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A Valentine for my Village

It takes a village. A tribe. A family. Raising a child with special needs isn’t easy, but having supporters, near and far, make the journey a little easier. Your village may consist of 5 people or 50. Your tribe may be filled with online friends or a local community you see face to face. Whoever makes up your village is irreplaceable, I know mine is.

Valentine’s Day is typically romantic, filled with chocolates, hearts and roses, but I’d like to express my utmost gratitude for our village on this day with nothing but words.

Happy Valentine’s Day to our village. I love my tribe. I love our family.

My life wouldn’t be the same without you. My life is richer because you are in it. I wake every morning and know you have my back. I don’t have to wonder and worry about who is there for me. I know that I have written many times about the loneliness I experience as a mom of a child with extraordinary needs, but I know that I truly am never alone. You are always there. Always willing to lift me up.

You have made homemade meals and delivered them to our door when life was too crazy for me to even think. You have visited me in the hospital when our son was sick, carrying a large bottle of hazelnut coffee creamer to help me stay awake after sleepless nights. You have celebrated my birthday with me on the 5th floor at the children’s hospital with pizza and a helium balloon. You have called, texted, and private messaged prayers, good vibes, and all the positive energy you can muster when I have asked. You never disappoint.

Not only are you there for me in times of need you are eager to share in our times of joy. Milestones for children with developmental delay are extra special, and I can’t thank you enough for celebrating alongside us. When our joy is also yours this means the world to me. You get it. Thank you for loving our son. Thank you for looking past all of his diagnoses and seeing him, a beautiful, bright little boy.

A huge thank you and fist bump to the warrior moms in my tribe. I love our candid conversations about this life we are living. I love that I can say nothing at all and you know, you know what I am going through. I am so grateful to have you to share tears with when life is filled with sadness and loss. But more than that, the laughing-til-I-cry moments are everything. You and your children are priceless to me. You lift me up. You have helped me navigate this journey and for that I am eternally grateful.

There isn’t a word big enough. Thank you seems too small.

It takes a village. A tribe. A family. I love and appreciate each of you for being part of ours.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

*this blog originally appeared on Firefly

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Reminder for the new year

Our van door wouldn’t shut all the way the other day. It wouldn’t latch when it closed so the interior lights would stay on and the buzzing wouldn’t stop. It was annoying, frustrating, and a huge bummer! I really didn’t have time to get it into the shop and I had to cancel a couple of appointments because I was afraid of having a dead battery, not to mention it was probably unsafe.

My husband was more angry than I was. He focused on it and said something like “why can’t we catch a break?!” I looked at him and said “are you kidding me right now? We caught the biggest break of the year. Theodore is healthy!” (refer to “the waiting” blog)

The van door is just a door. It’s fixable. Yes, it’s inconvenient, but it’s manageable. I had already figured out how we would get by for a few days if we had to bring it to the shop, but thankfully we brought it to “grandpa’s fix it shop” and we haven’t had a problem since. As my husband sat there with his glass half empty and leaking…I sat there with a full glass.

Perspective.

I know that I have written about perspective before but as the new year is upon us I felt it was a good time to remind everyone that we DO have a choice.

We may not have a choice regarding what happens to us in our life but we DO have a choice on how we are going to react to it. I could have swore and marched around my house angry, but I didn’t. I could dwell on the fact that we have a child with a life threatening condition and how “unfair” that is. I could look around at all of the “perfect” families and let jealousy take over. For the record, I know that NO family is perfect. Behind that one perfect photo on social media is an entire camera roll of imperfections. We all have them, but some just hide it or choose not to be as transparent.

Sometimes life really does suck and some days are worse than others. I hate (and we don’t say hate) that I have to worry about how we are going to care for Christopher when we are older and can no longer carry him up and down the stairs. I hate that there is the possibility of someday walking out of the hospital without him. I hate that I have to worry about an illness spiraling out of control and taking his bright light from us. But I can’t dwell on that. Well, actually I could…but I choose not to. We weren’t given a choice on the life we are currently living, but we can choose on how to react.

I will always choose joy. I choose to find the positive. I choose to have a glass half full. I choose to find JOY in the JOurneY.

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The waiting

Minutes after our newest addition was born I held him in my arms and I started looking him over. I started searching for symptoms of the genetic condition our 4 year old has. I felt like I would just know if he was affected or not. As my husband looked at me and asked about his eyes, I said to him “he doesn’t have inverted nipples.” The nurses in the room were listening and looked at us a little peculiar. I’m sure they wondered why we were picking our beautiful boy apart looking for something “wrong” with him. I told them that we were looking for clues as to if our newest addition would be affected by congenital disorder of glycosylation. Once that was said they continued to do their jobs but the room was a little more quiet.

Days went by and our little guy was a wonderful eater and (in my eyes) so strong. I couldn’t believe how he could hold his tiny head up and push his legs against me while I was holding him. He had none of the physical symptoms his older brother has, but we know that not every child is the same and the spectrum of severity is huge. My heart said he was healthy but I didn’t dare say it out loud until the blood test was confirmed.

At 11 days old I took him in to the pediatrician for a terrible diaper rash, which turned out to be a staph infection. As I sat in the pediatricians office I did all I could not to lose it. I was immediately brought back to when our 4 year old had staph which ended with a long hospitalization and a picc line. No. This couldn’t be happening again. I kept silently praying, begging, while I held back the tears. The pediatrician sent photos to the NICU and every doctor in the office came to look at my sweet baby to give their expert opinion. IF he was affected by CDG this could get bad very fast so everyone was on edge. In this moment I waivered; was he healthy or was I just wishful thinking?

It was the longest wait; 3 weeks waiting for a phone call from the genetic counselor with his test results. 3 weeks of pushing back every vision of the future. 3 weeks of not allowing myself to wonder if I would ever hear him say “mom” or watching him take his first wobbly step. 3 weeks of shoving visions of him running around grandma’s pool with his brothers and cousins. 3 weeks of never dreaming.

The genetic counselor finally called. I immediately knew when I heard her voice. She had a lightness in her voice; happiness. She said “I’m calling with great news….” and I couldn’t stop the tears. She went on to say our son was a carrier and not affected for CDG. Words can’t even express the relief, joy, and weight that was lifted. For the last few weeks I felt like I was carrying so much worry and anxiety while pushing so many things aside.

And now I can dream all I want.

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On mandarin-orange chicken day

Our son recently started using a communication device, his “talker”, to communicate with us. As many of you know, he’s medically complex with special needs and he is nonverbal. He’s getting quite good at telling us he’s “all done” or if he wants “more” of an activity. We were with family the other day and we were using his talker;  I was asking him if he wanted more books. Upon asking him this and presenting him his communication device a family member said “how does he know what more means?”

I had to take a deep breath. I had to think of an appropriate response, to be honest, I was completely taken aback. This is someone who has known him since birth and sees him often but yet was questioning his intelligence. I simply responded “how does anyone know what more means? He has learned like any other child.”

I went home and was extremely hurt, angry, but more than that I was completely heartbroken. If a family member wonders about his abilities then how does the world see him? Does the world see him as less than? Does the world see him as unintelligent? Does the world view him as someone who doesn’t understand? And quite frankly, it frightens me. It worries me that he is growing up in a world that will underestimate him.

And as his mother, I feel as though it’s my job to prove to the world that he’s smart, capable, funny, charming, and even manipulative just as any other four year old can be. I take it upon myself to be armed with responses to questions regarding his abilities. I prepare myself for the worst in people. I am always standing tall ready to protect my son against any hurtful remark, question, or comment. I absorb them all and in the shower or a drive alone I release them. I cry for him. I cry for us. Tears roll down with worry that I will forever have to prove to the world what an amazing human being he is. And oh how I hope that the world will see him as we do. I desperately want him growing up in a world where differences are embraced and he’s not seen as less than.

The other day we decided to venture to the elementary school to have lunch with his first grade brother. I worry that our older son will be met with questions of why his brother is the way he is or something will be said in front of him to hurt his feelings. He fiercely loves his little brother and loves him unconditionally. We rolled into school, him in his wheelchair watching Daniel Tiger on his iPad, feeding bag hanging on the handle, and his bright green hearing aids in. My older son and his friends were thrilled to see us. We sat at the end of the table and chatted about the day so far. A little buddy made mention that our son can’t walk, and my older son matter of factly said “and he might not ever” as everyone took another bite of their lunch. That was it. End of conversation. I smiled. My heart brightened. He is their friend’s brother; that’s all they saw. Conversation moved on to Nerf guns and magic tricks. And as we were packing up to leave I heard one of my son’s first grade friends say to him “you’re lucky, you have a cool brother, he looks just like you.”

So when I worry about the world viewing our little boy as less than, I am shown that the few who will underestimate him do not make up the entire world. I can only hope that the world has more people like the first graders at the lunch table on mandarin-orange chicken day. Thank you to the parents of these lovely little boys for helping them to see the world with compassion and understanding that being different is ok.

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I think…

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit scared. A little bit nervous, okay, maybe a lot. To be honest, not thinking about it is easier than thinking about it. Isn’t that a strange way to talk about a pregnancy? Let me explain.

I know I have a beautiful wonderful child inside of me who is already loved beyond measure. I can feel his flutters and kicks; an amazing gift of the life I’m growing. I can see my belly growing and I lose count of the daily trips to use the restroom. He’s happy and thriving. Inside. But outside, that’s where my thoughts always drift to. So, sometimes it’s easier to just smile when he knocks from inside and not think any farther.

When I allow myself to think about his future, I can’t help but think of the “what-ifs.” We know the chances. We know the possibilities of our unborn baby boy being affected by congenital disorder of glycosylation, just like one of his brothers, is 33%. We know it’s not easy. We know the multiple hospitalizations, illnesses, worries, surgeries, specialist appointments, daily therapy tasks…we know it all. We know full well the amount of work and dedication it takes to raise a child with special needs.

It’s very strange carrying a child who could have a very difficult life.

I am doing my very best to not get caught up in scenarios that are possibilities, either way. I cannot bring myself to envision him crawling, talking, playing with his brothers. His first words. Saying “mama.” Tears stream down my face as I type those words. I just can’t. I am not going to pretend – I am not going to break my own heart. I have to try to protect myself from further heartache. Because if I don’t dream those dreams, maybe, just maybe, I can protect my heart a little.

Of course, we would love for him to be unaffected but there is a reality that he may not be. And that’s a reality we are ready to face.

I know we can handle anything that comes our way. After all, we are “experts” in CDG according to the genetic counselor I spoke to. If anyone is prepared, we are. We didn’t know if we could handle it 4 years ago, we were scared and nervous…but here we are…killing it.

But I still can’t think of that either. I can’t bring myself to relive the first two years of Christopher’s life. A night in the emergency department where we were told he was close to death, surgeries with complications of infections, numerous sleepless nights in the hospital, and having to let go of the dreams we once had for him. The grief that follows you; even when you are looking on the bright side. I can’t think further ahead, think about the possibilities of wheelchairs, gait trainers, therapy after therapy….the endless trek up the mountain.

I can’t think beyond now. Not beyond today. And that’s ok. I think. 😉

 

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Nowhere else

Our family went to a pool party a few weeks ago and on our way home I texted my girlfriend to let her know I wasn’t going to cry. I didn’t have the urge to take my son and leave. Oddly enough, I felt ok, not great, not sad, but just ok.

Our son is nonverbal, continuous tube fed, has severe hearing loss and wears aids, with very low muscle tone and cannot sit alone, stand, or walk.  He’s also stubborn, funny, very affectionate, and extremely charming. He loves kisses, books, and his iPad. And when he gets excited or is content he can be very vocal while flailing his arms and legs all over which can be confusing to people who don’t know him.

I can’t tell you how many times we go to an event and all I want to do is retreat to the safety of our home. Away from the stares, ignorant comments, and small twinges of sadness knocking on my heart waiting for me to release them all. I spend time looking at other children and wonder what life would be like if our child was typical. I watch kids his age run around while we lay on the ground together as a passerby asks how old he is, and then when I say “four” I watch their face change to pity. I watch their face drop as they have no idea what else to say to us.

Some days I just don’t want to do it. I don’t want to feel alone in a room full of people. Have you ever felt that way? There can be people all around me but yet I feel alone because the majority of everyone surrounding me simply doesn’t understand our life. They don’t know what it’s like to have a child with a complex medical condition with severe developmental disabilities. Our day to day life is anything but typical. So, I’ll be honest, sometimes it’s easier for me to just NOT participate.  I don’t want the whispers behind our back or the blatant stares. I don’t have to face any of that if we just stay home. But as I sat with our son enjoying the laughter at the pool while he happily watched his iPad in the breeze, something occurred to me.

There was no where else he would have rather been.

He kept looking up at me with his sparkling eyes as if to tell me he was enjoying himself and was thrilled to be there. His little legs were going crazy. He was happy. He had two of his favorite things; his mom and his iPad. And as much as I would have loved to be the mom in the pool with a glass of wine, I wasn’t. As much as I would give to have him jumping off of the side of the pool, he wasn’t. I would love to take this all away from him and make his life easier, but I can’t. I realized then that longing for the life I dreamed of is futile. My life is happening right now. Our lives are now.

Sitting there, I may have appeared alone, on the sidelines, but that’s not the truth. We were together.  We weren’t alone.

And at that moment, there was nowhere else I would have rather been.

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“As long as it’s healthy.”

*Disclaimer: I did not write this to get into any debates, so please refrain. This is my blog. My feelings. It’s okay if you feel otherwise. Please respect my feelings/opinions and I will return the favor.

In my pregnancy, you will never hear me say “as long as it’s healthy.”

Don’t get me wrong. We all want, wish, pray, and long for a perfectly healthy baby. But what if there wasn’t that guarantee? What if you knew there was a chance your child’s life could be a difficult one? What if you knew that chance was 33%?

According to the genetic counselors we have spoken to, our child has a 33% chance of being affected by congenital disorder of glycosylation.

No one knows the struggles more than we do. No one knows the numerous hospitalizations, appointments, and sleepless nights more than us. No one knows the hard work and determination more than us. It took our son over a year to roll and four years to sit up, and he still needs assistance to ensure he doesn’t fall over and injure himself. A common illness can put him into the hospital for over a week. His body is fragile and we know he isn’t guaranteed a long life. We are aware that our four year journey has been filled with grief and loneliness. Immediately when I found out I was expecting I spent days thinking whatarewegoingtodo? howarewegoingtodothis?? whatifwhatifwhatif?? Then I would look at our son and the only thought that came to mind was…

Your life is worth living.

HIS life is worth living.

Not only is he a child with extraordinary needs, he, himself, is an extraordinary child. His smile is more genuine than anyone I have ever come across. He loves with no expectations or strings attached. He trusts with all of his heart. He has brought us more joy than all of the grief, fear, anxiety, and loneliness combined. I wish every single person had the opportunity to peek over the railing and carry him from his crib in the morning. He wakes with unimaginable joy; thankful for another day. He. Never. Gives. Up. And we won’t either.

I won’t say “as long as it’s healthy.”

Because I know healthy isn’t a guarantee, and for us, it doesn’t change a thing. The genetic counselor reminded me that we are already experts. We know. We are not delusional about what we could be walking into. 33%. No matter what, we will fiercely love this child and I can guarantee you, 100%,  his/her life will be a life worth living.

 

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My tips to you

*Not my typical blog…just for fun! 🙂

Garage sale season is upon us and I think those holding garage sales need a few reminders. As a customer, I am very tired of being misled over and over. I come from a long line of professional garage sale go-ers. My mom, grandmother, and great-aunts are true professionals. I have learned from the best.

 

  1. If you are advertising a “multi-family” sale there better be more than 2 families treasures at your sale.  “Multi” to me means multiple. Several. Just because your neighbor walked over with a fishing rod he’d like to sell does NOT mean you can advertise “multi-family.”
  2. If you write “boy toys” on your sign there better be a table of boy toys not just one Tonka truck. I am going to look at your one truck and turn my butt around and head back to my car. I’m not even going to take one more look at your offerings. The “s” in toys lead me to believe you had more.
  3. You CAN NOT advertise “fabulous” when it’s not. Just no.
  4. You probably have sentimental value to your items or think they are in amazing condition, but I’m going to let you in on a secret…they’re used. Yep. Used. And you may think it’s worth 50% of the original price but it’s not.
  5. Kids clothes. Ahhhhhhhh!!!! I am not buying a t-shirt that has been washed 100x for $2. I can go to Target or Kohls and buy a brand new one for $6. One where the neck is not stretched out and the hem is beginning to fray.
  6. Antiques are not items given to you by your grandmother or something that looks “old.”
  7. Boxes that I need to search through are also a NO. I don’t want to dig around through your stuff to find something I must have, I can do that every morning at my house looking through the laundry to find the only socks my son will wear to school.
  8. HUGE SALE. Okay, this better be inside your garage, outside your garage, and MULTIPLE tables filled over and under. I better be able to spot your house as I’m pulling down the street.
  9. Underwear. Should I even have to say it?
  10. Allowing your children to price their own toys. This is also a NO. I think it’s great that they are trying to earn some money, but do they even know the purchase price?  An airplane with a broken wing is not worth $5, and let’s be real, should it even be in a garage sale?

 

I hope you have learned a few things and had a few laughs! Now go out there with your fanny pack of quarters and find some treasures.

 

 

 

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The “Theraplay” Easter basket

With Easter approaching I decided to come up with a list of basket ideas that do double duty! Not only are they fun, but they provide a purpose. I am always searching for toys that also help our son in his development. He is much harder to buy for since we cannot simply look through the toy section and pick age appropriate toys, or grab a box of Peeps (yum!) and a chocolate bunny. I always need to put so much more thought into what we purchase for him.

  1. Pop Toobs – These are great at getting two hands/arms to work together! They help work on arm strength, while making a fun sound too.
  2. Theraputty – This putty is similar to good ‘ol Silly Putty, but comes in different strengths to help strengthen grip and grasp. Our little guy is still playing with the lowest resistance, but I could play with this all day!
  3. Maraca Eggs – Because they’re eggs!
  4. Cheerios Play Book – Our son loves books but strongly dislikes food. He also needs quite a bit of help with his fine motor skills. This book has small indents where your child can place a cheerio. This one does two jobs for us! He has to touch food AND work on his pincer grasp.
  5. Color Sorting Toy – We aren’t sure if our son can differentiate between his colors, but we also have no reason to believe he can’t. Toys like this one can help with taking items out, putting them back in, and sorting them. Our little guy has a hard time with accuracy as well, so having a target area to put items back is something we continually work on.
  6. Bubble Machine – Bubbles are so fun to watch and even more fun to try and pop! Again, this helps our son reach out and find the bubble he wants to pop. It’s great for hand-eye coordination.
  7. Water Beads – These are a little wet and slimy; great item for kiddos with sensory processing disorder. We keep ours in a Rubbermaid bin to play with year round. Our son doesn’t like new textures or many things on his hands so these are great to play with along with other sensory items. *these are small, so be sure to watch your child if he/she puts things in her/his mouth.
  8. Suction Cup Balls – We love these! We suction these onto our mirror and he has to reach to grab and pull the suction ball off of the mirror. As you can see, we are working on strength and coordination. We are also working on standing, so when we suction the balls higher he needs to push to stand to get them!
  9. Flashcards – I punch a hole in the corner of flashcards and put them on a clasping ring. He loves books so this is almost like a mini book for him and also helps him associate a word with a picture.
  10. Poke-A-Dot Book – These tactile books have raised buttons that are so fun to “pop!” Our son usually uses 3 fingers when pushing a button so this book is extremely helpful in trying to teach him to use just his pointer finger.

I hope this list has been helpful for anyone struggling to find functional items to fill an Easter basket! I know that I am always searching for items that we will actually USE.

Comment below if you have any other “must haves” for a ‘Theraplay” Easter basket!

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The other end.

I vividly remember diagnosis day.

I recall scouring social media and connecting with families from across the globe.

I watched videos of other children affected by congenital disorder of glycosylation.

I soaked up words of advice and encouragement.

I thought I knew what our future would bring.

The one thing I wasn’t ready for was the spectrum of severity.

I wasn’t prepared to be severe.

I’m going to be honest and tell you that there are so many days I feel inadequate. I feel like I’m not doing enough for our son. I question that we should be doing more, I wonder what else there is out there. I search the internet for tools, toys, gadgets, and therapies.

The families that have children affected by CDG are the most wonderful, humble human beings. I am forever grateful for the connection I have with them. The beauty of a support network is support.

The downside is comparison.

Our children have the same genetic condition but yet the differences can be immense. Each child is incredibly different, and I’ve struggled with where we land on the spectrum of severity. I used to think that if we did a certain skill at a certain age things would be “ok”. Every dated goal that I’ve set for him has come and gone. Long ago I came to the realization that specific goals aren’t healthy for me to set, and the main goal of “progress” is all I need. It has taken me years to be honest with myself and say out loud that he’s severely affected. With CDG, and many other disorders, you can meet one child affected by CDG, and you’ve met HIM/HER. You may meet another child who is affected completely different. You simply can’t compare.

I love our support network with all my heart but there are days I can’t look.

Every time a parent posts a video or photo of their child with the same type of CDG doing something we aren’t even close to doing, I hurt. Every video of a child’s voice saying words, I hurt. I can honestly say I am incredibly thrilled for their accomplishment, but there is a part of me that aches. This may be one of the only times I have asked “why him?”

I didn’t want to be here. I hoped and prayed for the other end.

I knew the spectrum was wide. I held out hope that we would be crawling up the stairs at age 4 (like I saw another child do) or saying our ABC’s (just like the video I saw). But we aren’t. And, it is okay.

We’ll be okay.

I know comparison is the thief of joy. But it’s not just that. I want parents to know that no matter what you may or may not do, your child may just be at the other end. You may work as hard or even harder as another family and still may be farther behind. You can get as much advice as you want and do the EXACT same things and your child may not gain weight, increase muscle strength, or learn to say their ABC’s.

You aren’t inadequate. I know you are trying. I know you are researching and learning by trial and error. We all are. But what worked for one child, worked for ONE child. I am telling you that we have tried it all and it simply doesn’t change where he is on the spectrum of severity.

I am doing my best.

You are doing your best.

Sometimes you are just at the other end.

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