The " Good Enough" Mom..



I am about 12 years into motherhood now.. and like a lot of Mom's I know, I still don't feel like I'm getting it right. Mothering kids with medical issues takes a purposeful amount of focus and attention, the kind that sometimes prevents you from being that cool " chill" kind of mom..yet still I try , and every day I learn. 

I have learned that sometimes rolling off the bed as a result of a tickle fight is the kind of good clean fun that all kids need, low muscle tone or not. 

I have learned that a smiling , happy faced kid, that got that " 5 more minutes!" in the pool she desperately wanted can help you dismiss and not obsess over-the flushed color of her fatigued face. 

I have learned that your sad, crying kid- can break your heart at any age- whether a sick toddler unable to tell you what's wrong or a frustrated, overtired 10 year old that just can't verbalize every feeling she feels.

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Message for ALL Mom’s .. LOVE your kids, as if they were dying..




My day today began like any other, I was up at 5 packing lunches and backpacks, while trying to gulp down some coffee. I have an appointment at the office later, so I spent a few minutes standing in front of my closet sighing, before getting dressed and rushing through the morning rituals to drop my oldest daughter at school first.

 Later, it is just Zoe and I in the car.  The sun is streaming through the car windows. I put on some music and began making small talk with Zoe about her day. 

I am used to the starts and stops in our frequent conversation. Zoe,  is almost eleven now,  and a thinker-  yet she slowly forms her thoughts, chooses her words and processes it into speech. There are pauses as she searches for the word she wants, and fatigue can slow the pace, slur the word . Remembering all the years she could barely even communicate, I wait patiently and am still grateful each time she begins to speak. 

 Her thoughts come in word pieces and listening carefully, I fit the puzzle together ..

“ Mom, when I grow up and become a Mom, would this be a good car for me to drive and how do you learn to be a Mom anyway?”  There it is, her question. And suddenly it’s as if the clouds have pushed the sun away, and my daily “ cup half full" approach to life has been smashed to hell. Zoe can't see my face, and I am glad. I don't want her to know the raw pain that is causing me to to hold my breath .

My girl is growing up, and thoughts of the future, are close , more menacing than when she was 5, and although she is an awesome kid doing amazingly well- she still has a progressive metabolic disease. She still has generalized epilepsy, kidney disease and although she grows more steady with the growing size of her body- she will always use a  wheelchair and a walker to explore her world. 

What I couldn’t say to Zoe is that with her vulnerabilities I can’t imagine her “ being a mom”-  that her physical impairments alone ,will prevent her from ever driving a car. I refuse to even contemplate the complex medical conversations we have had about Zoe’s life expectancy, we just don’t go there.

Yet this reality is what sometimes separates me from other Mom’s. Tragedies that take kids too soon are always unexpected. As busy Mom’s we just forget  that we are all fragile. We sometimes forget that the messy room, the lapse in homework , the bad grade -aren’t the important things about mothering.

In the last few months, I have heard too many stories about children lost too soon. Within the special needs communities, the families were fighting, and winning. Their kids survived surgeries, hospitalizations, and the everyday challenges that often come with raising a special needs kid. These parents were managing their kids health, their kids were stable, even improving with therapies. Their parents were seeking refuge in that stability that meant success-until the day their kids weren’t stable. Until one day their physical vulnerabilities were  cause for taking their child’s life, and they were just gone.

I am guilty of doing it too sometimes. Getting caught up in the day to day. Zoe is doing well, we are managing , we are “winning” and then an illness comes along, a news story, a medical test, or a conversation like this one Zoe and I shared - and reality comes crashing through, grounding me again to what is really important.

 And it’s this reality , that I wish every mom knew. It sounds  harsh, I know.. - but it’s a secret that special needs moms have learned along the way. It’s something that I think all Mom's should know, or just think about sometime. That all that other stuff- just really doesn’t matter. 

Let your KIDS light your soul and commit to be present in their moment , commit to really love your kids, love like they are the MOST important , love with the heartbreaking pain that comes with it. LOVE your kids, as if they were dying.


To The Author of The Anonymous Note Left On My Car Window

I think I recognize you!  I do.. Before becoming a Mom, I used to live in your world of Black & White, everything in order- in it’s place- I  got a plan- got a schedule- a list of finished projects- checked -off checklist and all. How wonderful for you that your life is so structured , so dependable and predictable that you cling to that line dividing right and wrong, black and white, and that you feel compelled to comment when you think someone is coloring outside the lines. 

 This time though, in your hurry to keep things neat and orderly.. you didn’t see the whole picture. I guess you didn’t see the accessible permit hanging from my car mirror, giving me permission to park close to the entrance. You didn’t see the wheelchair lift permanently installed into the back of my SUV, and you didn’t see me unload my little girl's pink manual wheelchair that we use for “ quick “ trips. Maybe from your view you only saw my older daughter and I, and not Zoe’s bubble gum pink wheelchair.

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In Her Dreams

Zoe calls me during the night, and I go to her- sometimes she needs milk, or is tangled in the confusion of blankets she likes to cuddle , sometime it is more than that. But when I tuck her in again, her head atop her Barbie pillow with one arm tucked underneath, I wonder about her dreams. She tells me sometimes about about the monsters and the princesses that visit in her little girl dreams. But as I watch her now, eyes closed, the even breathing of sweet sleep beginning, so content. I wonder what she dreams. ... O in the middle of the night, is often frightened - as if the anxiety she battles by day is exaggerated with the dark of night. I understand this, instinctively. When I find myself up in the middle of the night, soothing her fears, getting a snack for her, I worry too.. about the future, their future, how much I have to do, how much I can't get done, I worry about the rising cost of healthcare, the marketing jobs on my to -do list, the appointments I need to make, even the laundry that sits unfinished. When I have tucked them in again, I crawl back under my covers. I seek the warmth of my husband and try to relax,saying a prayer for my girls. But as I start to fall off to sleep, I still can't help but wonder about Zoe when she dreams. Does she walk in her dreams? Can she run? Dance? Bike ? Can she wear dress up high heeled Cinderella shoes and dance about in play? Does she dream of those things she so often asks to do? I hope so. I hope her dreams carry her into her own magical world, so that if only in her slumber, all her dreams come true.

Words Left Unspoken

Untitled_edited When Zoe was almost three, she spoke in sign. Words she could never say, were finally free with the fluttering, practiced movement of her hands. Maybe she wasn't speaking then because of her undiagnosed epilepsy, or her unrecognized severe vision loss. Or maybe it was because she was sick ALL the time, with one infection and hospital visit after another. So I found Christine, a local ASL instructor who came to our house and opened our world. I wrote about what that must have been like for Zoe and what is was like for me, here. 

Zoe will be 8 soon, and her speech although affected has evolved so that most people can understand her, most of the time. Somewhere along the way, with six years of speech therapy, she stopped signing I love you, and began whispering it in my ear. Today she uses her words all the time. Yesterday she told me she wants a bike, though I have yet to find one she could ride. She tells me too, that she would like to dance ballet, go ice skating, surf like Barbie in the Mermaid Tale movie and that she will be a Mommy someday.

Last week, Olivia and I were driving in the car and we started talking about Zoe. We talked about Zoe's medicines and how her body doesn't work the way it is supposed to. And this is where I tread very carefully ,O's body doesn't work the right way either, and for the same underlying reason. Yet, these sisters are very different. O can run and climb, and bike and dance and someday I hope she will even surf. O looks and sounds just like any other typical 9 year old girl. O just gets tired faster than other kids her age and shares some of the less complicated health issues that affect Zoe. So we talked about Zoe's muscles not working well and how her inability to balance prevents her from walking, when Olivia asked " But Mom, Zoe will walk one day right? All by herself? All the time, like me when she get's older?" and I realized then that Olivia thought this was something Zoe would grow into. Gently, I replied " Well, the doctor's don't think she will, but she is stronger now than she used to be. We have to wait and see , but.. she may not."

Zoe's diagnosis dictates she probably won't...ever. Zoe's prognosis dictates a lot of things. But, Zoe.. well, Zoe is amazing and I don't like to use words like never and can't and especially not the word won't.

So I looked into Olivia's face then, to see if she understands what I have just said. And I see that her eyes, like mine, are filled with tears. She opens her mouth to speak and then pauses, - and I anticipate the emotional response of a 9 year old sister- saying it isn't fair , then I wonder if she will just accept what I have said and move on. But with the new maturity of a protective big sister - she asks " Have you told Zoe, Mom? Does she know?" and with that spoken I see her loving care and affection. I see the same grief I sometimes feel. She is worried for her sister, afraid she will be hurt and disappointed.

I think about some of the words that have hurt lately. Zoe, pleading with me to walk at school with her pretty new shoes. Zoe crying because she really wants to read and isn't quite there yet. I think about the words Olivia just spoke- and the emotion and raw ache that came tumbling out with them. I think back to when it was only the words left unspoken that hurt .The day I called my husband, from the Cleveland Clinic to tell him we had finally found what was wrong with Zoe, and then I cried, while he waited on the other end of the phone for the words that were still to come. I remember how we would ask our neurologist with each visit to Cleveland, will Zoe walk? Will she talk? And there was more that was left unsaid with each answer to our questions. I remember Olivia's diagnosis that came later and again how much the doctors didn't say, because little is known about the progressive path of this disease. And I remember when the Doctor's phone call came to tell me about a recent stroke they saw on Zoe's MRI and what I did not say in the silence. The memories of Zoe as a toddler, awake and crying through the night as if she were in pain- yet she was unable to say anything. I would cry silently, tears streaming down my own face as I nuzzled Zoe close -kissing away the wet on her cheeks, using my breath to cool the sweat on her brow.

Today it is bittersweet, there are words that wound and bring sorrow, and words that fill us with happiness and hope- yet none of these words can compare , to the heartache of the words that are left unspoken.

Little Girl Shoes and A Mother's Heart

Life is full and busy- and I like living in the moment , appreciating what I have now and not fearing what the future holds. But the other day, there was this this one moment, when reality crashed in . Just a moment, that knocked me to me knees and once again reminded me what life is really all about.

The girls and I were shopping for Easter outfits. This is the first year, I have broken the " Easter dress" tradition for mass- and encouraged them to choose something special that they love and can enjoy wearing again. O, my older girl artist was naturally drawn to the bright turquoise, blues and greens and Zoe, still my girliest girl was looking for pink flounce. O was confident in her choice of a hip chick long flowing skirt and top with beaded necklace and belt. Zoe delighted to find a soft pink ruffled top, and a matching bright pink poufy skirt. Dressing rooms are getting easier now, as Zoe can do a better job maintaining her balance holding on to the grab bar. Seeing her fashion pose in front of the full length mirror, and then her hand on one hip as she evaluated her choice of outfit as seriously as her almost 10 year old older sister , was so heartwarmingly wonderfully typical that it made me smile uncontrollably. Next, we were off to find shoes. Shoes are tricky with Zoe, she cannot walk on her own unassisted more than a few steps, she has balance issues and is flat footed. So for her special outfits we need a sensible, but girlie shoe. Zoe went up and down the aisles in her power chair, selecting a few styles and filling her lap with shoeboxes. She drove over to the bench , and waited for me to help her transfer onto the bench seat to try on her shoes. And although she could have tried them on seated in her wheelchair, she did what we have always encouraged her to do, what she wants, because she is no different than everyone else. I then fitted her feet with a pair of very feminine but casual, gold ballet style flats that were decorated with tiny flower appliques. Looking up, I saw she was smiling a smile that filled her entire face. She looked to O for approval first, "Perfect !" O declared. I was still kneeling in front of her- soaking in the warmth of her happy glow as she reached up and cupped my chin in her hand. " Mom ", she begins tentatively, her voice is questioning and I can see by her gaze as she looks me in the eye that she is serious and oh I don't know, has an almost far off look on her face. I know she is slowly formulating her words for an idea, translating these important thoughts of hers into words. " Yes...." I say, encouraging and patient. Zoe has delighted me with a higher level of thought and expression lately, and I am curious . So I smile and I wait and the words come. " I want to wear these shoes to walk at school, I want to walk all by myself in these shoes. I am tired of using my wheelchair ALL THE TIME, she emphasizes each of these last three words pointing to her wheelchair again with each word. . Can't I wear these new shoes to walk, and show my friends? And in that moment I wonder if my little girl is asking me a bigger question . She has never really talked about what she can't do . She has never even asked me about what she someday will do. Instead she believes she can , and if she can't, we try to find another way to do it. And just like that I draw my breath sharply. I am on my knees already, so I bend over forward because the pain that has stabbed my stomach, my heart? is so sharp and sudden, and possibly the greatest I have ever experienced. And then I lean toward her again and try to casually gather her in my arms, my face in her hair so she cannot see my eyes have filled with tears. " Zoe," I answer, my voice in her ear. I know you want to walk all by yourself, but you need someone to help you, if you don't want to use your walker or your chair." I pull back now and search her eyes. " I know, Mom" she sighs a small sigh. I am sure there is no pain visible on my face now, even the concern I have absorbed inward, so that it is cannot be seen. My voice is positive , light hearted. Because I am a mom and I want to protect my child from this pain. " But you know what? Zoe, You will be beautiful in these shoes" I continue. " I know Mom," she is smiling again. . " That's okay, Mom" she begins. I have fun in my chair, chasing the boys in my wheelchair on the basketball courts at recess. I am fa--a-a-a-st! She almost sings this last part- and she is laughing again. The moment has passed.

But in my mother's heart, this moment has etched another line . That is how I imagine it sometimes, before a heart breaks, the cracks must come from deeply etched lines of wear. But this same mother's heart is also filled with love, and when I look at my children, O's love for her sister, Zoe's resilience- it overflows with pride.

Alone with Autism, A Cup of Comfort for Parents

Autism  I have met many mothers whose lives are both challenged and enriched by their child who is affected by autism. Although it does not affect my girls, there is a very high incidence of autism related to mitochondrial disease. In honor of Autism Awareness Month, I wanted to share this story of mine that was published in A Cup of Comfort for Parents with Autism. ( Note that feeling more private at the time, I had changed the girls name for national publication.)The stories are inspiring and true, the real, shared  emotions soothing to a parent who may feel alone. This book makes a great gift and will be appreciated by any family living with autism . You can purchase it online at the link above,on  Amazon or it is most often available at your local bookstore. ( This I know as Olivia checks each bookstore we visit!)  

Sara’s First Friend

    The gray sidewalks that border my daughter’s school playground are filled with chalk drawings. Today, the kindergarten chalk artists have yet to begin their detailed daily pastel drawings. As we enter the playground area, my daughter, Samantha, her red ponytails bouncing, runs ahead to place her backpack in line outside her classroom door. Sara, her little sister, slows the quick pace of her walker as she looks down, studying the chalk- filled walkways with interest.

   Finally, as Sarah & I  reach the end of the long sidewalk, we find our place,. Leaning against the wall that parallels the playground, we watch the five- year- olds as they laugh and play, tease and cry, releasing their early morning energy before another day in class.Sara studies her sister from afar. Sara’s eyes reveal nothing. I am tired this morning, as usual, because of Sara’s restlessness throughout the night. Wearing blue jeans, and my favorite Gap T-shirt, I sit “criss-cross applesauce” style, clutching my commuter mug. I drink the hot coffee greedily. mentally double- check my morning routine, worried that I have forgotten something essential for Samantha’s day at school. Worried, as usual, that she has not received her due share of affection, or enough attention because of Sara’s demanding needs. This is my morning routine. Sitting here, staring at my very different daughters, trying to imagine Sara on this playground two years from now, and questioning what our future will be.

   I have mastered the role of being Sara’s advocate. I believe this is inexplicitly entwined with the responsibility of being her mother. I think back for a moment when life was simple, when I was more carefree before my heart began to hurt,before that life-defining moment. I was in the shower, that day, indulging in the extravagant luxury of deep- conditioning my hair. Samantha, then three, came to pound on the glass shower door. She was demanding milk in the “I want it now, Mommy!” typical toddler way. That’s when it clicked; something is wrong with Sara. She was sixteen months old, and not talking, not walking, and not demanding- or even requesting anything. She was much delayed. It took a year to get physicians to pay attention. I flew across the country and sought the care of a special neurologist at the Cleveland Clinic. The primary diagnosis is mitochondrial disease, the secondary neurological diagnosis followed later that year.

    On this early morning, my daughters are separated by twenty feet of sidewalk and ten square feet of playground sand. But I know of the other very real and vast differences that place my daughters’ worlds apart. Although Sara’s physical disability is visible, her neurological issues are not. Sara uses a walker to lend strength to her weakened muscles. There is, however, no crutch or physical aide to help her with her other features. There is no outward sign to tell others that she has a neurological impairment, a different weakness with unique challenges of its own. She experiences anxiety, awkwardness, and behavior challenges, she can be very uncooperative.- these are the things that cause other mothers to look, whisper, and even comment, offering unsolicited advice.

     When the first morning school bell rings, Samantha runs over to us and kisses Sara and me goodbye. a wet sloppy kiss on the mouth for me and a nose rub for Sara. Samantha has learned that Sara prefers this softer, less sensory- offensive gesture of affection. With a quick wave tossed over her shoulder, Samantha runs off to collect her backpack and enter her classroom. Sara stands quietly as she watches her sister walk away. She looks at her feet as she shuffles them repeatedly. I wonder for a moment whether this is how it will always be between them:. Samantha rushing off to experience life, while Sara stays behind.

     Each morning as we stand against this wall, I watch Sara watching Samantha play-and every morning I wish for the same thing. I wish that, someday, Sara will be comfortable in an environment like this . I hope that this exposure to Samantha’s school world will ignite Sara’s interest, light a social spark.

     Sara is blessed to have many “friends” in her life-people outside our home that truly care about her,- want the best for her, and have great confidence in her abilities. There is Robin, Sara’s speech therapist, Atalie, her physical therapist, and Michelle, her occupational therapist. Not only do these friends teach her physical skills to strengthen her muscles, they also teach her how to play with toys, initiate social interaction, follow routines, and respond socially in simple situations. Abilities her sister developed naturally, these are skills Sara will have to learn.

     Today, Sara points to the children rushing by us and says “me..Surprised and excited, I bend down and look into her face. Eye to eye, I question the meaning of this spontaneous use of language. I am on my knees, waiting patiently for Sara to show me what she meant. I feel a tap on my back, and I turn and stand up to greet our neighbor, Tracy, and her three- year- old little girl, Katie. We all drift toward the parking lot. Katie, is running in circles and humming loudly. For a few minutes, I am lost in simple conversation with Tracy.

  We talk of our husband’s long work hours, recipes for gourmet dinners, and dirty laundry, and I feel as though I am miles away from the complex therapy schedules, vitamin supplements, medical bills, and emotional worry that fill my world. I am a typical mom, just beginning my day. , standing in the school parking lot,. Visiting with a neighbor- carefree.

    Relaxed and preparing to say goodbye, I look down at Sara. She has been walking beside us in her walker, quietly regarding Tracy and Katie. Suddenly, she is leaning against her walker for balance, and Katie is reaching for Sara’s hand, and for a moment Sara lets her hold it. Then, amazingly, she leans toward Katie, and rubs her nose to the tip of hers. An Eskimo kiss; she imitates the kiss goodbye her sister gave her moments ago.

    The sun shines brightly, and I am shielding my eyes from the glare. My fingers form a half fortress wall, protecting the tears that are pooling in my eyes. I feel a warmth in my chest, and I recognize this unfamiliar feeling, is unexpected joy. It leaves me with a sense of contentment, yet I feel strangely energized.In a gesture of celebration and hope, I put my arm around Tracy’s shoulders and pull her into a hug. I lean down and brush Sara’s cheek lightly with my lips. Her rosebud lips offer me a subtle, shy smile. And I know,-that she knows. Sara has found her first friend.

Suzanne Perryman is the publisher of a consumer crafts magazine ., a passionate and advocating mother of two girls, and a community volunteer for Raising Special Kids Arizona. She resides in Scottsdale, Arizona with her husband Bruce, and is also the AZ Chapter President for the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation.( As published in 2006)