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I Know.

18 Apr

I don’t know why I still feel the need to read through every new doctor report that I get about Oli. Especially when they are brain scans like MRI’s and EEG’s.

I mean, I know what they will say. I know how they will make me feel. I know that by the time that I reach the end of the report, I will feel that familiar heartache, sadness, emptiness, and hopelessness that I always walk away with.

I know that it will take me right back to all of those feelings that I felt, and ran from, in the beginning.

I don’t know why reading certain words about her makes me feel the way that it does.

I know that she is cognitively delayed. This is nothing new. I do know that there has to be changes in her brain that make her unlike other children her age.

I know that there are physiological reasons why she cannot dress herself, go the bathroom by herself, brush her teeth, talk, walk well, control her emotions…

I know all of these things, and yet I was still rocked and shocked when I read the words “static encephalopathy” on her latest EEG report.

Static encephalopathy?

Brain damage?

Huh?

My daughter doesn’t have brain damage. You, madam neurologist, are mistaken.
I googled the term “static encephalopathy”. This new, ugly label that you included in my daughter’s EEG report.
I googled it and I am totally regretting doing so. Although it didn’t really change anything. I already knew what those words meant.

Permanent brain damage.

Just seeing it written, actually written down, having been officially diagnosed, was enough for me.

Why did I have to read about it further on Google?

And why did the doctor not tell me herself that she suspected this?

Did she not know, that I didn’t know, that this is what they labeled her as?

Because I didn’t.

I didn’t know.

I just thought that she was delayed.

Just delayed.

I always think that it is a possibility that she will be able to catch up.

Maybe not completely. Maybe she would always be unique, but aren’t we all?

Did they have to go and write down, WRITE DOWN, that she has permanent brain damage?

Don’t they even care about my feelings?

Shouldn’t this new label have required an actual sit down with the doctor?

Shouldn’t an official diagnosis of “static encephalopathy” require a meeting with my family to explain what this means for my daughter? Why do they have to be such assholes and write down something like that in a report?

The only reason that I was able to read it was because I requested all of her records for this Medicaid waiver program that we’re trying to get her on. I wasn’t mailed a copy or given this piece of paper upon discharge from the hospital.

Now I sit here, with my daughter sitting beside me, tears pooling in my eyes, and whispering “I’m so sorry” once again.

I’m so sorry Oli. I’m sorry that this happened to you. I’m sorry that this is something that makes your life more difficult. I’m sorry that I had to read this ugly label and feel sad for you for a little while. I’m sorry that I had to look into your beautiful face, put my arms around you, kiss your neck, and let you feel my tears as they dripped down onto your shoulder. I’m sorry that I can’t tell you why I am crying.

I will make you the same promise that I have made to you since the day you were born.

I will NOT let this define you.

I will NOT let this hinder you or discourage you or slow you down in any way.

I will NOT let doctors or therapists or teachers read this about you and let them make decisions about your future based on what a piece of paper says.

I will make sure that they KNOW that this is NOT who you are.

I will make sure that they see everything that I see.

I will make sure that the world treats you the same as everyone else and in most cases…better.

Because you are my special little girl. You are capable of achieving any dream that your heart desires.

It doesn’t matter what a piece of paper says.

This…

I KNOW.

It makes me really sad mom.

9 Feb

I got the call that I am always terrified to get when I’m away from Oli.

“Shannon. Something is wrong with Oli. I think I need to call an ambulance.”

My heart fell to the floor and stayed there until she was wheeled into the ER on a stretcher and I could see her.

“What do you mean? What’s wrong?” I asked as my heart raced, but my mind cleared.

“Well she’s breathing really funny. Like holding her breath and I can’t keep her awake. Here. Listen.” My mom, who had been home with her while I took my other two kids to a horse vaulting stable, put the phone up to Oli’s lips.
I hear a strange grunting sound coming from my daughter.

“She’s been doing this for a while now and it’s getting worse. When she falls asleep it’s better, but as soon as she stirs she does it again.

“Mom. Listen. Lift up her shirt. Can you see her ribs or her sternum as she breathes? Does it look like she’s sucking in?”

My mom quickly checks. “No. No I don’t see that.”

“Okay good. What about her lips? Are they pink or do they look blue?”

“They’re really pale. I just don’t feel right about this. I feel like something is really wrong with her. She just keeps falling asleep.”

“Mom. Do you feel like you should call an ambulance?” I ask calmly. Going into more nurse mode at this point than mother mode.

“I’m not sure. Maybe. Something is wrong with her breathing.” She answers. I can hear the fear in her voice.

“Okay. If there is even a question that maybe you should, I need you to call. I am at least an hour away and by the time I get there to check her, things could have gone dramatically downhill. My phone is almost dead. I only have about 10% battery left. I’m going to call Seth and tell him to go home right now. I’ll have him call you on the way. He should be there in 10 minutes. Hang up and call 911.”

“Okay.”

I hang up and quickly call my husband.

No answer.

I call again.

No answer.

Oh my god. My phone is going dead.

I shoot him a quick text.

‘Call me NOW.’

He calls back immediately.

“Seth. I need to you to go home right now. Oli is not breathing right.”

“I’m on my way.” He replies in a calm voice.

I start to tell him that I’m leaving the stable now and that I’ll be about an hour…but he’s gone. I’m talking to dead air.

That morning Oli woke up happy. My mom and I had plans to take all three kids down to a stable in south Austin where their horse vaulting team has a Barn Buddies day once a month to raise money. The kids get to come down, learn some tricks on the barrels, and then get up on the horse to practice them with an experienced horse vaulter.

After Oli got up on Saturday morning she fell back asleep right after breakfast. I sent my mom a text and told her that maybe Oli shouldn’t go. I thought maybe she wasn’t feeling very well. My mom decided that she would just stay home with her and that I would take the other two kids and our dog. Shaka had service dog training right after the kids were done riding.

When I left, Oli was playing happily with her toys.

Kekoa and Ginger had an awesome time on the horses. It was really great because they always watch Oli ride at hippotherapy, but never get to ride themselves.

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That morning of fun quickly turned into a nightmare.

This was not Oli’s first ambulance ride.

Not even her second.

Her first executive ride to the hospital was one of the absolute worst days of my life.

October 4, 2011 is a day I will never, ever forget. Never.

That morning I woke up next to Oli violently convulsing and gasping for breath. She ended up being intubated with a machine breathing for her for two days.

The next ride was August 26, 2012.

And the last was on Saturday February 7, 2014.

I’d like to say that this will be her last, but I know that it might not be.

Her seizures, any person’s seizures, are no joke. I know that lots of kids have them. Some have hundreds a day. Some are lucky like Oli and only have them once in a while.

It’s really all about perspective. I don’t know anything but what I know about Oli. Her journey is no more or less than anyone else’s. We only know the life we live so it’s important not to minimize or over exaggerate something that we have no experience in.

I get really uncomfortable when I meet someone and they say “I just don’t know how you do it?! I could never do what you do!”

Yes you could. Yes you would.

I find myself thinking those same things though when talking with my friend who has a daughter who literally can have 100 seizures per day.

How does she get through it? How would I?

But I don’t have to worry about that because that’s not our life. I can talk with her about it. I can tell her how extremely terrified I was to get that call. I can tell her how Oli wasn’t breathing well and how awful it was because I’m sure she had more than one seizure yesterday. Like maybe 3 or 4 or 5. (I don’t know because they were seizures that we couldn’t see.)

And you know what she says? Not “Well that’s NOTHING! You should be grateful it was only a couple. My daughter…” Blah blah blah.

Nope. She doesn’t say any of those things.

She says “Wow! How scary! Do you need anything? Do you want to talk about it? How can I help you get through this?”

She validates my reality.

She doesn’t compare it.

That is powerful.
So incredible powerful.

I hear people compare themselves and their struggles to other families all the time.
Why?
Why are we judging when we should be supporting?

I’m so lucky to have so many incredible families in my life who do just that.
They support Oli. They support me. They support my kids and my husband.

We desperately need support because scenarios like the one we had on Saturday, do not leave a family unscathed.

The words I spoke to my children in the van as we left the stable, will not soon be forgotten.

Especially by my 8 year old son.

“What’s wrong mom? Why aren’t we going to take Shaka to training?”

“Your sister is having trouble breathing and is on her way to the hospital. We need to go there now.”

He immediately becomes quiet.

My three year old, Ginger, does the exact opposite. She has a million questions.

“What do you mean? What is she doing? I’m hungry. Can we stop for lunch? Can I have a snack? Do you have any juice? Are we going to see Grandma now? Are we going to Shaka’s training? Where’s Oli? Where is she going? Where are we going again?”

Oh. My. God. Ginger.

Ginger is either the best person to have with you in a crisis or the absolute worst.

I’m leaning towards the worst. 🙂

It was good because she was distracting me with her 5 billion questions and it was frustrating because I was trying to figure out where I was going, who was going to take the dog, which hospital they were taking her to? Did my husband get home? Are they on their way? When was Ginger going to STOP TALKING!

I got a hold of my friend, Cat, who just happened to be at the stable with me.

“Cat. I need you to come get the dog. Oli is being taken to the hospital by ambulance. They’re taking her to Dell Children’s.” I speak rapidly into the phone.

“I’m on my way.”

Man I have some good friends and family.

I had so many people texting and messaging me, offering kind words, support, and offers to watch my other two kids. It was very very humbling to realize how many people were willing to drop what they were doing and help.

Once we got to the hospital Kekoa was even quieter and Ginger even more inquisitive.

Fortunately Cat got there as soon as I did and took the two kids before Oli was wheeled into the room.

We didn’t know what to expect, but I knew I didn’t want my kids to see her surrounded by hospital staff, talking, asking questions, and working on Oli.

My son has already seen too much in his short 8 years.

Once Oli got there she was breathing better. She was doing some breath holding off and on, but didn’t seem to be in distress. She definitely wasn’t herself. She was constantly falling asleep and wasn’t really moving at all.
If you know Oli, this is completely out of character. She is always going.

After we had been there a little while Cat asked if we could bring the kids in. Just so they could see that she was okay.

Unfortunately as soon as they got there a team came in to start her IV. My poor Kekoa was so flustered that when Cat escorted him back out of the room he grabbed my purse and tried to walk off with it.

After that, they didn’t come back in.

I can’t even begin to imagine what he must have been going through. I know what I was going through and it was awful. And I knew what was going on! He only knows that one of the times his sister took an ambulance ride, she almost didn’t make it back home.

Oli stayed at the hospital for about 9 hours. They ran a bunch of tests and then did an EEG.

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By the time they did it she was mostly back to herself. She was worn out and acting sick, she had been running a fever too, but she was aware of what was going on and awake. Once the EEG came back normal at 11 pm they said that, if we were comfortable, we could take her home.

We opted to go home.

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Oli was more than happy to be sprung from the hospital.

The verdict was seizure activity brought on by… we don’t know. A little virus maybe.

Seth had taken the kids to another friends house in the afternoon and then my mom went and picked them up so they could stay with her for the night.

Shaka stayed with Cat and his girlfriend Dubi.

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Yeah. He didn’t miss us at all. He is in love.

This morning my mom said that Kekoa was very tearful at her house.

We finally got him to talk about it when he came home.

“It makes me really sad mom.” He admits in a quiet voice.

He also said that he was really scared for Oli. Really scared.

Me too buddy. Me too.

It’s important that I never ever minimize his feelings.

I need to never compare, judge, or make him feel like he has to feel any other way, than the way he does.

As important as it is to me to have my friends and family validate how I feel…it is more important to me

that I validate my son’s.

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It’s a beautiful life.

20 Nov

When Oli was born my son Kekoa was only 17 months old. He had not even spent a year and a half in this life. On this earth. He was so incredibly young that I was still getting to know his little personality. I was trying to figure out what kind of person, what kind of man, he would grow into.

What kind of grooves would this little boy fall into after having a sister born with significant disabilities?
Would he stay locked into hers? Would he be able to find his way out? Would he be able to tread his own path, defining his own grooves? Would he be able to define himself and to find his own identity or would he continually be forced to follow along behind her?

Would I force him to follow along behind her?

Would he be mad at ME? Would he resent ME for the events in his life that were about to take place?
Would he resent HER for being born the way that she was?

As I sat on the corner of the tub, bathing my 17 month old little boy, I asked myself all of those questions. I cried over all of the possible answers that lay before me.

I cried for the little boy that I had promised to do everything for. I cried over the fact that I had somehow unintentionally just made his life so much harder. I cried because I was not going to be able to fix this for him. I was not going to be able to make this easy.

When she was born I never even considered the possibility that her birth could be the best thing that would ever happen to my family. I couldn’t even dream of recognizing the positive outcomes because I was so drawn into the pity parties and the negativity. I couldn’t stop feeling sorry for myself long enough to see the beautiful forest from the trees. I was stuck in an outcropping of horribly ugly, brown, leafless, dark, gnarly, trees. I hated those stinking trees.

As life moved on…

As I moved on…

As the world moved on… I began wondering what kind of person this experience would mold my son into. I began realizing that we had a unique opportunity to view our daily life as a constant lesson to learn about humanity. The good and the bad.

I learned and began to teach my son how to respond rather than react to people and situations that might not always be positive. I learned and then taught my son compassion and understanding rather than anger and resentment.

We talked about WHY people sometimes respond the way that they do to Oli. We talked about HOW we could and should respond when people are mean. We talked about how most people just don’t see the world the way that we do. We talked about how people are generally good and that sometimes they just don’t understand and are curious, but might not know how to ask about her condition.

We talked about a lot of things. We still talk about a lot of things.

Kekoa is 8 years old now. We talk like we’ve always talked, but now I try to get him to tell me how he feels about things. I try to get him to tell me how it makes him feel if someone is mean to his sister, but it’s hard.

He’s only 8.

Mostly he just says that it makes him sad. He says that he wished people understood her better. He wishes that people knew that she was just like them, but unable to speak or to see. He says that he wishes that they would consider her feelings when they were mean and not treat her like she doesn’t understand.

I wish that too Kekoa…

So we talk about those feelings and the actions that we can take to make it better.

I never really know how much he understands when I try to help him work through these things. I never know what he does with these talks and these experiences when he walks out of my front door in the morning and heads off to school.

Until now.

The mom of one of the girls in Kekoa’s school emailed me this morning to tell me a story about my sweet boy.

She said that her daughter Rachel, was being picked on by some boys at recess earlier this week. Her daughter told her that Kekoa had stood by her, comforting her, and helped her to reach a teacher who could help. Rachel told her mother later “Kekoa knows how to treat girls because he has sisters.”

Because he has sisters.

Because he has Oli.

Really that’s what it comes down to.

He has learned such compassion, such respect, such infinite wisdom because he has Oli to teach him.

He has a sister who has never looked into his eyes, never spoken his name, never uttered a sentence, but has taught him to be an incredible human being.

She is teaching him how to become a wonderful man.

I can see how beautiful my trees are now.

I can look my son in the eyes and never feel remorse or sadness about the way our life has turned out.

I can look at him and see the amazing gift that Oli has given all of us.

She has made every single one of us into a better person and has allowed us to live a life that I never even would have imagined.

It’s a beautiful life.

I know I’m okay as long as I don’t make pancakes for dinner.

21 Oct

“Close the door Michael. I can still hear them.”

Michael obediently pauses Zelda and walks over to the lightweight door, closing it on the sounds of my parent’s argument.

“Now turn up the sound on the TV and just ignore them.”

Michael again complies without protest, spinning the volume control on the old 32” TV. He picks up the remote control of the Nintendo and scrunches up his little face in concentration.

He is probably about 7 years old.

I am probably about 10.

This is not the first time we have performed this ritual.

It will not be the last time either.

About an hour later my mother knocks softly on our bedroom door.

I get up, reluctantly pausing Link mid stride across his never ending quest through the green maze, and open the door.

Michael looks at me worriedly.

I look up and into my mother’s red rimmed, glassy eyes.

I see the tears still pooling in the corners of them just about ready to spill over. Just about, but not quite.

My mother will rein them in, sparing me from having to wipe them from her cheeks.

My mom will pretend to be strong for me.

Even though I know she’s not.

Even though I know that she has once again been defeated.

“Are you okay?” I ask although I already know what her response will be.

“Yes. I’m fine.” She answers in a voice that is too high, too cheery, to be anything but fake.

It is only now that I notice that she is carrying two plates in her hands. She lifts them up towards my face.

“I’ve made pancakes for dinner!” She says this like someone would announce that they are going to Disneyland.

She says it like she’s just given me exceptional news.

I’VE MADE PANCAKES FOR DINNER!!

“Thanks mom.” I respond quietly. I try to pretend that this is good news. Pancakes. I love pancakes and so does my brother Michael.

I know what those pancakes mean though.

My eyes cast around her to the doorway and towards the silence that sits awkwardly beyond it.

My mother is confused at first by my sad expression. Then she meets my gaze with eyes pooling with tears once again.

She knows that I know.

She knows that even though I am only 10 years old, I now understand that pancakes for dinner is never a good thing.

Pancakes for dinner means that my mother is not okay.

I’ve kept that memory since childhood. I still associate pancakes and dinner as a very bad thing. I’ve had my own children now. Three of them. And guess what?

I’ve made them pancakes for dinner a few times.

Very few times, but I have and I cringe at that memory too.

I told the young child me that I would never do it.

I would never turn those light, fluffy, syrupy plates of deliciousness into a dripping plate of sorrow…but I have.

I have fought against instinct and upbringing and tried to swim against the tide that tries to push me in the direction of my mother’s life.

To no avail.

Points in my life have begun to mirror my mother’s despite my every attempt to fight it.

Of course it doesn’t all look the same. But a lot of it does.

More than I’d probably like to admit.

And so when my life falls apart and the tears stream down my face and my sobs threaten to choke me… I do what feels right. What feels comfortable.

I make pancakes for dinner.

That’s how I’ve come to measure my sadness and my coping skills.

Am I making pancakes for dinner?

If I am?

It’s bad.

If she was autistic…where did that leave me?

7 Jun

When Oli was two years old, a few drastic changes took place in her life. We moved 1500 miles away. We moved away from one of her grandmas, her aunties, her cousins, and the only house she ever knew. We moved away from her sister.

At the time that we moved, Oli was still taking. On the drive down she repeated the words “up” and “out” over and over and over. It was a looooong drive. I remember that we stopped for breakfast one morning on the second day. My mom asked her what she wanted for breakfast. Oli answered “eggs” and then clapped enthusiastically. My girl loves eggs. She also said “Mom. Dad. Grandma. Koa. Milk. Juice. Eat. Hi. Bye.” Those are just a few.

Six months after we got to Texas, I had another baby. By this point her speech had already started to decline. Ginger was born in March 2010 and by September, Oli had completely stopped speaking.

She did NOT do well when Ginger was born. None of us did. Ginger cried all the time, day and night for 4 months straight. I couldn’t put her down. Ever. She was either eating or crying. She rarely slept. Oli was stressed out and hated the baby. If she heard Ginger near her she would scrunch up her face and push her away. If I tried to get her to hold the baby she would cry. She didn’t understand what she was or why she was so loud.

Oli started stimming more and more. She stopped repeating simple words and didn’t use the words that had been frequent in her vocabulary six months prior.

By Christmas of that year I knew that something had happened. Something else was wrong that had caused her to stop talking. Was it the stress of the move and the birth of her sister? Or was it something else?

I knew that I couldn’t just take her to a regular doctor to evaluate her. Blindness complicated the diagnosis and I didn’t want them to misdiagnose her or misinterpret her behaviors (blindisms) as autistic behaviors because in blind kids they are not.
Most kids born blind have a lot of the same self-stimulatory behaviors that autistic kids have. They have a lot of the same sensory issues too.

Oli constantly shakes her head back and forth. Continually. All day long. (Think Stevie Wonder.) She has done this since she was a year old. She started flapping her hands around 2 years old. She loves to spin and swing and she’ll rock violently back and forth when she’s mad. She’s always seeking more and more input because she is missing the main way that human beings get their information. Through our sight. She puts everything in her mouth. Blind children typically go through a longer oral stage because of the reason I stated above. This is just one more way to get information if you can’t see it.

None of those things set off any alarm bells though. I knew that was just her blindness.

What DID set my heart racing and began to fill it with unspeakable dread and fear? What one thing lead me to question what was wrong with her?

Why did she stop speaking?

It felt like one day she was talking and the next day she just wasn’t.

What would cause this to happen?

One terrifying word came into my mind.

Autism.

I called the research center for anophthalmic and microphthalmic children. The Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. I made her an appointment for an evaluation. They had developed a specific clinic staffed with experts on blindness to determine if our kiddos really were autistic or if their behaviors and characteristics were simply the results of being born blind. Many of our kids were receiving the diagnosis of autism when they weren’t and many of them were not being given the label when they were. That team was supposed to be able to clarify and correct the appropriate clinical diagnosis.

So I flew her to Pennsylvania and asked them the million dollar question.

Was my baby girl autistic?

During the months leading up to that evaluation I began to question, pray, bargain, and plead with a God that I had started to lose faith in. I began to cry and scream at him “You made her blind! You made her physically and developmentally delayed! Don’t make her autistic too! Please! I will do anything! ANYTHNG! Don’t make my baby autistic too!”

I laid in bed at night questioning my very life and existence. I began asking questions that I would never receive answers to.

I wondered why He would do this to her? Why would He do this to me?
Why had my life been so easy before? Why had it become so hard?
When was my nightmare going to be over? When was I going to wake up?
The more I prayed and pleaded…the farther away I drifted.
The more questions I asked…the less answers I received.

I flew Oli to Philadelphia with a heavy heart, a stomach full of knots, and an empty soul.

Where was my God? Would He answer my prayers?

I feared that I already knew the answer to those questions.

Where did that leave me now?

Living within the isolation of myself.

14 May

We moved from Pahrump, NV to Round Rock, TX on October 1, 2009.

By the time we moved I was exhausted. Mentally exhausted.

Living in that desolate island of fear, tears, sand and mountains had completely depleted me. I felt so alone. Although my mom only lived a few minutes away and my husband was with me…I was alone.

I had submerged myself so deeply in self-pity and self-hatred, blame, guilt, remorse, and those constant day dreams of what might have been, I was beyond reach of anyone else. I was alone in a dark, sad, tear-filled cocoon of my own making.

I couldn’t wait to move. I had pushed everyone away. I would talk with my friends, listen to stories about their children, the whole time thinking to myself “You don’t understand. You just don’t understand how hard this is for me.” They didn’t understand. Because I never told anyone. Moving seemed like the best solution at that point. I thought that if I changed my outside, if I changed my zip code, that it would change the way that I felt.

I had convinced myself that it was all because Oli didn’t have enough support. That it was because I didn’t have enough support. It was. But, it wasn’t. Oli did need more help with people experienced in blindness, but I had some support. I just couldn’t see it then.

I had met and made friends with other moms who had visually impaired kids. I had become good friends and remain friends with some of them. None of them were totally blind though. I had led myself to believe that because their kids weren’t totally blind, that they didn’t really understand what it was like.

I had made it US vs. THEM.

I had isolated myself even against the people who knew what it was like. I was looking for all of the differences in our lives rather than the similarities. I think some part of me enjoyed that feeling of isolation. Some part of me liked feeling sorry for myself and enjoyed believing that I was the only one in the world who felt the way that I did. That no one could possibly understand my struggles.

It just simply wasn’t true though.

LOTS of people knew how I felt.

If I just would have stopped for a second and looked outside myself, I would have seen that. I would have seen that I had people surrounding me that wanted to help me. They wanted to understand what I was going through. If I would have made myself available to them…if I would have made myself a little vulnerable…I would have seen that.

I didn’t.

I didn’t when we lived in Nevada and I didn’t when we first got to Texas.

HAPPY 6TH BIRTHDAY OLIANA!! MAY 10TH 2013

10 May

I made a slideshow for Oli’s 6th birthday. *Warning* Content may cause viewers to burst into tears. Use extreme caution when viewing and the use of tissues and/or sleeves is advised:) I hope you guys enjoy the pictures, the story, and the music.

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But she might…

8 May
As soon as my tires hit the gravel and I pull into R.O.C.K where Oli rides her horse, she gets THIS look on her face. She knows exactly where we are and what is about to happen. Then I say, "Oli we're HERE!!! It's time to ride your horse!" And she starts frantically clapping and yelling. She knows. No one can tell me that she doesn't understand. Just look at her face. I KNOW she knows.

As soon as my tires hit the gravel and I pull into R.O.C.K where Oli rides her horse, she gets THIS look on her face. She knows exactly where we are and what is about to happen. Then I say, “Oli we’re HERE!!! It’s time to ride your horse!” And she starts frantically clapping and yelling. She knows. No one can tell me that she doesn’t understand. Just look at her face. I KNOW she knows.

I posted this picture on my facebook page today. I posted it to show an example of what one of Oli’s expressions look like. This is an expression of “I know what is happening and I’m going to sit really quietly for a second and then I’m going to get really excited because I love what we’re about to do”. She has LOTS of these looks.

Some people have told me throughout her life that because she has an intellectual disability, is delayed and has autism, she doesn’t understand. That she couldn’t possibly understand because she doesn’t speak and because her cognitive development is delayed. We know that she is missing some of her genes off of her 14th chromosome. We know that this has affected her development and her learning. We know because she has done everything later than everyone else. We know that. I know that.

I know that despite being told that she may never walk independently, eat independently, have anticipation of events, be aware of her surroundings, have a sense of humor, the ability to laugh and to love, be funny, be brave, show strength and determination, cry, be sad, be mad, get frustrated… she has. I know that she has proved those people wrong every single time. And I know that she DOES understand. She does. I know because I KNOW her. Sometimes I feel like I know her better than I know myself. For whatever reason, she just can’t tell me what she understands with words.

I know that I may NOT know exactly what she is capable of in the future, but that I will ALWAYS give her a chance.

I know that I will ALWAYS believe in her.

ALWAYS.

That’s my job as her mother.

To believe in her despite all the odds, the challenges, the setbacks, the regression, the frustration and tears. Despite text books that tell me what she will or won’t do. Despite well educated doctor’s opinions and the opinions of the rest of the world. I will believe in her. I will never expect her to do less than her very best and I will never accept the words “She will never…”.

Because she might.

Because she probably will.

And even if she doesn’t do something or say something, I will go to my grave believing that it is still possible.

Some may call that naïve or say that I’m in denial. I’m not. I know that there is always the possibility that she will never move out, go to college, or get married.

But she might…

I will never ever be able to look into her sweet face and not see the sky as the limit. I will never take anyone else’s opinion on what she will or won’t do as fact. Oli will have to prove it to me. And even then, I will still push her. I will push her to have confidence and believe in herself. To set goals and achieve them. I will push her to develop her own sense of identity and to be kind. To love other people and to be respectful. To be understanding and to be grateful for what she has. To live and to laugh and to never look back. To view past mistakes as learning opportunities and chances to grow. To greet each day with optimism, and with a smile on her face, and to act better than she feels. To know that every day will not be perfect, but that’s okay. I want to push her to do her best with what she has and to be proud of who she is. I want her to be prideful instead of pitiful. I never want the world to take pity on her and I never want her to feel like she deserves it when they do.
Because they will.

She may never be able to do these things.

But she might…

Leaving a child behind

1 May

After what seemed like an hour, but was more likely only a few minutes, I dared to sneak a glance at my husband. His face was a silhouette against the window of our car. With the sun setting orange behind him I could just make out the corners of his lips turning upwards in a smile.

“Move? You really think we need to move?” He asked, sparing a glance at me and momentarily taking his eyes off the road.

“I do. I think that we really should. Oli’s vision teacher is always telling us how great Austin, TX is. I think we should look into it.” I answer.

“Okay. I’m in. She just isn’t getting the amount of services that she needs. She needs occupational therapy and speech. She needs more physical therapy and orientation and mobility. I agree. Las Vegas, NV is definitely not the best place to raise a special needs daughter. Let me talk to my company and see what they can do. Maybe I could somehow transfer.”

And that was it.

The decision to move my family was made on a hot summer day in August 2009 on the drive back from California after a trip there for my birthday.

There were no arguments and no one resisted the change. We simply decided to move.

Bittersweet tears were shed by my husband. He was happy for Oli, but sad for who he was leaving behind. Moving to Texas meant leaving his two sisters, two nephews, one niece and his mother behind in Vegas. It also meant moving much, much farther away from his daughter, my step daughter Thalia, who lived with her mother in San Diego, CA. She was 11 years old at the time.

I didn’t appreciate then what an enormous amount of strength and courage that decision took for him. What it meant to leave a child and move somewhere where he would only see her once every 6-9 months instead of every month. He made the type of decision for Oli, which I’m not sure that I could have ever made. He made a choice to help one child, who may have needed it more, with the sacrifice of not seeing the other. Their relationship would remain tightly intact via computers and nightly phone calls. Many many phone calls.

And many many tears.

Many tears of sadness and loneliness were, and still are, shed on behalf of Thalia.

Some days he gets lost without his oldest daughter.

Sometimes I wonder if he regrets leaving.

I wonder if he thinks it was worth it.

I’m sure most days he thinks that it was. And then. . .I’m sure there are others where the pain and the sadness are too much. Days where he longs to feel the touch of her sweet embrace and see the warmth of her beautiful smile.

I do know that every day he misses her. Every. Single. Day.

We both do.

IN MY DREAMS, SHE FALLS OFF THE CLIFF

29 Apr

Have you ever had a dream that you wake from completely devastated, but so happy that you’ve awoken from your worst nightmare? A dream that sits way too close to reality for comfort?

I’ve had a few of them, but three of those dreams stand out profoundly. These are three that I will probably never forget. All of them involve my Oli.

The first one was the recurring dream that I told you about in the very first blog that I wrote for my story. The dream that I was going blind. You can read it HERE. I’ve never had that dream again since Oli was born.

The second dream/nightmare happened after Oli had her first big seizure and we almost lost her. I must have had some kind of post-traumatic stress. I dreamed that she died that afternoon.

A van pulled up to my childhood home with my daughter’s body lying inside it. I met the driver of the van at the end of the driveway. I already knew that she was gone. The driver dipped his head in the sun, casting a dark shadow across his sorrow filled eyes. Then he walked around to the back and opened the hatch. When he turned around again he had a little bundle wrapped in a brown blanket in his arms. I couldn’t see any part of her. Except for her feet. They were lying across his forearm. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from her feet. She was holding them in a certain sweet way, so delicate and petite, crossed at the ankles. He handed her to me and I carried her wrapped in the blanket over to the shade of a tree and laid her quiet body beneath it. And then I just sat there. I sat there staring at her beautiful little feet. My heart broke into a million little pieces. How could she be gone?

I woke up from that dream gasping for breath, feeling the happiness and life being squeezed right out of me. I ran to the other room and sat on Oli’s bed. I sat there and stared at her chest, rising and falling with life. I rubbed her feet beneath the blankets until they wiggled and pulled away from my hand. I sat with her until that image of her lifeless form left my mind. But, it hasn’t left it completely. I still see those little feet lying motionless in the grass. I still vividly remember that dream.

It terrifies me.

The third dream I had last night.

I had a dream that I wasn’t her mother. I was her nanny and I was moving. I was moving very very far away from her and I wasn’t going to be able to see her again. It was so strange because in my dream I was looking at Oli through someone else’s eyes. Not my own. I saw her as other people must see her. She wasn’t my child, but I felt fiercely protective of her and completely torn apart at the thought of not watching her grow up.

She was sitting in a chair as I was saying good bye. Her curly hair was blowing in a breeze coming in through an open window. Her lips quivered in sadness. Her little eyes were filled with tears. She knew I was leaving.

I said, “Oh Oli. How am I ever going to live without you? I don’t want to go away. I want to stay with you forever. How am I going to survive?”

She wrapped her arms around my neck and nuzzled her face into the crook of my collarbone. Just like always. And then we said good bye. I cried and sobbed and screamed her name.

“Oli! Oli! No! Please! I can’t leave her! Don’t make me leave her!” The anguish washed a red tide over my heart and wiped all happiness away.

And then I woke up.

I woke up and my Oli was still sleeping safely in her bed. I hadn’t been taken from her. I was still her mother.

I don’t know what these dreams mean? I don’t know if other moms have these types of nightmares? Are other special needs moms terrified of losing their children? Do we all notice a visible line between life and death and are distinctly aware of keeping our children walking on this side? Do we all hover and protect, trying to keep them from falling off the edge only to have them flail beyond our control off of the cliff in our dreams?
I’ve never had dreams like these that involved my other children. They’ve never died or been taken away from me.

With Oli… I have. I still do.

I’m probably just terrified of losing her. Sometimes her life seems so fragile compared to everyone else’s. She seems so much more breakable. I imagine a lifetime of loving her and laughing with her, but I know that there is no guarantee. There is no guarantee with anyone, but with her it just seems so much more real.

Sometimes I just can’t seem to help being petrified that I’m going to lose her. I don’t want to lose her.

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