Honeymoon Summer

“ 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.

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Through Tragedy and Terror, Written Words Touch A Million Lives


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.” 

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A Personal Confession: Taking Care of You, Getting Fit.. and Taking Care of Family.

Zoes drawing
I never imagined Zoe as the 'tween she has become. She talks alot now about growing up , and asks those difficult questions that make me feel old and sometimes sad. The last ten years have flown by, but when I look in the mirror I can see every moment. The way my life evolved from a master plan to just getting through each day.. learning to shift my life from " black and white" to an okay shade of gray. The way there is little time for anything besides family, home and work.

Things have been kinda calm lately, and after a whirlwind of working non-stop for the last year,parenting my girls ,ten plus years of not sleeping through the night, and long talks with my husband with his repeated reminders to " slow down" ,  I kinda had a revelation. Something has to give.

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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.

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The Value in Life


“The hard part is trying to answer the questions Walker raises in my mind every time I pick him up, What is the value of a life like his — a life lived in the twilight and often in pain? What is the cost of his life to those around him? … If Walker is so insubstantial, why does he feel so important? What is he trying to show me?”  -excerpt from Ian Brown’s Memoir “ The Boy in the Moon: A Father’s Journey to Understand His Extraordinary Son“

It was this passage of the book  The Boy in the Moon: A Father's Journey to Understand His Extraordinary Son  that first stopped me. We have all imagined the future of “ what if’s?” managing care for our children when symptoms worsen or a disease progresses. So these detailed diaries of Brown caring for his son Walker, did not disturb me. Instead I found the idea- “ What is the value of my child’s life?” inspiring.

As parents we set out to do the best we can for our kids. We take each challenge in stride, try to make the best decision, take the best approach, give our kids the best advantage. We watch how their  talents develop, we nurture, guide, help them grow, so that they contribute, feel valued and posses a strong sense of self esteem. 

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Cool Tools To Help You Tackle Your Day


It was way past bedtime, when emotions often run high. O was tossing and turning -  twisting her blankets into a furious ball and after one more kiss goodnight, putting on an audio book and one final threat from me, she asks “ What’s happening with Zoe and I right now? Why don’t we kiss and hug anymore? What’s going to happen when we grow up?” 

What’s happening with my girls is the age/ maturity gap is getting wider and O is growing up. What’s happening is it’s summer and it’s hot- and when hot, tired or hungry.. courtesy of their metabolic disorder.. my girls get lethally grumpy. What’s happening is Zoe doesn’t have all the social skills or real life experience to transition, process or adapt to the changing routine or emotional climate. It doesn’t matter why it’s happening really, what matters is it’s my job to fix it, or at least make it a little bit better.

At the end of each day, when the lights are low, the kitchen cleaned up- the computers shut down, the kids tucked in- the dogs curled up asleep and my husband and I finally sit down to enjoy relaxing into the quiet, I try to absorb the contented feeling of what looks like a normal life.   And then frantically get a game plan on how to make the next day better. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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 ...


Being a Special Needs Mom

Blog post  www.specialneedsmom.com  Dec.2, 2009

There is a lot about my life that separates me from other moms. Enough that often I feel as different as my special needs child. My husband and I have two children with a rare genetic disease, a disease that is hard to explain-and harder still for  others to understand. It’s called mitochondrial disease and Stephanie Shapiro of Atlanta, a mom with two children severely affected, recently wrote this honest account  for  CNN Health.

I have two beautiful girls, who are in many ways-age appropriate, but in other ways are not. Being their mom, means I have had to learn about generalized epilepsy, renal tubular acidosis, brain abnormalities and strokes, GI issues, anxiety issues, memory and learning issues, acidosis, retinopathies and blindness, even endocrine abnormalities. These are some of the symptoms of mitochondrial disease, the parts of the disease that are easiest to talk about. The every day.

I manage the everyday for my 7 and 9 year olds still, the way that newer mothers take care of their young. What time they awake in the morning, how long they have slept, the time lapse between meals and snacks, their daily energy output how much they have drank- even their bathroom habits- still. I try and determine when Zoe should use her power wheelchair, and when she should be pushed in her wheelchair stroller. I have to weigh the repercussions of letting O, now nine, stay up until 7 to watch a TV special, when I know she had PE today and she usually falls asleep around 6:30. Often I have to cancel an after school activity, a night time event- or   my husband and I must split up- as it is rare that both children can be out after 5 pm at night. I have come to dread declining the social invitations that sometimes are for these late hours at the end of the day, when the girls have run out of energy, and it just won’t work. It is awkward to explain, that we would like to come, but can’t- because whatever hour is appropriate for other kids, just doesn’t work for ours. My husband and I have a limited (non-existent) social life for the same reason.

The future is something I rarely talk about. When others ask me if the disease is progressive, it is like a blow to the stomach- that luckily does not strike too often. I have to focus on the here and now. I pray that our family will continue to thrive and do well. I am thankful that my marriage is not affected by the statistics of divorce that come with the majority of families dealing with chronic illness. Sometimes I am sad for the friends I have lost, the friendships that my lifestyle and the demands of family, I just can’t afford. There are days I am afraid, feel alone and days I am determined, and strong-it has changed who I am, how I manage, what I value, what makes me happy and what makes me cry. It has made me a better mother who does not take life for granted.

I confess..

...there are lots of different types of people who read my  blog www.specialneedsmom.com . Over 15,000 visitors in it's lifetime, There are moms of special needs kids who have followed ,or found me in blogosphere,  There are people who know me, from all different places and walks of life ( My past life as  a  tough, aggressive, workaholic,  group publisher, at a publishing company for 15 years pre-children, still haunting me.. ( new friends from the American Adoption Congress keynote last year.. ) .

And often when I sit down to write ( projects in the work!) I think.. uh, don't want to post that.. I will sound like I am ... weird, whining, waxing philosphic, .. whatever. It's called blog fright, worrying what people may think.But guess what.. I am done. Life is what it is .And this is TOO GOOD to pass up. .

In the special needs community, there are certain stories, poems, cliches and sayings.. one of which , has been said to me many times.. "God (or Life, depending on your religious views..)only sends us challenges we can handle. ) This has been said to me , written, hallmarked, etc. But today.. Today it was my flippin' horoscope.. beginning with " If you feel as if you're under pressure..." Remember, Life only sends us challenges we can handle.In black and white, calling out to my Aries self.

Under pressure. Hmmm. I have pneumonia. Short of breath, tired. Kids are three weeks past their H1 virus, but Zoe is still run down, and tired. O is okay, excluding the fact that a concern over her enlarged thyroid and blood sugar levels is sending us for labs Wednesday. I Have a list of 3 other specialist appts. they are needing due to other concerns.. My list of things to do to long, my list of things I want to do, untouched. And Last night , I was up 6 times between midnight and 5 am. I am accustomed to 3 times per night, no problem. Sleep really is overrated people.. but 6 times?  Snacks, and milk are necessary due to the metabolic component, a couple bathroom runs, and there you have it! Time flies when you are having fun!

I have some writing projects pending. Marketing opportunities pending. Domestic duties that should be completed.. PENDING! and so much I want, need , HAVE TO DO..

So, I pick and choose, and do the best I can to make sure we  live a quality life. I cut myself some slack remembering I am not perfect. Mostly, I remember that in my heart it's God that makes it happen, and those challenges- presented to my overly capable self? If you look closely, those complex.. challenges.. are really are just blessings, -- blessings that make life so much richer.

See Me Cry Everywhere..

Before I was a Mom, I rarely cried. Maybe when I fought with someone I
loved, I cried. And when I lost someone I loved, I cried.

But now, you can see me cry everywhere. At field day, I cried. I cried
for the amazing power of what other children can do, and how much it
is taken for granted. The way a second grader can throw his body
towards a finish line, running at high speed. I cried then for how
joyously Zoe worked just as hard, traveled the same route in her power
wheelchair, squealing and happy to be at play.

I cry at school performances, marveling at the other children’s
abilities, and the way my child performs with the same excitement,
always exceeding the expectations. I remember at those moments how we
once wondered if she would ever walk or even talk. Sometimes a tear or
two will travel down my face, embarrassingly because I wish that she
could do more- not for me, but for the thrill of it. To be like the
other kids, just once.

In classroom orientations- I cry. The first time, the day of Zoe’s
vision loss diagnosis. I sat that night in a first grader’s chair,
listening to Olivia’s teacher speak-  my eyes seeking every brightly
colored picture and poster displayed high on the wall and wondering
then how Zoe would function in a classroom like this. And again, I
cried leaving a parent teacher conference, proud of Zoe and her
continued progress but grieving over a difficult conversation with her
teacher about “ life math skills for community living” and  the
complex questions about her future ability to read. The idea that Zoe
may have limitations with traditional reading is realistic, but
heartbreaking. Books are like food to me, something I devour to
satisfy a hunger. Books have calmed and soothed my hurts and worries
away, since I was a small child.

But there are also tears that are of peaceful relief- like when I was
speaking to the principal of Olivia’s catholic school. Sharing with
her my appreciation for the nurturing environment they have created on
their campus. “Please” she whispered,  “ You are making me cry “ as
her eyes were filled with tears too.

There are even tears of comfort, as my husband will pull me against
him in the dark of night, speaking softly in my ear, the words I most
desperately need to hear.

And yesterday my eyes filled too,  as Zoe cried for me excitedly-
opening her arms pulling me into a hug, as I joined her for a surprise
lunch at her school cafeteria. Earlier that day I wiped from my cheek,
tears of wonder and joy- as I went to mass at Olivia’s school and I
was drawn away from my moment of sadness by her voice and
her smile, as she sang happily enjoying her place in the choir,
radiating pure peace- as she has finally found her place.

Making the most of it..

“ Sometimes I feel sad, when I pray for Zoe, I pray that she can do more things”-  

Olivia wrote this recently as part of a homework assignment. She will be 9 soon, and is beginning to realize there are many things that Zoe may never do..walk unassisted, ride a bike, a scooter. We have a diagnosis that Zoe will continue to lose her vision, leading to a complete vision loss. And although Zoe is learning Braille now, we don’t dwell on that eventuality.

I never knew that Olivia believed  Zoe would   develop these abilities in time. Zoe is 7 now, and it never occurred to me that Olivia was waiting for these things to happen. And to her Zoe is just Zoe. But it makes sense, kids watch kids grow up and watch them gain skills as they get older. And that’s what kids remember, how they have grown and accomplished more with each year of their life.

When I explained to Olivia, that helping Zoe “ practice” walking, may not change anything she had this look on her face that said “ How do you act so normal Mom?, how can you say that so easily – that she won’t walk by herself, ever?”

We talked about Zoe’s decreased muscle strength; how she can’t balance- stand unassisted for more than a couple minutes. I didn’t say that Zoe’s body doesn’t make the energy her muscles need, her brain needs, her eyes need, her kidneys need- all the things affected by mitochondrial disease. I didn’t go there because Olivia knows now, that her body doesn’t make energy correctly either, and we are trying to teach her to remember to eat and drink and rest when needed-as her body tires. What I don’t think Olivia understands fully, even though she is so smart, even though she and her sister share the same kidney medicine- is that she has the same deficiency. She was just luckier.

I am sure that conversation will come someday. I have it with strangers sometimes – someone asked me recently if the disease was progressive. Yes. And both girls have it?Yes. This woman gave me the same look Olivia did. Kind of a shocked look as if she was thinking… well how can you just stand there? How did you get dressed this morning? Put on make up?  How can you stand there smiling so calmly?  What about Olivia- she looks okay right now...

What I wanted to say was- yes I get dressed each day, and the reason I am wearing this bright pink t-shirt today is because it makes me happy, even thought it’s not trendy or in style.  And these are my favorite jeans, the most comfortable for loading the wheelchair, lifting Zoe, carrying the walker- running around throughout my day. And my makeup-well it’s not hiding much, not the tiredness or the lines, around my eyes now, , but that’s okay -. And I pray more now- for strength, for happiness, for peace and that’s what  keeps me calm. As mothers we make a choice each day, and it affects the whole family. I choose to make the most of today , whatever it may hold. 

Looking at the World Through Rose Colored Glasses

Rose colored gal


 “Sitting on the beach in Maui.” the text message read.  I had just checked my phone. I thought about how to reply to this life long friend. We don’t talk much anymore but we still remain connected. I put my phone down and grabbed the stainless steel mixing bowl I was holding... My reply would read “Sitting on the bathroom floor... Holding O’s vomit bowl !!  Maybe with enough exclamation marks, it would give her a laugh.


It’s hard to explain how I feel when friends of mine sympathize saying... “You have your hands full… “Because, really. I don’t. We are blessed.


It is true that I am always worrying about energy levels, watching the girls for flushed faces, fevers or just fatigue. Shadowing Zoe to prevent her falls, keeping an eye on her seizures that break through the medicine barrier. It’s true that O’s health issues have progressed, her anxiety, an unpredictable new issue. But really, we are so very lucky.


I know a lot about mitochondrial disease now. It was five years ago when an expert doc handed me a packet of info saying “Go home and read this. Clinical cases vary, so please don’t focus on the internet case studies.”


Back then, the disease was so newly documented, only the worst cases were published. And yes, I read them. Most were fatal, devastating descriptions about loss of vision, mobility, motor functions and eventually...life. Over the years, that’s why I have been reluctant to tell others where to go on the internet to read more about it. The information is misleading, depending where you go, what you read. Depending on how you look at the world. But here are the facts; it is a progressive disease. There is no treatment or cure. But here are the even more important facts: Every case varies. Patients can have periods of time where their health can stabilize. Managing good health, and avoiding metabolic stress or illness, can delay the progression of the disease. And most of all, none of us have the unconditional promise of tomorrow, no matter how healthy we are today.


Over the years, I have come to know other children affected by the disease. Children who have been cherished. Children who have accomplished much. The same children who have eventually lost- and left the lives of the family who loved them.


Last week, we saw the local eye doctor who confirmed that Zoe’s retinopathy is slowly progressing. For a moment I stood there thinking about how to make the most of her seeing years, however many there could be 2, 5, 10 years?  Scene after scene flashed through my mind, more painting, more play dough, pink ruffled dresses, more glitter lip gloss- promising myself not to waste a moment. But then the doc moved on and talked about the new glasses she needed. Her vision decreasing and requiring a new pair of enhanced lenses. And with her new glasses she would see even better than she was at that moment- improvement. So with the help of her sister, Zoe selected a snappy new pair of Juicy Couture rose pink colored glasses.


Yesterday, we picked them up. I drove home from the appointment smiling, listening to Zoe happily singing along to the radio.. I checked her reflection often from my rear view mirror. She looked pretty and so grown up as she sat looking out the backseat window.. Did she see more today wearing her new glasses, as she looked out the backseat window? How would she feel when someday she saw less..?


Her sister was at home with Daddy, napping on the couch, curled up in her favorite blanket . A trip to the doc had procured a medicine for her nausea and she was finally resting comfortably.


I felt the flush of warmth within me. For today, we are doing something. Being proactive we can keep them healthy.We are managing. Medicines can make the girls feel better. Glasses can help Zoe see more. We are choosing- to look at the world through rose colored glasses.

Another Common Bond

Photo I know lots of other parents that compare their children, the curve of their face, the color and curl of their hair, their social differences.. " one that is silly and one so shy.." I never realized that I did this too, but in such a different way. Zoe, my youngest was "much more affected than her big sister Olivia" , Olivia was my " practically typical" child, although both have a diagnosed mitochondrial disease. Until lately that is.. until the last months that have led to the realization that Olivia just isn't as healthy as she used to be, that she can't walk as far as she used to, without some fatigue and that sometimes when she seems sad or overwelmed ...she is just not feeling well, is tired. There are more medicine bottles on the counter and in the fridge- and some of the everyday joy of being her mom has been replaced by  worry and sleeplessness. A restlessness and a pressing desire to know what our future may hold.

Each day we learn a little more. We find a different way to happiness, a new way to relax and recharge. Zoe inspires us all everyday , that even with challenges- you can succeed. Just the other day both girls were moved to dance- they began with Olivia leading the beat ,swinging her hips,.  Zoe  joined in too, doing it her way , tall on her knees rocking back and forth and moving her arms. Because Zoe  is unable to stand unassisted, this is how she dances sometimes, with pure joy and excitement , rocking to the music. I watched from across the room and soon they were standing holding hands, dancing together as partners, Olivia  holding Zoe's weight as she leaned into her. This was something new,  Zoe , quite smart, trusts few to hold her balance like this in an upright position and I had not seen her do this with her sister before, especially moving to the music . I realized in watching them, that they are not only friends and sisters who play dolls and Barbies and Pet Shop together, girls that make each other giggle and fall asleep cuddling and sharing secrets,  but they are sisters who get labs together, hold each others hands in comfort, even get sick together, I realized then for the first time , that this disease is just something else they share too.. another common bond.

My Heart Sighs

Dsc00738 I sit and I sigh. In the quiet early evening, after my daughters are tucked into bed, the house is restored to order and the lights are turned down low,I sit and I sigh.

I sigh because I am weary from the physical act of being in motion all day- spread thin between appointments, a desk buried with work, a home that needs tending and my young daughters ' constant need for hands- on mothering.  I sigh , and with my exhale I shed my memories of the tears, and cries, and frustrations from the day. I release the stress of worry and tension with a sigh so dramatic,  I imagine it is heard for miles. But really it is soundless, or perhaps it is a simple "whoosh" of air, suspended.

I sit in the silence. I am amazed that my breathing is soft and even .Within me, my sigh echoes loudly shouting my emotion.

My husband is beside me. I am tired but I reach for his hand, and he gently opens his, accepting my tight grasp. We sit like this in the quiet .His eyes follow the images on the television across the room. My eyes still and closed begin to visit the memories of us in my mind. I can see days upon days, full of lazily spent hours. Sitting in the sun, reading,and napping, creating wonderful meals from complex and precisely detailed recipes. We talked , and talked .. Wasting the words and the quiet as if we had all the time in the world. But we didn’t.

Now those quiet and open opportunities for deep conversation are rare and simple treasures. I sigh, a short sigh of pleasure, grateful for the gift of his strong hand and our physical togetherness.

Now we have our daughters. And just when Ithink they are extracting every little bit of life right out of me- they burst into the room overflowing with smiles and excitement and fill all of the empty, open spaces with joy.Just when I think that life with them will surely break my heart- I am unexpectedly showered with their love and happiness , their desperate need for my presence- so much so that my heart feels as if it may burst with fullness.

I sit and I sigh.

Twenty Years of Food for the Soul

Her corkscrew curly brown hair falls carelessly past her shoulders and down her back. In the dusk of early evening, the champagne colored beads on her dress are shimmering in the soft light. She looks beautiful. She is smiling her silly, relaxed smile and her eyes are shining. She places one hand on her fiancé’s shoulder, while the other, gracefully holds her glass of champagne. Nervous and determined not to cry, I move my eyes away from her image and begin the toast I have written for her.…

“Jill lives her life with great passion. And, we have been so fortunate

To receive, the many gifts she gives us.

Gifts of loyalty love and support.

And now, a man who knows her heart,

her smile, her spirit. Has chosen her.

May he give to her these very same gifts, and more.

That she so richly deserves”.

The toast is finished, and I am watching her walk toward me. Her familiarness stirs something within me.I surrender my mind to the memory of when we first met, over twenty years ago.

She stood then, amidst a cluster of fifteen year olds. They were gathered around her, echoing her laughter, and following her animated gestures eagerly. Her voice , not yet the sexy purr that it is today, was fresh and fun and full of bounce.

I was a new student at a large public high school. She brought me into her circle of friends, and soon after, into her family. She fed me wonderful Italian meals and welcomed me into the warmth of her home. She accepted me, looked after me, encouraged me.

Today, she is a gifted primary education teacher. Each year, a new classroom of smiling, adoring little faces are thrilled to be in her classroom. Because she accepts them, looks after them and encourages them- like she did me.

She relates to the special needs of my children, and provides amazing insight to the challenge and care of raising them. And when Zoe is ill, and we have to go to the hospital , urgently and unexpectedly, she is the only friend that visits us.She comes to check on Zoe, and she comes to check on me. She wraps her arms around Zoe and makes her smile. She feeds me homemade spaghetti and words of encouragement. She brings me socks to warm my cold feet.

She has promised to be my children’s advocate, guardian and mother, should the day ever come.I know there is nothing she wouldn’t do for them.

And now, she has given me another gift of forgiveness, and understanding.

Soon she will marry, and I, her best friend will not be there.

Tonight, I invited her into my heart, so she could feel my troubled spirit, my weariness and worry. She felt the pain of my children’s illness. And when I explained how I could not leave them, to travel to her wedding. She understood.

And once more, she fed my soul with the love of her friendship- as she has for twenty years.

Looking For Rainbows


Zoe was standing right next to me in her walker, balanced and ready to scoot onto the sidewalk. Olivia, her big sister, was alongside her waiting for my signal to go. Turning my back for less than a minute,I grabbed my bag from the passenger seat of the car, shutting and locking the door. And at that moment, I heard it. “Wham!” .

I spun back around to find Zoe , slightly tangled , but unharmed, laying on the ground. She had fallen back on her walker. Olivia’s arms were outstretched beneath her, cushioning her from the hot, hard ground of the cement parking lot. “ I caught her, Mommy” said Olivia . Her voice was slightly shaken but she was grinning. She looked down into Zoe’s surprised face as Zoe reached out her arms for her big sister.

In my kitchen, on the refrigerator, hangs our medicine chart. There are 12 boxes to be checked daily. Twelve times each day that require discipline, patience, organization and a few minutes of prep. I used to be resentful of this chart, the intrusion and hold it had on my life. Until my mother pointed out that maybe I should instead,be thankful. That in the same way I appreciate Zoe’s 7 weekly therapy appointments,  I should be thankful that I can give my children something to help protect them from a progressive disease , to protect Zoe from experiencing more seizures, and protect Olivia from the symptoms of asthma. In that moment with my mother, it changed. And now I am thankful that I can do something to protect my daughters.

The other night, I was busy in the kitchen. My body in perpetual motion, my mind concentrating on the tasks at hand, when my husband called to me from the patio. A storm had just passed- he was outside grilling fish for dinner.“ Come quick” , he said. From the sound of his voice, I thought it might be a passing airplane or something to see in the desert behind our house. “ It’s a rainbow, come here.” He urged. Still distracted by the chores I had set aside, I went. I looked and just barely ,could I see the arc of colors streaking the sky. I went to grab my camera.

Later in the late night quiet , I studied the image of that rainbow on my computer screen. Just faintly, you can see the rainbow against the backdrop of the desert sky. I was thinking about Zoe’s fall, the conversation with my mother, the letter I had to write to Olivia’s school about her illness, the conversations about new tests and doctors appointments for Zoe.

I remembered then, something I once read about rainbows. How they only come out after the rain, and you have to be watching for them. That you have to be looking up, searching the sky.. because they are only visible for a short while.

I realized then… The moment I saw Zoe reach for her sister after her fall, the conversation with my mother, listening to her gentle reminder.. Both of these instances….. were like a rainbow.

A treasure, that I might have easily missed….. had I not been looking.

You Are Not Alone

Side by side, my husband and I enter the double-doors. We are, as always when we come here, hand in hand. We make our way through the foyer and into the double doors of the church. We move single file down the aisle. I am following behind him .He stops at our regular pew, and steps aside. I briefly genuflect and move past him to take my seat. He kneels in prayer before sitting. We are in God’s house. And here, hiding from my own thoughts, masking my emotions is impossible.

My faith has always been a quiet constant in my life. So quiet and so natural- that somehow along the journey with my children and Zoe’s illness- I had almost forgotten about God.

I pray- saying the maintenance type of prayers you learn as a child. At night when I fall asleep, before Zoe’s medical procedures- the standard, memorized prayer here and there. But that is all.

I am focused on other things. Making a difference with my children’s care. Being an advocate. Finding answers.Maintaining my business. Managing my emotions and the reality of our discoveries. And in the midst of all this- there are times when I feel overwhelmed, exhausted and very much alone. In these times especially, I have forgotten about God. It has never occurred to me that he is there. Waiting for me, willing to offer comfort and strength.

I am not good at asking for help. In my world, it is the last resort and never my first thought. In times of crisis- my first thoughts are how can I fix this? What can I do to make it better? I look for answers and concentrate on actions. Something unseen like comfort and strength- and God’s omniscient presence appear too passive in these moments.

Sitting in church, the music begins and I know. There is too much quiet- too much empty space alone with my own thoughts, emotions and fears. Not enough distraction. We have shared many special memories in this church. My husband and I, newly married, worshipped here together before our girls were born. We celebrated their baptisms here in this church- with family and friends. When life was simple. Before we knew.

On this day, across the aisle- there is a little girl, about 3 years old. Her hair is a fine blonde like Zoe’s and she is wearing a dress similar to the many that hang in Zoe’s closet. This little girl is fidgety. Fidgety in the way I wish Zoe was .This little girls muscles are strong, her body is healthy. She is energized in the way Olivia hasn’t been lately. This little girl is kneeling down and standing up. She is walking across her family up and down the pew.

I hear the scripture, the Deacon reads the gospel and the new pastor gives the Homily with the message “do not fear”, Sometime before communion there is a song with the words reminding me “you are not alone”.  I see the tear stains on my blouse, and my fingers wipe away the wetness on my cheek.

My husband places his hand on my knee. I realize then- the very resource I had forgotten all about. God. Seeking comfort and consolation- from God. Putting my trust, my frustrations even my fears in his hands with the hope of finally finding peace.

There in that church I began my own prayer. Not the simple memorized verse of childhood- but something for me.

My God, I began. Be my strength and my comfort. Bring peace to my hurting heart. And teach me how to ask for your help. – Amen

Mothering & Missed Milestones


I was in the shower. Trying to deep condition my hair for the first time in months .Olivia my oldest was 3 and suddenly her nose was pressed against the shower door. Her voice rising above the pounding hot water insisting “Mommy, milk!”  In the few minutes of quiet, while I hurriedly finished, I realized with absolute certainty that I was right about Olivia’s little sister, Zoe. She was very delayed.

Zoe was 15 months at the time. In that stage of development where some children pull ahead and do more- and some children do less catching up closer to the two-year mark. But it was in those few minutes, standing in the shower that I knew for sure. Zoe should have been approaching the start of high maintenance toddlerhood. The “I WANT IT NOW” stage. It wasn’t just that Zoe wasn’t walking or talking, or that she had just started to crawl a bit. It was her inability to express her needs. In that way, she was like an infant.

That is when I began studying the “milestone” charts with real purpose. These charts mark a child’s early development not only by gross motor skills, but also fine motor ,social and language skills. In a way, these charts served an important purpose, reaffirming my belief that the doctors should listen and pay more attention to my concerns.

Later in our journey ,these missed milestones, and Zoe’s continued delayed development confirmed her need for therapy services . These charts , my perseverance,and Zoe’s continued delayed progress did make medical and therapy professionals pay attention and treat her appropriately.

Without even realizing it, I eventually grew tired of the process of measuring missing milestones. I even stopped  looking at the charts and let my mothering experience take over.I started making my own record of new accomplishments, no matter how small or subtle.

When I would see a specific positive development- that was my mark as to her progressing development. She wants to wear a blue t-shirt every day! (Her sister preferred princess dresses, but the desire of preference began about age 2).  She is using pretend play by herself! Watching her play ponies exchange hello's. Zoe saying she wants to watch Dumbo- ( again!) These cues combined, told me she was progressing to the two year mark. It didn’t matter to me that she had just turned 3, I was celebrating her successes.

This is a much kinder, gentler way to live. I know my child is delayed, and other Special Needs Moms know this truth about their child too. Once this reality is known, is there really a need for us to measure? Isn’t it so much better to celebrate their success- encouraging their progress?

Zoe has many positive personality traits- qualities that are not easily measured on milestone charts. She is motivated, she is affectionate, eager to learn, happy and in her own way.. confident. Her therapists see this too. I think in some ways it helps them bond with Zoe which results in more effective therapy sessions.

But for the first time, these positive self attributes, the gifts that God gave her- came through and were part of a professional evaluation. Zoe's child psychologist completing her annual evaluation confirmed that she is 10 months behind developmentally- slightly further behind than last year. However, she gained IQ points and although still markedly delayed, this professional saw beyond her clinical scores and milestone charts.

She used many positive words to describe Zoe’s potential. She embraced Zoe’s personality, her spirit, her will, her motivation. Confirming these attributes can affect developmental success as much as an intelligence quotient. She told us stories of low functioning intelligence children progressing in mainstream environments- because of their personality and will.

As a special needs mom- my efforts to improve my daughter’s intellectual ability are limited.

I encourage her cognitive development. We practice therapy approaches in our home. We stimulate- we encourage. But there are structural limitations within her brain.

But as her mother- there is no limit in developing her spirit. I can encourage her confidence. I can positively influence her social interest, affection, behavior and nature. I can model tenacity and pray for her developing courage to continue. I can reward her will and effort each day. I can celebrate the gifts God has given her and teach her to celebrate her own accomplishments, just by being her Mom.

Happy Mother's Day... A letter from your husband

This "letter" is a Mother's Day surprise..........YOU are much more than just the Love of my Life. You are a Mother. You say and do without question, you love and share without condition, you seldom rest even when weary. You are the light in our eyes, the warmth in our hearts and the wind in our sails. Olivia and Zoe will grow to admire you for everything that you have done for them. They will look to you for continued strength and wisdom and that smile which acknowledges their accomplishments. Your spirit will be renewed as you continue to love and cherish these "gifts" that God has blessed us with. Your faith in HIM will continue to provide you strength and wisdom. My love for you, "MOM", will be forever yours. WE love you, HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY.


Cheek to Cheek

Dsc00312_1 Her father and I were sitting close together in the school auditorium last night. Zoe stood between us , an arm around Daddy’s neck and an arm around mine.Cheek to cheek, we watched her big sister on stage singing songs with her preschool class. I couldn’t tell where Zoe’s smile began and where it ended. It swallowed her entire face.

Minutes later, I saw a mother sitting behind us studying Zoe’s face. Was she noting  the differences in Zoe's behavior, her awkward sounds and clumsy movements? Or was she envious of Zoe's obvious outpouring of love and affection , her display of raw pleasure?

She is happy, and affectionate. She greets scowling old ladies at the grocery store with a sing-song “ hi” and a folded-hand wave that  she accomplishes slowly.

When curious children approach her and begin examining her walker, Zoe looks to them eagerly, as if to ask ““ Do you want to be my friend?” She smiles adoringly into their sometimes tired, grumpy preschooler faces.

On some days it is Zoe’s special store of happiness that keeps me going. The days that may follow a night of little sleep, the days full of therapy evaluations , doctor appointments and unfinished work waiting in my office.

Her happiness is without limits and you can’t help but be drawn to her unique charm. I have seen it diminish professionals of all standings, and no one seems immune to her smile or her chubby cheeks.

And it is this happiness that moves me to protect and safeguard her innocence. More so , than with her big sister. I can be fierce when it comes to protecting and defending Zoe and it is because her innocence is like that of an infant. She is who she is. She gives affection, love and attention without thought or discrimination.

As a mother I try to imagine Zoe later in life. Is this her special gift?  Is it instinctive and who she is? Will she be like this her whole life long or will life’s lessons teach her discretion and caution, replacing her unlimited happiness and affection?

As a special needs mom, even imagining the future is impossible. Unsure of her intellectual ability, I can’t even guess. I can have hope and faith and see progress.

For today ..celebrating who she is and her happiness is enough.


Dear Little One,

Things are not always as they seem.

We were at the park the other day, you and I, and your big sister too. She is four, only a year older than you, but she can run and jump and climb. And you, completely in love with her, always laugh and clap- and share her joy. Maybe you imagine yourself traveling in her fluid body instead of resting on your own flat feet, managing your weak muscles that prevent you from walking independently.

On this day we can see the playground ahead, and your sister begins to run. My hands are on your waist, supporting your steps with a solid strength that enables you to shuffle your feet into an awkward yet productive gait. You are impatient; there are probably hundreds of tiny footsteps between you and your sister. You reach your arms up asking for help. You want me to carry you. I refuse the voice in my heart and I say “no”. I take your hands in mine and we begin the slow walk together.

Finally when we arrive at the playground, you want to climb. I hold your waist, your arms and sometimes just your hand to stabilize you as you move carefully up the steps. A little boy, almost half your size walks by you, too close -his body briefly making contact. It is enough to challenge your balance and you begin to fall. My hand quickly pulls you upright to the stance you had worked so hard to establish.

Your hands in my hands, you lead me climbing clumsily to the top of the slide.  I place you in my lap. You begin to scream loudly and I see the boy’s mother studying you and me. Your sister waits below, calling encouragement, anticipating the excitement of your accomplishment. We push off the top of the slide and you are crying in fear as you always do. And five feet later as we reach the bottom I hold you in front of me and you laugh! We are closer to the boy’s mother now, and we make eye contact. Before I can even consider conversation she asks “How old is she?” Almost three”, I reply... “And your boy?” She answers that he has just turned one, a few months back. She abandons the conversation, afraid and unable to ask the obvious questions. She turns her head and her eyes follow her son instead.

You see, little one….things are not always as they seem. When you are tired and I help you walk, when your weaker muscles need the support of my strength, or when I carry you, you may cling to me. You may even be restless or fussy. Others may see your physical size, your neediness and think I am indulging you. But things are not always as they seem, I know your needs.

Sometimes, you may cry or scream in public it is because I am challenging you. Expecting you to act like other children as we move through public life socially as a family. Others may see a tantrum; I know your special needs.

And when you move your body, quickly, repetitively, distracting or disturbing those around us, they may see immaturity, disruptive behavior. But I know you are adapting to the challenges of your environment the best that you can. I know your special needs.

Love, Mommy


I am hovering like all mother's do. Practically bent in half, my long body is close to the ground. Trying to match the height of my almost three year old, Zoe. I am behind her.

As I have been taught, I don't touch her. She knows I am there but I am not allowed to give her the extra security of my touch. I hover with my hands in air- I will catch her if her balance reactions fail. She is learning to use her forearm crutches, and it takes almost all of her energy to manage her tiny steps into coordinated movement with her crutches.

We are walking the short path that leads to our front door. It is perhaps ten feet in distance and I am sure, has been traveled by hundreds of footsteps. Hurried footsteps, slow and leisurely footsteps. Footsteps born from strong legs with healthy muscles.

A hummingbird crosses our path. As Zoe moves her eyes from her feet to the bird, the rapid shift in vision causes her to lose her balance. We stop to watch the hummingbird as it dives into the trumpet vine. It finds a place to perch and begins to sing. Zoe is delighted as I am sure she believes the impromptu concert is for her. She giggles and the bird stays.

In these few feet Zoe has walked hundreds of tiny steps but for our family she has run a mile. I watch Zoe as she begins to hum. She radiates pure joy.

It is not the act of nature she is celebrating but her independence. She is learning to walk. As she continues down the path she sings. Even though she is struggling, she finds peace. And for this simple blessing I am grateful.

For more about my journey with Zoe..Download edited2amothersinstinct_2.doc