My Internal GPS is Broken

This post today is inspired by Koreen Guillermo’s words this morning.  The title is borrowed from her, as is this first quote:

“The faith that seems so easy in the sunshine wavers in the darkness”.

She spoke straight to my heart this Easter morning, and not for the first time.

This has been a week.  Well, last week was.  And the one before that, and the one…never mind.  You get it.  But this past week was a bit more roller-coasterish than is typical, and we do roller coasters with the best of them.  Koreen spoke of rearranging furniture in your home, and how during the day it’s not problematic, but at night, in the darkness, it is no longer the safe place that it is in the light.

Our week was filled with therapy…OT, PT, Speech; filled with doctor appointments… Oncology clinic, neurologist, and suddenly, the pediatrician.  Bad financial news hit, and then we were notified that not only were we accepted to the oncology camp session I had applied for, our travel would be covered in full.  Up, down, up, down.  We had Easter dinner yesterday because my mother is having surgery tomorrow.  Ryan attended 4 Easter Egg hunts.  Oncology clinic brought nothing unexpected.

But Thursday my furniture got rearranged.  As a special needs mom, as a medical mom, you fall into a routine.  You know what to expect, you know where the sharp corners on the furniture are, you know where the potholes are on the route to the hospital.  Your GPS gets you to therapies, to clinics. And then the storm hits.  The lights go out, and you are left to fumble through the darkness, trying not to fall into this new pothole the storm just created.

Ryan had an “event” Thursday.  His exhibited some bizarre behavior, slept 17 out of 24 hours.  This is not my child.  His hands tremored.  He was oblivious to his environment.  I called the pediatrician’s office, hysterical.  They said I could bring him in, but that I would have to see someone named Jessica.  I responded that I didn’t know Jessica and Jessica didn’t know Ryan and then I hung up on the poor receptionist.  She, bless her heart, located my pediatrician, who called me, talked me down, and told me to bring Ryan in on Friday morning.  Which I did, and apologized to the receptionist while I was there.  She does not make enough money to have to put up with that sort of ridiculous behavior.  It is possible that Ryan had a seizure, a seizure not triggered by medication.  This would be unusual, and it is not a direction I really wish to go.  The neurologist’s office was closed Friday, of course, but I did reach the oncologist, who said that if there was further odd behavior, we would admit Ryan for observation, otherwise keep an eye on him, call the neuro Monday, and we will sort through it on Tuesday at clinic.

Ryan has been fine since then.  Me, not so much.  I was already stressed out, and the fatigue I witnessed Thursday sent me directly into a PTSD episode.  Zero to 60 in 5.2.  Do not pass go, do not collect $200.  All the cliches.  All at once.

A friend asked me yesterday how I was doing.  My answer?  I said “I don’t know.  I don’t know where the line is anymore.  I don’t know what is worth reacting to.  I don’t know when something is really wrong.  I don’t know what normal looks like anymore.  I don’t know when my brain is lying to me.”

It’s dark, y’all.  I’m scared.  I’m trying not to let that darkness suck me in.  Trying to reach for the light.  Trying not to bang into furniture that isn’t where it is supposed to be.  Trying to reset my GPS to find my way through.  It doesn’t take much rearranging to set me off course…and the dark may just hang around a bit.

But it is in the dark when my God shows up.  He is there, and He is constant.  He’s not hiding, not on the opposite wall.  Not in the other corner.  But it is hard to listen for Him.  Hard to stop stumbling around and to just be still and listen.  Hard to wait to see where this is headed, how I will find my way through.  While my faith may waver, I cannot function without it.

This Easter morning, I was reminded that the sun will come up.  The darkness will recede.  The storm will run out of rain.  And whatever arrangement our lives are in when the sun comes back up, my GPS will figure it out.

Then again, my internal GPS can be astonishingly unreliable…20170416_103942.jpg

Smile!  Happy Easter!!!

 

 

Special Needs Parenting: Today I Suck at This Job

It started last night.  I had a super productive day, felt pretty good about things.  I picked Ryan up from school and about an hour later I started having cramps, and although I wasn’t feeling too great, got the boys and the dog fed, and then got Ryan and Baxter medicated.  And then the wheels started to wobble.  Baxter gets “hot spots”, patches on his belly that are some sort of contact allergy.  Steroids are helpful for this, but they make him insanely thirsty and give him diarrhea.  He had gotten a steroid shot at the vet in the morning, and some allegry pills, which may also make him thirsty, since they are antihistamines.  In any case, Baxter is not overly concerned about where he uses the bathroom…inside, outside, he doesn’t care, and I have never been able to completely housebreak him.  So I walked him, and locked up, and sat down.  It was 7:04 pm.  At 7:06, he peed.  I cleaned it up.  At 7:10, he had diarrhea.  Twice.  On the carpet.  I cleaned it up. Throughout this, my cramps are getting progressively worse.   I sit back down at 7:24.  At 7:26, Ryan says he is ready for bed.  Now, this does not mean he is going to get in bed and lay down and sleep.  This means he is going to:

  1.  Get tucked in in his bed.
  2. Get out of his bed for a drink.
  3. Get back tucked in his bed.
  4. Get out of of bed to locate Snakie, who got lost during the second tuck in.
  5. Get back in bed for a third tuck in.
  6. At this point, I am to lay down as well (which was good, because by then I was in horrific pain and needed cool and still and quiet…I had taken stuff for my cramps as well by then).
  7. Once I am comfortable (as comfortable as possible), Ryan gets back out of bed and gets in bed with me, which is so NOT what I need…knees and elbows and fidgeting.  I can’t switch beds, he will just go with me.  I can’t go on the couch, because he is “scary” if I leave him alone.  So at this point, I am in tears.  And in pain.  And feeling supremely sorry for myself.  I’m wishing that I could dump him off on someone just for one night, just till I feel better.
  8. After about 20 minutes, he decides I am annoying him and he is going to get back in his own bed.  So I tuck him in his own bed for the fourth time, and get back in bed.
  9. 5 minutes later he is out of bed because now his pull up is wet.  So I get up, change him.  Tuck him in a 5th time.
  10. Get back in bed myself.  I’m still in excruciating pain, nothing I took is helping.
  11. He is now out of bed AGAIN, because Snakie is MIA again (this is exactly why pacifiers have strings or clips of some sort).
  12. Find Snakie, 6th tuck in.
  13. Finally he falls asleep.

Eventually I felt better and was able to sleep.  At dark o’clock, he was back in bed with me, where we dozed and snuggled until about 9:30 this morning.  But I woke up short-tempered, and both child and dog were wound up.  More accidents, more diarrhea, 3 meals before noon for Ryan, 7 tape changes on Snakie.  I wanted to get Ryan (and maybe myself too), out of the apartament for a while, but my finances are precarious right now, gas is limited, my van is possessed by some sort of demon and in need of an exorcism, and even just taking Ryan outside to play is a chore because he needs help playing with others and he dislikes playing alone.  And today I am not feeling well enough to play outside with him.  I tried to take a shower.  While I was doing that he tore up the living room and Bax had 2 more accidents.

And I feel guilty.  Guilty because I don’t feel well enough to play.  Guilty for wishing I had somewhere to take him while I regroup.  Guilty because he is my responsibility and I am impatient with him.  Guilty because this is not his fault.  Guilty because today I am not enough and he doesn’t understand.  Guilty because I’m jealous of parents who can take their kid to a park and he will play nicely with other children.  Jealous of parents who can afford to hire someone to take their children to the park.  Jealous of parents who can afford to take their kids to Peter Piper Pizza and let them eat and blow off steam.  Guilty because I am jealous of parents who can send their child outside to play with minimal supervision.  Guilty because even if I had the money right now to go get my hair cut, or my nails done or have a massage I can’t leave him. Guilty because I resent the fact that I NEVER have just one morning when I can wake up on my own, at my pace, in bed alone.

And over it and under it and through it and around it, I am angry with myself for feeling this way, because there are so many parents out there who would give ANYTHING to have my problems but they don’t because they have lost their child.  This is called Survivor’s Guilt.

That doesn’t make me less exhausted or less guilty or less anything.  It is what it is, and it is something I grapple with on the days when I am a sucky mother.  But I know, too, that I tried today.  I tried last night.  I tucked my restless child in to bed 6 times.  I have fixed Snakie.  Cleaned up after Bax.  Fed my kids.  And I know they know I’m trying.

I don’t want y’all to be all sad about this…I want those of you in my shoes to know that you are not alone on the days you feel like you suck at whatever you are doing.  Also, I want to just say that those of you who know someone in my shoes, here is how you can help:

  1.  Show up with coffee
  2. Call and see if you can schedule a play date.
  3. I probably wouldn’t saddle you with taking Ryan to the park because he is an escape artist, but I might go with you and your child.
  4. Bring food over.
  5. Gift cards are so welcome…for fast food, for books, Google play, Visa gift cards…anything we might use to just pop out for an afternoon, or a couple hours
  6. Offer to stay with Ryan at my place so I could go run some errands.

Better yet, don’t offer, just do it, because most folks in my shoes don’t accept offers of help easily, but it is kind of hard to turn down help when it is on our doorstep.

***This is important:  I am aware of respite care.  I have been denied this service by several agencies, so this far it is not an option for us.

You Know You’re a Cancer Mom (or Dad) When….

I’ve been wanting to write this forever.  Initially it was going to be a compilation of things folks contributed, but no one contributed.  It’s OK, I can do it!!!

You know you’re a cancer mom (or dad) when…

1. You are out of Glad Press ‘n Seal because you used the last of it to cover the EMLA on your child’s port on the way to the ER last night.

2.  You check this week’s blood draw results like other people check the weather when making plans.

3.  You don’t see anything wrong with going to 3 different fast food joints (for one meal) while on a steroid pulse.

4.  The pharmacist knows you by your voice, and has your child’s birth date memorized.

5.  Your child, who can’t remember his math facts, can name and identify every one of his medications.

6.  The “group” has confused the medications so bad the hospital pharmacist is chasing you down the hall to sort it all out.

7.  Your child instructs the ER nurses on how to access their port, and knows what order vitals should be taken in.

8.  Your child has a specialist for every body system.

9.  You carry EMLA, tegaderms, and a thermometer everywhere you go.

10.  Doritos, chocolate cake and orange juice is a perfectly acceptable meal (I don’t CARE what you eat, PLEASE JUST EAT!!!)

11.  You tell the nurse at school that 100.3 is NOT a fever.

12.  You know what Methotrexate-Induced Leukoencephalopathy is, and the receptionist at the neurologist’s office does not.

13.  Wonky IS a medical term.

14.  You swear you are going to throat punch the VERY NEXT PERSON who says “I don’t know how you do it!”

15.  Your medicine cabinet rivals the shelves at CVS.

16.  You know what I mean by “those thingys that go in the tops of medicine bottles”.

17.  You have, in the closet, 67 boxes of unopened crayons, 93 coloring books, and 15 fuzzy blankets.  You also have 6 Build-a-Bears, complete with IVs, a chemo duck, and a Monkey in my Chair.

18.  The hospital nurses know your child’s favorite foods.  And the names of their pets.  And what you look like in your sleep.

19.  While out running errands, your child yells that he wants to go home, and he means the hospital, not your house.

20.  You could add 10 more items to this list (and I welcome you to do so!!!).

Please Quit Licking the Dog

I have had this on my mind a lot lately, and I am frustrated because I am not able to convey what I am feeling.  As I drove home from Oncology clinic yesterday, listening to Ryan jabber mindlessly, I was reminded yet again of the huge difference in the developmental levels of my boys.  They are only 5 years apart, but it’s more than that.  It’s an ocean.  It’s an eternity.  It’s parallel lines, lines that will never quite meet.

I wonder sometimes about how special needs parents reconcile this.  Ryan is 11, should be in 5th grade by now, but due to retentions because of school missed due to Leukemia and chemo, he is only in 3rd grade.  This is OK…it’s what is best for Ryan.  Developmentally, he isn’t even typical of a 3rd grader.  I’m not saying this is awful.  I’m just saying it’s hard to face sometimes, and it’s hard to keep up with ALWAYS.

Let me toss out a few examples:

1.  One morning I had to put Shawn on a plane to San Antonio.  He flew with his teacher and a classmate.  I wanted to grab him and beg him not to grow up so fast, not to be so independent.  An hour later, I dropped Ryan off at school, where his teacher told me they are having difficulty with his independence.  He won’t do ANYTHING by himself without one to one attention.  I am begging him to be more independent, wishing he would grow up just a bit.

2.  Shawn will be a senior next year, so college brochures are strewn all over the apartment.  We spent an hour the other evening discussing them, and then I grabbed Ryan for his homework, which was sight words.  Hot, pot, not, cot…

3.  Career choices must be discussed with Shawn.  Midway through the most recent conversation, I looked up and Ryan was licking the dog.  I had to stop with Shawn, and have a short conversation with Ryan about why it’s not OK to lick the dog.

4.   They like me to listen to songs they like.  Last night Shawn put headphones on me so I could hear this new composer that he found that writes music in 11/8 time.  Ryan asked me a few minutes ago to listen to Ernie and Bert sing Rubber Ducky.

If this were simply an age thing, as Ryan gets older, the gap would narrow, until they are both in their 20’s and it would be gone.  But that’s not the case.  It’s never going to be the case.  Shawn will never have a sibling his age, it will never be quite even.  Shawn will eventually be Ryan’s guardian.  And this, y’all, this just breaks my heart.

Shawn and I had a conversation tonight about things he might do different as a parent.  I asked, because I am curious.  He said that the number one thing he would do differently is make sure that his children have a childhood.  Heart broken much?  I wish that I could go back, wish a childhood for BOTH of them, one that wasn’t tarnished by disability and disease, that fairy tale childhood we all dream about.  Shawn knows, as do I, that I have done the very best I can do given the cards I have been dealt. That doesn’t always help much.  Shawn has learned a lot about life due to Ryan’s Down Syndrome and his Leukemia.  Life lessons that he will need later.  But yes, his childhood was ripped from him.

Ryan worships Shawn.  But they are stuck right now at an uncomfortable place. Because Ryan is not a typical DS kiddo, Shawn’s expectations are high.  Shawn has little tolerance for some of Ryan’s more annoying behaviors, and he is still jealous and resentful at times.

Today he was upset because he has a sublingual nodule that he wants removed and he wants it removed RIGH NOW.  But we have to go through the process, and he said today how it’s not fair that Ryan never has to go through the process, everything is dealt with immediately.  I told him that if he had cancer everything would also be an emergency and dealt with immediately, but since he doesn’t he just has to jump through the medical hoops like the rest of us mere mortals.  He knows Ryan is OK right now, so he is safe lashing out at me a bit.

I don’t know how much the gap will ever narrow.  Shawn is going to be more of a parent to Ryan one day then a brother.  And just right now, I can’t reconcile it, I can’t swallow it, and it is not OK.  I can’t change it, but at this moment in my life, it is just not OK.

Is That All For You Today?

I was a Special Education teacher for the majority of my career, spending my last 4 years in a high school life skills classroom, which included students 14-22 years of age who had moderate to severe disabilities.  One of the purposes of the unit was to prepare my students to function in the community.  This includes using public transportation, eating in a restaurant, and making purchases.  It is this last choice that we are going to talk about today.

In the student’s IEP, the goal may read “_______ will purchase an item in a store with no more than 2 verbal or visual prompts 85% of the time.”  Following the goal are objectives:  what has to happen in order to master the goal.  Obviously, students must choose an item, hand the cashier enough money, wait for their change.  All there is to it, right?  Um, NO.  Watch this:  When I purchase an item, ALL the following things take place.

1.  Select the item

2.  Get in line.

3.  Wait your turn.

4.  Greet the cashier when it’s your turn.

5.  Put your item(s) on the counter.

6.  Listen for your total.

7.  Hand the cashier the appropriate amount of money.

8.  Wait for the cashier to hand you your change, your receipt and your purchase.

9.  Thank the cashier.

10.  Get out of the way.

11.  Put away your change and receipt.

Who knew?  This process, which seems so routine for most of us, is fraught with land mines for our ADHD kids, our kids on the spectrum, our sensory processing disorder kids… Think about how you feel when the store is too hot, the line is too long, the guy ahead of you is making you batshit crazy.  Times that by 1000.  That’s our kids.  Look at all the skills we apply.  Turn taking.  Greeting appropriately.  Communication.  Math skills.  Decision making skills.  Every single step listed has to be pretaught, and mastered, in order for a successful experience.  Yes, our kids have watched us buy stuff. For most kids, that’s enough.  I never had to formally teach Shawn to buy stuff.  But Ryan…let me tell you about Friday.  Because even when you think its OK, you should expect the unexpected.

We stopped at the Valero for gas.  Approximately 0.5 seconds after I paid for the gas, Ryan says “I want apple juice.”  I looked around the store.  It was empty. The cashier was friendly. I had a couple dollar bills in my purse.  We’ve been working on parts of this.  Let ‘er rip, I thought.  It’ll be fine, I thought.  So I said “OK, Ryan, go get an apple juice.”  I watched, he returned with apple juice. #1 – 100% today.  I handed him $2, and said “go get in line”.  I moved off to the side to watch.  He went to the cashier.  #2 – 100%.  The house is rocking, right? Well, no.  Because then it broke down, and guess what, it’s my fault.  I made an assumption.  The cashier asked him for the juice.  Radio silence.  Ryan just looked at her. She tried again, reached her hand out ( perfect visual prompt).  He gave her the money.  She asked again for the juice, at which time I verbally prompted: “Ryan.  Give her the juice.” He did, but why was this a problem?  Well, we do a lot of our practice in the Bistro at Children’s.  In the Bistro at Children’s, they don’t scan the items.  Ryan never has to let go of his juice.  What about the grocery store?  Well, we have a cart.  Item goes from hand to cart, THEN to cashier.  It’s not in his hands at the register.  Small detail, but important distinction.

So now the cashier’s got the juice, she’s got the money.  I stand down a bit.  And then it happens.  I hear her say “Is that all for you today?”  I register it a second too late.  Ryan’s eyes flash around the store and land on the bin of basketballs.  And he says “No.  Wait.  I need a ball.” And he’s off.  And I’m off.  I’m closer, so I get between him and the basketballs.  Blessedly the store is still empty, so I can take the time to explain to him that he only has $2, we aren’t buying basketballs because he has 3, go back and get the juice.  He doesn’t move.  I give a choice…you can go back and get the juice or we can leave without it.  But he’s gearing up for battle.  I’m down at eye level, because WE ARE NOT GOING TO HAVE A MELTDOWN IN THIS STORE RIGHT NOW, RYAN!!  I’m looking for compliance:  “Ryan, answer me. Do you want your juice?”  “YES”.  Now a short, clear command:  “Go get your juice”.  Nothing happens.  I hold my line, my breath, my position. Absolutely silent. After 10 seconds or so, which he needed to process, he returns to the counter for his juice.  I follow, now I’m in his space, because we aren’t starting over.  The cashier hands him his juice, tries to give him his change, but he’s not paying attention, and now it’s on the floor, and customers are coming in.  Usually I have him pick up what he drops, particularly coins, because hey, good fine motor activity.  But he needs big praise for compliance, and he needs it RIGHT NOW, so I pick up the change, thank the cashier, and walk out telling him what a great job he did picking his juice, thanked him for making a good choice, high five him, put his dimes in his pocket to put in his Batman bank later.

The cashier stayed in her routine, which is important. Ryan answered the question with a perfectly appropriate answer, unlike at church when Daniel asks for joys and concerns and Ryan raises his hand and asks to pray for Rice Krispies.  The cashier doesn’t need to treat him differently.  They don’t need to be friends at the end.  She did exactly right.  Me, an expert in task analysis, I missed a couple land mines.  So we will practice a little more and then we will try it again.

It’s never “just” anything in our world.  What a lot of folks take for granted is a huge undertaking for us.  And for our kids.  I almost drove off without the gas (which I have been known to do with fewer distractions than I had today).  We avoided a meltdown, barely.  I gave it a 50% mastery in the end, given that the last part completely unraveled.

Be patient with each other, y’all, and be kind.  You just don’t know what each other’s lives look like.

A Little Bit of Ryan in My Life

I have been absent for awhile.  It has had to do with a number of things…moving, Ryan’s cancer, Shawn’s achievements, general busyness, a few depressing attempts to write, and the fact that I have not built up the audience I would like for this blog.  So I quit.  But I’m ready to start again.  We will see where it takes us.

Being the parent of a special needs child is difficult.  Being the parent of a child with a chronic life-threatening illness is difficult.  Being a single parent is difficult, and being a parent with anxiety, depression, PTSD and chronic pain is difficult.  Being all of the above at once…well, if there is a word to describe that, my picture will be under it.

I want to talk today about labels.  When someone asks me to describe Ryan, the first words out of my mouth usually have to do with either the Down Syndrome or the Leukemia.  If you ask the people in his life to describe him, they start out with a description of the child himself, minus the labels.  So I thought that today we could address why this happens.

It happens because parents of special needs children bear the brunt of the diagnoses.  We administer medication.  We sit in the doctor’s offices and hospitals.  We sit across the table form our child’s teachers and discuss our child’s disability and all the things they still can’t do.  We cart them to speech therapy and occupational therapy and counseling and physical therapy.  We push the wheelchair.  We feed through NG tubes.  We connect and disconnect IV lines.  We are entrenched.  Our daily lives revolve around our child’s needs. In my case, I can’t work, don’t have a social life, my only time with other adults is church or the hospital.

So when someone asks me about Ryan, I tell them the things that are second nature.  My answer might go like this:

Ryan is eleven.  He has Down Syndrome and Recurrent Leukemia.  His immune system is compromised, he has peripheral neuropathy and transfusional hemochromatosis and methotrexate induced leukoencephalopathy.  He has a substance induced (steroids being the substance) mood disorder and anxiety and ADHD.  By this time, the person who JUST WANTED AN IDEA OF WHAT TO GET RYAN FOR CHRISTMAS, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD , has tuned out.  Along with not knowing what 97% of those words mean, it wasn’t what they wanted to know anyway.

Instead, this is what I should be saying: Ryan is eleven.  He is the most loving child I have ever met.  He loves music and singing and dancing.  He loves to play basketball and soccer, and he is besotted with his dog.  He enjoys telling knock knock jokes and the fact that he has no idea what he is talking about just makes them funnier.  He likes to play animal sound guessing games when we are in the car for long periods of time.  He likes the Wiggles, Sesame Street, wrestling and Steve Harvey.  If you want a hug, he’s your guy.  Ryan blesses the lives of everyone he touches.

It’s hard for parents to see beyond the labels sometimes, hard to switch from just surviving to true enjoyment of all the wonderful things that make your child a treasure.

Don’t overlook that, y’all.  Don’t do what I do and present your child as simply a sum of diagnoses.  He or she is so, so much more than that!!!

 

 

 

“On the Other Side of Fear is Freedom”

As usual, before I dive in, I need to credit the title.  This quote is by Jenny Lawson, from her book “Furiously Happy”.

Earlier this year, a friend suggested I take Ryan to Camp Sunshine, which is a camp in Maine for children with life threatening illnesses.  It kind of sounded like fun, but Casco, Maine is over 1800 miles from home, and the thought of making that journey with Ryan was daunting, if not downright terrifying.  I would be going alone, and he is a runner, and I just could not see it happening.  Well, my friends encouraged me, hassled me, and basically browbeat me into sending in the application.  We were accepted, and all of a sudden I was filling out forms, faxing stuff and sorting through the travel arrangements Camp Sunshine had made for us.  As I waded through, I continued to worry, bugging people with questions, fussing about how afraid I was.  Well.  The morning,  (the very early morning…dark o’clock, to be exact), of July 17 got here, and Ryan and I found ourselves en route all the way across the country to Sebago Lake in Casco, Maine.  Ryan had the best time on the flight, absolutely loved the take-offs and landings (me, not so much…I whimpered audibly when the plane landed in Austin).  Once the flight was behind us and we were tucked in to our room, I took the time to be proud of myself for overcoming my fear of flying alone with Ryan.  All of the hoopla and drama was for nothing, we had made it and it was totally easy.

We got up Monday and headed for breakfast.  Well.  Not exactly.  BEFORE that happened, I had woken up to find Ryan gone.  Gone outside, out of the suite.  Woods right outside our door, a street, a lake, a pond…and not a single person outside.  As I started to search, he came up a small hill, so I didn’t really have time to freak.  I spoke to the front desk, and by lunch time they had found a way to Ryan-proof the room.  As well, he was assigned a 1:1 volunteer (Jessi), and Shannen, who was yet a second set of eyes, and the counselors, etc, had been alerted.  So we ate breakfast, and then I signed Ryan in to his day camp.  It was at this point that I would come face to face with my second fear of the trip.  I did not see it coming, and once I realized it, I couldn’t escape.  We had games.  Ice breaker, getting to know you kinds of games.  One involved getting in a circle and holding hands, and we had to pass a hula hoop around the circle without letting go.  All of a sudden I was in a circle with a stranger holding each of my hands, and I couldn’t let go.  I ended up just telling myself that I had just flown across the country with Ryan, I could DO this.  The next game involved putting masking tape on everybody’s nose and one person had to go around, basically bopping you on the nose, to collect all the masking tape.  Yeah.  A stranger was bopping my nose with hers.  And I didn’t melt, or whatever I thought might happen.  The other games didn’t involve touching anyone, but I felt empowered, and a day or 2 later, when I trailed behind a group on the Challenge Course, the very last activity of the day involved getting in a circle and everyone grabbed someone’s right hand with their right and someone’s left with their left, and then we had to untangle ourselves.  I joined this activity voluntarily.  Kinda gave up close and personal new meaning, but I was so thrilled with myself. So excited at having been able to participate.  On Wednesday, I decided to take Ryan out in a paddle boat. I was afraid of the kayaks, and just felt like the paddle boats would be a better option.  Ha.  I paddled by myself. His weight and mine, and not only did he not paddle, every time the pedals came towards him, he put out his foot to stop the motion.  By the time we got back, my knees were useless.  I tried to get out of the boat, lost my balance, and ended up crawling on to the dock, while the volunteer hauled Captain America (he wore his Captain America hoodie about 75% of the trip) out of the boat.  But Thursday afternoon I returned to the waterfront, determined to take on the kayak.  I had decided, somewhere along the way, that I did not want to go home and later think “Damn, I wish I had…..”.  Mostly I wanted to take that kayak out.  So I put on a life jacket (inside out…how the hell was I supposed to know?  We don’t wear life jackets daily here in the desert, and I don’t travel much), and approached the kayak.  The volunteer got ready to help me in, I put one foot in the blasted thing and down I went.  Banged up my knee good, but got in and settled, and rowed out on to the lake.  I spent an hour on the water, rowing, just floating, just enjoying the peace and quiet.  I love the water, love what it represents.  Finally I took it back in, managed to get out without falling on my face, and went back to the room.  I was so pleased with myself.  I had overcome so many obstacles, so many fears.  It is a great feeling when you realize you have conquered your fears! I conquered most of them, anyway…there were 2 Daddy Long Legs spiders on a tree on the challenge course that sent me running the other way, but that doesn’t count.

Along with all the activities, there were parent support group times.  I got to 3 of the 4 of them, and it was one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had.  I have Jenise here, and we do an awesome job holding each other up.  Online I have Brenda, Marie, Jen, Ann, Alicia, Leah, Laura, Beth, Jessica, and we also hold each other up.  But there is something about a roomful of parents all fighting for their child’s life.  We laughed.  We cried. We talked about the things that set us off.  About our triggers. About how we cope.  About our fears.  About how our other children are handling this.  We said things that someone else needed to hear, lifted each other up.  We talked about how our lives were derailed.  We talked about accepting help, and how so very hard that is.  And how very necessary it is. We talked about doctors who couldn’t figure things out,  and about the doctors that will hold our hearts and gratitude forever.  We described ourselves in terms of how we handle our child’s illness.  Boxes and boxes of Kleenex were passed around.  As we told our stories, either we cried or we touched someone’s heart and they cried.  A memory was triggered.  Almost everyone openly wept when they discussed diagnosis.  That still triggers me, and it was 8 years ago.  It never goes away.

There was a wealth of knowledge in that room.  We know more medical stuff than we ever wanted to know.  Some people were medical parents even before they were cancer parents.  There were 3 families, including us, with kids with Down Syndrome.  I connected with them, and we will stay in touch.

I came home renewed, revitalized.  Less afraid.  More empowered.  Ready to pick up the sword and battle on.  Camp Sunshine IS a magical place.  I am so glad we went.  I am changed, for the better.  I am part of a community now, a community that gets it.  It sucks that any of us have to be in this club, but  since we are, I am grateful beyond words to have been a part of this past week, and I look forward to returning, without fear.

I am going to attempt to insert the pic of me in the kayak.  I may be braver, but not much smarter.

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Look!  It’s me!!!  What a spectacular week.