Tag Archives: parents

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.

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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.

When the sun goes down and the rainbows disappear.

18 Jun

It’s almost time for Oli to start summer school. She goes for 4 hours a day, 4 days a week, for 5 weeks. She has gone to summer school every year since she began going to school at 3 years of age. ESY (extended school year) is for special needs kids who have shown regression over the Christmas break. If you regress, you go to summer school.

It’s a win, lose situation for us. It’s great that she gets to go because summer break is so long, I don’t want her losing any of her skills, and she really likes school. It gives her more of a structured day and a schedule, which she does well with. It’s bad because it means that she isn’t doing as well as some of the other kids. I guess it makes me a little sad because she NEEDS it. Although, her teachers have told me every year (the 3rd year now) that they are qualifying her based on the emergence of critical skills. Walking and talking. I’m not sure if these really were emerging at the time of her evaluation though.
When they qualified her for ESY this year she wasn’t talking again yet. She didn’t start that until a few weeks before school got out. They agreed on ESY sometime after Christmas. Her walking skills have improved over the last 3 years since she took her first steps. I wouldn’t classify this as emerging however. She’s stronger now, but her walking isn’t that much different than when she was 4 or 5. I think it’s mostly a balance problem. I’m hoping that one day her balance will get better. It has, little by little, year by year, but it’s a slow process.

All that being said…she gets to participate in summer school. With all the other kids who NEED to be there. Who cannot afford to have a regular summer vacation like all of the other kids. This is the part that is hard to swallow. She isn’t like the rest of the kids. She never will be. This is both wonderfully special and woefully heartbreaking.

I try to be positive and upbeat. I focus on what she can do, how far she has come, and the progress she’s made. I try to focus on all of her abilities and not her disabilities. But I would be a terrible, fake, fraud if I told you that I never get sad or mourn her struggles. If I told you that I never get angry at the injustice and unfairness of her multiple disabilities.

Here’s part of the real, honest truth. I get sad. I get sad a lot. Not every day. Not even every couple of days, but it happens. When she’s having an especially hard day and the meltdowns become epic, and the tears become frequent and she refuses to walk and she doesn’t speak a word, and it feels like the day will last forever, I remember exactly how much she is NOT like other children. I am faced with how different she is. I am reminded of what makes me a different kind of mother. I’m not very fond of those days because I REALLY want to be like you. Most days I try to pretend that I am. Most days I treat Oli like she is just like your child. And then we have those days where I just can’t pretend and I can’t ignore the fact that she’s not.

It’s during those days that it becomes hard to chronicle our story and write about our journey through our unique life. I mostly wrote about the positive and people always love reading about the warm fuzzy encounters we have. The pink cloud moments where everyone is smiling and life is full of rainbows and roses. Everyone knows though, this is not always the reality of our situation.

No ones reality looks like that all of the time. So sometimes I’ll write about the hard times, the sad emotions, the tears, and the fear…in the hopes of portraying an accurate account of her life. Of my life. I’ll write it knowing that people will worry about me, they will worry about her, they will question my strength, they will be afraid to offer words of comfort, they will offer too many, they will feel sorry for us, and they will be glad that they don’t have a special needs child. I will write it knowing that some people will not want to hear about this part, they will refuse to read about the struggles because life is easier when you don’t know about the difficulties of it all. Life is easier when you ignore the pain and only celebrate the happiness. I know. I was like that too. Some days…I still am. People may choose not to read this part, but hopefully… they will come back. Hopefully, people will continue to be inspired and hopeful about my daughter even when I describe my hard days. Even when I talk about my pain and disappointment.

Because this is our life. We live life on life’s terms through the good, the bad, the smiles, and the tears.

And I really wouldn’t want it any other way.

I have been Carly’d, Stevie Wonder’d, Ray Charles’d and Andrea Bocelli’d.

23 May

I read a post the other day written by Living on the spectrum: The Connor Chronicles called “Have you been Carly’d recently? The blogger has a child with autism and she talks about people comparing her child to Carly. You can read her fantastic post HERE.

If you have a child with autism you know Carly. The amazing autistic girl featured on 20/20. You can watch that video HERE.

Carly was completely non-verbal and autism rendered her unable to communicate with anyone until she found that she could use a computer. Once she discovered speech and language through a keyboard, her entire world opened up. She was discovered to be a “normal” highly intelligent young girl locked within the confines of her own body without the use of her voice. Her fingers became her voice and a link between her and the rest of the world was forged.

It’s truly an amazing and remarkable story.

Unfortunately…it is also a very very uncommon occurrence.

Most of the children who are autistic will not have an experience like Carly. 40% of children with autism also have the diagnosis of an intellectual disability.

Oli has that dual diagnosis along with several others.

Oli will probably never have a Carly experience. She might…but she probably won’t for several other reasons. Her diagnoses plus her blindness complicates matters. It’s perfectly fine if she doesn’t end up being like Carly. She will find her voice in another way.

Many autism families have been Carly’d.

Strangers, friends and family say “Hey! Have you heard of Carly? I bet that can happen to your child too!” This is what the Connor Chronicles blogger specifically wrote about.

I have been Carly’d.

A lot of us probably have been, by well meaning, good hearted people, who just want to give us hope.

The most interesting thing is that I have been Carly’d. I have been Stevie Wonder’d. I’ve been Ray Charles’d. I have been Andrea Bocelli’d. I think that it just happens when you have a child with a disability. People look to that one person with a similar condition that has gone above and beyond and exceeded all expectations of the prognosis laid upon him.

When Oli was born people would always tell me stories of so and so who was blind and did this amazing thing or that amazing thing. They would tell me that she would probably grow up to be a famous musician or a composer. A singer, a piano player, a drummer, a guitarist…because you know Stevie Wonder is blind and he’s musically inclined. So Oli will be too because she’s blind. All blind people have musical talents.

Ummm…well? Not really. No. She’s doesn’t really.

She loves music. She really really loves it.

However… Musically inclined? Not so much.

She loves to bang on everything. Is that drumming? I could probably put her in a heavy metal band and maybe no one would know the difference.

She doesn’t know how to keep a tempo. She bangs on the keys of a piano. She can’t actually “play” anything. She does love music, but I’m not so sure that she will ever be like Stevie Wonder.

And that’s okay.

Oli is Oli. She doesn’t have to be anyone else.

I really think that we need to stop trying to compare our kids with disabilities to others who have a similar diagnosis, but not so common outcomes.

If my African American friend had a baby I wouldn’t look at her and say “Do you know Michael Jordan? I bet your baby will be just like him because he’s black.” Ridiculous right?!

In a sense, that’s basically what we are doing when we say these types of things to parents of special needs kids. We’re placing extremely high expectations on that child and that parent because WE are uncomfortable. Because WE don’t know what else to say. Because WE want to give hope to that parent. Because we WANT to say the right thing.

The truth is…that parent might not need that kind of hope.

That parent probably already believes in that child and knows that they will be an amazing individual regardless of what others before them have done.

This card pisses me off!

3 Apr
This little boy is in a wheelchair, but the bottom part of the picture got cut off.

This little boy is in a wheelchair, but the bottom part of the picture got cut off.

This post has been brewing for a while. I had to write a little something about this card, or cartoon, or blasphemy, whatever you want to call it. Let me just tell you, this picture PISSES ME OFF!

Aaahhhh! (Imagine me yelling at my computer screen) <—This is my frustration with this gem every time I see it float past my news feed on Facebook. And I have seen several versions of this one. I can't take it anymore! I can't keep my mouth closed any longer or I will start banging my head against the computer screen, rendering myself completely incapable of complaining about random things that are annoying me.

Really?

Your ONLY special need is to be loved?

Ummmm… no.

NO!!

No it’s not!

I’ll tell you why it makes me so mad.

It completely and totally minimizes all that MY special needs child has to go through to live in this world. My blind daughter who has to navigate around in the dark in a sighted world. My non-verbal child who has to try to be understood silently in a world full of language, subtle communication, and written words. My daughter has to survive and thrive in a world that doesn’t always understand or like people who are different. People who don’t have time for, or an understanding of, or compassion, or empathy, or a sense of humor, or many more things that are needed to understand, love, and appreciate a person with autism and other SPECIAL NEEDS.

It completely and totally minimizes all that WE have to go through as special needs parents. Her only special need is NOT just to be loved. It’s a whole hell of a lot more. All children need love. That one’s easy as a parent. I always love my kids. I may not like them very much sometimes (that’s a whole different post), but I ALWAYS love them.

She has specific special needs.

That’s why we call them special needs kids. Otherwise we would call them regular needs kids right? Or normal? No. Not normal. That’s a setting on the dryer. Vanilla? Plain? Average? Non special needs? Neuro typical? What? Kids. I have my kids. 3 of them. Or 3 children and one of them has special needs.

She has many more special needs other than just to be loved.

She has seizures, she takes a bunch of medicine, she doesn’t walk very well, she needs a walker at school, a walking wand, my hand. She’s not potty trained yet, she doesn’t talk, she can’t see, she has epic meltdowns, she doesn’t sleep well, she has stomach issues, she has to eat special food, she needs special therapies, special equipment, special people in her life who appreciate all that she CAN do and all that she is CAPABLE of doing in the future. She has enough doctors, teachers, specialists, therapists…ect., to populate a small country. Sometimes I feel like I am running my own country. I am a dictator here in Oliland.

This minimizes all of the people in her life who work so hard for her. If we just said “Oh. Her only special need is to be loved? Great. Job accomplished. Pass me an award. We did that in our first 5 minutes with her.”

It’s so much more than that!

It’s okay to acknowledge that our kids are different. That they need different ways to help them learn and live and love and grow to be amazing people.

And it REALLY pisses me off that they use the word only in front of the word special needs. Don’t even get me started on that one.

Only? Only!!

NO. Wrong.

You are NEVER allowed to use the word only and special need in the same sentence.

Never.
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One Mother’s Expectations

14 Mar

“I thought that one day I would just wake up and have all of the answers. What I have found is that the answers I get, rarely have anything to do with the questions I ask.”

It was a warm day in June 2009 and I was sitting on our cream colored leather couch in the living room. I’m sure there was a cartoon on the TV that I had forgotten to turn off when my kids laid down for a nap. I was alone, which for some reason, I usually am when I get bad news. My husband was at work.

The phone rang and I glanced down at the caller ID.

Unknown.

I normally don’t answer calls labeled unknown and let them go to voicemail, but on that particular afternoon I answered it.

Unknown.

That is where I was sitting in the moments before I took that call. I didn’t know what Oli “had”. I didn’t know why. I didn’t have any answers. Why had her eyes not developed in utero? What was wrong with her? Why was she so different from other children her age? Why was she 2 years old and not walking or talking yet?

At that point in her life, I needed to know why.

I thought that if I knew why, I could help her better. I thought that if I knew why, then I wouldn’t be so angry with the world. If I finally got an explanation as to what had happened, then I could come to terms with the whole mess that had become my emotional prison.

I found out why, on a warm day in June when my phone rang and I answered a call from the Albert Einstein Medical Center. They were calling to tell me the results of Oli’s genetic testing.

I found out why it happened, but I did not find out why it happened to her. Which is really what I wanted to know all along.

Why did it happen to my family? Why us? Why did fate choose my sweet, innocent, beautiful little girl to bestow such a big obstacle on. A big difference. A hardship.

Why?

You see, for a long time I thought that this was some kind of punishment. I couldn’t understand why this happened to me. To my baby. I was a good person. I never hurt anyone intentionally. I had a good life. A happy life. I grew up with a great family. I had friends, went to college, had a job. I was grateful for my life and was just going along trying to be the best person that I could be.

And then…the ground fell out from beneath my feet.

I thought it was all happening to me and my family. It was my son and my husband who were affected by this.


I
took on ALL of the responsibility of the health and happiness of my little family because I was the wife. I was the mother. I was supposed to protect them, keep them safe and ensure their happiness.

And then Oli was born.

She was born and I wasn’t sure that I could do any of it anymore.

If I could not stop, prevent, change, or fix what had happened to this little person that I had brought into the world, then I could not stop, prevent, change, or fix what happened to any of them. That realization hit me like a 2 ton steel truck, right smack dab in the middle of my forehead.

When I realized that…I began to react and operate by my fear.

Fear of this big, scary world that had walked into my hospital room on another warm day in May, 2 years previously. That unknown world walked right in, handed me a big pile of crap called unmet expectations and promptly walked right back out of that room.

Oli wasn’t what I had expected. She didn’t fit into my box. The box that was supposed to hold my perfect little life. No matter how hard I tried to cram that square peg into that round hole, she would. not. fit.

When I answered that unknown phone call, I still had expectations. I expected to hear that she had SOX2. Something that lots of other kids had. This particular gene deletion is responsible for the majority of microphthalmia and anophthalmia.

You know what I heard instead?

I heard that she did NOT have SOX2. I heard that she had something else. Something that was not very well known or very common.

She had OTX2.

A gene called OTX2 was deleted from her 14th chromosome and caused her eyes not to develop.

They didn’t know a whole lot about OTX2. When they diagnosed Oli she was one of only 15 kids in the world known to have this deletion.

I expected to finally have an answer, a plan. I expected to find out her diagnosis and then hear, “She will do this at this time. Talk at this age. Walk at this age. Have this ailment, but never suffer from this one. She will go to college. She will get married. She will wear a pink dress to the prom.”

These are the things I wanted to hear when I got that phone call. I thought that I would finally have answers. Real answers. A plan. When I got the diagnosis, I expected a map for the rest of her life to be laid out during that phone call.

What I got instead was….we don’t know?

We don’t know what her future will look like. We don’t know when she will walk or talk. Or if she will at all. We don’t know if she will go to college, ever have a boyfriend or get married. We don’t know if she will ever even be able to live on her own. We just don’t know.

My expectations, the ones that I had been relying on this whole time, were shattered like a mirror when I got that diagnosis. Her future, reflected in that piece of glass that I had been focusing on for 2 years, came crashing down around my feet.

Now I had a diagnosis, but I was no closer to any answers. No one could tell me how to fix it for her or what I needed to do as her mother, to make her fit into this life. Because no one knew what this life would look like for Oli.

I hung up the phone and gazed out of the window towards the mountains in the distance. Tears freely rolled down my cheeks and I made no attempt to wipe them away.

Now I knew what had happened, but I realized right at that moment, that I would never know why.

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