Archives for posts with tag: travel

MK_PFTHPURPLEB1CHAR_20170227_7962999163.jpegWhen I was growing up my parents got us a Christmas ornament every year. It was a tradition. I love unpacking those ornaments each year- seeing my mom’s handwriting listing my name and the year I received the ornament on the boxes. When Kevin and I were married those were the only Christmas ornaments we had for our tree.

It’s a tradition I wanted to continue with my kids. For Grace’s first Christmas we’d been through a lot and I remember struggling to find an ornament that represented that time- something we’d want to celebrate and remember every year about baby Grace as we unpacked that ornament. Ultimately I settled on an ornament of Dumbo taking a bath in a tub. The note I wrote on the box was one sentence in length that says “Because Grace loves taking a tubby!” One year it was a Cinderella ornament that marked her invitation to a princess birthday party. The first year she rode a horse-it was a horse. The year we flew to see her Aunt Heather and Uncle Drue married in Virginia it was a plane. This Christmas it was a Rapunzel ornament that we bought her at Disney World when we visited.   Each year I write a note on the box about why we chose that ornament for the year.

My mom never wrote messages on the box about why she chose the ornament. She never had to because I know and I can tell the story. I started writing out the reasons on the ornaments we buy for our kids because I knew Grace wouldn’t be able to tell the story.

Special needs grief is a funny thing because this year as I was packing those ornaments carefully away I got to wondering if it mattered.   If anything happened to us would those ornaments really follow Grace? When she grows up and if she were to live apart from us would anyone read the notes to her? Put up the ornaments? Was I just creating more for Graham to have to go through someday?   Was it an unnecessary tradition? And in a larger sense if we are the sole keeper of Grace’s story and why she matters a few ornaments won’t begin to tell the story.

I feel different about Graham’s box. His ornaments are for him to have so that one day he can remember his growing up by going through a few ornaments that represent snapshots of what he liked and how he grew. I can picture him sharing them with his kids telling them about what Dad was like when he was little.

Ultimately Grace’s ornaments got packed in her box. I came to no conclusions other than it’s not a waste. If those ornaments are only ultimately for me then they are only ultimately for me. I chalked it up to grief sneaking up on me. Grief on a normal Sunday when we’d been to church, I was doing laundry, Grace was playing happily on the floor pulling every toy out of the basket in front of her, Graham and Kevin were out playing in the snow, and we were planning on Casey’s pizza for supper. It was grief that comes from the helplessness of not knowing. Grief because I’m not sure what to dream for Grace in the future. A grief that her experience will never be all that I dreamed for her.  And the thing is I have a level of acceptance about all of this. I do. I swear. But even with acceptance, there are moments that catch you off guard and then all you can do is take the time to acknowledge the grief, share it if you need to, process it until it’s processed and then keep going.   The ornaments are packed away but the work continues.

Joy

Advertisements

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

img_4151We (Kevin, Grace, Graham and I) left for Minnesota on a recent Sunday. Our van was packed pretty full for a two-day trip. Grace doesn’t travel light.  (That’s a different blog post entirely!). Graham packed his own suitcase with the following belongings; a Santa hat, his Little Passports suitcase, slippers, his bug jar, books, sleeping friends, and Thomas the Train.

He was delighted to stay in the hotel that first night. He had a whole bed all to himself.   He swam in the hotel pool. Pizza was delivered to our room. Disney Jr. was on TV.

Grace was happy to be out of the car.

Grace had three appointments over two days. First, we followed up with the plastic surgeon about her eyes. All looks good. The swelling could last a few more months. We have one more appointment with the surgeon in January. After that, we will continue to watch her eyes with the eye doctor. If we see drooping again we go back to the plastic surgeon. Graham sat on my lap for the appointment. He played on the iPad at times putting his hand on my cheek and pointing my head down to see what he was doing.

After that, we went to Culver’s for lunch. One thing that’s different about Minnesota with Graham than without is our food choices.   When Graham is with us we frequent restaurants that serve chicken nuggets, chicken strips, pizza, or pancakes.   At this particular Culver’s we were able to watch the trains (the light rail) go by.   Graham led us straight to the tables by the big windows so we wouldn’t miss a single one.

We got to the second appointment. This one was with Grace’s urologist. The appointment has several steps; first an x-ray, then an ultrasound, then height and weight, then the doctor. Here’s where we had trouble. Grace needed to be cathed, needed meds, and needed food all at the same time. Graham wanted to be playing in the kid area on the other end of a large waiting room. That left one of us trying to get to all of Grace’s needs. We travel with a green bag full of Grace essentials. We put it on the back of her wheelchair. Things are organized and sorted into baggies. We need water – hot water for meds and some at room temp to keep her hydrated. There are gloves, lubricant, catheters, and wipes. Medicine, medicine crusher, syringes, and tubes are all in there too. Then the box of formula – that sometimes, depending on how you open it, drips a small amount of sticky white liquid on your hand, or the tube, but you are powerless to do anything about it because if you let go those few drops could become a lot more.

Graham was sure we were done after each step of the appointment. Because we were trying to meet both their needs we ended up feeding Grace as we talked to the doctor’s nurse and then the doctor. When we were with the doctor Graham did excellent. The doctor told us Grace will need a surgical revision of her mitrofanoff. This is not an immediate need. We have some tricks we can try to buy us some more time. Neither the doctor, Kevin, or I want her to be in surgery anytime soon.

Once we were done Graham was so excited. The Lego store at the Mall of America was next. But then we had to wait some more to schedule Grace’s follow up appointments.

All that done we left the hospital, went down the circular parking ramp, where Graham went “whee” and declared that he loved driving in circles. We were ready for his part of the trip.

He’d told us when we planned the trip that he definitely wanted to go the Lego store. It turned out he wanted to go to no other stores.   Lego store was done he was ready for his next objective. A train ride.

Grace was done being in her wheelchair.

img_4149After the train ride where Graham got to go under the airport on the light rail it was back to the hotel. He ate some pizza, played with his Legos, and went swimming in the hotel pool. He fell asleep in another big bed – all for him- watching TV.

We went to the breakfast buffet in the morning. He chose Cheerios. We talked with a few girls eating their breakfast. Graham and one of the girls had a jumping contest to see who could jump highest.

We packed up to head to Choo Choo Bob’s – Graham’s final objective. As we left the hotel room he made Kevin stay behind but led Grace and I outside to see the singing rock he and Kevin had discovered when we first got there. The singing rock is actually a fake rock with a speaker in it.   He was so excited to show it to us. He did a little tap dance as we listened to the music.

Choo Choo Bob’s was a lot of fun. We had to leave story hour after only 10 minutes to get Grace to her final appointment. Graham handled it well. Way better than is even fair to a boy at Choo Choo Bob’s. The last appointment was the eye doctor. Eye doctor appointments take at least 2 hours. Grace wasn’t being particularly cooperative. Graham actually scared the doctor when he popped out of the chair he’d been sitting in very quietly. After she’d recovered the doctor started talking about Grace’s next appointment. Graham interrupted her piping in that he didn’t think Grace should have any more doctor appointments.

Then, there were chicken nuggets for lunch with fruit punch to drink. We started driving home. Graham wanted to be home 20 minutes after we left.

img_4150I sat in the back of the minivan between the two kids as we drove home. There were moments when my shoulders held both their little heads. We’d done it. It wasn’t always pretty. Kevin and I hadn’t really unpacked any of the information we’d heard.   Having Graham there prohibits some of that.   But we’d seen a singing rock. Graham had gone under an airport. Grace doesn’t have to go back to Minnesota until January. We’d done it leaving no man behind. We’d done it together. I don’t feel like Graham should have to be with us every time, but sometimes he should be there. She’s his too.

A few months ago he’d asked me why anyone would stay in a hotel if their sister wasn’t having surgery. I tried to explain the whole concept of vacation.

Maybe he kind of got it.

I hope one day soon we can get him (and Grace) an actual vacation.

Joy

 

 

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