Archive | July, 2013

She finally called me mom.

23 Jul

Yesterday was the first day that Oli ever called me mom.
Today when she said it again someone else was here to validate for me that she actually said it. My husband heard her.

She is 6.

She called me mom.

Not mom-mom or ma-ma-ma. Not ommm or mmmmm or ahhhh or any of the other things that she has called me in the past.

Just mom.

I knew she could. I hoped she would.

I just didn’t know when?

As we were sitting on the chair this morning after breakfast she quieted her head shaking, tipped her head towards mine and said “Mom”. Then she smiled and leaned forward to give me a hug and pat me on the back. She hugged me tightly like “I know mommy. I know you’ve been waiting to hear that from me for a very long time. There you go. I said it.”

I was so shocked that I don’t even think I registered the fact that it was SUCH a big deal until after she left for school. Until after I came back upstairs and sat down with my coffee.

And then it hit me.

I finally heard the word that I have been waiting to hear since she was born. The word that I have dreamt of all of my children saying since the moment that I knew that I wanted to become a mother.

After 6 long years…I finally heard it from Oli.

If she has taught me anything it’s patience. If she has shown me anything it’s that we have to celebrate the tiniest accomplishments because for a child like her, the smallest things become the most memorable.

I remember each of her little moments like it happened yesterday. The pictures of those things are etched in my brain like a tiny portrait of the perfect day. I remember where we were sitting, what we were saying, who was in the room, and the big smile on her face once she realizes what she has done.

I’ll give you an example…

The second time she put two words together (the first time was at 2 years old before she stopped speaking) happened a few months ago. Kekoa, Ginger and I were playing a Lego board game. Kekoa was working on building a car out of red Legos with grey doors and black rubber wheels. Ginger was sitting to my left pulling out all of the tiny grey pieces, trying to annoy her brother. Oli was sitting with my mom eating applesauce. My mom asked her if she was all done eating. Oli tipped her head to the side and quietly said with the confidence of a super star “All done.”

Cue the big smile that graced her perfect lips and the huge yells of celebration and congratulations from the rest of us.

The itty bitty moments, in a regular house, on a regular day, mark the events of my lifetime.

THESE are the moments that I will remember when I grow older and reflect on the good times in my life.

I won’t remember when I bought my first car, when I moved into my first house, or what I wore on my first date.

I WILL remember when my Oli girl said mom for the first time.

I will remember when all of my kids did, but she works so much harder for these milestones. Months and months turn into years and years of therapy to achieve the things that other children seem to do so without effort.

And yet…that is almost exactly what she did today.

Somehow, working on it for all of these years instantly turned into a distant memory.

She said it so clearly, smoothly, and confidently that it just rolled off of her tongue like it had always been there.

Like she had been saying it all along.

I have many people joke with me and say things like “Just wait! Wait until she starts talking all of the time and then you’ll wish for the days that she didn’t.”

I laugh and say “Yeah” like I have some comprehension of what they’re talking about.

I don’t.

I can’t imagine a day that I wouldn’t want her to speak. She could speak to me all day, every day for the rest of her life and I honestly don’t think that I would ever get tired of hearing her sweet voice.

Can you imagine the day that she could have a conversation with me? Can you imagine a time when she could tell me what she wanted for dinner?

I can.

It gives me butterflies.

Nope.

I will never ever wish for these days when she can’t.

But, I know that she will be able to someday because she surprises me all of the time with her accomplishments.

It may have taken her 6 years to call me mom, but she said it!

She said it.

That’s all that matters.

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What if she never speaks?

20 Jul

As I stood in the hallway, talking and listening to this Italian mother speak about her 14 year old, blind, autistic daughter Eliza, one thought kept racing relentlessly through my mind. I had one question that I needed to ask this mom about the daughter that looked, and acted so much like my own. I wanted a tiny glimpse into the future of this Italian world that seemed to mirror my own.

“Does your daughter speak now?” I asked her quietly, trying to hide the desperation from my voice.

“No. No she doesn’t.” She replied, quite clearly seeing the pain seep into my eyes.

In that moment, in those brief few seconds that passed between us, the reality of what we both were feeling, the dreams that we had for our girls, were spoken without any words from our lips. They were spoken between the souls of one heartbroken mother to another.

She knew that when she reveled that truth and her reality to me, that she was giving me an answer that I didn’t want to hear.

I didn’t want to hear it.

Do you know what I wanted to hear? Of course you do.

I wanted to hear that her daughter had learned to talk. I wanted to hear that after years of silence, 14 years of silence…that she could now talk about what was going through her mind.

I desperately wanted to hear that one day my daughter would learn how to talk to me.

But that wasn’t what had happened.

As she began telling me the story of her daughter’s communication struggles, I began to feel more and more uncomfortable. I began to feel more and more angry. I began to see more and more similarities between our children.

And I didn’t like what I heard.

Her daughter had also learned to talk when she was 2. She had also stopped when she was 3. She had started speaking again right about the age that Oli is now…

And then she stopped.

She just simply quit speaking.

One day it was there, and the next day it just wasn’t.

Poof.

BOOM!

There it was.

One of my biggest fears had once again been dropped at my feet.

When Oli began speaking again a few months ago I couldn’t believe it. After 3 long years of complete silence I couldn’t believe my ears when she started to say a few words again. With every new word she spoke the fear of what she wouldn’t say the next day crept in the back of my mind. The questions of “What if she doesn’t talk today?” came with each morning sunrise. The fear of “Will today be the last day that I hear her speak?” came with each nightfall.

And here stood this mother telling me that all of my fears that I so successfully banished to the back of mind, might one day come true.

What now? What do I do with this information?

After a few days of living within that fear and those terrible alternate realities that my mind likes to create; the ones where everything goes wrong and I am helpless again struggling against a monster that I could never hope to defeat, I realized that I was projecting a future upon Oli that I have no control over. I was sentencing her to a life of silence without any knowledge or proof that this is what would happen. I was letting myself believe once again in a hopeless situation that has absolutely no reason to be hopeless.

Oli is not Eliza. Oli is Oli.

What she will or won’t do has nothing to do with what another child has or has not done. Even though that other child is so similar to her. She still is an individual. One capable of fulfilling any potential, achieving any goal and overcoming any obstacle that lies before her.

Oli is Oli.

I have said it before, she will do what she will do regardless of how much time I spend worrying about it. Regardless of how much time I spend crying over it.

So I took my own advice.

I spoke the words to myself that I have spoken to other parents about their children.

As her mother, one of my most important jobs is to never stop believing in her.

And then there were two…

18 Jul

Last weekend I had the privilege of attending the ICAN conference in Chicago, IL. ICAN stands for the International Children’s Anophthalmia/Microphthalmia Network. Every two years, children and families from all over the world, travel to learn about and meet other people with anophthalmia and microphthalmia.

It’s always great to learn about the new technology available for blind people. It’s always fantastic to learn about new advancements in the treatment of these conditions.

But nothing beats what it feels like to look at another child or another family that knows exactly what your life is like.

No one knows what it’s like to raise a blind baby, to deal with the trials and tribulations of conformer therapy, to deal with other people who stare at your child…

Than other parents with a child just like yours.

No one knows about the breakdowns in the car because someone said something hurtful about your beautiful daughter…

Except another family who has walked in your shoes.

No one knows what it’s like to hide your newborn baby underneath a pile of blankets in her car seat because you just can’t stand to have one more person comment on how your very wiggly, giggly, very AWAKE baby, is sleeping because she can’t open her eyes…

Than the other mom who has had it happen to her.

The families that I met this weekend? Know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.

It’s so refreshing to talk about all of these things and to look into another mom’s eyes and see that flash of recognition. That spark of “Yes! Yes! That’s happened to me! That’s how I feel!” I don’t have to explain everything. Half the time, I didn’t even have to finish my story. I would get half way through and then see her head start to bob up and down and a knowing smile, play on her lips. Ahhhh…yes. You get it.

There was still some explaining to be done though. There were still a lot of walking, talking, interactive blind children running around the halls that weekend.

There were many many children who were NOT like my Oli.

To be honest…it makes me feel a little bit weird and strange to be around them. I feel kind of awkward. I don’t know what to say to a talking blind kid. Give me a non-verbal, blind kiddo with multiple disabilities and I feel right at home. Otherwise, I’m out in deep water. Do I offer my hand to them? How do I introduce myself? What do I say?

I’m just not used to it. I don’t know that life. I only know my own.

It was still pretty cool though. I was sitting at dinner and was watching a new friend talk to her son at the table. She was telling him where his knife and fork were. That there was a little lip on the edge of the plate. And then she took his hand and guided it over the plate to show him. I could only stare and smile and think to myself, “Yes. I must be doing it right. I do all of those things with Oli even though she can’t tell me if that’s correct or not. It must be, otherwise this other little boy would tell his mom that it wasn’t.” I need to see those kinds of things. I need to know that I’m doing it right with Oli.

There was one little girl that I just can’t get out of my head. A 14 year old girl from Italy. She was just like my Oli. After seeing her, I don’t think I’ll doubt Oli’s autism diagnosis again.

Little Eliza from Italy was JUST like Oli and she also has the diagnosis of autism. She too, is totally blind and non verbal.

Her and her parents sat next to us at dinner on Saturday. I had spoken to her parents a little during the day. The geneticist wanted me to talk to them about some different forms of communication techniques and tactile symbols, to use with her.

I knew that when they described her, I had that look on my face. I know that as I listened to her mother speak about her, I had that spark in my eyes. “Yes. Yes! I know exactly what you’re talking about.”

Meeting Eliza, was a whole different experience. I have never met another child that was like Oli. I mean like her in EVERY SINGLE WAY!

I couldn’t take my eyes off of her during dinner. Her mannerisms, behaviors, the way she moved her hands, the way she ate her food, the way she relied on her mom…it was ALL like Oli.

It may have been a little strange for her parents. More than once they caught me with my mouth hanging open, looking like an a-hole, staring, smiling, and nodding in their daughter’s direction. More than once I had to excuse myself and say, “Oh my gosh!! She’s just so much like my daughter!! I’ve never seen that before! I’m sorry for staring.”

More than once I felt like bursting into tears because I was just so happy that I had found another mom who knew what it was like.

There are, of course, other children born blind and who have the autism diagnosis. I’ve met some of them.

They were not like Oli.

I later asked the genetic counselor at the convention what made Eliza and Oli so similar. They have the same eye condition, but different gene deletions. Oli is missing the OTX2 gene, while Eliza is missing the SOX2 gene.

She couldn’t really give me a definite answer, other than to say that there had to be some genetic correlation that caused the blindness and the autism. Somewhere in those genes lies the answer, or rather, the missing answer to the puzzle. Something about those missing genes that caused their eyes not to develop and then whatever caused the autism, is the same in Oli and Eliza.

It was fascinating.

The next day when it was time to leave, I said good bye to Eliza at breakfast. She took my hand in hers and ran her fingers over and over my palm. She found my ring and was twisting it around. She smiled and smiled… Her mom said, “Wow! She really likes you!” I told her “I know. It’s because I just totally understand her. It’s because we have this bond that ties us together. It’s because of Oli.”

And that is the story of the day that I finally met another child like Oli.

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