It’s the beginning of a new era for the Hoopes Family. Our lives are filled with packing, cleaning and painting right now. Why? Well, because as of Monday, we own a new house. It’s about 20 minutes north of here in a quiet little neighborhood.
I can’t remember if, when I was writing about Patrick’s tonsils, I also wrote about his name having come up in the lottery for a special needs charter school. I was so buried in tonsillectomy recovery with my husband out of town that all I could think to do that week was complete the required paperwork.
Well, things settled down a bit and we decided we’d better figure out what needed to be done to know if we wanted Patrick to attend that school. I’ll be honest, my first impression was that I didn’t want to give up all of the great things I had going on right then and didn’t see any reason at all to move.
BUT I did follow through by setting up some school tours and meetings with the school principal. And, well, given the length of the drive (and the added complication of having to use the freeway for the commute,) I decided to look around the neighborhood in case Patrick did great at the school and we wanted to consider living closer.
Well, from that moment on, we just couldn’t seem to leave the investigation alone. A house caught our eye, we looked it up. Found flaws. Then another appeared. I couldn’t stop thinking about it so I drove out to see it. It wasn’t right. Nor was another. And we didn’t really think we were house shopping. Just getting to know the neighborhood.
Until… Brian spotted one nearby but NOT in the neighborhood we were looking at. We did a walk through and as we talked about it we could see so many great things for Patrick’s future in that house. A quieter neighborhood, proximity to parks, proximity to a great school, space for a bedroom downstairs and away from us when he gets older.. and the list went on and on. As we talked, I was filled with this sense of total peace.
So before we found an answer about the school and just 2 weeks after even discussing the possibility of moving, we put an offer on a house.
The rest has fallen into place very quickly. Through a ton of quick work, we cleaned up our house, did some staging, held and open house. And found a buyer. In fact, not just a buyer but one we’re really excited about selling the house to so we don’t feel quite as guilty for leaving. The financing came through in record time. The sale came through without a hitch.
And so by the end of this week, we’ll be moving. I’m not ready. It’s gone SO fast! And I’ve got just this week (one Brian’s working evenings in, even) to repaint the entire basement, finish packing, be present during Patrick’s last 2 weeks of school, tie up loose ends with PTA and church.. and be ready for the movers to come on Monday.
I am exhausted and I hurt everywhere. And there is so much still to do.
That brings me to another new thing in our family. Mostly, another new thing for me. Remember that post a few months back where I said that I just kept developing tendonitis everywhere as I tried to get in shape? And did I mention as I wrote about Patrick having EBV that we think I had it too?
I know I didn’t mention that at the end of November one morning I woke up and I just couldn’t walk. My knees were swollen and unsteady and it felt like I was ice skating. It took about 4 weeks to finally get to the point of doing cortisone injections which restored function pretty immediately. Except that things weren’t quite right. Not in my knees. Or my wrists or my elbows.
Well I finally got enough of a moment of quiet to go to the doctor who said, no, none of that is normal results of going from inactive to active. She ordered several blood tests looking for autoimmune diseases and other things.
And, well, one came back positive.
As it turns out, I have rheumatoid arthritis.
Our theory is that it was kind of there latently.. but when I started to exercise it brought it to the surface. And then, when I got sick (possibly with EBV) it triggered the auto-immune response.
RA is a lifelong, chronic illness with some pretty scary possible outcomes if left untreated.
The good news is, it’s one of the ones they are having success in treating. And we caught this quite early, we think.
So with immune suppressants, my new doctor thinks that he’ll be able to put the disease into remission and really minimize it’s effects.
It’s scary. The drug I am on is some very serious stuff. I’m now scheduled to have labs and follow up visits as often as Patrick is. This is a HUGE life change.
On the other hand, I’ve only given myself just one shot of the new medicine and it gave me 3 wonderful days with very little pain. The doctor said that in about 3 weeks it may be built up enough in my system to be considered remission. And it’s great to know that this hasn’t been all in my head, or because I was out of shape, or wimpy, or bad at taking care of myself.
And I’m thankfully so very busy with the move that I can’t really think too much about it right now.
It’s been such a whirlwind that it’s kept me, in part, from thinking too much about all the things that we’re leaving behind. I did lie awake fretting about that a lot at first. We really do have a beautiful home with wonderful neighbors. I’m going to miss my kitchen, my gardens, just being in the neighborhood of my family.. and most of all, I’m going to really miss my friends.
The only thing getting us through is this amazing peace that I feel whenever I drive out to our new home. The Lord is providing that in ample doses. And I know it’s where Patrick and we belong.
This morning, I got a concerned Facebook message from a woman I’ve never met, but who knows one of my friends and apparently has been following this blog. I haven’t been writing. She was concerned.
To all of you, friends, acquaintances, and family, especially those who have relied on this blog for updates.. can I say I’m sorry? This has been a growing year for me personally and I haven’t been writing because I’ve been busy with a lot of things.
The short version is this (and I really need to devote a post to this topic)… I went to a doctor in December and learned that 8 years of full-time caregiving and saying “I can’t take more care of myself. I’m taking care of my family” kind of all came together into one disaster for my health. I discovered I had high blood pressure, overweight, out of shape, one seriously messed up knee, and was borderline prediabetic.
This may sound like bad news, but really, for a long time I put myself last. And this was just the nudge I needed to recognize that if I wanted to continue to be the kind of mom I wanted to be, some things needed to change. So I started working with doctors and a physical therapist. I got a gym membership. I started tracking what I ate. I got started meds for blood pressure. I pushed for asthma testing, got diagnosed, and started taking medications to bring that and allergies in control. I discovered kinesiology tape tape. I kept up with regular counseling because this was a serious blow to my ego and I had a month where I tangoed a bit with anxiety and depression. I gave myself tennis elbow. And tendonitis in several other ways as well. I adopted the motto “Pain is temporary. Quitting is forever.”
And after a fair amount of time and effort, I’m happy to say that I’m making some progress. I’ve lost some weight (more still to go) and kept it off. Most of those health issues are considered well managed. I’ve been hiking and biking and swimming and playing on the trampoline with my family in ways I haven’t been able to in a very long time.
But learning to take better care of myself has been a learning curve and it often didn’t leave me much other time.
Meanwhile, though… life went on. And in the short version, here are a few of the highlights.
We went to Disneyland. Because we are seriously addicted. It was spring break and far too busy and I’m not sure I’ll ever choose to go during spring break again. Highlight of the trip for Patrick was meeting Doc McStuffins. Though he pointed out to us that she was too big. And couldn’t talk. Highlights for the grownups: We went on a foodie adventure and tried several secret menu options. Mac and Cheese in a breadbowl proved too big for any of us to eat. But the cinnamon roll at the Starbucks inside of California Adventure was delightful! And the World of Color Dessert Party was more than worth it.
We tagged along with Daddy on a business trip to St. George. We surprised Patrick by taking him to visit Pioneer Park, a state park full of Utah’s trademark red rock formations. He was upset the park didn’t have a playground. Then he surprised us by absolutely loving climbing the rocks.
We discovered and signed Patrick up for an adaptive baseball team. In adaptive baseball everyone fields, hits and runs. You can use a tee or they’ll pitch to you until you hit the ball. There are no strikes. There are no outs. You play at least 2 innings per team. More if you’re having fun. Or you can quit early if everyone is cold or tired. Everyone cheers for everyone. It is, perhaps, my favorite form of baseball ever. Patrick loved his uniform and his coaches and his teammates. He hated fielding, but kind of liked tracing letters in the dirt. He tried to learn to throw the ball in fancy ways and ended up with a crazy windup the always landed the ball behind him. He got a little bit better at hitting off the tee. And then, like nothing.. the season was over. We had a great time. And will certainly be back next year.
Patrick wrapped up 2nd grade with a fair amount of success… stronger in reading and finally making progress in math. He had an amazing 1:1 para for the 2nd half of the year when his previous aide got promoted. She brought out the best in him for sure.
The bishop went on vacation for a month, leaving Brian in charge. That was a fun adventure. Patrick helped housesit there and also for another neighbor.. and we learned that he is a REALLY good housesitter. He’s not quite tall enough to get all the mail from the mailbox. And he isn’t strong enough to pull a hose around. But…He NEVER forgets that we need to pick up the mail or water the lawn. And he’s not afraid to ask for help. He earned a little bit of money doing it and used it to buy some toy cars and a fidget spinner.
Our ABA provider completely and totally screwed us up. We’d assumed that Patrick could get into their treatment center for summer services, then were told he couldn’t, then were told he could. And then, after a lot of back and forth and spotty service for the first month of summer, finally provided us with the right medical forms. Only to read them over and decide they didn’t want that liability. So I ended up with a lot of unexpected 1 on 1 time with Patrick. We got a museum pass and did our usual tour of museums and zoos, etc. We played with kiwi crates. We worked in dollar store workbooks. We practiced some educational computer games a lot. We got through, but it was a pretty messy and disorganized start.
I signed Patrick up for adaptive swim lessons. With no central line, this is now a possibility, and Patrick really needed somewhere to go and some help with his fear of water. His mom really needed a way to keep exercising and a minute of respite. Thankfully, he had an amazing teacher who was totally fine with me swimming laps while she taught him. And he got brave enough by the end of the summer to float, dunk his head under the water, blow bubbles.. and he was working on learning how to move his arms to swim.
Also, as a summer highlight… we bought a pass to the local amusement park, Lagoon, and Patrick and I spent several days up there over the summer. They would totally burn him out. We’d leave with him starving. He’d down an entire Arby’s kids meal on the drive home and then fall asleep for hours. He loves the rollercoaster, the small ones. He loved riding kid rides without me. He loves bumper cars. Or any cars really.
Our motto of the summer was “I can do it myself” and Patrick did make some great progress in learning to heat up simple foods in the microwave, get the mail, water the lawn, play in the neighborhood, fold his own laundry, clean up after himself, write more neatly and on and on. He grew a lot!
Oh, and one other summer highlight. Thanks to our awesome respite provider who is a teacher and had extra time because it was summer, Brian and I took a weekend getaway to San Diego. Just because. We slept in every morning. Played tourist and foodies. Even pulled of tickets to a baseball game. 3rd row on the 3rd base line.
And then, in fall:
Patrick started 3rd grade. He’s now the old kid in his class. I think the 2nd oldest by 3 days, if I remember right. They had a bunch of 1st graders start this year. Half the class is tiny. Half the class is big like Patrick. He’s not used to being the big kid and the first couple of weeks he would just reach a breaking point shortly after school, yell, throw, and then collapse in tears at the frustration of having to hold it together and watch out for the little ones.
His amazing aide got a great job offer a week before school started. That didn’t really help things. The first week, I tagged along and helped at lunch at the school. (And especially the first day when they had a class full of brand new kids and an eclipse viewing party to try to pull off safely.) By the 2nd week ,they had hired a new aide. And she’s really been kind of amazing for him. She’s older that his other paras have been. Which is kind of nice in that she’s not as afraid of getting in trouble for advocating for him. She’s really been quite kind and attentive and helpful. And she has really taken to the task of helping his eating. She asked for a menu of what he could purchase at lunch and has him buying and eating boxed ham and turkey sandwiches on wheat bread. He ate a whole banana for him a couple of days ago! This is perfectly timed as a summer of swimming caused some weight loss and the dietitian wasn’t exactly happy with me for it.
Also, I started a new role as PTA treasurer. This has been a much bigger and busier job than I imagined. But it’s also been good for me in a new world of not always putting myself last. I mentioned to Patrick’s teacher that I used to do bookkeeping. She looked at me and and said, “You used to do a lot of things.” And she’s right. I did. I had a lot of years single and then more years married without kids. And I did a lot of things. Now that Patrick’s health is better, it’s fun to be doing some of those things again.
I’ve kind of dived in full-time as a volunteer. PTA (which is settling down now that we are past the start of the year a little.) Still volunteering with reading groups. Primary music in the children’s sunday school at church. And in this past month, I’ve been asked to be Patrick’s cub scout leader. That’s another thing that happened this fall. Patrick earned his wolf rank. So he moved into the bear den a month early with me. We’ve done neighborhood cleanup with garden tools, woodworking, and pocket knives so far. Wednesdays are crazy. But I love being a scout.
Patrick’s settling in at school. Reading 100 words a minute. That’s not counting the random words he’s picked up from his scripture study. Like abominations (pronounced “abominable nations” by him.)
I threw a fit and got all new ABA providers and that has helped a great deal. I feel like he’s making progress on most of our goals there. He wrapped up an OT session and is diving into PT again with focus on learning how to throw, catch, bounce and dribble a ball. So far, his schoolwork is almost all review and far too easy. And he’s really becoming quite grown up and and helpful around home. I love hearing his thoughts.
Anxiety has been bad for him of late. He started stuttering over the summer when he’s nervous about what he’s saying. So far everyone tells me not to worry and he’ll outgrow it. His fear of rims without hubcaps has reached a peak and I sometimes have a hard time helping him be brave enough to walk past school buses at the end of the day.
I’m hoping it’s just the start of school and the difficult memories fall weather can bring.
We’re headed for his 3rd annual post-transplant checkup in a few weeks and I’ll try to update on that soon.
And in the meantime… well of course we had to go back to Disneyland last week. This time’s highlight? Brian went to Disney Institute, a leadership training workshop.. for work. We got to stay in the Grand California hotel. Which mean walking out of our hotel straight into either downtown Disney or California Adventure. It was a treat to just return to the room if we forgot something or were tired. Also, as Patrick just discovered a love for the Toy Story movies, and since Brian was travelling ahead, we sent a Buzz and a Woody doll ahead with daddy that were waiting in the room when we arrived. Patrick had a happy little Toy Story binge in Disneyland.
Patrick has entered a new phase for rides. While he still loves his roller coasters and the Small World.. he also discovered the storybook rides. Peter Pan. Mr Toad’s Wild Ride. Pinocchio. That he couldn’t stand before. We discovered this at the end of our last day, alas. But it means some different experiences next time I’m sure. Also of note, we made him ride Splash Mountain. (He loves the log flume at the park near home.) That was a little scary. But we all survived.
Anyway, dear Laura… and our other family, friends and followers who have wondered where we went this past year and what we were doing.. that is what is happening. I haven’t been this busy since before we adopted Patrick. I’m not used to it. I’m used to surviving and being trapped in a hospital or at home by health issues. I’m not used to meeting deadlines and being places when I promise. I’m used to having to always cancel plans, not making and keeping them.
Hopefully I’ll get better at this with time. But for now, just know that we are ok. And if I’m not finding time to sit down and write, it means that we’re not quarantined, not in a waiting room, not hospitalized. We’re out and living. And we’re not very efficient at it yet.
It’s been 3 months since I last wrote. 3 months since Patrick’s one-year transplant anniversary. 3 very busy, full and blessed months. And I have kept meaning to write but it was all just going by so quickly, so busily, so trying-to-keep-us-moving-forwardly that I haven’t. Since I’m catching you up, this could be a long one.
This time last year, Patrick was finally showing improvements after a very terrifying battle with “the stomach flu,” also known as norovirus.. something I will never take for granted again. And I wasn’t telling any of you, but the doctors in their morning rounds were talking about how, if Patrick was able to start to tolerate feeds again, they didn’t have any transplant-related reasons for keeping him in Nebraska. We didn’t believe them. We didn’t even dare hope it. And yet, two weeks later on Valentine’s weekend, they sent us home.
In the three and a half months between Halloween and Valentine’s Day, Patrick made such amazing strides. He proved to us that miracles do happen.
And this year, he has done it again. He has come SO far in the past 3 and a half months.
November was challenging. We had a wonderful birthday trip to Disneyland that I have great intentions of sharing with you later. We started out sentimental about transplant. But honestly, after about half a day of the celebration we were ready to start celebrating not where we’d been but where we were going. And so, celebrating his birthday was extra sweet and the beginning of some amazing new things.
When we left on the trip, Patrick was struggling with the transition to school and with potty training especially. I was spending my afternoons at the school trying to find a way to help him through his anxiety. That was a theme of November. Visiting the school and trying to help him to not be afraid and to mediate a peace between him and his aide as they were locked in a battle of wills over the issue.
And then, like that, he succeeded. And we threw a bit of a party for him. We literally danced right then and there. And then another day I was late and when I got there, he didn’t need me after all and I snuck away without him knowing I’d come. And slowly I was able to slip away.
However, with that battle of wills over, Patrick shifted his battle to be more directed at his aide. We started to have big behavioral problems with him at school. One morning, Patrick was avoiding getting ready for school and then he broke down and he cried. He crawled up in my lap and he told me how discourage he was there. And I didn’t know how to help him and I cried, too.
And after two miserable weeks, Patrick’s monthly bloodwork revealed that his Prograf levels were sky high. No wonder he wasn’t happy! He was always grumpy and angry and uncooperative when his levels were so high. So we adjusted the dose and the next day he was back to himself again.
And I did some research and some talking to doctors and some praying and realized that when we’d discontinued Patrick’s tube feeds at the beginning of November, he’d started to take his evening meds on an empty stomach.
It was a big ah-hah! So at an appointment with his GI, where we already were talking about how to push more calories because he was starting to lose weight, we decided to give Patrick a glass of Carnation Instant Breakfast, a.k.a. “chocolate milk” at bedtime. And his levels came back down and you could tell he was feeling better.
Well, except that he had gotten into a habit of butting heads with his aide. I started having the teacher send home reports of Patrick’s behavior each day. With meds right, most days were better. But we still had some iffy days. And I started bribing Patrick with vanilla tootsie rolls to stay out of trouble at school.
I don’t know if that was why. She doesn’t say it was. But at Christmas break, Patrick’s aide quit and a new aide was hired. The new girl working with Patrick is young, but has a gentler touch and they seem to be getting along. Patrick has gotten a tootsie roll every day since she started. And since they have no potty training history, that problem is a distant memory.
In fact, we’ve shifted from regular accidents to waiting to let Patrick go to the bathroom. We were terrified that dairy was going to be bad for Patrick’s gut. It can be for other intestinal transplant patients. We were really told he’d never be allowed milk. But instead, since adding cheese (Patrick’s absolute favorite food to the exclusion of all other foods), Patrick’s gut has adapted better than we ever imagined.
It’s been a little bit of a difficult transition for Patrick. To go from chronic diarrhea to not. To have his belly feel full in the mornings. He wasn’t much of a breakfast eater before. But now some days it takes a lot of coaxing and imagination and bribery to get him to eat and allow his belly to wake up in the morning. He still does not love going to the potty. And we are often late in the morning as a result.
The biggest problem with this new problem is that it isn’t good for Patrick to refuse to eat. He has lost weight constantly since tube feeds were stopped. At first, it was a lot. He lost very quickly. We’ve been adding calories everywhere we can. Extra butter. Lots of cheese. (Lots, and lots…like 10-servings-a-day-lots). Switching to whole milk which is offered with every meal and also at bedtime. Allowing him to snack from the moment he comes home until an hour before dinner and then to snack again till bedtime, when I offer a “second dinner” if he wants it. I’ve tried “bolusing” extra calories when he refuses to eat. That means, using a syringe and gravity to give milk through the g-tube. But some days his belly is so full that it literally won’t flow in.
Some of the problem is oral aversion. With so many hours a day at school, I can’t really afford using dinners too much to teach Patrick to eat new foods and his repertoire of safe, familiar foods is very limited.
But some of the problem is just anatomy. I’m not sure we can afford to fit many more calories into his waking hours. If he doesn’t at least maintain his weight this month, we may have to go back to some tube feeding.
But that is the medical news. It’s what is turning my hairs grey and giving me wrinkles. But it’s only part of the story.
We had a wonderful Christmas. I feel so blessed to have had a quiet Christmas at home. We bought Patrick his first two-wheeler bike. He took to it immediately and, even with snow on the ground EVERY DAY since the week before Christmas, he has been riding it regularly. We took him out once or twice a day during Christmas break. Because he’s big enough for a 20 inch wheel, you have to jog to keep up with him. (Once we lose the ice, I’ll start riding along-side instead.)
But after a couple of weeks, he fell. It took a couple of times that he was terrified and refusing to ride before we realized that one training wheel was slightly loose and he didn’t feel as steady. So daddy tightened up the training wheel and we told him that he just needed his helmet and he’d feel brave again. That helmet is working like Dumbo’s feather. With it, though he’s not quite as fearless as he was at first, he’s back to flying around the neighborhood everytime the sidewalks are clear enough.
Another big thing that happened in December is that we got Patrick into a psychiatrist. Patrick’s been seeing a psychologist for a few years now. But a psychologist can’t write prescriptions. So, after much discussion and after seeing that Patrick was becoming medically stable enough, we decided it was time to try medication for his ADHD again. Stimulants like ritalin still aren’t an option. Not with their major side effect being appetite suppression. But his doctor suggested a drug called “Clonidine” for impulse control. It’s also used to treat high blood pressure, drug withdrawal, and anxiety. And the transplant team felt that it was an absolutely safe choice to start with. So Patrick’s therapist called a colleague and told him exactly what she wanted him to prescribe.
In December we started giving Patrick a “crumb” of clonidine before and after school. The change was profound. He started to be able to sit through some of church. He started to be able to stay focused on a game or toy that interested him. He calmed down at school. He didn’t have to be reminded to pay attention to his homework. The difference was night and day.
Of course, it also decreased his blood pressure which made him so tired that he started to fall asleep by 6 p.m. So we had to adjust dosing times a little bit. Now he takes one quarter pill in the morning when he’s well-rested and it carries him through the school day. When I pick him up, he’s starting to get a bit “bouncy” and we let him stay that way. Afternoons are free play time in our house now so that he doesn’t get in trouble for the extra trouble with impulse control as easily. And then at dinner, he takes his second pill. It makes it so he can get through his homework in half an hour instead of 1 or 2 hours or more. And then he starts to get sleepy just on time for bed. And as long as he takes a nap to catch up on sleep on Saturday, this mostly work ok.
Feeling calmer, Patrick’s finally able to get back into more of the kid things that he has loved to do but couldn’t stick with before.
Our church schedule changed from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. to 9 a.m. to noon. Since this is his very best time of day, and because he’s not distracted by being hungry, he’s able to go to his primary (children’s sunday school) class with an adult helper. (Who is amazing for him.) And then instead of hanging out at the back of the room oblivious to what is going on, he’s sitting with his class and much more engaged in learning.
They gave a challenge to the kids to memorize a verse of scripture last month. So I put a key portion of it on a piece of paper and he read it every day until he could recite it by memory. Then last week, he stood up and recited it in front of the other kids. He was SO proud of himself!
His reading is coming along. So is math. They’ve been teaching him how to use touch math for addition and he’s catching on and starting to believe me when I tell him, “You can be really good at math.” His writing is improving enough that he is handwriting most of his assignments. This can still be frustrating for him sometimes. And he still has a ways to go. But it’s getting better.
With his focus so much better, though, I can see how much memory still gets in his way. He really truly just forgets things. Especially names. PLEASE BE KIND if he asks you your name, even though he’s known you for his entire life and should be able to remember it. I’m beginning to believe that this is a trait of his brain injury. He still misses numbers when he’s counting. He still gets stumped on words I know he knows when he’s reading. And I think it’s a problem with recall that he can’t help.
That makes it all the more amazing that he’s succeeding at memorizing scripture. We’ve picked two more to work on this month. There are some very amazing and specific promises related to scripture study. Especially study of the Book of Mormon. And I have seen that EVERY time that we have used scripture to help Patrick work on a goal that we believe might be impossible because of his injury, I have seen him meet and exceed those goals. Those promises from the Lord are real and can work miracles.
Anyway – I have a lot more to catch you up on. And we have a lot of new milestones ahead of us this month. And so I’m going to end this lengthy post here for now with the hope that I’ll be able to fill in more later.
We are grateful to those of you who have helped us through these last few months. It is not easy to learn to eat, potty, read, write, add, attend school, attend church, make friends, control your temper, and pay attention all at once. I know I couldn’t teach it all myself. So thanks to those who’ve been there to help. And to listen and offer counsel when I’ve been discouraged.
Thanks to transplant, we have a lot of living and learning ahead of us. More than we hoped could be possible. And this has been a big growing season for us as we’ve come to realize that there is a path that lies ahead, and we have begun to try to learn to navigate it.
This parenthood thing.. it’s a lot harder than I ever imagined. It’s forcing me to become a better person than I knew I needed to become.
So extended school year isn’t really a very full-time summer school option. It’s 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off. So for the past week, Patrick’s been having a mini summer vacation.
We started off it grand fashion. He has really done well in his new summer school classroom. The kids are much more on his level and I feel like he’s making good progress there. The education is focused on maintaining and, at least in the realms of social skills and keeping a routine, it’s going a long way.
The last day before the break, Patrick had his first turn in the school swimming pool. They invited me to come help, just because he has so little experience in the pool. I’m so glad they did! When I got there, he was already dressed for the pool and waiting for me. I’m used to a little boy who is very cautious in the water. I guess he was watching out for his line, because Patrick was NOT afraid. At all. He was extremely brave. I helped him float and worked on teaching him to hold his breath or blow out if his face got in the water. We got him a floating vest and at one point, I turned my back, and he decided to go on his own. I’ll never erase the memory of him laughing as he rolled over and over again in the water.. trying not to inhale.
I’ve been in a better summer mood this week. I finally made Patrick’s 6th birthday video, 6 months late, as a father’s day gift for Brian. You can view it here. I’ve put it off because it was too hard to look at the life we’d left behind when Patrick went for transplant while he was still recovering. I thought I was in a better place. I was. It was therapeutic. It was also still hard. It made me miss last year’s summer school adventures. It made me miss him having friends. And it made me miss the days before steroids where disappointments didn’t lead to big temper tantrums, leaving me fearful of doing some things. I actually had nightmares all the time I was working on the video.
But, with it done, I was ready to dive in and make this a good summer, too. I’m still not as organized and awesome as Mommy school. But we’ve done some good things. We had a picnic at Red Butte Garden. We took a cousin and visited the children’s museum. (Called and asked for suggestions of a less-crowded time to visit and enjoyed being there without fighting a crowd.) We’ve toured a few different libraries. We finally started collecting brag badges. We mixed up our lunch routine and went to Liberty Park where we started out just eating hot dogs, but stumbled across their wading fountains and ended up staying 3 hours just because.
It was triple-digit heat all last week so I decided that, with the success in the school pool, it would be a good time to get out the backyard swimming pool. This went better than I expected. First, the neighbor’s 10-year-old who often comes to play and help me with Patrick, helped me fill up the pool and taught Patrick how to play in it. I tried putting sunscreen on my own back with spray sunscreen. I haven’t been that burned in years.
The next day, we invited the boy across the street to come play. This was much more on Patrick’s level of play and they had a great time together. This little boy only just barely became a big brother, so there was lots of coaching for both of them about how to play together. But they had successful pool noodle sword-fighting, basketball, water fighting, and general splashing. In the end, I had to call it done because it was well past lunchtime, but neither boy wanted to be done.
Patrick actually spent the rest of that day in the pool, too. He is loving being uninhibited in the water. I love being able to share something I love so much with him.
Alas, though, nothing is perfect. I accidentally pulled Patrick’s g-tube out the day before his first time swimming and it bled a little. We have had off and on g-tube infections since and I’m sure that it’s from spending so much time in the water. Thank goodness it’s supposed to be a cooler, rainy week so I can get away with taking a few days off to let it heal.
The other big event of a summer break is that I decided it was time to work on potty training. I took Patrick to K-mart and let him pick out a pair of big boy underwear the last day of summer school. The next day, I woke up with a migraine, but he was excited to wear them. So we plunged ahead.
He made it through all 5 pairs of underwear in 2 hours, trying his best to “hold it” in between small accidents. I gave him lots of goldfish crackers and praise and did my best to keep things fun and happy. But he was still discouraged. The session ended puddles and a frustrated little boy. I’m pleased to report his mommy stayed calm and positive.
The next day, when I pulled out his underwear, he cried and threw a tantrum that he didn’t want them. But I reminded him it was only for the morning and that there were prizes waiting. After several tries, he finally went in the potty and earned the water gun I’ve been dangling as a carrot for months. The light went on and the next day, he made it several times, staying dry for half the day.
We took the weekend off, and then started again on Monday. I think he’s actually getting the hang of this. We still aren’t accident free and today is the first day I’m trying underwear all day. I don’t know how it will go to have them trying to potty train when he goes back to school next week. I still haven’t tried using a potty away from home. We might need the next long break to solidify what he’s learned. But so far, things are going better than I expected. Now if only I can convince him that this is the better option for him.
(Note: I know this is a long gap without pictures. But I am trying to not post pictures my son will find embarrassing someday when his girlfriend finds this old blog.)
We had a simple 4th of July. The evening was spent at a barbecue with my family. We’d decided to not push Patrick’s limits this year by participating in my family’s huge fireworks. Turns out, that was a convenient choice as it started to rain right after we ate. We left in a downpour but made it home with just a little sprinkling, so we decided to go ahead with our smaller fireworks. (We bought a small pack of fireworks, plus a couple of fountains specifically labeled “silent” so he wouldn’t be scared by the noise.) Who’d have expected, after years of miserable 4th’s and Patrick terrified of fireworks that, on this smaller scale, Patrick would be in love with fireworks. We had to stop and go inside for half an hour because of rain, but when it let up we went out and lit more. He was very upset when he found out we only bought enough for one night.
The rest of the day was simple. Brian hosted a barbecue for his team at work Monday so we spent most of the weekend deep cleaning the house and prettying up the yard. It feels really good to finally have cleaned up some of those messy corners and piles that have been haunting me for being undone since we got home in February. And I caught a clearance sale at the greenhouse down the street. So I got 3 healthy cucumber plants and two basil for free, some adorable patio pumpkins, eggplants, and yellow zucchini as well as a 3 pack of bell peppers for virtually nothing.
Then, we went back later for some miniature sunflowers to fill in the front bed where our irises grow in spring. Brian wanted to plant giant sunflowers from seed earlier this year. We planted a seed in a family home evening lesson about faith. They are as tall as me now. So tying in little sunflowers in the front yard seemed the perfect touch. I’m in love with my sunflowers this year.
One of the remarkable characteristics of young wild sunflowers, in addition to growing in soil that is not hospitable, is how the young flower bud follows the sun across the sky. In doing so, it receives life-sustaining energy before bursting forth in its glorious yellow color.
Like the young sunflower, when we follow the Savior of the world, the Son of God, we flourish and become glorious despite the many terrible circumstances that surround us. He truly is our light and life.
We’re plugging away. The stress of having Patrick will me full-time when paired with the Brian’s very busy summer planning handcart pioneer trek reenactment for the teenagers in our church has me running a little ragged. I’ll be honest, when paired with facing my feelings about what we’ve lost, I’ve had more trouble with anxiety and depression lately. So looking to sunflowers as a symbol and reminder of life-sustaining faith and hope, even in the midst of a week where popular voices are calling it old-fashioned, hypocritical, and even bigoted to believe in Christ.. that is helping to lift me up. My sunflower plants really do turn and follow the sun all day. I see them every time I come and go from my house. And each time I do, I remember that it is worth following light, even before flowers bloom. That little seed of faith we planted is as tall as I am and growing more, so long as it follows the light.
One more week of summer awesomeness ahead. This week, we’ll resume our mommy school studies, try to earn a brag badge a day, wear underwear all day, and try to get daddy ready for Trek.
I find I procrastinate blogging when I am having a hard time processing something emotionally. I’m finding this subject hard to write about. This past week hard to write about. And I was kind of relieved by a brief outage in the blog that made it so I couldn’t write. But if I don’t get this down soon, then I won’t get past it to the things you want to know about. So here goes.
I’m behind in blogging and, given how much has happened, have decided to do some belated day-by-day catch-up. So in this post, you’ll be travelling back with me to June 3. The day of Patrick’s school transition meeting.
Actually, let’s back up to the day before it. On June 2, I took Patrick for his end-of-year kindergarten assessment. We got delayed leaving because it was also lab day and so we arrived with breakfast still in hand because we’d just made it. That’s ok. Patrick tests better when he’s eating.
I sat in the corner and read scriptures on my phone and half-listened. I actually feel like the test was pretty representative and that he did pretty well. It also pointed out to me how much he still struggles. He aced letters and letter sounds, starting sounds of words, and read a few sight words. When asked to write words, well, first he is only identifying parts of words. Second, writing is one of those things that his brain injury makes hard. His teacher pushed him to write starting sounds, which I was pleased with. And he showed her that he still knows pretty well. He struggled a bit with sounding out words, too. His speech delays get in the way there sometimes. But I thought he did pretty well, for him. He counted to 26, though he almost forgot 16. He counted 20 objects. And then he avoided the other math questions.
It felt like a pretty good representation of his abilities as I listened. And when it was done, his teacher kind of talked through the results with me. As expected, he’s better with literacy than math and writing is a big obstacle. She told me that she was worried that he was not going to do well in a writing-focused first grade classroom and I started to fear that I might need to think differently about what I was going to ask for in the placement meeting the next day.
Like I wrote before, the week before the nurse had given me a heads up that Patrick no longer qualifies for medical hub services and so he’d need a special exception to attend Whittier. That was my preference, though I wondered if there might be other better options I didn’t know about. I knew I didn’t think he wouldn’t do well in a typical first grade classroom in a school without support. He is so far behind the rest of the kids in his kindergarten class after this year.
So, Wednesday morning rolled around. We were combining getting ready for our trip to Nebraska that evening with getting ready for this meeting. Brian tried to sneak in a work call and it seemed that we were going to be quite late. How we managed to find time to still go pick up Dunkin’ Donuts I don’t know. But I do know that I was on the brink of a panic attack when I’d imagined doing that and then didn’t think we could. I’m not so good with change.
Anyway, we dropped Patrick with my mom and then met with the team. At first, we went over Patrick’s current abilities. Strengths and weaknesses. Learning style. Kind of went around the table and his teachers and therapists talked about what he’d accomplished in the past month and where he still needs to go.
And then it was time to let the district representative go over placement options. She offered 3: 1) Repeating kindergarten, 2) A regular first-grade classroom with an aide, and 3) a self-contained classroom called a functional academic classroom.
We’ve talked about repeating kindergarten for quite some time now. When we got home from Nebraska, it seemed inevitable. But Patrick has made a lot of progress and he’s already one of the oldest in his class and this just didn’t seem like the right choice for him.
Then the principal explained why she didn’t think a regular classroom with an aide was a good placement choice. (Please note: the principal at Whittier is one of the kindest, most concerned administrators I’ve ever met. So when she shared this, it was full of empathy and a sincere thought in Patrick’s best interest.) She expressed concern that Patrick would get frustrated with being so far behind his peers. That he’d need a lot of pull-out time. And that having an aide hovering would feel limiting and restrictive to him. Patrick’s teacher had pointed out to me that he often stopped and tried to get her to give him answers or help in his test because he is so used to it.
Then they told us about the functional academic classroom. How it provided a smaller class size and lots more adult support so they can accommodate different learning styles. How the school is closer to our home. How it used to be a medical hub, too, so the environment there is accepting and inclusive. How amazing the teacher is. How they have often sent students there to see them thrive. How some of the IEP team also works there so we would have some familiar faces willing to advocate for him.
We also talked about placement at the school by our house. They gave me lots of pros to that, as well, but I knew it wasn’t right. That he’s not ready for that.
I knew as they talked about the other classroom that they were describing what will probably be the best place for him to learn. They reassured me that being pulled out in a self-contained classroom doesn’t have to be a long-term thing. That he might only need a couple of years to make up for what he’s missed.
But then, I started to imagine Patrick and the little friends in his classroom who have loved him so sincerely. How their faces light up when they see him. How they hold hands on the playground. And I started to cry. I HATE that I cry. But, as much as I know that academically this classroom will help him, I don’t want to see him lose that acceptance and friendship. And it is a total leap of faith. (One I am having a hard time making.) to believe that starting all over again in a new school isn’t going to set him back socially. Especially if he isn’t in a regular classroom. All the inclusive activities in the world aren’t the same as being in the same class.
And besides – it means giving up the amazing people at the school Patrick’s been attending. The familiar faces. The rockstar IEP team. The sensory room and PT gym. And my little oasis next door where I’ve been walking and studying and praying while he’s in school.
So – the meeting ran a bit longer because once I had tears on my face, they were trying to comfort and reassure me. Which made me feel stupid because I know my reaction is emotional. The logical part of my brain knows what’s best here. I’m already thinking of that as his new school. But I’ve got to find a way to make sure that all the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed to send him there. And make sure that my fears don’t rub off on him.
And once the meeting was over, we sent Brian off to a meeting at work and I went and finished packing for Nebraska. And I was completely distracted all afternoon. And we were up till 2 a.m. for reasons I’ll describe in the next post.
And I’ve stalled writing this blog post because I still feel conflicted and unresolved. And a bit guilty that I didn’t pull off more of a miracle keeping him up with his class. But here it is. And I’m gonna post this and start another right away.
I’ve been saying for days that I needed to blog. But it’s been a doozy of a start to a week. I’ll take my pictures from last week, which was much funner, and tell those stories in the captions.
Sunday, Brian made a comment to me as I got home from church about how many diapers he had changed for Patrick while I was gone. I thought, “Oh, we’ve had a lot of that lately” and didn’t really listen. It was a busy day. I’d been at church for 3 hours and we had decided to stay home that day and invite some friends over for dinner last minute. So while Brian was turning out a roast and roasted potatoes, I was throwing some bread in the breadmaker and trying to get Patrick to nap. And, well, I didn’t think of it again.
Until the next morning when Patrick’s nurse checked his temperature while I ran upstairs to grab some supplies to draw labs. I came downstairs to him telling me, “He doesn’t have a fever, but his temperature is a bit high. You might keep an eye on that.”
But Patrick wasn’t complaining. He just needed a lot of diapers changed. And we’d just changed his formula to be a little more concentrated so it would run over less time and I thought that was all that was up.
When it was naptime, though, I checked Patrick’s temperature. To do this, we always check ours first to be sure the timpanic (ear) thermometer is working. And, well, Patrick’s temperature was still 99.6. But mine was 100.4.
All through naptime, Patrick’s and my bellies gurgled and talked to each other. By evening, I was feeling pretty darn sick. Apparently stomach bugs know how to get past our germophobic defenses.
Knowing Patrick had been feeling a bit stir crazy, and also knowing it wasn’t wise to go out, I’d embraced Dr. Seuss’s birthday wholeheartedly with books and themed activities for mommy school. I’d promised Patrick a dinner of green eggs (jello eggs) and ham. So, sick or not, I threw on a pair of gloves and still got dinner on the table and prayed that was enough to protect anyone who needed it.
The night was rough, but at least I was already up to be able to watch to be sure Patrick was ok. By morning, I was a bit better, though exhausted. Patrick’s temperature was down. His Monday labs had shown elevated liver enzymes.. an early sign of illness.. and there were some small hints of dehydration. I saw this online on Monday, but because Patrick’s prograf levels were late posting, I didn’t get to talk to his doctor until the middle of the day Tuesday. We decided that if he wasn’t seeming sick, that we’d wait and check labs again on Thursday.
At 11:45 a.m. an alarm went off reminding me that Patrick’s new feeding therapist was due to come. Oops. I probably should have cancelled. But knowing that I was taking super precautions to protect Patrick and that stomach bugs aren’t airborne, we opted to go ahead.
Amazingly, Patrick was a rockstar for feeding therapy. He ate, including swallowing, a few slices of lunch ham. And half of a soynut butter sandwich. Then he asked for hummus and carrots.. practiced biting and chewing the raw carrots (though still not ready to swallow those.)
Sure, it made his belly pretty unhappy. But Patrick only knows unhappy bellies and so he didn’t mind. And after she left, when I made myself a bowl of Progresso beef stew, he decided he wanted to join me in eating that, too.
Yesterday, I finally was feeling better. Patrick got up in the morning just bouncing off the walls, though. He asked me if we could “do move our bodies,” our Mommy school code for getting gross motor exercise in every day. And then he asked if it was exercise class day at the library.
And knowing that he really, really needed to get out, we chanced it and went to Mommy and Me exercise time at the library. The teacher there has seen us through 2 summers. I made sure we arrived early so I could explain what he’d been through and she was super careful with him. He did pretty darn well, actually. Better participating than I’ve ever seen from him there. But about 15 minutes in, he was too tired to go on.
That was ok. We went and picked books. I let him get his first library card. And we went home.
It snowed Tuesday. Patrick was so excited to play in it. Only his 2nd chance this winter. So on Tuesday, sick as we were, we went out and shovelled walks. Wednesday, he was thrilled the snow wasn’t gone. He declared we were making a snowman. And a snow elephant. And a snow gorilla. He went to sleep talking about it.
And I woke him while it was still warm. The snow was all crunchy from melting and refreezing and not at all right for snowman making. This got me off the hook for the other creations. But we did manage a little snowman. And because I had carrots to give it a nose, Patrick was more than happy.
Today we both were finally feeling better. Patrick got up a little too early, but it meant we were ready for labs. I was going to blog first thing, but the internet was down. So we dived into mommy school instead. The theme of the week has been fairy tales and today we learned about The Gingerbread Man. Patrick is a little miffed that the main character of the story got eaten. He has a lot to learn about fairy tales. It was a good theme, though. I was able to squeeze a little more math in that usual.
Patrick is really, really mad at the idea of addition. He doesn’t like the extra symbols. He HATES the word “equals” (or as he says it, “eekso”). But today, by using teddy grahams that he was allowed to eat as we did the math, he played along a little bit better. Plus, I said “1 plus 2 makes” instead of “equals” and that helped.
I’m trying to be patient waiting to get Patrick a teacher. Not that I can guarantee that it will even make a difference for him. I just worry that I am not making ground on helping him catch up after all he missed this year. I really wish sometimes I could send him back to class. I admire moms who homeschool and are able to make that work in a consistent routine. Today was a good day. Patrick gave me an hour and a half before he got restless and asked to outside and I declared “recess” and let him go play in the remnants of snow.
I was hoping better looking diapers would have meant also better looking labs. But Patrick’s labwork this afternoon still showed elevated liver enzymes, dehydration creeping upwards, and an elevated white count. I called Patrick’s transplant team and asked if we should change his formula recipe and they opted to add back in some extra fluid for the weekend. I am sad he needs it, but at least I won’t be as worried about dehydration. Patrick’s been doing great drinking water and powerade and eating popsicles, but I was still worried.
Meanwhile, as long as Patrick is still looking and feeling happy, we will just keep an eye out. They might do some blood tests for a few viruses on Monday. But hopefully, things will get back to normal.
Tonight was one of those nights where things just felt comfortable and happy at home. Our bird, Max, was in a really cheerful mood.. simply playing. Patrick snuggled up in my lap to play tonight. Max climbed up, too and let Patrick pet him. (This is a HUGE compliment from Max, who is fairly bitey.) Brian was in his chair playing with a new geek gadget. And everything was right with the world for a little bit.
People have asked if we have a new normal yet. Some days I feel like we have found a rhythm. But so far, nothing sticks for more than a couple of days. We are still figuring it out. And as long as there are looming follow-up appointments and the hope of Patrick starting school just around the corner and little medical enigmas lurking… Well, it’s hard to imagine we’ll be settled for a while yet.
Today has been a very good day. I got back to the hospital to find Patrick just waking up. One of Patrick’s primary nurses who loves him and really advocates well for him was back on today, so I knew things were headed in a good direction. We did our usual morning routine, including a bath that he didn’t want to do because he hates getting up and coughing till it makes him sick. But we got through it and then Daddy said it was time to go to the playroom.
At first, Patrick was just as fearful of walking. But we got into the playroom and he saw a toy he wanted and he couldn’t describe.. So he got himself up off the floor and walked over to his dad to get it. Yup.. We are 4 weeks post-transplant and his abdominal strength should be coming back. Apparently, the pain from Saturday’s surgery is getting better, too.
We stayed in the playroom for 2 hours. Part of that time, Brian went back to the room to pack. When finally I could tell he was getting bored by the number of toys strewn on the floor (where they aren’t supposed to be) I grabbed his wagon and suggested we go for a walk. From time to time Patrick gets a card with cash in it. This week, there was a book fair downstairs so I suggested we go pick out a book. He was really excited about this! When he saw the giant dry erase book, he was sold. Letting him pay with his own money for the first time was priceless.
Then, we came back up to the room and it was time to leave to get Brian to the airport. Patrick got to take his new book and go sit at the nurses’ station. They told me they were also taking him downstairs for craft time.
So, after saying goodbye for a few weeks to my husband and best friend (hard, no matter what) I decided I had time to do a little something for me. I’d heard that the casserole from last night’s dinner at the Ronald McDonald House was amazing and decided to go get some. (Yup. It lived up to the description.) Then, I went upstairs to our room and put a bedrail and mattress protectors on Patrick’s bed so it will be ready when he gets to go there. And I headed back to the hospital.
Well, I got there at 3:05 and found that Patrick was back upstairs in the playroom. And they had already gotten him a volunteer and promised him painting. I asked if he would like for me to stay and he said that, no, he’d like his friend to himself. So I came back to the room and did some things on my computer while he played for a couple more hours.
All told, Patrick got to decorate a Santa hat, make a bracelet, make a jingle bell shaker, paint some pictures, and just generally play with toys. Then he came back to the room and was ready for some myself time and spent another hour playing with playdough.
The ward (church) called a new compassionate service leader on Sunday. She called tonight to see if she could bring me pot pie. After having stuffed myself on chicken cheese stuffing casserole at lunch (thinking dinner would be light) I am going to bed with a super full tummy. Also, she is crazy super nice. She has only been in the ward a little over a year and got leukemia and had to have a bone marrow transplant right after.. so she knows this hospital and life being sick and being new in the area and the whole shebang. She made pot pie so I could have comfort food. Patrick loved her visit, too.
After dinner, I got him up and we went for another walk, and then climbed up into bed. We called grandma to video chat until I could see his eyelids dipping. Then the nurse came in, gave him his meds, and he went off to sleep.
Today Patrick is off oxygen and doing well enough we dared to take the cannula off of his nose. He is sleeping lying flat in his bed with both oxygen saturation and heart rate perfectly normal. This is a huge comfort for me as I consider trying to decide when it is safe for him to go outpatient. Breathing while I’m sleeping, check.
The other great news is that after needing to go back on TPN for a few days because of the problems with his stoma, they put him on full feeds and turned off the TPN tonight.
**Disclaimer: I know you all want to read about our much bigger news. However, I had this post all but written before I got busy with Halloween and birthday planning last week. So, I figured I might as well finish it up and hit post. I promise I am following tonight with other news, too.
Our family did something that, for us, was completely upside down last week. I went on a trip. And I left Patrick home with his Dad. I recognize that this is not unusual in the world we live in. However, it is incredibly unusual for the primary caregiver of a home infusion patient to travel without them is very unusual.
Let’s start by saying that we survived. In fact, I think it was good for all of us.
A few months ago, I was invited to attend a research panel on the subject of lost Central Line Access. This came through a doctor who I had e-mailed a few times because of my support group and later because of the troubles we have had in placing a line in Patrick.
At first, the idea seemed a bit crazy. But the more I thought about it, the more important it sounded. Here a group of experts was gathering to help try to figure out how to research and solve the exact problem that is putting my son’s life in jeopardy. Why wouldn’t I take the chance to go meet them and contribute to the discussion.
Well, why, except that we’d have to pay my way and have Brian take time off to fill in with me while I was away. As we discussed it, we decided it was a really good idea for me to try to go. (Brian also thought the break would be good for me.)
So, last Sunday I snuck out of church early and headed to the airport. I got picked for expedited screening at the airport and made it to my gate in under 30 minutes. Then I looked around and thought “Well, how what am I supposed to do with myself?” Remember that usually when I fly, we spend something around half an hour in security alone, and then we have to repack bags, change a diaper, gate check our stroller, and make arrangements for early boarding. Oh, entertain a very active child while keeping his IV tubing safe.
That Sunday was one of the longest and quietest in my memory. I read books, watched movies, played video games, sent e-mails, checked on Facebook, worked on a birthday video and still had time to spare. I finally made it to my room, called home, and then went to bed a little after midnight.
Morning seemed to come too early, but without anyone else to get ready, I was still dressed and ready with time to kill.
The panel itself was amazing. I tried taking notes, decided writing was too slow, switched to a computer and filled 12 pages. I learned so much about what might cause patients to lose central line access. I am itching for this panel to bring forth fruit in the form of better understanding of how to keep patients from losing central line access quickly the way that Patrick did. I can’t go into details about the research plan that was decided upon.. but I can say that it is a huge but simple step that could lead to so much better understanding, and with better understanding comes better care.
It was also an amazing experience to be in a room filled with these brilliant medical minds. I got to sit with and get to know better many of the people responsible for designing and manufacturing central lines. I came home with a stack of business cards and am already working on hopefully becoming a little bit more of a patient advocate in this area.
And then, when the conference ended, I took a cab into Washington D.C. I spent the evening and morning playing tourist. (Only getting myself lost a couple of times and never irreversibly) before time to come home.
On the flight home, I sat next to a talkative man who had been all over the world. We compared travels and experiences and opinions. When we landed, another man asked me what my career was that allowed me to be so well traveled. When I told him I was a stay at home mom of a special needs child his jaw about hit the floor. For some reason, that gave me a bit of an ego boost. I think I sometimes feel like I disappear a bit in this important but unlauded role.
Being away from Patrick and Brian was an eye opening experience. I think it was for them as well. I think we all like our roles. (Though, I’ll admit, it was hard to come back home and dive right in.) I think we can go several more years before sending Mom away on another big trip. But it was really fun to stretch my wings and remember what it’s like to be just me for a while.
Let’s start by saying how happy I am that my wonderful husband was willing to blog about Patrick’s Make-a-Wish trip. (Vacations usually require so much time that I’m helping Patrick to sleep that I don’t get a lot of in-room type that I could type.. and besides, it’s nice to hear Dad’s perspective.)
But – this is a big, busy time for Patrick so I am going to jump in and blog, too, about some of the other important things that have been happening in our lives. One of the biggest of which is… Kindergarten.
Can you believe that? Patrick is in Kindergarten! We NEVER imagined or dreamed this when we adopted him, when he was in and out of the hospital all his first year, when his heart stopped, when he started to lose central line access. Age 5 wasn’t in our plans.
For 3 years, I have driven Patrick to school and lined up next to those great big Kindergarteners who lined up without their parents and who talked and played together. I’ve watched them play on the shared playground. I’ve watched the teachers come to lead them into the school and heard them chant, “Eyes forward! Feet forward! Hands to yourself, and voices OFF!” then fold their arms and file into class.
And until the end of last fall, I didn’t imagine Patrick among them.
And then, when it started to dawn on me that that’s where he was headed, I panicked. And I went on a crazy rampage to get him help because learning to read and write was so far out of the realm of what I imagined Patrick doing that I was afraid he was going to become thoroughly discouraged and give up.
I mean – do you remember the year he had last year in preschool? From the moment the special education teacher came out to ask me what could possibly have gone wrong in Patrick’s life to make him start acting out in class when he’d always done well before, I’ve been struggling to help him rediscover his confidence in school.
And yet, the ball was rolling and Patrick was headed into Kindergarten, whether I was ready or not. Last fall, we had a “kindergarten transition meeting” where we met with the nurse, Patrick’s preschool team and the upcoming kindergarten team to tell them all that they needed to know about Patrick’s needs. And it took an hour and the resource teacher, Ms. Kerkman, seemed to grow increasingly wide eyed and worried and grumpy sounding as the meeting went on. But, in the end, they promised him placement in a typical classroom with lots of help, including a one-on-one aide.
And then, August rolled around and we hadn’t heard any more and I started to worry and sent of an e-mail reminding the principal and anyone else I could cc what we’d been promised.
And you know what? They followed through! I got a call a couple of weeks before school started inviting me to come in and meet the teacher and Patrick’s new aide and the rest of the team who’d be caring for Patrick.
It came on the heels of the trip to Omaha (which I promise gets a blog post soon) and so I made a mad scramble to pull useful information together. The first meeting was to go over needs again and I drafted a new “About Me” document. I was very proud that I kept it to 5 pages. About me is found here, if you want to read it.
That meeting was good, but also frustrating, as the hour I was given didn’t even let me scratch the surface of what I thought they should know that would help him. But I reminded myself that there was a reason I’d written it all down. And we went on.
2 days later, we came back again, this time to meet Patrick’s aide and give her specific training on what he needed. They didn’t give me a location for the meeting, and so we got a late start. Again, there was barely time to scratch the surface. I had time to teach how to take care of medical needs, but nothing about behavior or sensory processing techniques before Ms. Kerkman came in and declared it time to go home.
And then, feeling completely unprepared, before we knew it, it was the first day of school.
Patrick was so excited! Dad came along to drop him off. How could he possibly miss such a big day? We waited, playing on the playground. Then the teachers came and taught the kids how to line up. I greeted Patrick’s aide and asked if she had any questions. Then away they went. Patrick came out at the end of the day beaming. I picked up Jimmy John’s and took him to the park so he could unwind and we could recap the day. He was so happy.
In his backpack that night was a folder of homework. And, as I looked through it, I was amazed.. He could DO all of this! It was on his level. Sure, it took a summer of hard work in Mommy School to get him to the point where it was possible, but even the reading and writing stuff? He could DO it!
The next day, I was invited to school. The goal: teach Patrick’s classmates about him. So I pulled together some pictures on my tablet and brought along Patrick’s little mini-me doll named Tubes.
The conversation went kind of like this. I showed the kids a picture of a group of kids and talked about how we are all different. Then, I showed the kids a picture of a kid wearing glasses and asked what they were for. (To help you see if your eyes don’t work right.) Then braces. (To help your teeth if they’re crooked.) Then a wheelchair. (To help you get around if your legs can’t walk.) We’re not sad about these things because they help us. Everyone is different and we all need different help.
Then I showed them a picture of a belly and we talked about what bellies do. They turn food into energy so you can play and grow. And if your belly didn’t work right? You wouldn’t be able to grow and play. So what can help? I showed them Tubes. I told them that Patrick needs to get his food right in his blood, since his belly doesn’t work. (Them:”Ew! Blood!!”.. Me: “Wait. Is blood gross? What is blood for?” One little boy: “It keeps us alive.” Me: “Right. Because it carries our energy from food.” Them: “Oh!”) We talked about what’s inside the backpack and how to keep the tubes safe. (Mainly, don’t play jumprope in them.) I told them to be careful they don’t get pulled because they go into his body. (At that moment, Patrick got up and walked away, stretching his tubes and the kids all gasped. So, I could explain that he knows how to not hurt his own tubes.)
Then I explained a little about food allergies and how they hide in foods that look safe. Then I told them about the brace he sometimes wear on his leg and how that doesn’t mean he’s hurt. (Which led into a 2 minute tangent about all the owies they have ever had.)
I wrapped up by telling them that Patrick has spent a lot of time in hospitals because he gets sick easy. I explained that meant he hadn’t had as much time as them to learn other things like talking and writing and rules for playing so he might seem to not know how to do those things, but that he was learning. I told them how excited he was to be as school with them and how much he wanted to make friends. This was met by a chorus of “I’ll be his friend,” and “Can he be friends with me?”
And you know what? Because kids accept difference so much better than grown-ups, they’ve kept their word. Patrick has friends. He is greeted by name and with hugs when he comes to school. He is happy and accepted there. Which is the best thing a mom could ask for.
Things were rolling along better than I could have ever dreamed. Patrick was actually making friends. We were getting a homework routine down, and would you believe it, after just a couple of weeks, Patrick’s reading sight words and tracing some numbers.
I’d requested a meeting with the district adaptive technology team. These are the people in charge of making “accommodations” for kids who have trouble with written or spoken language. With Patrick’s fine motor skills being very delayed, I’ve been worried that he might get frustrated with the task of writing or spelling. There were 8 people in the meeting, which was much more than I expected. Occupational and speech therapists, teachers, and me.
But the meeting went well. In fact, the meeting went wonderfully. Patrick’s teacher gushed about how much she loved him in her class and then told us that Patrick is about on level with his peers right now. I’ve never left a meeting so happy. We decided that this team will follow him throughout school in case writing becomes an obstacle down the road. And I knew Patrick was in the best of hands with a teacher who loved him and only saw potential in him.
And then, the next week, I went to pick Patrick up from school and one of the little girls in Patrick’s class ran right up to me and said, “Ms. Gough is going to go away and we will have a new teacher!” Then she bee-bopped away while I stood there wondering if I’d heard correctly.
But yes, the note in Patrick’s backpack confirmed it. The school had fewer kindergarteners enroll than they had planned on and the district decided that they had to cut one of their afternoon classes. Patrick goes to school in the morning, but since losing the afternoon class meant his teacher would otherwise be going part-time, Patrick was losing his teacher. Her last day would be the next day and then they’d have the substitute until they could hire someone new.
Yeah, I shed a few tears. And I played out several horrible scenarios in my head over the next few days. And I considered writing letters or protesting or pulling Patrick out of school. Especially when the next week I heard that they had no applicants and no long-term substitute lined up. But then I reminded myself that I’ve learned that fighting against the system and getting emotional don’t solve problems.
Thankfully, we had somewhere else to go for the week. Patrick’s make-a-wish trip meant that he could miss some time with a substitute. And I could figure out where to spend my momma bear energy when we got back.
But, a few days into our trip I got a voicemail saying that they’d hired a teacher and inviting us to a parent/teacher conference. Patrick’s new teacher, Mrs. Hunt, started the day we returned from Orlando. We sat down with her yesterday to discuss his needs. After a few minutes of me explaining medical terms for her, she stopped me and told me that she’d recently worked in the infant unit at Primary Children’s Hospital and, therefore, I didn’t need to translate for her. Not only did that make the meeting a whole lot faster and smoother, but it gave me some peace of mind as well.
Today was Patrick’s first day back to school since our trip and he seems to have done ok despite the interruption in routine and the new teacher. We’ll see what lies ahead.
Overall, though, this start to Kindergarten has gone much better than we’d have imagined. Patrick’s classmates were so excited to see him come back today. They wanted to hear all about his trip. One favorite friend immediately held onto his backpack handle and walked with him, comparing Disney experiences.
Patrick’s aide , Ms. Kim, has done such a good job taking care of him. And that is translating to him doing better in class and with his peers. She and Ms. Gough have built a great foundation for him to start with and I hope that he’ll continue to do well with this new teacher, as well.
But I still step back a bit in awe sometimes. It’s October. Patrick’s in Kindergarten. He’s learning to read. What an amazing place to be in!
Tomorrow marks 3 weeks since Patrick’s last day of school. For most people, summer vacation is in full swing. For us, we’re finally starting to get our bearings. It’s been an unusual start to summer.
Things seemed smooth enough. I spent that first weekend after school ended gathering myself to start a tradition Patrick and I are calling “Mommy School.” Between therapies, Patrick has a LOT of “homework”. He’s supposed to spend 10 minutes every day doing eye exercises. He’s supposed to be practicing writing and cutting and and gluing and using a keyboard. We’re supposed to be strengthening his core, working on activities that use both sides of his body evenly, and encouraging him to cross midline. He’s supposed to be practicing telling me stories in various verb tenses, using articles, and correcting his use of pronouns. Plus working on vocabulary building, sorting skills, categorization skills, social skills, attention skills and on and on. All of this to help keep him progressing on his current trajectory which, discouraging as I may find it, is approximately two years behind most of his peers.
Except, it seems, when it comes to the alphabet. Patrick has the alphabet down pat and tested in the top 25% of his preschool class.
And so, this summer we introduced “Mommy School.” We’re doing an abbreviated letter of the day curriculum, since letters are what Patrick loves. Every week is assigned two letters and every day a word that starts with that letter. Then I go out and scrounge up books, worksheets, crafts, activities and field trips on that theme.
The first day of Mommy School went GREAT! Until, that is, Patrick developed a fever. The next day of summer break was spent cuddling a sick, feverish kid in a chair. He had a cold and we were grateful to be able to stay home sick like other children. By Thursday, Patrick had mustered the energy to play on his own again. But, by then, I was sick.
Our second week of summer break, Patrick and I were finally starting to be healthy again. But Brian wasn’t. And it didn’t matter if we were healthy or not because on Saturday of that week, my little sister was getting married in my backyard. So, I declared “C is for Camping” and we pitched a tent in the living room. Amazingly, this both occupied Patrick and kept the room clean while he binged on movies and we scrambled to finish last minute details on the house and yard.
We also sneaked in a couple of outings.. a family night at Red Butte Garden and a field trip with friends to the Natural History Museum. (I picked up a free month-long museum pass at the local library just so we wouldn’t have excuses to just stay home and work.) Besides, in order to get Patrick to let us work, we let him watch his birthday movies on endless loop, which left us all craving some family adventures.
The wedding went smoother than expected, though playing hostess and trying to keep Patrick from completely melting down about how his house was filled with children who were not sharing his toys with him kept me busy enough that I didn’t manage to take a single picture.
My sister was a beautiful bride and the happy couple truly looked happy and in love. Patrick eventually settled down with Grandma who let him fetch endless cups of water from the refreshment table and pour them all over himself and her and all went well enough.
Except that it turns out that maybe the bug that had Brian sick isn’t the one that had Patrick sick as I ran a fever all night.
So, Sunday we took a sick day and we stayed and home and did absolutely nothing except that Brian cooked us a delicious roast. The day was delightful and refreshing. Perfect after two frantic weeks.
Yesterday, I put together a week’s worth of Mommy School worksheets, made a chore chart, got Patrick’s TPN labs drawn and kind of regrouped. Then, in the late afternoon, I changed Patrick’s central line dressing and discovered that, much to my dismay, what had once been a tiny little hole in the clotted side of the line had grown big enough that I was worried it would pull off. But it was after hours and I wanted the head of the IV team to be involved in choices about the repair.
So today, we spent our kind of restart to summer day exactly as summer days seem to go for us.
Over breakfast, I made a bunch of phone calls to people at the hospital trying to find the best way to get the line repaired. Eventually, I sat down and had a little cry because I wasn’t getting in touch with the people I wanted and I knew we’d have to go to the E.R.
Then, Howie gave me a pep talk and a hug and a kiss. Then he talked to Patrick and helped him to gather the courage to get his line repaired. (He was terrified that it was going to hurt when they cut the broken part off of his line.) We headed up to the E.R. where our timing really was perfect. We didn’t wait at all for them to start working. Patrick’s line is a different brand than our hospital stocks because it was placed in Nebraska, so that complicated things and the repair took about an hour and looks a bit sloppy. But it will do for a clotted line.
And then, when all was done, we headed off to the Children’s Museum for a couple of hours. We managed to get there at a nice slow time on a nice slow day. Patrick actually got to enjoy exploring the museum and would have happily stayed there all day. His favorite spots were the Bob the Builder exhibit, the gas station, and the pretend E.R.
Eventually, we had to go because I was parked in a 2 hour parking space and, honestly, we both needed a rest. So we stopped in at daddy’s office to pick up the leftovers from a lunch he’d cooked for them today. And then we came home and convinced Patrick to nap by 4.
Which brings us to right now. Brian just walked in the door to a quiet, clean house and me blogging and said, “Now that’s a sight I don’t see very often.” Here’s to maybe a little bit more of this? Perhaps a few prayers for this line to hold out through the summer and grant us a little bit of peace ..and maybe even health?