she needs.  Neither pays for some of her meds. Many of the special needs adaptations that she needs or that add to her quality of life are incredibly pricey. We pay for them. We also pay for the trips out of state, for gas, hotels, food. It quickly adds up.

So my fear is that we would somehow lose insurance for her and have no means to get it back.

I wake up from dreams about losing our home because we had to care for her.

I wake up wondering what opportunities we would have to withhold from Graham because we are taking care of Grace.

I wake up feeling trapped in my job with no way of leaving because I have to care for Grace.

I also wake up knowing that there is no choice in the matter – we have to care for Grace. She’s ours. She has needs that we have to meet. However, we can. I feel the weight of that deeper somehow. It is a legitimate weight.

I have campaigned for Grace’s rights rather privately thus far. Advocating for her primarily in our church and her school. Believe it or not, that’s a lot. Plus advocating is just part of the special needs parent role. It’s separate from the paperwork, the appointments, the meetings, the actual hands-on care. The first time I advocated for her formally I was at a meeting where a county group was discussing cutting funds to her special needs daycare. The two parents before me had these incredibly powerful presentations with visual aids. I hadn’t thought about that at all. All I had was my planner. It had a huge pocket in the front and in that pocket I had a picture of Grace. When it was my turn I sat at the table, showed them my picture, apologized that I didn’t have a more polished presentation, and then told them our story. I told them about how no other daycare would take Grace. I told them how helpless it made us feel.

I feel a little of that helplessness now. Time has made me more polished I like to think. I can better describe how Grace is a whole person, worthy of what it takes to make her the best she can be. She has potential. She has character.   She is not less. She is not a liability. She is a person more the same than different.

And in reality, any of us is seconds away from being in a situation where we could be very sick or very injured and need significant help.

So I’m afraid. But life continues. I’m working on my next blog post where Graham tap dances by a singing rock…

Joy