I began writing this post last March. And then a pandemic happened and circumstances changed and I abandoned it. But I think the discussion is just as relevant now, if not more so. So I’m going to attempt to dust it off and finish writing it. Here’s how I began…
There is a fairly well-known image that is used in discussions about equality. The picture shows 3 children of different heights trying to watch a baseball game over a fence. In the first frame, each child has a crate to stand on, but only the two tallest children can see over the fence. This frame is labelled “Equality.” In the second frame, the tallest child has given his crate to the shortest child. Now all the children can see. The image is labeled “Equity.”
Over the years the image has circulated, the quality of the graphics, the labels on the message, the symbols have been debated, and the interpretations have been varied. Below is a common one used in education and discussions. The 3rd frame is often labeled “inclusion” and represents the systemic barriers being removed.
It seems that I have been having a LOT of conversations lately about how to include Patrick. Since the start of the (2019-2020) year, we’ve had a lot of new transitions. And that means we’re trying to figure out how to fit into a lot of new settings.
The biggest one has been over the subject of P.E.
Here’s what happened. One of my best friends at Patrick’s school was also working part-time as the elementary school P.E. paraprofessional. (a.k.a non-credentialed teacher.)
One day, she called me up FUMING about what was going on at the school. Apparently, they were having trouble with some students choosing not to participate during P.E. and other “specials” classes. The principal had told the teachers that they needed to give a grade for the class, and since it was a pass/fail class, they were looking at giving failing grades to students who refused to participate.
Enter Patrick. Patrick has a combination of disabilities that prevent him from participating fully in a regular P.E. class. He has cerebral palsy that makes it difficult to control the muscles, particularly those in his legs, especially when running. He has visual tracking problems from his brain injury that make it very difficult for him to follow a ball. He has trouble with motor planning, meaning the ability to think through the steps of a motor process that, for others, wouldn’t be consciously broken down. He has serious ADHD that make it hard for him to focus in a chaotic environment. He has working memory impairments, or in other words, problems with his short term memory that mean he can suddenly forget what he is supposed to be doing. And, to top it off, his transplant puts him at exceptional risk of injury from a fall or a blow to the abdomen and he is required to be excluded from contact sports. (Dodgeball, anyone?)
Patrick’s IEP provides for “adaptive P.E. services,” meaning that instead of being required to pass a regular P.E. class, he gets to work with a special P.E. teacher who adapts P.E. to his abilities and works on specific goals.
The problem is this.. Patrick is in a mainstream classroom. And the schedule of that classroom includes the class going to P.E. while the teacher used that time as prep time in the class. And, even though I knew he couldn’t really play, I didn’t see much harm in allowing him to go to P.E. because that’s what his classmates were doing.
But apparently, what was happening was that Patrick, unable to do what the rest of his class was doing, would try to visit with the adults. His para would tell him he needed to go play, and because he couldn’t, he wouldn’t. He’d just sit on the side and patiently watch.
So, when they started talking about who should receive a failing grade for not participating, Patrick’s name made the list.
My friend was furious because she knew this was wrong. Let’s be honest. No one would have been talking about failing a kid in a wheelchair for not doing P.E. We’d had multiple conversations about what he should and should not be doing as she’d made her lesson plans. So she went to an administrator, who pulled the IEP, marched it into the principal’s office, and demanded that he intervene.
Patrick didn’t fail P.E. But it made some of the staff who work with him angry about how “unfair” that was to the other students who saw him not playing.
But it made me aware that I had not done enough in setting clear expectations for P.E. with the school. Enter advocate mom. I called for a special IEP meeting to get clear adaptations written.
Now, Patrick attends an exceptional school. So when I went into the meeting saying that I needed them to make a plan specifically to allow Patrick to be excluded from the P.E. requirement, they insisted instead that they needed to write a plan for him to be included instead.
Plan A. that they wrote didn’t work. Plan A was to require the paras to lead alternative activity for the students (yes, multiple) who could not do the regular P.E. activity and were sitting out. The argued that they kids who were choosing not to participate would choose the easier activity instead. (In hindsight, I disagree with this opinion. Why not allow mainstream students to sometimes do adapted activities? That’s inclusive, right?)
On to Plan B. My friend, because she knew us personally and cared enough to see the individual, started go over her lesson plans with me at our weekly breakfasts. We’d decide what Patrick could do that was related to her plan. Sometimes, that was giving him a special role in a game. (Basket holder, line judge, etc.) Other times that was giving him a simplified version of the activity. (While the other kids shoot hoops, Patrick will practice passing with the help of an adult.) I dropped in on class unannounced and helped to model what this would be like for the staff that was there.
Plan B is what worked.
And it got me thinking a lot more about inclusion.
In children’s Sunday School, we run through scenarios regularly about how to Choose the Right. And a common example is “There’s a new kid” or “There’s a kid others don’t like” or “There’s a kid who isn’t good at a game” … anyway.. there’s a kid, and the other kids don’t want to let them play or let them eat lunch with them or whatever. What do you do?
The answer is, you let them play anyway. Right?
But is it inclusion if it stops there? Is it enough to “let them” attend? Was it enough that Patrick was sitting in P.E. on the stage alone? He didn’t mind. He didn’t want to play. If you asked him to get up and do what the other kids were doing, he’d give a polite “nah.” He was fine, right? He was welcome.
But is that inclusion?
Look again at the picture at the top of the page. The short kid is invited to watch the baseball game. He’s even given a box. It’s totally fair.
Or is it? Is it more fair to give him the box the tall kid is standing on? That way at least he can see. But the tall kid doesn’t get a box that way. Isn’t it more fair for every kid to get a box?
The thing is, adaptation isn’t fair. But it’s at least a start.
One of the things I love about distance learning is that I’m in charge of the school day, so Patrick actually gets all of his accommodations. We use a Kindle with OpenDyslexic font for reading. He can use special manipulatives or a calculator or Google Home to help with math. And he’s getting very good at using Google Read and Write and other adaptive technology.
Adaptations level the playing field so that physical limitations don’t get in the way of him reaching his potential. In P.E., adaptations were changes to game rules, simplified activities, or special equipment. Patrick’s school spends a lot of time teaching him to advocate for his accommodations. One way we as a society can be more inclusive would be to not push back against allowing these when they are justified.
But inclusion CAN be more than that. Because true inclusion sometimes means being willing to change the rules for everyone.
Think, for example, of food allergies. If someone has a life-threatening food allergy, adaptation would say that you allow that person to bring their own food to lunch, instead of eating what everyone else is eating. But if others at the table are eating the allergen, inviting and allowing differences is still not enough. Allergens can be spread by touch, and so we have nut-free classrooms and even nut-free schools. That’s the only way, literally, than a child can safely come to the table.
If done right, inclusion benefits more than just the person with the most apparent need. But it takes some creativity.
Here’s an example. I taught a Sunday school class for 3 year olds. We had one student who every week hid under the table. We had another student who always wanted to remove her shoes. Yes, we could have said that the rules required that everyone sit on their chairs and wear their shoes. And everyone would have learned the rules. But a couple would have spent so much energy on that lesson that there’d have been no time to talk about Christ. So what did we do? We put away the chairs and we sat on the floor. Everyone was allowed to have their shoes off if they wanted. And kids under the table could see the pictures. The only rule was that they had to allow other kids to have a turn under the table, too. Because ALL 3 year olds are sensory creatures and the adaptation that one needed benefited them all.
But inclusion also means being willing to let go of traditional ways of doing things sometimes. And I think that’s the hardest part.
Sometimes, when I get to speak to a group of Patrick’s peers about inclusion, I read them the book “Can I play too?” by “Mo Willems.” Here’s a read along if you don’t know the story:
I like this story because it really captures in a lot of ways what it’s like to try to play when you have a disability or other difference. 1) We don’t always know how to make it work when we start trying to play. 2) A lot of times, what we try fails. 3) After enough failures, the person with the difference will decide they are causing too much trouble and withdraw. 4) Some of the best solutions are the ones people might never have considered.
This is why I love adaptive sports. Because they remove the primary obstacle to inclusion: winning. They also toss out several rules. I remember attending one adaptive baseball game where a player wanted a hit. So they threw him 27 pitches. 27 misses, and then he knocked it out of the park!! And the crowd went wild as he ran his home run.
This is the picture where the wooden fence has been replaced by a chain link. Where there isn’t an obstacle that gives some an advantage over others. This is what people are referring to when they talk about systemic problems.
For Patrick, being graded on participation a typical P.E. class was a systemic problem.
2020 made us acutely aware of so many other systemic problems. The inequalities revealed in our healthcare system, in our justice system, and so many more all came to the surface in violent and devastating ways. And I think a lot of us feel absolutely helpless in the face of systems that we don’t have any idea how to change.
Because, let’s be honest. Inclusion isn’t always possible. Not all sports can be adaptive. Not all diets can be nut-free. You can’t just say you want a system with more social programs when those programs don’t yet exist. We need to be challenged by school or sports to grow, and that means pushing people to their limits.
You also can’t force inclusion. Another thing that 2020 has shown us is that mandates are met with opposition. That opposition comes because broad mandates create new systemic problems that make people feel overlooked.
The thing is that MOST of us really are trying our best. Most of us do care about doing what is right. And what most of us crave most deeply is to feel seen and valued. Especially for our best efforts, even when they are inadequate.
Columnist David Brooks put it this way:
“Many of our society’s great problems flow from people not feeling seen and known.”
David Brooks, “Finding the Road to Character,” October 2019
He went on to say that a trait we all have to get better at is “the trait of seeing each other deeply and being deeply seen.”
Inclusion doesn’t happen by pulling one group out of the shadows and pushing another into it. This is one of the great risks of today’s cancel culture.
It may be an unpopular idea, but I’m not sure that systems CAN be fixed from the top down. Instead, I think that if we want to see our society change in a significant way, it’s going to need to be something that happens on a much more intimate level.
Here’s another great quote:
I believe the change we seek in ourselves and in he groups we belong to will come less by activism and more by actively trying every day to understand one another.
Sharon Eubank, “By Union of Feeling We Obtain Power with God”, October 2020
To be honest, when large-scale changes have been made to try to include Patrick, the result has almost always been awkwardness that made us ALL pull back. Plan A where they ran a whole separate P.E. section for him would have made everyone feel uncomfortable.
But Plan B worked precisely because it was personal, thoughtful, and simple.
We simply need to start seeing each other.
I think we also need to extend each other more grace. If mortality is a school, then we are all going to make mistakes as we learn. We will all sometimes be on the giving side of some hurts. We would benefit from being as quick to grant forgiveness as we are eager to receive it.
On Valentine’s Day this year, I knew that traditional Valentine’s parties were going to leave out every student who was learning from home. As PTO president, I had some power to try to make things better. So, in addition to providing usual support for valentine’s parties, I spent several hours creating virtual valentine’s exchanges, online games and other activities that could be played with the students both in class and those connecting digitally from home.
Patrick’s sweet teacher went out of her way to buy craft supplies so that the class could make each other valentines. And she instructed the class to remember the kids at home and make them for them, too.
But that left home learners entirely on the outside. they were remembered, but not included. And, I’ll admit, after all my effort, I was hurt to still be literally on the outside looking in.
Some attempts at inclusion are a BIG miss.
But that doesn’t change the fact that he has a teacher who very truly cares about him. Who stays late sometimes just to visit with him after the other students have gone. Carrying that hurt would only hurt me. The slight wasn’t intentional.
Where am I going with all this? I’m not sure I exactly know.
I do hope, though, that if I make our experience seen that it will help as we all try to do better at seeing each other. We have too much anonymity in our society. It’s easy to get caught up in “us” and “them” when you speak generally.
But the more you get to know people as individuals, the more natural it is to try to love and take care of each other. What is that quote? “people are hard to hate close up. Move in.”
In other words, we do start with that sunday school answer. We notice the people sitting on the sidelines and we invite them. But it goes a bit deeper than just inviting. We get to know them.
And then we consider each other’s needs. And we make ourselves open to different ways of doing things. We try. If we fail, we forgive and we try again.
At the end of last February, my family was in Disneyland. If you haven’t noticed from this blog, we’re pretty addicted. And Patrick can only safely be in crowds when they aren’t really crowds. So, when our tax return came in, we seized the opportunity to skip school and visit one of our favorite places.
I remember so clearly, sitting in LAX waiting for our flight home, watching news reports about this new Coronavirus that was plaguing cruise ships and had just been detected in the first U.S. case of community spread in Washington state. Seeing people flying in masks. And beginning to realize that may, just maybe, this virus wasn’t contained.
For the past year, I’ve had the thought several times that I should maybe write a blog post describing what it’s like to be a transplant family in the midst of a pandemic. I’m finding myself with a bit of time on a Sunday afternoon, so I’m going to give it a shot.
I remember going out to breakfast last year with one of my friends and her telling me that I was her barometer.. the person she was watching to know when it was time to panic. “Coronavirus” wasn’t a new word to me. I’ve spent the past 6 years following virus trends on the Germwatch website from our local children’s hospital and I knew that, for most people, Coronavirus was a common cold. I also knew that children especially seemed to do OK with this new virus. Still, nothing is simple with a child as complex as ours. So I reached out to Patrick’s transplant team in Nebraska and his team here in Utah and asked them to tell me how I’d know if we reached a moment where I needed to pull Patrick from school.
After all, his IEP has a specific provision that says that during cases of viral outbreaks, he was to be transitioned to a virtual connection to school.
On March 13, I got an e-mail from the transplant nurse coordinator “recommending our patients do not attend school for the next couple of weeks.” It was a Friday afternoon. I e-mailed Patrick’s teacher to let her know we’d be checking him out and need to figure out how he could participate in class remotely. Less than an hour later, in a press conference, Utah’s governor announced a soft closure of schools for the next week. Cleaning out his locker and saying goodbye to his friends was hard.
Unlike most of our friends, this wasn’t our first experience with quarantine school. Setting Patrick up for school just required pulling out tools I already had. I cleaned off a desk in the basement, gathered school materials, and set up a picture schedule.
I thought we were ready. Until an earthquake hit the morning that our distance learning classes were supposed to start. My emergency instincts kicked in. I can pack an emergency go bag in 15 minutes flat. It’s a matter of survival, and I’ve packed a lot of emergency go bags. But trying to think through packing a bag for dual emergencies of pandemic (that was supposed to keep us inside) and earthquakes (which might force us outside) was an overwhelming idea. And I had to try to accomplish this while trying to stay calm for a child who was terrified by the frequent aftershocks. I was so grateful that morning for video classes where Patrick could connect with his friends and talk about what had happened.
At the beginning of the pandemic, half of the voices were reciting “this is no worse than a cold” while the other half urged us to “flatten the curve.” In other words, to do everything we could to limit the spread so that hospitals would not be overwhelmed and our unprepared medical system and supply stores depleted.
I’d seen overcrowded hospitals first-hand already. Waited hours in emergency rooms because they couldn’t find a bed on the floor and then ended up assigned to the surgical unit or some other unusual corner of the hospital because it was where they could find space, and just being grateful that we weren’t in a windowless storage closet turned hospital room like some patients. And that was in just an average flu season. The idea of 1% or more of the population needing hospital care at once, I knew, was a very real and serious danger.
I also was keeping tabs on the pandemic on the website used to track national drug shortages. We learned to follow this site to keep track of shortages in TPN ingredients. It was terrifying to see basics such as normal saline, antibiotics, and albuterol appear on the list as critically low. I saw families in the support group I run trying to figure out how to handle dressing changes when masks and sterile gloves were nowhere to be found. And heard first-hand of nurse friends using a single surgical mask for an entire shift. We’d been hospitalized on precautions before. That idea alone was frightening. The stories out of Italy and New York on the news were terrifying. But the inside picture showed that the impacts were reaching us, even if the virus outbreak was not. I started a hashtag within the medical advocacy community. #sharethehealth .. begging healthy people not to hoard supplies that our families relied on for day to day survival.
We felt shortages in other places, too. I stopped at a grocery store to pick up a prescription on that March afternoon as I brought Patrick home from school. People were panic shopping. Shelves were emptied. And the interruptions in supply chain that came from everyone leaving the workplace and coming home were felt for months.
It was terrifying at first for all of us. But there was also a tremendous sense of community. Out of shared uncertainty came shared sacrifice. We were unified and united during those first weeks, even months.
But as weeks dragged into months, life had to go on. At first, we’d stop in to less frequented stores to look for staples, odds and ends you couldn’t get other ways. But as stores shortened hours and crowds competed for supplies, we couldn’t afford the exposure of our full grocery shopping trips anymore. So we learned to buy groceries online. Early on, the demand was so high that you had to place your orders days in advance. And then you crossed your fingers and hoped that the store would have some of what you needed. Checking over our grocery order and seeing what was missing or substituted was one of the biggest heartbreaks of my week. We lived a lot out of our food storage that spring.
And then there was the challenge of figuring out how to get other things we needed without going into a store. Easter especially took creativity to pull off. Gradually, businesses started offering curbside service. But for some things, I’d simply have to call the store and beg for someone to take my order on the phone and bring it out to me at my car.
We left home so rarely that any excuse to get out was a treat. One week, we all went to pick up groceries at Walmart. This outing could take an hour or more, as the demand for curbside was so high. That hot afternoon, we sat in our car with the air conditioner on. And then, when the groceries were loaded, Brian tried to start the car. The battery was dead. We begged the person next to us for a jump start, but that didn’t work. There we were, in the parking lot of a store that sold batteries, trying to decide if it was worth the risk to go in. Eventually, we decided the safest option was if Brian walked to an auto parts store in the same parking lot. There, he bought a battery and tools, changed the battery, and we made it home.
One of the hardest parts of being the family of an immune compromised child in this past year has been learning to forgive other people’s thoughtlessness. Too many people repeat “only 1% will die” or “only those with weak immune systems.” Well, yup. That’s our son. “This is no worse than the flu.” Well, he spent 2 weeks in the hospital with intestinal bleeding from norovirus. His tonsils had to be removed because of the risk of developing lymphoma when he had mono. And after his last immunizations, he’d had to spend a week at home because his body didn’t have enough white cells to protect him should he develop a cold. Having a liver, intestine and pancreas transplanted requires a high level of immune suppression, even at the lowest dose. And on top of that, his spleen was removed as part of that surgery, leaving him with even fewer defenses.
Distance learning was intense. In the mornings, we’d have online groups with Patrick’s class. There was only one girl in Patrick’s reading and math groups and our families got really close working together. In the afternoon, we’d come upstairs and doing science and social skills groups. Patrick’s teacher was amazing in finding ways to connect with the students. And in between groups, we’d complete work offline. I learned several new tricks during this time. Discovered online manipulatives. Mastered Google Meet and Google Classroom. It was a lot of work for me as a mom. But it was SO much better than any quarantine school we’d ever experienced before, that I was mostly just grateful. Especially because it kept Patrick from feeling alone.
The stress of suddenly losing all my supports (respite care, school, therapy and everyone else who had been sharing my load with me) and suddenly switching to a full-time job as teacher by day and a full-time role as playmate at night took its toll. Stress combined with my own immune suppression led to a case of shingles. Thankfully, because I’d been vaccinated when I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and started on immune suppression, it was mild.. a few weeks of pain and a lingering numb spot next to my ribs.
By Memorial Day, people were tired of quarantine and risked family get-togethers. And cases started to rise. We knew that eventually, life would have to reopen. Being a republican state, Utah’s legislature rushed and pressured the state into reopening much more quickly than their own plans suggested was safe. People took this as a sign that things were safe, even though nothing had changed. Still despite the rising cases that resulted, we tried to be enthusiastic for our friends who were able to take advantage of the discovery that the virus didn’t spread much outside. But I’ll never forget Patrick sitting at the window, watching our neighbors host a party with several other families.
Our family eventually got used to the routine of all of us being at home together. Yeast shortages and an abundance of time led me to finally learn how to make sourdough. My grandma was famous for her sourdough and I’m grateful and proud that I was able to master this skill. Also, shortages of food prompted Brian to help me expand my garden and learning about canning. We’d already wanted to do this, and pulling it off in a pandemic without being able to go into stores and nurseries was a bit of a feat. To make things harder, everyone was gardening, too. Still, I’ve always found tending a garden to be healing for my soul. And fresh tomatoes and other vegetables in summer made it worth the effort.
We were lucky as far as friends go, though. Patrick’s best friends were also being careful. And they were eager and willing to stay connected. So we discovered how to do video playdates on Facebook messenger and Google Meet. I found a website where you could upload your own gameboard and recreated a few of Patrick’s favorite games so he could play with friends and family. And we started reading Flat Stanley and mailing our own Stanley around the country.
Early in the pandemic, while cases were low, our extended family rented a house together in Colorado near Mesa Verde. I’m so grateful that they were willing to take the precautions to help make that trip safe because it was so good to spend time with them after so much time apart. We didn’t know how long it would be before we could be in person again.
In July, we decided to skip the noise of fireworks on Pioneer Day and take advantage of relatively low transmission in Wyoming. So we took a road trip up to Mount Rushmore. Most of the trip we were easily able to stay away from other people. We ate in fast food parking lots with all the others because dining rooms were closed. We strategically planned gas and potty stops for less crowded stations. By then, wearing masks got fewer odd looks, at least, even if they mostly weren’t worn in rural areas. Mount Rushmore was so crowded we basically ran in, took a few pictures and ran out, but overall it was a happy distanced trip far from other people. Except the hotels.Being around others in the hotels was nervewracking. Some were obviously clean, others more doubtfully so. Staff wore masks under noses or not at all. I brought cleansers with us and we recleaned the rooms and slept on our own pillows. Thankfully, we only spent the nights there. And in the day, we got to see some beautiful parts of God’s creations that were so close to home, yet we’d never explored.
We are no strangers to masks. Patrick wore masks every time he went in public for the first 6 months after transplant. Gloves, too, that we’d take off and wash when he got home. I started sewing us masks before it was the cool thing to do, as I saw families trying to figure out how to extend the life of their masks for dressing changes.
I read dozens of articles and studies looking for the best patterns and materials and finally settled on 800 count sheets as an interior layer and quilting cotton as an exterior layer. This was based on a study done in England as a sort of pandemic planning that compared different materials. Interestingly, that study hypothesized that the two biggest struggles in widespread mask adoption during a pandemic would be 1) comfort and 2) understanding how to wear a mask properly. It was interesting to see that play out in real life. Especially as a certain viral video hoax convinced so many people that wearing a mask would increase their CO2 and cause them to infect themselves with their own bacteria.
It took a few versions for me to figure it out, but eventually I managed some contoured masks with t-shirt yarn strings that went around your head and were adjusted with a pony bead at the back. They are still our most comfortable and most often worn.
But really, we rarely have to wear masks because we are around other people so rarely. There is some comfort in knowing that there is no grey area for you. Fully quarantining in some ways is easier than the decisions others have to make about risk.
Like returning to school. There was no question there. Patrick would join cohort Z, the all online learning option at his school.
But at a school primarily for children with special needs, most of the students chose to attend in person. It’s the best way for most to get the services they need.
And so, Patrick logs in each morning to a live video stream of his regular classroom. His one friend from spring is also at home and they are still in all their groups together. Our families work together on making learning a success and I’m grateful for their friendship and help.
He has an awesome teacher who does so well making sure that the kids who are online know that she cares and that they are a part of the class. We have our awkward moments. At first, we spent a good part of the time looking at the ceiling of the classroom because they’d forget to adjust the camera after tilting it to talk to us.
But, overall, as far as education goes, this may be one of Patrick’s best years ever. 1) He can adapt his learning to his own pace. He’s with the class, but if we need to take some extra time to finish something or take a break, we can. 2) I am entirely in charge of his IEP goals. It didn’t start out this way. The teacher would send us work. But as he and I were working 1:1 on these goals, my teaching training kicked in and I asked to pick the curriculum. I sent the teacher a copy of the book I wanted to use for math and she gave her blessing. Eventually, I took over all the goals. We just report data back and ask for guidance if we’re stuck. 3) We have enough time in the morning. With meds to give and other things, getting to in-person school on time has been a monumental feat. But we are rarely ever late to class online. If we do happen to be running late, he can just eat at the desk. 4) Patrick always has all the accommodations he needs. I know exactly what he’s doing. And especially with math, that he has to learn in a very unique way, I can pull out whatever manipulatives help. Even make some of my own. No more reminding teachers over and over again that they aren’t following the IEP. 5) We don’t have to fight to figure out inclusion. This deserves an entire post of its own. But long story short, P.E. and recess have long been problems for Patrick. But now our P.E. is guided by an amazing adaptive P.E. teacher and done 1:1 or when he feels up to it. 6) He can eat! And eat. And eat. Getting Patrick to take care of himself physically at school has long been a battle. But at home, he snacks when he needs it. He goes to the bathroom when he needs it. He has gone up 3 shoe sizes in the past year! Gained 16 pounds. He is just 5 inches shorter than me now.
There are some things that I can’t wait to end in this pandemic. But the lessons we’ve learned about education are things I’ll never let go. I hope that no healthy but at-risk child ever has to put up with 2 hours a week of “home hospital” education like we had to do after transplant. We know better now.
Another thing I hope never goes back to the way it was is Sunday. Don’t get me wrong, I miss worshiping in person and desperately miss fellowship with my friends. BUT because our church has a lay ministry, meaning most worthy men are ordained to the priesthood, when churches needed to close, we were given permission to have the priesthood-holders in our home (in this case, my husband) perform the ordinance of the sacrament for us.
About a year before the pandemic, our church switched to a home-centered church-supported model for some of our Sunday School lessons. They provided curriculum, but parents were to teach it at home. Well, that has been a life saver. In fact, being able to customize gospel lessons to Patrick’s way of learning. His gospel knowledge, comfort in the scriptures, and faith have been visibly growing, even if it’s still fairly young and innocent compared to others his age.
And to have Sundays be simply a day of rest, worship, and time together is precious.
As cases began to spike, church leaders directed that sacrament meeting be made available via webcast. At first, we were sad to give up the entirely self-paced Sunday we’d gotten used to. But being able to hear news of our ward and listen to talk and see faces, even if we aren’t seen, has been wonderful. Again, this is one of those things I hope doesn’t soon disappear. As we went months without being able to attend church after transplant, I was often envious of those whose wards had decided to make their meeting available to them via broadcast. It’s a little strange to know that others are attending in person every 2 to 3 weeks. But I know we’re not ready to be there yet, and we’re grateful to connect in the way we can. Similarly, being able to join in Sunday classes via Zoom has been great. (I just wish we weren’t always hurried off by Zoom’s 40 minute timeline.)
Another favorite part of Sundays is family chats. My grandfather is 95 and lives alone. My parents also both have medical conditions that put them at high risk. So the weekly Sunday dinners we’ve known all my life weren’t an option. But I worried about Grandpa and others being alone without regular connections. We started chatting on Sundays and I’ve been able to spend more time talking with my siblings than I have in years.
Holidays have been different. Much more low key. We pretty much skipped Halloween. We focused on Patrick’s birthday instead. We rented a whole movie theater for the three of us just to see a movie. We had a video birthday party with his friends. They played Kahoot and chatted. We bought the candy we wanted for ourselves, put a sign on the door, and hid in the basement from trick-or-treaters. Honestly, it was so nice not to have the birthday rushed through so we could get to the trick-or-treating that, quite honestly, just stressed Patrick and me out.
On Thanksgiving, we hosted jackbox games with our families. And for Christmas, we did gift exchanges and cookie exchanges over video. We had a delightful 2 day road trip getaway to go view the Christmas Star (convergence of Mars and Jupiter) at Goblin Valley in some of the darkest sky country in the country.
Christmas Day has always been hurried for us. Too busy rushing between different families. Spending the day at home playing with toys with a few video chats with family was SUCH a treat.
Reinventing traditions has taken some creativity, but has had such great rewards.
That’s another odd thing about being the 1% during a pandemic. I watch so many people worrying about what they’re missing. They can’t imagine letting go of traditions. They fret about their teenagers missing dances and socials. Their kids missing extracurricular activities. When schools don’t offer them, they create them on their own, despite the risks.
And it makes me sad.. because what they don’t see is that in trying not to miss the old things, they are missing so much else, too.
People hate the phrase “the new normal.” I think because it was thrust on them when they weren’t seeking it. The first time I heard that phrase was at a women’s conference when I was struggling with infertility. I was trying to resolve the gap between my hopes and my reality. And I attended a talk by a couple where the husband had had some sudden, severe health challenges. The wife told her someone had told her to stop trying to make the old normal happen, and to learn to embrace and look for the joy in her new normal. That was a lightbulb moment for me.
When I was getting ready to bring Patrick home from the hospital for the first time, the NICU attending sat down with me for, basically, a pep talk. He warned me that things were not going to feel right. That I was going to think I was failing most of the time. And that I’d at least once be sure I’d killed my son, even though I hadn’t. He told me that finding a new normal takes time. At least a month. And that I needed to grant myself grace while that happened.
I found that timeline to be very true. With every hospitalization, every medical change, every setback or triumph, we’d have to figure out a new routine and a new normal. And depending on the extremity of the change, it could take anywhere from 2 weeks to months before normal came. But it took the longest when I resisted the change.
I’ve spent most of my adult life adjusting to new normals. The Lord loves to reset my life on a moment’s notice. So this isn’t all that unfamiliar for me.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t mourn for the old normal. Let’s be honest, my life ended on March 14. My hobbies, my friendships, my space, my time. Everything I’d built was erased and I got to rebuild it from foundations up with my faith, my family, and my home as the beginning stones. So I miss time with my friends. And I miss having the house to myself. And going out to lunch. And Disneyland. And wandering the produce section of the grocery store. And hearing about my son’s day when I pick him up after school.
One of the hardest parts of this pandemic has been learning to offer grace and forgiveness to those who are actively fighting against “the new normal.” I cringe at social media shares of risky choices and neighborhood parties. It’s hard when that holding on to old things or trying not to miss out sometimes directly affects me. Like when we have to avoid the park on a walk because of the soccer game there with maskless crowds undistanced. Or the time I waited an hour at a restaurant for my curbside order to be brought out because there was a crowd inside and the manager thought he had to keep the line moving and so he didn’t serve anyone not inside the store.
The anger in online communication has been among the worst. And it’s taken me time to learn not to get caught up in it. It’s difficult to bite your tongue when your life for 12 years has been based on trusting the medical profession, understanding epidemiology, following protocols to prevent infectious disease, and reading and interpreting studies. There is really nothing about this pandemic or any of the suggested precautions that is new or surprising to me. This is the same science we’ve known for Patrick’s whole life. Except the human element. I have been surprised by the propaganda, the politics, and the destructive power of the share button. And it sometimes takes conscious effort to keep the real person in mind instead of replying to an online persona. I want to correct misinformation. I want to rage at the lies. But mostly, these are people I love. And only love gets people to listen anyway.
It’s easy to feel unseen, unheard, and unremembered when you are the 1% that’s considered an acceptable loss. Especially when it means you are at home, literally unseen and unheard.
But there have been some miraculous moments of our being seen, too. Like the neighbor who showed up on my doorstep one night with raspberries because I told her I missed them and was having a hard time buying them. Or the amazing group of women who flashmobbed me for my birthday. It’s the texts checking in. The picking up odd items for me while at the store.
(Sidenote: Did you know there are things that stores won’t sell to you online? Toy diecast cars was one. Little Debbie holiday treats, for some reason. And just about every high demand item like hand soap, clorox wipes and toilet paper for a while. I’ve had to learn which stores allow which hard to find items. And we’ve had to give up some other things we used to never live without.)
Being seen is little things. It’s a months long running Marco Polo conversation with one of my best friends (who is also sheltering at home with her 1% son.) And it’s those who still invite and allow me to serve with my talents.
It’s been a privilege to continue to serve as compassionate service leader. Welcoming babies and comforting others through sickness and loss almost entirely through text and phone calls. Helping families who lost someone to this virus has been poignant and sacred. (There’s a red ribbon tied around the trees in my front yard in memory of a neighbor taken by the virus that I don’t know I’ll choose to take down myself.)
I’ve loved continuing to serve as PTO president. I was going to call it off the first year, until I realized that I was the one with the budget for teacher appreciation and the end of year celebrations. I was also the one with experience adapting traditions to crazy health restrictions. So I ended up hosting a week-long game show for our teachers. And I bought gifts and decorations for an end of year reverse parade.
Sometimes I feel like a puppet master running PTO meetings by Google Meet and then giving other commands by text message and sending other parents to do the work I can’t do myself. It’s taken creativity to reinvent school traditions this year. But it’s been a wonderful chance to enjoy and celebrate the now and I hope my efforts have others as we learn a different way to do things.
There have been other hard moments in this year. Not directly from the pandemic, but made harder by it. Rioting and civil unrest. And a windstorm that brought hurricane force winds rarely seen in Utah.
Between the trauma of being woken by an earthquake in March and then a night lying awake listening to that windstorm, Patrick has become pretty skittish about sleep, especially in the morning. He wakes in the morning and lies awake waiting for day to come. I finally taught him how to read a clock, and convinced him he should try to sleep if he wakes before 6.
But most days, since he doesn’t understand time, he lies there and waits for the clock to change. Sometimes for hours. And he’s in my room at 6:04 telling me it’s morning. To survive, we taught him how to serve himself cereal or yogurt or cottage cheese so we could sleep a little longer. Growth comes in unexpected ways.
Finally, an end is in sight for this pandemic. Almost. There are vaccines available. I was nervous at first about their quick development. Until, that is, an infectious disease doctor I trust explained out how the sheer volume of people affected by a pandemic had helped them complete trials faster than usual. No corners were cut, there just were enough people for trials. He also pointed out that the technology had been being developed for years and just needed an application.
Still, we have to wait our turn in line. And unfortunately, there are no pediatric studies complete. So the person in our house who needs the vaccine most, Patrick, may not be able to get it until fall.
There are variants that might be resistant. And no one knows if vaccinated people can spread the virus as can happen with other vaccines.
And with the degree of vaccine hesitancy or outright misinformation, I’m not sure that there will be enough herd immunity available to protect him without being vaccinated himself.
I remember last March reading about the Spanish Flu. I’d downloaded a book thinking “This was a major historical event, and I know nothing about it.” So when I finally was ready to face it, I read that book. And I read historical accounts. That pandemic lasted for 2 years. It looks likely that this one will, too.
So we’ll keep doing what we’re doing. Keeping safe, but not waiting. Being patient, but living the life we have.
There are things we have learned we can do without. I used think that we needed to keep Patrick in therapies as much as possible to help make up for the effects of his brain injury. But when those were cancelled, and I started to put in a full school day with him, it suddenly seemed cruel to make him leave school and still do hours of therapy. After years of attending therapy with him, there is a lot I can do for him naturally in his day anyway.
We learned, however, that we did need other support. The sudden change in activity made the effects of cerebral palsy in his legs so much more severe. Especially in the midst of a growth spurt. Thank goodness for a video consultation with his physical therapist and a dedicated adaptive P.E. teacher, we were able to help me find ways to stretch and strengthen so he could walk more easily again. It helped, but when the weather is warmer, we have a lot of strengthening to do for him and for me. We just don’t get to move enough.
My family is closer than we have ever been. Unlike other trials, we’ve spent this one together, not apart, and it’s brought us close. And despite the outright disasters (multiple) of this past year, we have discovered so many other wonderful things.
I hope we never lose the lessons of family and slowing down.I hope to carry lessons I’ve learned on with me. I hope we don’t resume old habits of ignoring sickness or ignoring those in need around us. That we remember what we’ve learned about staying connected.
One basic principle we computer nerds know.. Sometimes it’s best to just wipe out a computer or a device and rebuild it from scratch. Get rid of the unneeded processes that are bogging the system down. I think that’s kind of what we’re doing now.
If you’ve made it to the end of this long, rambling post.. well, either you’re probably related to me or this pandemic has left you with extra time that you’re trying to fill. Mostly, I’ve written this for myself. To remember what happened this year. And because, as a blogger detailing our transplant journey, it’s worth acknowledging the very unusual experience that it is to be a transplant family during a pandemic.
Whenever I get fatigued by his long, long trial I remind myself that we have been gifted many miracles in Patrick. It is a gift to have him with us at all. He died in my arms and was brought back. He was saved from sepsis more times than I can count. We received another gift in his being made nearly whole by transplant. And I don’t take for granted the gift of his donor who, in a way, lives on in him.
I can be patient and grateful in protecting those gifts. I can be inconvenienced by staying in my comfortable home. We’ve survived things this hard and harder and been sustained.
It is a privilege to be rare, to be the 1%, or even less than 1%. And hopefully what we know from our rare journey can help others. The world has been thrust into our unusual life.
We’ll see if I have more time moving forward to keep up on blogging what it is to be 1% in a pandemic. I have nothing but time, but with distance learning, I also have never had less time. But if you made it to the end here, thanks for listening.
I’d normally pack a post with pictures and maybe someday I’ll go back and do that. But for now, here’s a link to Patrick’s 12th birthday video. That’ll catch you up on pictures till Halloween at least.
Well, Patrick’s been in first grade for 3 weeks now. I love seeing him becoming comfortable at school. He loves his teacher. He has been matched with a very good aide. He’s making friends in his class. I think the work is just challenging enough. So far, things are going well.
It wasn’t our smoothest start. When the official first day of school in the district rolled around and Patrick didn’t go because they weren’t ready, I took it harder than I expected. Not only was I beyond tired at that point, but I felt a little left behind. We did our best to make sure that Patrick didn’t know the difference. And thank goodness his respite provider was trying to pick up extra hours before leaving for school because she came and kept him company that few extra days.
I also decided that if you can’t be in school when everyone else is, you might as well take advantage of it. Patrick Make-a-Wish trip came with free passes to several amusement parks for a year from the date of his trip. Including one near home. So I hinted, maybe even begged, Brian to take the afternoon off of work and we went to play at Lagoon.
We did it kind of spontaneously so we surprised Patrick with it. I don’t think he knew that we had roller coasters close to home. He could have stayed all day. In fact, used to Disneyland 3-day-passes, he was a little confused when we left and didn’t come back the next day.
He was a little skittish after trying the regular “white” roller coaster.. a good old fashioned wooden rollercoaster. So kiddie-land was his cup of tea. Especially when he got to “drive a car” all by himself. I think he’d have stayed on that one ride all day. We stayed till we got tired and cold from being wet from the water rides.
And eventually, Monday morning did come and Patrick got to go back to school. I spent most of the first couple of days going back and forth training the school staff. They were very nervous about lunch and potty and g-tube medications and allergies. So I’d come back at lunch and for mini training sessions. And I think I eventually helped them see that what we were asking is new but not really hard. And, honestly, not really necessary most of the time.
I think Patrick’s doing pretty darn well at school. We all wondered how he’d take being away from home for 7 hours a day. That is probably the hardest thing. He comes home exhausted every day. He had been used to a mandatory afternoon rest time and he’s not getting that right now.
He’s also starving when he gets home to me. I think he’s doing pretty well eating away from me for the first time. But sometimes the temptation of friends and recess is great and he hurries through lunch. Thankfully, his education plan includes snack times and a water bottle at his desk and he’s doing ok with those things. But I’m not surprised that he’s lost a little bit of weight since school started and I’m not certain that we’re going to make the goal of 100% oral eating this month. (It’s hard when we are 95% there!)
But we’re starting to get a routine regardless. Patrick’s school starts late so there is time for me to make sure he gets a good breakfast at home before we leave. If we’re really on point, we even get to the school with a little time for him to play on the playground. Then we visit the potty and then take Patrick to computer lab. Because of the breakfast in the classroom program, I drop Patrick off there so he misses that extra allergy risk.
After school, Patrick expects me to be waiting with a piece of string cheese. We are finding that letting him have a single small portion of dairy once a day seems to be the right balance and he’s in love with string cheese. Then we drive home and he gets to snack and play and rest however he chooses. Lately, his preference is to play in the yard with his ride-on car and bike and hope that the little boy across the street will come join him. But some days he’s tired and so we snuggle up on the beanbag in the basement and watch TV.
After dinner, we buckle down and do his homework. We’re trying to figure out the right balance between making him practice writing and making sure he doesn’t get frustrated. Dyspraxia, or motor impairment from Patrick’s brain injury, makes writing frustrating sometimes. Especially when he’s tired. But with a mix of stamps and tracing we usually make it through.
So far, he’s putting up with math better than I’m used to. They’re working on writing numbers and counting right now. Basically, he’s working in the math book he started but didn’t get a chance to finish last year. This is good. I’m wishing I’d realized I had access to that when we were in Nebraska because it gives a better foundation.. But at least he’s getting it now.
They’ve put Patrick the medium level reading group at school. He’s still got some to make up from kindergarten there, too. But he has a real knack for it. He is reading me little sight word/rebus readers every night right now without any hesitation. And he aced his last spelling test.
The biggest struggle right now is the potty at school. Because Patrick knows how to push through being uncomfortable, he seems to be having little problem with the idea of holding it for the entire school day. At first, he was just making it till his aide left at 2. But I put him leakier pull-ups. One accident and he started waiting for me to come at 3:30.
I started praying for a solution and the Lord sent a very interesting solution. A stomach bug.
We went to Denver for Brian’s nephew’s baptism. And on the 2nd night there, Patrick woke up at 1:30 a.m. and asked me to take him to the potty. Note: Patrick has historically had pretty big anxiety about unfamiliar potties. So that really surprised me.
The next day, that kind of became the story of the day. Trips to the potty. Lots and lots of trips to the potty. My knees were sore from all the trips up and down stairs and kneeling on the floor.
We were pretty worried about this. Diarrhea is a REALLY bad thing for intestinal transplant patients. It can mean rapid dehydration. It can mean developmental setbacks. And it can be a sign of rejection.
We should have been comforted that Patrick ran no fevers. At first we were. I was pretty certain that his upset stomach was a side effect of my letting him try both whipped cream and sour cream in the same day. But to the transplant team, no fevers made the odds of rejection higher. His symptoms lasted almost a week before improving and we had lots of conversations with his wonderful GI here as well as the transplant team in Nebraska. Thankfully, his labwork stayed stable. And I’m pretty proud of our ability to keep up with hydration using pedialyte through his g-tube.
Then, a few days in, I came down with the bug too. Who knew I’d ever be grateful for catching illnesses from my son. But it tells us when something is contagious and not malignant. And so far, I think it means that he gets to miss the opportunity of a sedated biopsy.
Patrick missed a couple of days of school because of being sick. But at least for me, he started using the potty there. And if he at least will go when I drop him off and pick him up, that’s one hour less of him just trying not to go. He’s gone for other teachers, too. Just not his aide.
As for me… well, I don’t think I have the hang of things personally yet. I’m struggling to figure out how to work in appointments with school. Patrick’s had two half-days missed to go to appointments and subsequent make-up work. Plus make-up work for sick days. I’m grateful that his teacher sends the work home so that he doesn’t fall behind. But he’s not so much of a fan of the extra homework.
I’m not sure quite what to do with myself during the day, either. The first couple of days. I did nothing. Binged on Netflix. Ate foods that I wouldn’t make with Patrick home. (That first lunch that I didn’t have to consider Patrick’s food was a strange feeling.)
I’m doing some better quality scripture study for the first time in a while. I’ve even got a study notebook that I’m writing in. I’ll admit, though that I tried going back to traditional paper scriptures and I’m too hooked on the features of electronic study on my phone or tablet. It’s too nice to follow a footnote with a link or search a thought on the internet and find more information on it. Plus, I’m building a pretty nice little electronic annotation library of my own. (Seriously, look into the LDS Gospel Library App sometime. It’s got so much more in it than just fitting the whole Bible, Book of Mormon, and sunday school and institute manuals in your pocket.)
Some days I’m diligent and work on cleaning. I still feel wholly in over my head there. We have deep cleaning projects left from the summer before transplant. But I’m doing my best to chip away at it. I’m doing much better keeping up on the regular cleaning and the yard work. I’ve cleaned out a few cupboards. Cataloged surplus medical supplies to donate. Canned tomatoes. Practiced the piano. Gone for walks. Finished a book. Filed medical bills and spent a lot of time on the phone making sure the last of what’s left from this spring is squared away.
A lot of my days have still been devoted to taking care of Patrick so I haven’t really scratched the surface of what I dreamed of doing with this time.
But today – well, today I decided it was time to update the blog. I’ve put it off too long. And when I get behind, it’s always harder to write. Because I know the post will end up long like this.
I dream of a schedule where I have blogging day and laundry day and volunteer at the school day and regular exercise and study and visits with family. Maybe someday.
Today was insane. Brian and I woke up before Patrick, a rare occasion, and were lying in bed talking (we’ve missed each other) when the power went out. And then, a few minutes later we heard sirens. And, well, we hoped it wasn’t but we suspected that a car accident had knocked out the power. We live in a quiet neighborhood, but it’s near some busy streets. And this morning, somehow a traffic accident took down two power poles. Across the street form each other. The power was out all day.
Not the smoothest start, but we pushed on. It was a big and busy day and I needed to make the most of it. So, after sending Daddy off to work, Patrick and I got ready to go do a little more shopping. We still needed some things for school to start. And then we hurried home to meet my sister.
i ended up with 3 big things scheduled today. An allergist appointment, a school meeting, and a speech evaluation. My sister Marcy agreed to tag along for the day to help keep Patrick happy while I did the talking that needed to be done. Patrick doesn’t like us to talk about him.
Well, we got to the allergist and went to check in and they couldn’t find the appointment. Finally they looked it up and told me that it wasn’t until the following day. I explained that I had come at the time told to me and that I couldn’t come the next day because Patrick was in school. They tried to find a way to fit us in.. but with other meetings we couldn’t swing it.
I was disappointed because i really want help sorting out these new allergy test results. They revealed new allergies. They also hint that Patrick might be outgrowing his milk allergy. And I don’t know what comes next. But it had to wait for another day.
We went and grabbed lunch and then headed to a park. Patrick was seeming restless. But we sat down to eat only to discover that Arby’s had put cheese on Patrick’s roast beef sandwich. And with no answers from the allergist, I had to pick out the pieces he could eat. Frustrating.
Anyway – Patrick made a friend and the time at the park was fun enough. And then we went off to meet with the school.
I can’t really describe what school meetings for Patrick look like. This one was packed. We had the teacher, OT, PT, principal, nurse, district special education liason, and two other very big district big wigs over special accommodations in the school. Plus Patrick, me and Marcy.
As I mentioned before, I had talked to Patrick’s teacher and nurse the week before. The teacher and I talked at length about medical accommodations. She was very worried because Patrick needs extra supervision at recess, lunch, and especially with the potty and she just doesn’t have enough adults in her classroom to help with that. Especially since they added 5 kids to the class since last I’d heard. I told her I’d been promised extra help and she asked me how far I was willing to go to make that happen. I started writing e-mails that day. And I got promises that the district would send help to the meeting. (Enter the district big wigs.)
When I talked to the nurse, again, when we started talking about medical needs he said that it sounded like we didn’t have enough support. I told him that we had been promised extra help from an aide and I didn’t know how to make that happen. I gave him some names that I had of people who had made decision and promises. And he said he’d make some calls.
Yesterday morning, I got a call from the district nurse who was helping with Patrick’s school transition. She explained to met that, in fact, she had helped request an aide for Patrick and told me the language to use to make sure that one was provided. And she promised to call around and find specifics.
And so today we sat down and i started to go over Patrick’s needs and I brought up the concern that there wasn’t enough support in the classroom… and the district special resources person told the principal that they had 22 extra aide hours per week for Patrick. Her response was a mix of frustration and relief. Glad for the resources but not so much for needing to produce this extra employee for school to start the next morning. I can’t blame her for being upset. I’m upset that it took a meeting when I’ve been asking about it for a month. But I’m also partly to blame for taking so long to choose a school.
We went over medical needs. The nurse was really outspoken and trying his best to help. We talked about where Patrick should sit and lunch. (End of the table with friends with safe lunches next to him.) We decided we needed to set a time to train the classroom staff. Only with school starting, he didn’t think we could fit that in right away. We decided to let Patrick come 10 minutes late to school and miss breakfast. I explained that hands have to be washed with soap and water, not just hand sanitizer which created a fuss about the bathrooms always being out of soap. I offered to provide soap for the classroom. And the district rep jumped in and said I couldn’t do that and promised to remedy the situation.
We talked about potty training. That was one of the teacher’s biggest worries. I don’t blame her. It’s a huge time commitment. Especially with Patrick. I guess there are two kids potty training which makes things even more complicated. Also, the private bathroom I was excited about turns out to be in the school’s “sick room.” I was SO grateful when someone else spoke up and said that wouldn’t work. Not sure that we actually ended up with a resolution, though. They talked about making the school move the sick room. They talked about offering to install a changing table in the bathrooms that are being remodeled, too. We decided to let Patrick wear pull-ups to school while we work it out.
We planned to hold a new IEP meeting in October, once they’ve had a month to get to know Patrick. And we talked about including or re-including some new things at that time like restarting physical therapy and calling in the augmentative team to look at some assistive technology for writing.
And then, after we talked about everything that needs to be done.. the idea was thrown out that Patrick maybe would be better off if he didn’t start school tomorrow. I didn’t know if i was relieved or crushed by that idea. Really, they aren’t ready. Really, I’m not ready. I have felt like I have been only halfway there this year. Not put together. Not giving him time to transition after all the craziness of travel. And so a few more days will let me make his backpack and his lunchbox cute and medical friendly. It will let me train the staff. It will let them try to hire help. It might give me time to figure out this new allergy questions. And to get Patrick back into a routine with eating and potty. It will let Patrick and I have a few more days at home to say goodbye to each other. And to really get him ready for the idea of school.
But I’m kind of sad. It feels kind of like when you’re on a road trip and you finally make it to a rest stop only to find out that the bathroom is closed and you’re gonna have to cross the street to the gas station. It’s only a little further, but it’s the longest, hardest part of the wait. I look around and see so many things that have just been waiting for me to get to them. And they will need to keep waiting.
I feel really bad for Patrick, too. On Sunday, all the other kids will be talking about starting school. And he will have been left a home. Again. He will miss the craziness of the first day of school. But he’ll have missed the specialness of it, too. He’ll be the different kid. The one who came late. The new kid. Again.
They asked if I’d like to come teach the kids about his allergies and immune suppression. I told them about the presentation I gave last year at the start of kindergarten. And I could see they liked the idea. So on Friday afternoon, I’ll be going in to introduce Patrick to his class. And then afterwards, we’ll meet and go over a behavior plan and schedule.
And then Monday morning, he’ll start school. I’ll stay and help the nurse train the teachers. And I’ll maybe stay to help a little more than that if they don’t have another aide by then.
And I know it’ll be good.
I think I’m just a little bit mourning normal. I want back to school to be exciting and happy. This just feels complicated.
But maybe having a few more days to regroup will accomplish that. And meanwhile, we have one last week with the girl who’s been doing Patrick’s respite. And we have a few sweet days where all the kids are in school and we might be able to sneak off and do something awesome without a crowd.
What an overwhelming two weeks I have had. If you’ve happened across me you may have found me forgetful, worried, tearful, distracted, jumpy, uncertain, self-consumed or any other manifestation of anxious. I live with anxiety. It’s been part of who I am for a long time. When we were undergoing fertility treatments, it kind of consumed me. Therapy helped teach me to live with it. And now? Well, it’s been a very stressful two weeks and anxiety has been thread running throughout all of it.
It is no surprise that this has been a hard stretch. I’ve been saying for a long time that my goal for August was just to survive.
Brian went to Europe (Ukraine and Poland) for work for 10 days. Wives were invited and I couldn’t go and that hit a lot harder as he got on a plane and left than it usually does when he has to travel. Also, this was one of those real long-haul trips. A long one. And a busy one so that most of our chances to talk to one another were stole little moments when one or the other of us should have been doing something else, like sleeping. And there is no real cure for a linguist and lover of travel and culture to stay at home while her best friend sees the world without her.
It was also one of those really busy times here at home. As I mentioned in my last post, we have been working with Patrick’s allergist, GI, and dietitian to try to switch him to oral eating instead of enteral (through a g-tube) feeding. I kept a 3 day chart of Patrick’s diet and learned that he’s eating just under 1600 calories a day. The goal is 1800-2000 and therefore, a few more bites at each meal and he may just be there. The log showed that he needs to get more protein into his diet, which sounds challenging since he’s still struggling with typical meats. But I introduced him to fish while Brian was away. (Brian doesn’t like fish). And to fish sticks. And he loved them. And, out of the blue, Patrick started actually eating roast which gives me hope that if I can just get the meat tender enough, he might be able to eat it. Meanwhile, I we are supposed to be encouraging him to eat the proteins he likes like soy cheese and hummus and lunch meat. (I have taken to buying a few of those little buddig lunch meat packets and sometimes just handing one of those to him to snack on.) Knowing he’s a touch allergic to soy, I switched to sunbutter, which was received with lots of pleased “mmm” sounds.
But the mission that really turned me into a basket case this past little while has been trying to make plans for Patrick to go to school. I had the chance to talk to his classroom teacher and also to the school nurse. And the vibe I got from both was worrisome. They both seemed totally great at their jobs. And they both seemed to feel completely in over their heads with Patrick. In fact, both asked me why exactly Patrick wasn’t in the medical hub when it was obvious that he has such big medical needs.
I had long conversations and I wrote long e-mails and I did everything I could to make people talk and work behind the scenes. But I couldn’t do what was really the most needed until today.. I couldn’t meet with the school. I miscalculated. Brian offered to send me to visit one of my dearest friends, Lindy, who lives in Seattle. Her family housed us through I don’t know how many checkups at Seattle Children’s while Patrick was waiting for transplant there. And when we moved our listing to Nebraska, Seattle became too far to travel. I haven’t visited in 2 years. And so, since he was going to be away for a long time and since we didn’t swing a family vacation this year, he offered to send me out to visit.
I wasn’t sure as I was getting ready to go that this was a wise choice, this travelling alone with Patrick when my husband was gone and I had to pack and get us there on our own. It didn’t go well. The day before we left I was anxiety personified. And I went to bed wondering if I’d completely lost my mind.
Thank goodness it was a visit to a friend who helps me piece my sanity back together. It was good to catch up. And it deserves its own post. But as usual, Lindy helped me to talk and work through some of my struggles. And Patrick basked in the love of this amazing family.
And then we came back home and dived into madness again. I didn’t even get to unpack for like 36 hours, things were so busy.
Yesterday I tried to juggle back to school shopping and phone calls and e-mails with Patrick’s medical team and cleaning the house and unpacking and making quality time with my son who is about to leave me during the day. And there weren’t enough hours in the day. And Brian was going to be home in a couple of hours.
And then… Brian’s plane got delayed. And I kept working. And the flight kept getting pushed back. And I started to feel guilty because I started to wonder if my prayers for there to be enough hours in the day were resulting in airport delays. But I just kept at it and soon enough had been done. Patrick was in bed. And my amazing respite worker had come over on no notice to sit with him so that I could go bring Brian home.
And I’ve decided this post is getting too long and so I’m gonna wrap it up with just this thought because today deserves its own whole post too. But here’s the thing…
I’m recognizing that I’ve been just getting by for a very long time. Almost a year. And now that school is on the horizon, I’m trying to piece my life and sanity back together. I’ve started to go back to therapy. And I’ve started to recognize that to let go of this crushing anxiety I’ve been carrying, I have to stop just shoving it down deeper inside.
When you’re just surviving, that’s what you do. You put it down deep as far as you can so you don’t have to look at it and you just carry it with you while you move on. Like when you are at the store and they hand you a receipt and you don’t have really anywhere to put it so you tuck it into your purse. And before you know it your purse is all filled up with wadded up papers and wrappers and odds and ends of spilled things. And you just keep carrying them around because it takes effort to get things back out and look at them and figure out what to keep and what to throw out. That’s where I am. I’ve got all these things tucked down because I didn’t have anywhere to put them. And I’m hoping that I can get them back out and let some of them go.
So you might see me a little bit weaker for a while. It’s ok. That means I’m trying to work through some things. Anxiety is part of who I am. I’m pretty good at squaring my shoulders and pushing forward. But when I get a second to be myself, I’m going to need to work some things out. And it might look messy while I get through it.
School starts on August 19th. My goal in this month prior to school is to help Patrick work up to a school year normal.
That means a few things. First, it means restarting outpatient therapy. I took Patrick back to his occupational therapist a month ago. She was so excited to have him back and eager to start working with him on writing and an learning to manage his sensory processing disorder with a new “sensory diet.” (Since transplant, Patrick’s not nearly as controlled by his sensory seeking behaviors. But that doesn’t mean they’ve gone away. However, he’s a lot more tired so the big physical play that used to help focus wears him out fast now.)
The bad news, though, is that Primary Children’s lost a couple of therapists this summer. They have hired a bunch of new ones. But that means that the veterans are very busy with the transition. Patrick’s beloved therapist just doesn’t have time in her schedule to do the weekly therapist that Patrick seems to need right now. However, she’s been shadowed by another therapist in the couple of visits we went to. And so we transferred care, at least temporarily, to a new occupational therapist.
We also agreed to move back to the Taylorsville Clinic. (I have had some bad experiences with the office staff at that clinic and had decided not to keep going there.) Because it shares space with an instacare, Patrick has to wear a mask on the way in and can’t wait in the waiting room. However, it’s closer to home, has a bigger, cleaner gym. And we were able to basically pick our time on their lightest day.
Our first session went pretty well. His therapist picked up on all the tools we use to keep Patrick on track: a clear schedule, verbal cues, deep breathing, etc. and I think he was calmer for her than has been his usual. The other nice thing is that I think we can pull off going to therapy at 8 a.m. on Mondays to let him get ready for the week at school.
I’ve scheduled evaluations so he can restart speech and physical therapies, too. And he’ll have his last home health feeding therapy session this week.
Also, to get ready for school, we started a new neuropsychological evaluation. Patrick was SO young last time he was tested. And we know that having a healthy gut has changed a lot of things for him. His sensory processing, focus, and other quirkiness is actually a lot less since transplant, even though he’s having a hard time with sitting still, speaking quietly, and controlling his temper. It seemed like a good time to get a new look at his abilities.
So we did an intake interview and in the first few weeks of school, Patrick will be pulled out for 3 half days so I can take him for some testing. Hopefully it helps.
As I mentioned before, we’re working on a behavior plan, too, with his psychologist.. hoping to have him used to a specific set of consequences and rewards that they can use in class. He always does best in class away from me, anyway.
Transplant follow-up appointment & diet changes
We saw Patrick’s GI, Dr. J this week. It was a long appointment. For one thing, I needed Dr. J to sign all new orders for school again. It’s getting smaller each time, though. This time around was only 8 signatures and 6 pages. Compared to 20 the first year, that’s big improvement.
Patrick weighed in at 24 kilos. That’s just under 53 pounds, and up 3 pounds in the past 3 weeks. They had a new dietitian this time and she pointed out that since Patrick’s eating meats (even if they are just hot dogs, hamburgers and lunch meat) he might be eating enough protein to not need as much formula at night. Dr. J was really concerned about Patrick’s 96% BMI and rapid weight gain. He said we need to get Patrick on a regular meal and snack schedule. And he said we should consider doing less “feeding while he is unconscious.”
So, I ran this all past the dietitian in Nebraska. And she made another reduction in Patrick’s formula feeding. I’m supposed to be keeping a log of everything he eats for the next 3 days so she can evaluate what he’s getting and we can start talking about a plan for all oral eating.
I’m not sure if this means needing to add other foods to his diet. Patrick doesn’t really absorb vegetables well. (Dr. J. says they are “just wood” anyway if you don’t have a colon to break them down in.) He can’t eat fruits. So he’ll need vitamin supplements at least.
We also saw Patrick’s allergist, Dr. G, today. For years, every time we went to the allergist, he’d say that we’d need to do a whole new workup after transplant when Patrick was ready to eat. Well, Patrick seems to be more than willing to eat. And so it’s important to figure out what exactly he is allergic to. This is kind of tricky with immune suppression because the same drugs that suppress Patrick’s immune system also suppress his allergic reactions. This is good news. But it means that we don’t really know what the potential for allergies is.
So that was today’s goal. Figure out what Patrick might be allergic to. Allergist appointments are always long. Like, crazy long. We were there three and a half hours today. For an hour, we updated Patrick’s medical chart and gave history to a resident. (Which, in summer especially, is a bit like training a new resident.) And then Patrick’s allergist came in and went over possible allergens. I went through a list of things we could test for an highlighted the things I think Patrick might be allergic to. Then the doctor highlighted the things he thought from past test results Patrick might be allergic to. Plus other foods that he thought it would be good for Patrick to try to eat. We tested for just under 40 possible allergens in all. That was all that would fit on his back.
Some of the results were predictable. Cashews and pistachios, off the chart. Eggs still in a big danger zone. Oats were much higher than expected. And I highlighted peaches, oranges, and strawberries because I’ve had my suspicions. They were very surprised when some of those rare things came up positive. We had other positives for foods that rarely to never cause reactions, like tomatoes and wheat. These could be just because they are a big part of Patrick’s diet and not that he can’t safely eat them. Really, all testing done so far, we don’t know almost as much as we did going it.
Nuts, both tree nuts and peanuts, are still a HUGE no for Patrick. We are still a nut-free house, for sure. So are eggs, peaches, corn, oats. However, he tested negative for cow’s milk, which was a very big surprise. (You can outgrow milk allergies but a year ago, Patrick wasn’t anywhere close to that.)
So the next step is to do a blood test. That will test for a different type of reaction. If the negatives in the scratch test match up with negatives in the blood test, we’ll do a food challenge. (For example, offer Patrick cheese.) If positives match up with positives, then we’ll talk about a strategy to keep Patrick safe but eating as much as possible. They will not be likely to stop him from eating foods that he is currently eating without reactions. He might have become desensitized and we wouldn’t want to reverse that by taking something back out of his diet. But time and testing and trial and error will decide. And if the results conflict, meaning if one is positive and one negative, we’ll probably test again.
This is sounding confusing as I’m writing it. It doesn’t change much of what we have been doing. Just helps us try to figure out how to help Patrick eat as much as possible and keep him safe. Meanwhile, we refilled his epi and got correct dosing on his antihistimines and requested a new letter for school. And we got things started.
Patrick was a champion. It was a long appointment and he was very scared. And yet, he was very patient and helpful. He crashed in exhaustion on the way home.
Choosing a school
Enough medical updates though. I have other news. We also have been planning for school by talking to the school district. I had a meeting yesterday with a couple of district representatives (I was being transitioned from one representative to another because of some restructuring). The goal of the meeting was to finally pick a school placement for Patrick. And I did finally make a decision.
Everyone who has spent time working with Patrick: his home hospital teacher, his summer school teacher, his psychologist and group therapy leader.. they all say that he needs to be in a higher functioning self-contained classroom this year. In a regular class, he’d walk all over the teacher and never get anything done. In a low functioning class, he’d gravitate to the classroom staff and not make friends or learn to work independently. And in either, he’d get bored and then get naughty.
But, as I’ve written before, I was uncomfortable with the classroom that he’d go to by default because of our address. Well, a little over a week ago I got brave enough to ask if there were any other classrooms like that one in other schools. Since, after all, I drive Patrick to school anyway.
It turns out, there are several. And the closest to my home happens to be in the town where I grew up. Across the street from my grandpa’s house. And 5 minutes away from Patrick’s therapy office.
All of a sudden, things seemed to fall into place. The class is indoors. It has fewer students. The teacher has a pretty good reputation. And, even though it’s far from home, that family connection will make it feel like Patrick isn’t going to school far away. It isn’t farther from the other school. And it’s in a place I know. I know the neighborhood. If he made friends and wanted to play after school, I could do that. Grandparents, aunts and uncles all live nearby to help respond when he’s sick. Patrick could even, in theory, choose to walk to his grandpa’s instead of me picking him up. Eventually. Once we’re sure he will actually go there when given a chance.
The district folks seemed to think they’d even be open and excited to have me volunteer in the school. (They have a high hispanic population. It sounds like I can use my talents to help.)
I’m a nervous wreck still. All of a sudden being away from Patrick from 9 to 3:45 every day after all this time together sounds terrifying. I wonder if he’ll make friends. I worry because I don’t know ANY of the staff here. Losing my district rep means that EVERYONE will be brand new to me. And I don’t know what writing an IEP and trying to request accommodations is going to be like. And I’m coming in with a very long wish list that I expect them to take care of.
Also, unlike some other places I’ve looked at… this is a very normal school. No big special needs programs. Just two small little special needs units.
And – I still have to make plans for safe lunch AND breakfast in the classroom. Though with only a handful of students, that should be more doable.
To make things worse, I didn’t bother looking up a school calendar until last week. Our district starts the same week of the year every year and I made plans for that. Only THIS YEAR they decided to change things and start a week early. Which means that instead of having a full week to make plans with a new school like I thought, I’ll have just 2 days. 2 days! To give medical training. To make an allergy plan. To make a behavior plan. To orient a whole new team to our family.
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.
Blogging has been on my to do list for a couple of days. But when I sat down to write last night, I was so full of the thoughts and worries of that 48 hour period that I forgot there were other events last week that I’d meant to write about.
We had a couple of appointment last week. We finally got back in to see Patrick’s psychologist yesterday. Can I tell you how amazing she is? When Patrick’s insurance case manager called me to tell me about a new Autism clinic that she’d seen open at the University of Utah THE SAME DAY THAT SHE CALLED I was pretty speculative. Especially since we have never been big fans of the diagnosis of autism for Patrick. Spectrum diagnoses are tricky and, while time and learning have convinced me that Patrick does have struggles that fit into the definition of autism, his presentation is so atypical that I don’t feel like the diagnosis serves him well. Well, unless you are dealing with someone who really does understand autism spectrum disorders. Which the people at this clinic really do. And for all that I don’t willingly introduce Patrick as autistic, we have found the autism clinic to be a tremendous help for us. I’ve been anxious to get him back.
When Patrick met “Dr. Joo-la” and her “piggies” (guinea pigs) there was an instant connection. I could see that he clicked with her and listened to what she said to him.As icing on the cake, she also saw that with the responsibilities of being his caregiver, I wasn’t going to have a chance to go seek other help for myself. She told me in the first meeting that if we sometimes needed to spend sessions talking about and taking care of me, too, that she considered that an important part of taking care of Patrick.
This last visit, I took her up on that. First of all, she spent a lot of the session reassuring me that Patrick really HAS made great progress. I’ve said before that it doesn’t seem like he is as plagued by constant sensory seeking as he was before. She pointed that out, too. Saying he seemed more focused, more grown up. Of course, his exploding language skills are an amazing step.
She reminded me not to be overwhelmed by after-school meltdowns. Pointed out that we had the same problems last fall, too. And she helped me brainstorm ways to make coming home from school perhaps a little better.
She also reminded me not to feel guilty about not being able to do all my heart says I should be providing for Patrick. She’s been following this blog, so I know that she was aware when she told me that she knew that a lot of days, we are just still surviving the day. She encouraged me to embrace summer school as respite time for me and NOT to try to spend it doing things for him or feeling like I need to save them from problem behaviors. I really need to call and see if it’s an option for me to swim in the mornings while he’s at school. If not, at the least there is a track at the high school on the same campus and I can walk.
And then she reminded me that I need help and tried to help me work up the courage to go and tell some of the people in my support system that I’m feeling lonely and overwhelmed and could use some company, if not some help. I don’t seem to be very good at that. (Does this count?)
Anyway – we talked about some other strategies for summer, for respite, for behavior, etc. We talked about bringing him back to their social skills group. (Which I’m very pleased to have found works well this summer.) We played with the piggies and Patrick tried to trade our bird Max for one. And then we made some return appointments.
That was the happy appointment of the week. The next day, I took Patrick to his allergist and I’m afraid it didn’t go as smoothly.
I learned two important lessons. 1) Don’t schedule appointments immediately following school. Patrick needs time to unwind first. 2) Don’t go to the allergist alone.
Because of his ADHD and sensory processing disorder, Patrick doesn’t do well in new environments and Patrick’s allergist just moved to a big, beautiful new facility. I’m very excited about this because he’s no longer sharing space with a regular healthcare clinic and there’s less risk of catching a virus there. But for Patrick, new spaces have to be explored thoroughly with doors banged, containers emptied, equipment disassembled. It’s a disaster. Also, because of a lifetime of doctor’s visits, Patrick doesn’t like it when I talk to a doctor about him and will do just about anything to get me to stop.
This day was particularly bad. I’d managed to get a tired Patrick to nap the day before, but insomnia kicked in that night and he was up till 12, getting just 6 hours of sleep.
The end result is that Patrick threw all of the flashcards, snacks, magazines, and tissues on the floor. Then ended up having to sit in a chair with all other furniture moved away from him. And then he screamed for most of the rest of the appointment.
I have to give props to Patrick’s allergist, Dr. Gleich. He still smiles, talks to Patrick like Donald Duck, tells me that I have my hands full but am doing a good job being patient, and just gets us through the appointment as productively as possible. He is a very good man.
So while I tried to keep as much calm as possible, Patrick’s allergist and I tried to talk through how transplant might change the strategy for his allergies. Obviously, the ability and need to eat are a significant step. And I wanted to talk about how to safely explore what he can have.. and just how safe it is to be dabbling in some of Patrick’s milder allergies while he is on immune suppressants that are making it so he doesn’t have many reactions.
I wish Patrick had been feeling better so we could have covered more ground. We reviewed Patrick’s last test results. The gist of them is that Patrick’s test results show him allergic to a lot of foods that he tolerates, at least to some degree. We still need to stay far away from cashews, pistachios, peanuts, and unbaked eggs with caution for other foods we’ve seen cause a reaction. He said to keep encouraging Patrick to eat eggs as an ingredient in baked foods as that mild exposure is believed to help kids outgrow allergies. He gave blessing to my efforts in allowing Patrick traces of milk, in extreme moderation. (Goldfish crackers, for example.) He actually was surprised that I was still being cautious about butter and regular cheese, but I pointed out that we see reactions to those foods.
He also took care to warn me of just how serious it is that Patrick’s spleen was removed, leaving him without a major defense against illness. He wanted me to be sure that, for any fever, I know I need to go straight to Primary Children’s. Some things don’t change.
And then, because we weren’t getting much further with Patrick screaming in the corner, we decided to not try additional testing that day. Instead, he asked me to bring Patrick back in July or August for repeat blood and scratch testing. In the meantime, we are supposed to explore and even push a little bit, with epi pen and benadryl nearby, and keep a log of what we discover about Patrick’s tolerances for certain foods.
I find that the further we get down this road the more obscure my question are. Neither Patrick’s allergist nor his transplant team really know how food allergies and immune suppression will affect each other. I don’t want to compromise Patrick’s new gut with a lot of foods he’s allergic to. (Food allergies can cause a sort of rashlike reaction and ulcers in the intestine). But I also don’t want to limit his nutrition and ability to wean off of tube feeds if that’s not necessary. I find myself wishing that I knew of an allergist somewhere who has an interest in transplant and immune suppression. I’m not sure such a person even exists.
Anyway – Patrick was asleep in the car 5 minutes after we left the appointment. Next time, I’ll try to allow time for a rest after school. Next time I’ll try not to go alone.
And maybe over the next couple of months we can figure out a schedule that lets Patrick outgrow naps, like he’s trying to do, without spending afternoons and evenings too tired and grumpy to function.
One other appointment this week, feeding therapy. Inspired by Patrick’s interest at a memorial day barbecue, I decided to work on hot dogs this week. I’m pleased to report success. So long as you cut the hot dog in half so he can fit it in his mouth. And watch him and remind him to take small bites. And maybe let him decide he’s done with the bun. Still, a victory in time for summer for a kid who doesn’t like his burgers grilled.
And speaking of burgers, I’m trying to figure out how to translate Patrick’s love of certain fast foods into a working menu at home. I’ve got him eating ham on english muffins a-la Burger King breakfast sandwich. And we’re working on thin sliced roast beef on hamburger buns as a tribute to Arby’s.
I do have one lingering worry. I’ve realized that if they do decide that Patrick can continue on to first grade next year, that means eating lunch at school. And right now, I mostly have taught him to eat warm foods. He does great with fast food, mac and vegan-cheese, pasta in red sauce, hot dogs, cooked veggies, soups, chicken nuggets and french fries. And this is exactly the sort of food that will be being served in the cafeteria. Except, well, that an elementary school cafeteria is not an allergy-safe place. I can’t expect them to watch for cross-contamination.
So I’ll be packing lunches. But I think one of the conversations we need to have in this week’s school planning meeting is whether or it’s an option to heat up food for Patrick in a staff microwave. (It’s already non-negotiable for me that he’ll need an adult to sit with him in the cafeteria.)
And Patrick’s feeding therapist and I did some brainstorming on cold foods that he might be able to eat if we work with him over the summer.
I’ve decided that we will for sure be frequenting the lunch park at the school next door again this summer. But this time, with the hope and goal of being able to figure out lunches that will work to send with Patrick to school next year. Last year, I was able to follow their menu and pack matching foods 80% of the time. But if those things can’t be warmed up at the school, then we may just have to work on being ok with eating the food you had packed for you, even when it isn’t the same as everyone else’s.
One other item of note from this last week. A family moved in across the street from us while we were in Nebraska. They have a little boy Patrick’s same age. We’ve talked about but not found a way to get them together to play. Until this week.. when this boy came and asked if Patrick could play.
This was a growing experience for this mom. I am trying VERY hard to stop being a helicopter parent now that Patrick doesn’t have IV’s to monitor. But it meant that both of us were a bit thrown by a same-age playmate. I’m not sure Patrick knew quite what to do with him. In many ways, he is like his peers. But in many ways, he still has a lot of growing to do. They drew on the sidewalk with chalk a bit, tried out all of Patrick’s ride-on toys. Then they went across the street and played in his yard, too.
I was doing my best to stay looking busy but also keep an eye on them. And to let Patrick build this relationship on his own without my coaching. Mostly they drove Patrick’s ride-on car up and down the street.
When I picked Patrick up for dinner, he was enjoying a snack of animal cracker. I was grateful they were safe, and I decided that next time I send him to play I need to make sure they know he has allergies.
It’s been a full week. I sometimes think my head might explode trying to hold all of this and have a normal life, too.
It is disorienting to realize that next week is kindergarten’s last week of school. We only just started and it’s almost over again. I feel really bad to be just gearing up while teachers are working to try to take care of the mountain of things that need to be done for the end of the year, I’m here trying to squeeze every last drop out of the few weeks that we have available to us.
I am amazed at all that they ARE doing for him, though. For example, I noticed that Patrick’s class was at recess every day when we arrived. So I asked and they revised his IEP to allow him to go to recess with his friends every day. He is in HEAVEN getting that extra time with his friends. And I understand that he is doing better in class, too, as a result.
Also, I’ve been working all week with his special education teacher on getting the forms completed for him to be able to participate in Extended School Year (a.k.a. summer school). They hold 3-day weeks on 4 weeks during the summer. He’ll attend in the morning. The goal is to keep up the momentum that has just started again.
They did offer one amazing thing that I hadn’t even imagined as a possibility. There is a therapy pool at the school. And, because by the time summer school starts he won’t have a broviac line, Patrick’s doctors have given him the ok to work in the pool. It feels like this little piece of normal… my son being able to be in the pool during the summer. Even if it came about in the most abnormal possible way.
Speaking of doctors, we had a follow-up with Patrick’s GI this week. His dietitian came in, too. It’s the first time we’ve seen her since transplant. I wondered if she was amazed to watch him eat a kids meal while we talked. His growth charts look amazing. I think it’s the first time I’ve really looked at one post-transplant. He’s growing at a normal rate. He’s in the 50th percentile.
They ordered some labs to check to make sure that his vitamin levels and overall nutrition are still good as he’s learning to eat on his own, but doesn’t exactly have a traditional balanced diet yet.
Also this week, or maybe the end of last week, I talked to the team in Nebraska about Patrick’s next follow-up with them. We scheduled an appointment in June to replace his central line with a port. (This is why he’ll be allowed to swim, by the way. No more external central line.) We will be going out the first week of June and it will be an outpatient procedure.
I thought we’d have clinic, too, but it sounds like they feel we’re doing a great job communicating by phone and don’t need the extra visit.
So it sounds like we have a game plan for our summer. At least the start of it. Patrick’s last day of school is the last Friday in March. June 1, he’ll have end-of-year testing. June 3, we’ll meet with the school to make plans for next fall. That night, we’ll get on a plane and fly to Nebraska. The next morning, he gets his port and we come home that weekend.
The next week, Brian leaves on a business trip to Norway. And the week after that, Patrick will go to his first day of summer school. He’ll have two weeks on, then off for the July holidays. Then back again. Brian has a pioneer trek with the youth in July and another international business trip in August. And before we know it, it will be time to come back to school.
I’m trying to pull together some materials to keep working on mommy school in the down-days. I’ve let Patrick develop some lazy at-home habits this month but, really, we have a lot of ground to cover over the summer. Hoping that the extra respite time while he’s at school will give me a breath of energy to keep up with all the rest.
I think for the next little while, we’ll be building our normal week by week. Some things are routine. A lot is just made up. Most of the time, it feels like we’re flying by the seat of our pants, but every once in a while, we strike gold and I know that I got being a mom right that day. I wish more days were like that.
Patrick’s doing well back at school. Waiting to go in the morning is really hard. He gets up excited to go to school and then we try to fill the mornings. When we have our act together, we will do something before we leave. Work on homework. Visit the library. I’ve learned it helps to go early enough to let him get some wiggles out before school so we usually try to get 15 minutes to half an hour at the park that’s next to the school.
I’m enjoying a brief little bit of respite while Patrick is at school. One of this teachers pointed out a quiet little walking track near the school. So I drop Patrick off and then go walking. You know that mom who stays in her exercise clothes all day long? Shops in yoga pants? Picks up her kid with a messy ponytail and no makeup? Unshowered. Long into the afternoon? Yeah.. I’m that mom right now. But it is SO NICE to be able to exercise and this is the way I am doing it.
After walking, I’ll sit down in the far corner of this beautiful little grassy, shady park where i walk and read my scriptures. I love that the ladybugs are my study buddies.
An hour goes pretty quickly. But it is very nice to have this little bit of time for quiet reflection. Especially because, as happy as it makes him, going back to school has been hard for Patrick.
I was thinking that somehow transplant had magically relieved him of his sensory processing disorder. No. It turns out that it was just being able to be home and unstructured. Keeping it together enough to follow the rules and sit still and be attentive at school takes enough of Patrick’s energy that, even though it’s only one hour, when I pick him up he is wound up like you wouldn’t believe. It takes a good hour for him to settle down again.
His temper is hot again – fueled by steroids that I’d hoped might not be necessary in this high of doses by now. And we spend a lot more time trying to cool down when angry.
The days that are golden we manage to fit in something magical like an hour of practicing reading early reader books at the library or sitting down together to practice writing or have lunch at the park. Patrick’s quickly taking to the idea of kids meals and is trying just about any sandwich I deliver packaged in that form. He devoured an Arby’s roast beef sandwich, though at home he has sworn up and down to me that sliced roast beef is “too brown.”
At least once a week, we try to stay late after school at the park. One or more of the kids from class will stay after school to play. His classmates really do love him and try to include him. I heard one boy tell a friend, “I can’t leave Patrick to play with you. He has been away and is lonely. You can play with us. But I want to play with Patrick.” Big words and big heart from a kindergartener.
We have enjoyed a brief break from the rain and that’s had us spending afternoons outside. I asked Brian for flowers for the garden for mother’s day. He spoiled me by taking me to the greenhouse and letting me pick out flowers to my heart’s desire. So I’ve been planting all week. Patrick still struggles with this because he’s not supposed to garden in this first year and feels left out of an activity he loved. So we try to do it in small portions.
However, it did get him outside and, though he protested a lot the first day, after that he started asking me if I’d go plant flowers so he could play in the yard.
Speaking of Mother’s day.. I had such a peaceful day. Weekend, actually. Brian spoiled me all weekend, taking me out for breakfast and dinner at favorite restaurants on Saturday, and then cooking for me on Sunday. We opted to stay home, which made for a quiet and peaceful day.
I was invited to speak in church that day. That’s a nervewracking assignment for a woman who has a history of infertility and adoption and raising a child with chronic, terminal illness. Womanhood and motherhood have NOT gone the way I expected and I used to cry through and try to avoid church on mother’s day.
However, spending my walking time in the week before mother’s day studying messages about womanhood and motherhood and God’s love really can help to build up your sense of self-worth. After all that we have been through this past year, I’ve wiped away most of my expectations. Without expectations, it is hard to be disappointed. Instead, I spent most of the day just feeling grateful. Grateful for the lessons I’ve learned. Grateful for another year with Patrick. Grateful for relative peace.
I needed that little recharge. Because not every day is full of peace and gratitude. Not every day do I get motherhood golden. I’m still learning to juggle time and responsibility, fostering independence and giving loving attention.
The end of this week ended up tricky. Wednesday night, late, I got a message from Patrick’s teacher saying a stomach bug was working its way through the classroom. Brian and I talked about it and decided to give Patrick a choice of whether he wanted to wear a mask and gloves and go to class or check out early with me.
The first day, he opted to check out early. We had a golden mommy day that day where I made up for missed school time by working with him on reading.
The next day, he chose to wear his mask. That day didn’t go as smoothly. He came home riled up and didn’t want to nap and decided to avoid it by being extra naughty so I’d need to stop him and/or put him in time out. A rainstorm came in that night and I can’t help but wonder if the change in barometer hurts him and he just doesn’t know how to express it. I mean, I ache from tiny little injuries. He had his whole digestive system removed and replaced.
And so we go. Day by day. Week by week. Making this up as we go along.
I told a friend on Sunday that it feels somewhat as if my life was erased when Patrick got his transplant. We’re trying to piece it back together a little at a time. I’m trying to get the most important things back in first. There is a sort of peace in that simplicity. Some days I get the parts in wrong and the gears get jammed. Other days, they fit and we work like a well-oiled machine. Most days, a little of both happens.
Hope you’ve enjoyed pictures from one of our well-oiled days. We surprised Patrick with a trip to member’s night at the zoo. He’s been asking since Brian and I went on our last date if we’d take him on a playdate, too. When we pulled into the zoo parking lot, his face lit up. Bonus that the summer dinosaur display was already up.