Recipe For Good Mothering

Zoeflour

Standing at my bookshelf, my fingers follow the worn, familiar feeling of my books, old friends that I have forgotten. There are books of poetry, art and religion; books on growing things and making things; books on building business; books of dreams once pursued. Mysteries, memoirs and fiction that used to carry me far, far away.

I have come here now for a book of recipes, yet still, I am drawn to the now-dusty books about parenting. A shelf that started with a copy of What to Expect When Your Expecting and was filled to overflowing when the unexpected happened. Books on epilepsy and illness, advice and encouragement, books I once feverishly read my way through -- looking for answers, that only life would bring.

I find the baking book I have come for, it's sunshine yellow cover calling out to me, the vintage rose color calming me. I bring it to the kitchen where my daughter Zoe is waiting. No longer does she need the step-stool, or even for me to stand behind her. She stands by herself, leaning against her walker for balance. In middle school now, she has grown out of the little girl apron she used to wear, and favors a pink t-shirt instead. She smiles at me, her confidence and excitement radiating as she finds the page and begins to read the recipe aloud. Her supplies at the ready, she starts with slow, careful movements.

And with patience I stand back, knowing that what makes this recipe work is not my help or what is written on the page.

It is the shallow pan that will catch the overflow of flour and sugar, carefully measured by a shaky hand. It is the notepad nearby that will keep count, by Zoe's written " X's, the number of cups she has poured. It is the flattened bowl that will hold a steady surface for eggs to be cracked and pieces of eggshells extracted.

This is different from when I bake with Zoe's big sister, when it is a team effort to try new techniques, perfectly fill each measured cup and and correctly approximate each teaspoon, that puts my teen girl and I in unison. When it is her idea of what to make, her confidence growing with each new creation. Our collaboration brings us closer together.

Later, when I am alone, the recipe book still lays open, the written words worn, splattered and sometimes hard to read, this recipe replaced by real life.

I know now it is the real result that is better than the expected. It is the authentic, on-hand ingredients that deliver goodness. It is the directions we ignore, the techniques we adapt and the new processes we create that make each batch wonderfully unique -- and never exactly the same.

It is the sweetness that rises above, that masks the imperfections and the missed ingredients.

This is the real recipe of mothering.


Celebrating The Simple Every Day, One Story At A Time

Simpleevery
After my daughter Zoe was diagnosed, I would find myself in the middle of the night at my bookcase searching for the right book. I had filled more than two shelves, overflowing with books about understanding the special needs child. Books about epilepsy, sensory disorders, inclusive education, cognitive issues, and in a way.. all of these books were helpful. Reading all of these books taught me to parent with more confidence. Yet none of these books helped me to feel less afraid, or less lonely, because these books weren’t every day, real stories, about simple moments of parenting a special needs child.

I wanted to feel encouraged and needed to be understood. I was feeling left out in my social circle of typical moms and craving the common bond- of knowing another Mom like me, living a similar life. 

Women everywhere have always talked about motherhood and connected with a common bond; in the produce aisle at the grocery store, in the waiting room at the pediatrician’s office, the hair salon, and thanks to blogs and online communities.. on our laptops and Ipads. We are experiencing moments of affirmation, understanding,  even comfort if that is what we seek and it’s happening when we share our stories. 

Continue reading "Celebrating The Simple Every Day, One Story At A Time" »


Honeymoon Summer

Honeymoon
“ I like helping you..” My daughter Zoe tells me. We are cruising through our neighborhood grocery store, as I weave through the aisles, with my shopping bag overflowing and hanging from the back of Zoe’s wheelchair. Zoe expertly balances a half gallon of milk, green bananas and a loaf of crusty bread on her lap as she goes on.. “ I need to learn this stuff,  how to be a Mom for when I grow up. I have been thinking about this....” Her words stop and start again, as she retrieves the word she was looking for and finishes the string of her sentence. She ends with most difficult question. “ Is it hard to be a Mom?” She is smiling, happy to imagine her future- self this way.

I can’t imagine Zoe being a Mom. She is 11, and without detailing her prognosis, and debating the opportunities for adults with intellectual and physical disabilities, there are basic truths I have come to accept; Zoe’s metabolic disorder is progressive, her generalized epilepsy diagnosis is complex, and looking into the future makes my heart hurt.

Continue reading "Honeymoon Summer" »


A Mother's Day Letter For A Special Needs Mom

Dayart

This Mother's Day there will be thousands of Moms who don't receive handmade notes, or  home crafted, crayon colored cards. These moms mother for a smile or a tender touch, they mother because that is simply what you do as a Mom.  This letter is for the Special Needs Mom , whose child is unable to write or say the words this Mom may long to hear. 

Dear Mom,

Even without my words you always know what I need. 

When I am hurting or afraid, frustrated or weary, you gather me home into the safety of your arms. 

You know what makes me smile, and fills my face with light.

You make my happiness when you sing my favorite song,  and sweep the softness of my favorite blanket, across the curve of my cheek.

Continue reading "A Mother's Day Letter For A Special Needs Mom" »


Through Tragedy and Terror, Written Words Touch A Million Lives


Rainbowopfinal

I held my first daughter tight against my breast as I watched the Twin Tower tragedy unfold on television. Tears dripping onto the soft red curls on her infant head, she slept soundly, as I held her tighter and tighter, believing this would keep her safe from the terror at hand. Innocently she slept, unaware of my growing grief,  only awakened by the fear in my voice , as I phoned my husband, describing minute by minute,  the unimaginable images.

It was the terror that every one talked about that week. The true stories of the heroes, took weeks, months and even years to be told. News events were still reported then, in the paper, on tv and online , at the time of 9-11,  social stories were not “ shared.” 

Continue reading "Through Tragedy and Terror, Written Words Touch A Million Lives" »


6 Secrets of Special Needs Moms

 

155617_533832523326112_981448831_n

 

 

Thanks to HuffPost Parents, AOL Lifestyle, Yahoo Parenting, and all of the other awesome places this has been shared 500k+ times! 

  • Special Needs Moms are lonely. I yearn for more time with friends and family. Authentically, I have a positive attitude and most often you see me smiling. I may even look like I have this SuperMom thing down, am super busy, and have enough help, but I am lonely. Being a Special Needs Mom doesn’t leave me the time to nurture and maintain the relationships I really need.I could get super detailed here about the hands-on caring for my child ( Do you remember when your kids were toddlers? That hovering thing you had to do? It’s that plus some.) The plus-some includes spreading my Mom love around to my other child and my husband, who on a daily basis are put on hold, waiting for my attention.I don’t have much time to call or email my friends and even family...and if they don’t call or email me, well then I feel massive guilt about the time that has passed. More negative stuff that I pile on my shoulders. Getting out is tough. I really miss the day’s when I had playgroups with other Mom’s, open-house style, dropping in and drinking coffee at a friends’  kitchen table with my child playing nearby.  

 

  • Special Needs Moms have to work extra hard to preserve their marriage. This goes with counter-balancing the high stress of special needs parenting and directly combats the sky-high divorce rates for special needs families. I put extra pressure on my husband, he is my best friend and sometimes I expect unrealistic BFF behavior from him at the end of the day( see #1). He is my hero,supportive, patient and loving- and my kids would be totally lost without him. The success of our marriage, will affect the health of our children. My husband and I haven’t spent a night away from our kids for six years, we “ date night” out of the house every few months, for a two-hour sushi date. Our marriage is a priority so we “ steal” our moments when we can.

Continue reading "6 Secrets of Special Needs Moms " »


The Lesson I Learned Again, The Day I Cried In My Car

Photo-44
When my daughter Zoe was little, I looked to the doctors to forecast her future. After all , they had the clinical experience from thousands of patients , and I was the first-time parent of a special needs child. I  would cover Zoe’s baby face with kisses, all the while wondering, “ Will her words ever come?” Will she ever walk? The doctors were uncertain. 

As Zoe grew older, she missed  “ milestones” , yet amazed us with her tenacious achievements. We learned to embrace her uniqueness,and I found peace with the fact that as her Mother, I knew her the best. 

Continue reading "The Lesson I Learned Again, The Day I Cried In My Car" »


Adoption, Belonging and Finding Family

Familylove

I am fiercely passionate about what happens in my home, and the family life we make. My mothering, my marriage- the relationship we have with our children , how they feel our love, and the connection we share. I am not aiming for perfection, and it has nothing to do with Zoe’s special needs and acceptance. It is all about belonging, I want my kids to know that family is a place where they belong. I am adopted. 

I am an adoptee, I have searched for and found my birthparents. I was lucky enough to unravel the truth behind the false birth certificate I grew up with. All of my original  records remain closed,( for now in the state of Ohio ) yet still I was able to first find my birthmother, who told me the story of my “ famous” father. I was able to reunite with my birthparents and find that part of “me”. I was even fortunate enough to co-present with my birthfather, the keynote address at The 30th Annual American Adoption Congress , Adoption Network National Convention.

Continue reading "Adoption, Belonging and Finding Family" »


Special Needs Siblings: Great Expectations

Sisterscoll

My girls are twenty months apart. " O" the big sister, is almost a teen- she wears wedge flip-flops, designs elaborate doodle drawings and can master most online games; All enviable accomplishments to her little sister, Zoe, who does her best to follow in her sister's  footsteps. Where " O" can run , Zoe uses her walker. When the girls do "" Just Dance 4" on the Wii, Zoe has some pretty mean moves that are meant to model the spins and bounces her sister effortlessly exerts. The girls share the same medical diagnosis, however in our house, O is the " typical " kid ,and my expectations for her are great, maybe maybe even sometimes..unrealistic. 

Olivia was about 8, when we started talking in detail about Zoe's diagnosis. It was then that I realized through O's little girl eyes, that she was expecting Zoe to get better. The medicines, the therapy appointments, even doctor's visits.. were all meant to make Zoe better, help her learn to walk and speak clearly. O was just waiting for it to happen, and waiting and waiting, until one day when she asked me if it ever would. And I told O what I knew to be our truth,. I watched her eyes fill with tears and waited for her words of grief, and instead heard her little girl voice ask" Does Zoe know, Mom?" She was protective of her little sister, trying to imagine if Zoe knew this, if Zoe, with her great  love for life and easy laugh, knew this to be her future or if there was more hurt to come.

Continue reading "Special Needs Siblings: Great Expectations" »


What Frustrates You Most About Your Special Needs Child?

Zoebld
 Well, technically the question in the packet of papers read “ What frustrates you most about your child?” The questions were typically brief and non-descript and this was the only question that made me pause, put down my pen and sigh. There was less than one line to complete my answer, not anywhere near enough enough space to tell my daughter’s story. 

  It was laughable really, that someone would ask such an open ended question that sounded so insensitive, at least to a Mom like me. The packet was specifically written for parents of kids with special needs, the question and answer process designed to know my child better.. but frustrates? Typically, when my kid misbehaves there is a  “wiring” issue involved in the behavior.. processing, impulsivity, fatigue etc. There is nothing about my daughter Zoe that “ frustrates”  me, as  in.. “ gets on my nerves, drives me crazy, or really *#**#$* with my day.,..yet really... now that you ask.. almost EVERYTHING about Zoe FRUSTRATES me.

Continue reading "What Frustrates You Most About Your Special Needs Child? " »


Zoe's Summer of Independence

Pink
It’s seems like only yesterday I was sitting in a small room, with a desk between Zoe’s Doctor and I - as I ask him question after question- all of them starting with “ Will she ever..?  And in that moment, instead of feeling tragically overwhelmed- I was empowered. 

Finally, I was getting confirmation on something my mother’s instinct had always known. I was getting answers.  

Seven years have passed since then, and for the first time, in a long time- I find myself starting over asking questions again, researching and  learning new methods for tackling daily life and Zoe’s physical and medical challenges. Zoe is 10 now , and continues to give her all to everything she does. She approaches becoming a “ tween “ no differently,  reaching for more freedom, becoming frustrated at times that she can’t enjoy certain privileges her “ almost teen” sister earns. 

Continue reading "Zoe's Summer of Independence" »


Don't Sweat the Small Stuff - " Change it Up!"

LavenderI don’t sleep through the night. A good night means I am up only twice. My day starts at 5 and ends by 10, and the mothering I do all day is a physical, eyes and hands-on type that Moms’ of toddlers can most identify with.  I am the mom of a girl with special needs, and I have been blessed with the gift of perspective.

It is an awesome gift I have earned. When you hold your child throughout painful or difficult medical procedures one day, and the next she wants a chocolate brownie or to wear her princess tutu to the grocery store.. it’s a no brainer. It’s perspective. 

When the bedroom floor is strewn with toys at bedtime, but the sound of laughter still lingers from her afternoon of play, it’s the gift of perspective that allows you to push the mess aside and climb in - to give your girl a goodnight hug, grateful for a good day.

Managing stress is always an issue from me, managing work, home, marriage and mothering. Years ago, I picked up the first edition of “ Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff For Mom’s” and was moved by the poignant, short common sense chapters. I especially needed support with the accepting that I cannot do everything, taking care of myself was mandatory, and sometimes just surrendering was okay. 

Continue reading " Don't Sweat the Small Stuff - " Change it Up!"" »


Running Through Life

 Yesterday, Zoe RAN for the first time. And it was real, I could feel her determination, ..as she kept pumping her tired legs, to go a little faster ,and climb the slight hill.

I could see the happiness spill from her smile , as she passed others on the running path . I felt the thrill of it, as she finally crossed the finish line, elated and spent.

Standing behind her, I saw what she saw- the incredible imagery of the wii game graphics on the big screen-- the dream-like sequence of images, as my little girl stood in her walker, pumping her legs with a rhythm her legs were never meant to find. As she imagined it was her hair flying in the wind and that she really was that girl on the screen- running in the sun, legs galloping with ease over the grassy hills.

Continue reading "Running Through Life" »


The " Good Enough" Mom..

                                     Zoe420

 

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.

Continue reading "The " Good Enough" Mom.. " »


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

 

Heart_hand

 

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.

 


The Words That Matter Most

Photo
I remember the exact moment I got the news, when my world stopped and for the moment -nothing else mattered. I remember the way the doctor led us across the recovery room and into the makeshift office of the medical tech I saw scurrying away.  Some guy who, at the doctors urging, left so fast, his abandoned cup of coffee still sat steaming on his desk. We sat talking until that cup of coffee grew cold.

 At first there was relief, I was strung out from sleep deprivation, and determination. I knew something was very wrong, but no one in  Arizona could figure it out. Thanks to my father’s celebrity connections,  Zoe and I had flown across the country to meet with a team of special doctors. 

  I made it through that meeting , learning a lot from the doctors words and more from those converstions that  followed.  Most doctors are practiced at the art of breaking bad news.

 Over time I have learned how much to say, how to have these conversations- and when it is best not to try. 

Continue reading "The Words That Matter Most" »


Slowing Down To Savor The Simple Moments of Summer

Photo My girls have had a ton of doctors appointments over the last ten years. And something I have never really shared before , is that sometimes I feel lonely doing them all by myself. They are a long process, as you Mom's know. The driving and the waiting of it all.  I am a practical, efficient kind of gal though, and it has never made sense to have my husband leave our small business unattended. It was only after seeing other Moms in waiting rooms, accompanied by BFF's, or their Mothers, that made me secretly wish for my own willing accomplice, just to hang out with me.

There was this one appointment for Zoe, that I won't ever forget. This one appointment, that  I especially wished someone had shared with me. Not just because of the tears shed on the drive home, but really , just to share the clarity of what I DID see on that drive home.

Continue reading "Slowing Down To Savor The Simple Moments of Summer" »


Moments Like These

 Girlsrainbow It is past 8 o'clock at night, and my ten year old should have been asleep a half hour ago. But she isn't, she had to finish her book, have another snack, get a drink of water and now she is over tired. Her face is pale, her body is tired, and the aches and pains of a busy day have caught up with her. As I check on her one last time, dim her lights and prepare to kiss her goodnight.. I get a verbal  recant of all that went wrong with her life that day, and all that my tired girl thought I was to blame for.. I get a litany of not so nice little girl words. Within minutes, I know she will be passed out from exhaustion. She has an ice pack wrapped around her leg, her baby blanket around her neck and her favorite stuffed animal tucked against her chest. I kiss her goodnight and let the words flutter and fall from the air.

Continue reading "Moments Like These" »


Love and Laughter.. . We'll Live Happy Ever After

Photo[1] To reach for the fun of everyday.. it has to be easy and at- hand- and sometimes simple is best. By that I mean, the seasonal art basket has to be in reach, the kitchen table rearranged so a little girl in her walker can look out the french doors on the side patio to check on her own blooming chalk flower garden, and that access through these doors is quick and easy so  chalk sessions on the patio can happen spontaneously in the late afternoon- even though  this little girl has had a tough week healthwise and big sister is coming down with a cough. Flowers Oliviasart

Because there is no medicine like love and laughter, add some  sunshine, chalk and water..  and I believe with that.. we'll  live happy ever after.Zoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Soul of A Special Needs Mom

It's late, so the house is quiet and the lights are low. My box of kleenex is now empty. I hit the remote to turn off the tv and head first to O's room . And instead of quieting my craving to climb in bed and gather my first born's body in my arms, I instead bend down brushing my lips over the tip of her nose , and then close to her ear whispering.. promises. I love you's. More promises. I move next to Zoe's room, her cheeks are flushed yet she sleeps peacefully. First I gently kiss her forehead, and then each cheek. Finally her lips.There are no words for her. Just questions, questions I keep silently repeating. Am I doing my best? Making the right choices? Making memories? Teaching my daughters enough? Loving and Laughing enough? And the loudest question that is buried the deepest in my mothers soul -now is pounding in my head.." Will I have any regrets?"

I had just finished watching the movie Extraordinary Measures. Through mostly tear filled eyes. A lot of the drama for me was the imagery , the kids in power wheelchairs, the machinery, the illness, the fear, the desperation that was ever present. The emotional and open soul of a special needs mom.

The remarkable true story details a father's fight, and race against time, to not just find a cure, but to make the medicine that will save his children's life. Not a new story- and I had already read both books, mostly because I stumbled on them in my local library and I happen to read a lot. First I read " The Cure" written by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Geeta Anand , the non fiction life account on which the screenplay is based- and then I read John Crowley's personal perspective " Chasing Miracles" .

Sleepy, yet unable to surrender, I lay in bed  last night, thankful for the comforting warmth of my husband beside me, thinking... " Am I fighting hard enough? "

I fought hard for the answers and the eventual diagnosis. I pushed and pushed-first fighting for Zoe and then for O. But with a metabolic disease, there is a certain amount you have to accept. With their illness, it is the mitochondria that is damaged all throughout their body. It is on a cellular level that cannot be re-engineered, at least.. not yet.

 It is morning now, the next day- and still I am moved and distracted by the difficult answers to all of these questions. I know am trying my best to make the most of everyday with my daughters. I am their best advocate. I support the cause and believe in the future of medicine and scientific advancement- but what is most important to me now is living like a typical family, I know this is best for the health of my kids today - even though fighting the hardest fight might be best for their future of tomorrows.

Enhanced by Zemanta

From Better to Worse and Then They Will Part

I thought she was asleep, until her head peeks out from beneath her blanket and she stretches her arms out for me. "Mom, your home! " Zoe says this with such joy as if I have been away for days. Not so. Just an hour, her bedtime hour. She is smiling sleepily " Daddy took really good care of me." I close her bedroom door and move down the hall and find Olivia, in bed, fast asleep with her pile of library books around her. Turning off her light, I go to find my husband, thinking of how lucky my girls are- and of the many kids out there whose Daddy's just don't stay.

 My husband and I talked about wanting kids before we were even married. We had lots of peace and quiet then, we sat sipping wine in sidewalk cafes, planning our future . We spent weekends experimenting with gourmet recipes, and relaxing by the pool. He had his own company, and I was a career girl- but still our family felt like the right future for me. We stood in the courtyard at Four Seasons in Santa Barbara and exchanged our vows.

We have been blessed, and lucky and in love. Our vows remain unbroken, and statistically, it is a rare thing. Divorce is at an all time high,, throw in decreased success rates for second marriage, chronic illness/special needs and yes- we have defied the odds. But my heart breaks for those who haven't, for those spouses who messed up, gave up, moved on and out- the ones that literally left- leaving their little ones behind.

Nobody ever sees it coming. The economy has pillaged many happy homes. So has adversity, tragedy and the plain old fact that life is tough right now. I believe in doing what's best for the kids, and I get that sometimes that needs to be divorce.

And when you get married it is hard to imagine you and your spouse experiencing that worst case scenario, that tragedy, loss or life changing event . I hear about it happening more and more now. The hard to manage kids, or the family living with chronic illness or special needs, where one night Daddy just doesn't come home because it is selfishly easier to stay away. Or the spouse, who is always putting their family first and one day discovers that their life was all a lie, unexpectedly untrue.

Sitting across from my husband, I talk about the hour I spent at Olivia's school that night. He tells me about the girls and bedtime. " I know what you mean about Zoe" he says, " she was way past tired tonight. I worry about her... " his sentence trails off and I see the deepened expression settling in his face, hear the pain in his softening voice. I can read the words lodged in his heart, the ones he doesn't let go. I know what he wants, what he wishes for and how much he loves. And I think of all the broken families out there and I wish this was the only kind of heartbreak they ever had. The kind where Daddy's heart is broken by love, by wishes, by a wanting pain.

Instead of all those little children left behind , whose hearts are just broken by Daddy.


Truth and Beauty

When Zoe was little, each moment of truth was stunning. She will never walk by herself. She won't run in the grass, walk in the sand, or recklessly dance her way across the room. These moments have continued as she grows older. Drive a car. Have a child. Grow old.

 I grieve these truths and then move on, trying to live so typically that sometimes I can forget for a long, long while. Until now, now that Zoe, and her big sister, are coming to know these truths- and understanding them enough to shed their own tears.

 Zoe is 8 now, and loves to sing and dance- read about Ramona, and is smart, especially in that " when you least expect it" kind of way. Zoe's big sister is almost ten, and I have spent these years teaching them that they can do anything,that everyone is beautiful in their own way, that they are just like everyone else. For Zoe especially, she believes this to be true- and only recently has she started to see how truly different she really is.

During a recent bedroom dance session, I caught some of her awesome moves on video. She grabbed my iphone the other day and began playing the clip. She was stunned. " Mom, I looked horrible ( one of her favorite dramatic declarations.. horrrrrrrible!) I thought I danced better than that she said- and then she sat .. silent for a few minutes. And then just yesterday, we were talking about her book report presentation, nearly a month away.. and in the midst of all of her objections, was that truth that came before the tears... " I can't speak like the other kids."

And yes, I know how to fix these things. We will practice, and practice and adapt. The awesome team at school will help her practice too, and her confidence will grow. I know it will be another accomplishment for her.. until the next truth comes. And is that what comes along as your special needs child grows older- teaching them these truths?

I get emails sometimes from other moms in the special needs communities. Asking about what I deal with or how. Have I ever experienced this or that.?. and the answer is most always yes. I just can't share that. The grittiest ugliest stuff, the seizures, the stroke, the sicknesses- to me the details are private, and to my husband and others who love them - It is painful too. And sometimes, there are no words. I try to protect my daughters when they are at their worst, I want to care for them, heal them the best I can and we just hunker down until the storm has passed.

The start of this school year has brought many of these reminders, the adaptions, the schedules, the fear of the fast spreading school germs that can knock the girls down in a moments notice. I have been scheduling the MRI's, The EEG's, evaluations, updates and labs. Soon it will settle down, and I will slip into the school routine again. And I look forward to moving on , keeping the painful moments private and living so typically that I can forget for a while , until the tears come again.


Mitochondrial Disease and Me..

This Saturday I will be speaking to a room full of people like me. People that used to maybe escape for weekends at the beach when their work life got too demanding, someone who would pick up the phone to gather friends at a favorite restaurant.. someone content to spend hours of  quiet time with a good book, a good movie, a good friend. This was all before they began living with an illness, looking for answers for their child, or for themselves.Before the day a  doctor sat across from them, telling them about mitochondrial disease and everything changed.

I don't talk about mitochondrial disease . Especially around my kids. Mitochondrial is a big word, disease is an ugly word and the two words together ? Well.. it's complicated. Essentially, mitochondria is in every cell of your body and responsible for producing more than 90% of the energy the body needs to sustain life and support growth. When  mitochondria fail, less energy is generated within the cell. Cell injury and even cell death follow. If this process is repeated throughout the body, whole systems begin to fail, and the life of the person in whom this is happening is severely compromised. You can read more, but once you learn that it is progressive and that as of today there is no cure.. the documented details can be grim.

Learning about mitochondrial disease changed me. Finding the diagnosis we so desperately needed - was a relief. But after that, there was grief,  frustration and finally... determination.

Cancer used to scare me until this happened.  Because when you have cancer, there most always is some type of treatment, a foreseen idea of what the future will hold, how the illness will progress. You can plan, you can prepare. You can even fight back.

We take my daughters to the Cleveland Clinic, and there we see one of the best, most knowledgable expert physicians , and for that I am so thankful. But still, there is no real treatment, no real plan and no expert guess as to what the future will hold. You can only manage today, and your only chance in delaying the progression of this is to be vigilant . Illness, infection, and physical stress can increase progression. And so I am always monitoring sleep, food, heat stress, energy levels and illness. And always monitoring, is stressful . I want us to live each day fully, make memories, be normal, but I also know that the decisions I make today will affect their life tomorrow.

Today I am not as social as I used to be. I still like music, movies and good restaurants. I still can make people laugh, yet today it's mostly my husband and at the most unexpected times, usually at the end of the day as the children sleep and we settle into our new normal.The great restaurants are replaced with new recipes we try at home. We make the most of our time together, enjoying the backyard, the simple thrill of opening the french doors during dinner, letting the desert breeze in and marveling at the Arizona sunset , magentas and purple splashing the sky.

I am losing touch- with friends, people I admire, even family I love. There is not enough time to pursue and even maintain relationships, personal interests, and it hurts. It is hard  to steal the time away -on the phone and especially in person. There are medicines, appointments, unexpected illnesses. There is daily living, fatigue, the summer heat , seizures and even more to manage. My children's lifestyles which require hands on supervision or assistance. I am working part time, trying to support my husband's business as well and sometimes, I am on the verge of even losing touch with myself. Each day I try to find a few minutes so that this doesn't happen. Time to pray, time to write, read a book, knit,  a few minutes outside. I  know that my health is essential to theirs.

So on Saturday, I am presenting a session at the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation Annual Symposium, a gathering of physicians and families from all over the country, brought together by the common need , the desire to know more about Mitochondrial disease. The desire to understand it better- and the desire to be understood.

I will be talking about blogging and journaling, how to do it- what it can do for you- how easy it is. How blogging allows you to express yourself while connecting with others.

And on this day, I know the people I meet, will understand the complexity that comes with living with mitochondrial disease. To them, I won't be the friend who doesn't call, the childhood buddy they never see. The relative that is always behind at writing a note,  sending a holiday card or staying in touch. I won't be the casual acquaintance who is often uneasy and awkward with small talk, especially  when I am worried , stressed or on a tight schedule.

 To these people I will just be the mom of two girls with mitochondrial disease, the one who writes about living with it, the one with the upbeat attitude, another mom who does the best job she can each day, just holding it together.

Enhanced by Zemanta

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.


What She Deserves..

 
 
The other morning at school,   Zoe was navigating her pink power wheelchair around a corner , heading for her classroom door, when we came upon a Mom & Dad. I nodded to the Mom as we headed through the door.  But when the Mom passed Zoe , she let out this melodious kind of crooning sound - something in between an " Ohhhhh" and an " Ahhhhh" - It was lilting and drawn out, ending on a high note. It was similiar to the sound you make when you see a newborn baby or a cute, cuddly puppy. Definitely, the same kind of " Ahhhh" my girls use when they are lucky enough to spot a pup they want to pet. And so, yes, I am saying that this seemingly well-intentioned , probably very nice Mom gave my kid ( who she does not know, and no Zoe was not remarkably dressed, or doing anything unusually cute) the same kind of " oh-how-cute-let- me-pet-it" salutation that you give an adorable dog. And why did this bother me  .. you might wonder? Because all my kid was doing, was what she does every day, driving her wheelchair into her classroom. 
 
Please keep reading, and understand. I do appreciate the sincere kindness of strangers and friends. Those who sometimes ask if I need a hand, when I am loading Zoe's power chair or walking with backpacks and her walker slung over my shoulder. I usually don't need help, because I do it all the time. Because I wear mostly jeans and t-shirts, and comfortable shoes for the job and I am used to shlepping my kids' stuff around. Every once in a while though- I do need help. But this story is about my daughter. My 7 year old, sweet, smart and socially capable little girl. The same little girl who sometimes will turn to me and ask me why someone is staring at her, or why someone asks me questions about her -while Zoe watches from nearby and later questions why they didn't just ask her.
 
Zoe is a complex kid, I know. Her speech and vision are affected, and sometimes she is slow to recognize a far away face or a child who runs past her quickly calling hello. Sometimes strangers can't understand her speech- and I get all of that. What strangers may not know is that Zoe has been raised to believe she can do anything. And although she sometimes asks tough questions about what she is able to do, she also asks me to teach her ballet, take her ice skating and buy her a bike. All things that would be very challenging for her to do since she is unable to stand up unsupported for more than a couple of minutes. In many ways, Zoe sees herself as who she is, just another little girl in second grade. She embraces life . 
 
And for the way she embraces life, she deserves high fives. For the way she loves to sing and dance, she deserves the well earned compliments every little girl with a microphone yearns for. And when her hair is done with her sparkly pink headband in place, and her lips are shiny with her favorite lip gloss, she deserves the affirmation that " yes, she IS beautiful." She also deserves the extra hugs her friends sometimes offer, because they miss her for all of the time she is away from them, learning braille, or doing speech or physical therapy. And she also deserves the extra kindness from her teachers and therapists, who know how hard she works each day and how much more effort she exerts , what simple tasks may require of her-yet she never gives up and rarely complains. And there are other extra kindnesses she receives from those who know her, who know what she has gone through while ill, how her seizures affect her or the details of her labs and medical testing- things other 7 year olds know nothing about. All of these kindnesses she has earned, because they are given with respect from people who know how truly amazing Zoe is.
 
That mom the other morning.. .well, it may have been pity or maybe even compassion in her voice, I'm not sure. I know that she does not know Zoe and I know what it wasn't. It wasn' t what Zoe deserved. Because after all,  my kid was just doing what every other second grader was doing that morning- going to class. She just wasn't walking in ...