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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

X marks the spot

I'm not sure if you can read the above picture, but it is Joey's Kindergarten report card. He brought it home in his folder the other day. At first I was so excited! I'm thinking to myself I can't wait to look at it! I am so proud of how well he is doing in school! His social skills are great, his teachers really like him, he's been doing some great learning activities and his walking is getting better and better every day! As I started to read his report card, my emotions slowly deflated. Knows letter sounds...x. Knows letter names...x. Uses sounds to make words...x. Understands math concepts...x. Writes name...x. Counts objects correctly...x. I'm thinking "x"? What kind of grade is "x"? It turns out that "x" stands for "not evaluated at this time". I'm not sure what I was thinking...I guess I should have prepared myself somewhat before I looked at his report card. I guess I didn't know what his first kindergarten report card would be like. I was just excited to see it. I don't know if I thought I would see A's and B's like on John and Tommie's report cards...or E's, S's and G's for excellent, satisfactory and good. I don't know. All I know is I was sooooo excited that Joey brought home his first report card! And I can't leave out that he got two G's for music and two S's in P.E. Yay Joey! But it was seeing all those x's that really brought me down. Why is it when things seem to be going so great for your child there always seems to be one word, one phrase or one action that just knocks the wind out of you? Not evaluated at this time. Of course he can't be evaluated for these skills at this time...he is unable to do them. This is what hit me like a ton of bricks. When will he be able to be evaluated for these skills? When he is 10? 15? 20? 30? 40? I know he is unable to perform the same tasks as his kindergarten peers - but he has a great ability to learn. We have high hopes that someday he will be able to do these things. It's just kind of scary to not know when that someday will be. When you are raising a child, regardless of their abilities, there are joys and triumphs and unfortunately some sorrows too. Hopefully the joys and triumphs far outweigh the sorrow. This report card called life is full of A's, B's, G's, S's, E's and of course X's too. We just have to do the best we can. A friend of ours has this saying in her email signature: "Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending." So that's what I'm gonna do.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"You tried to win tickets???"

Shawn called me from work a couple weeks ago and said "Guess what? I just won 4 tickets to Vala's Pumpkin Patch on the radio! I was caller number 5!" Now Shawn is a good sport and usually goes along with any crazy schemes we may have of taking all the kids somewhere, but there is usually a little mumbling and grumbling. Plus the patch he won tickets to is about an hour and a half drive each way from our home. Needless to say, I was a little surprised that he would try to win tickets to this place and promote an out of town trip with the kids. So I said "You actually tried to win tickets to a pumpkin patch?" And he said "Sure, why not?"
Now I did a double take and wondered if this was the same husband talking that I have been married to for 17 years. I said "Okay! That's great! When should we go? How about next Saturday?" He says "Well, Nebraska plays football on TV that day and such and such game is on at 3:00 and then I wanna watch so and so play at 7:00 and..." No more doubts...this was definitely Shawn I was talking to!

So I looked at our calendar and discovered the kids had no school on October 19. A teacher work day or something. Shawn got the day off from work and the plans were set! We had a great time! The weather was gorgeous...we really lucked out because it has been cold, windy and rainy here for quite a few days. Monday it was 75 degrees, sunny and the perfect day to spend outside. John had to stay behind because he still had football practice in the afternoon. I could tell he was deeply saddened to have to stay home...a quiet house, computer and Xbox all to himself, his car in the driveway and $20 in his pocket "in case he needed anything". Of course he really wanted to go with us (yeah - right!).

We had a fantastic day filled with pig races, dragon shows and jumping pillows. Did I mention the Barnyard Animal Band and giant rocking chair? Yes, there were pumpkins too. Also, before you ask, Emma is wearing a blue/greenish tye-died type shirt and pink and grey striped pants. Why? It wasn't a battle I was gonna win. She picked out her outfit the day before we went and was bound and determined to wear it to the pumpkin patch. She wanted to be pretty for our trip she said. How can you resist that? Plus I wore an orange Happy Halloween shirt that lights up when I move. So technically she wasn't out of place. You gotta dig it.

(Ummmm...yeah - somehow I left these two pics out of the slide show)
Us at the beginning...How tall this fall?

Tommie and the girls ended the day with giant lollipops!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Do You See Me?

The above video was made by a good friend of our family. She used to be Joey's Service Coordinator for the Early Development Network up until he turned 3. She had a vision of giving all kids with disabilities a strong voice...and an opportunity to be heard. When she approached us about including Joey in the video of course we said yes. She did a great job and we are so proud to be part of such a wonderful project. Thanks Jen - you are awesome!

Awareness about any disability is a big step towards acceptance. We have found in our experience that the more people that know and understand about Cornelia de Lange Syndrome, the more comfortable they are around Joey which is greatly beneficial to him in all aspects. We have to be the voice for our children, stand strong and help people realize how much of a blessing our children are in our lives. How much they teach us. How imporant they are to us. And how much we love them. Don't feel sorry for us...be happy that we are so fortunate to have these amazing children blessing our lives every day.

Please feel free to share this video with friends and family...you never know when you may reach that one person and help them on get on the road to acceptance. Let them know the journey will be awesome...and the trip will be the best one they have ever taken.

You can get the link to the video by clicking here.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Read Joey's story and help support Team CdLS

As you all know, our son Joey was born in 2004 with a rare genetic condition called Cornelia de Lange Syndrome. Our lives have changed in so many ways since the birth of Joey. Therapy sessions, doctor visits and special education services have become our lives - our normal. But we wouldn't have it any other way. Joey is a bright star in our lives - he is a gifted teacher, a hard worker and a loving human being.

The CdLS Foundation has been a great resource to us. We receive an immense amount of information and support. There is always someone available to lend a helping hand or offer guidance to families who face the daily struggles of raising a child with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome.

On October 11, many dedicated individuals will hit the pavement and run in the Chicago Marathon as a part of Team CdLS. For this we are grateful. Their goal of helping to support the wonderful work of the CdLS Foundation needs our help too. This year I am participating as a phantom runner in hopes of giving back in some way all the wonderful gifts we have received from the Foundation. Below, please read Joey's story and consider giving a donation to this awesome organization and help Team CdLS reach their goal. After you have read Joey's story, please visit our First Giving Page by clicking here. Donations through this site are safe and secure. Give as much or as little as you like, but please help Joey and the other children and adults like him to continue to receive the awesome support of the Cornelia de Lange Syndrome Foundation.

Joey's story

Joey was born April 26, 2004. My husband & I already had two sons, John who was 10 at the time, and Tommie, who was 8. We had tried to have another child for 4 unsuccessful years, and had resigned ourselves to having only 2 children. Heck, we would still be spring chickens when they graduated and left home! What would we do with ourselves? Needless to say, we were caught by surprise when we found out I was expecting after all this time. We were very excited and nervous too - it had been a long time since there had been a baby in the house, and by this time the old high chair, swing, playpen(are they even called playpens anymore?), etc. were long gone. Everything now-a-days is battery operated, plays music, vibrates, and lights up. No hand cranked swing for this little one! Anyway, my pregnancy went off without a hitch, although I developed gestational diabetes and had to keep tabs on that. I only had 2 or 3 ultrasounds (and was amazed at the pictures and video you can get now) and there was no indication that anything had gone awry. The baby was growing well and we opted not to find out what we were having. We went to the hospital on Monday, April 26, so I could be induced (I was also induced with the previous kids) and our beautiful son Joseph Edward was born at 4:41p.m. weighing 7lbs. 1oz. Although he was smaller than the other two boys (8lbs.2oz, and 8lbs.9oz. respectively) he appeared to be healthy and doing well. His blood sugar was low, but this is to be expected from babies with moms who have gestational diabetes. So the happy phone calls were made to relatives and friends, my mother-in-law brought the boys out to see their new brother, my sister came to visit, and so began the whirlwind that comes after you have a new baby. I went to bed that night, feeling tired but comfortably happy, with our long awaited new baby snuggled in the nursery. The next morning when I awoke, I was gingerly getting ready to take a shower, when the doctor knocked and came in on his rounds. After asking the standard questions about me, he proceeded to tell me that Joey was doing well, but he had some pediatricians come in and take a peek at him and they think he might have something called Cornelia de Lange Syndrome. Here I am, in the ever fashionable hospital gown, towel in one hand, underwear in the other, and someone was telling me there was something wrong with my baby. Wait, back the truck up. I was floored. "What do you mean, there's something wrong? He was fine, no one said there was anything wrong with him! What is this Cornelia de Lange Syndrome, is it like Downs Syndrome? Is he alright? You think he's (forgive me here) retarded? Is he sick? Is he healthy? Will he be able to walk, talk, go to school? What's wrong with him? What are we supposed to do?" I will admit, yes, I was flipping out. Here we had this seemingly healthy, full term baby, and now someone was telling me there might be something wrong? No way. Not my kid. Not us. Not my family. The doctor went on to say that he has some facial characteristics typical of the syndrome, and that they were going to do ultrasounds and scans, and blood tests, and this and that, and can they have my permission to take his picture to send it to some geneticists? Is there anything he can do for me right now? Let him know when my husband gets here, and he will come in and talk with us. In the meantime, try to relax, and I will put you in touch with the right people. The doctor left, I am still clutching my underwear, and I must call Shawn to tell him to get to the hospital, there may be something wrong with Joey. How do I make a phone call like that? And let me tell you, it's one of the hardest things I ever had to do. Shawn answers, I say get to the hospital, they think there's something the matter with Joey. He says "What?" I say "They think Joey might be (forgive me again) retarded!" He says"What?" and we go on like this for a few minutes. Unbeknown to us, our lives had just taken a dramatic turn towards the path of geneticists, therapists, all kinds of people with titles ending in "ist". When my husband arrived, we clung to each other, tears rolling down our cheeks, he asking questions, me not having any answers. What do we do now? We had no clue. We called the nurse to have Joey brought in. We sat down and waited, trying to comprehend everything that had happened in the last 45 minutes. 45 minutes?!? Is that all it took to turn everything we hoped for, prayed for, dreamed for into a spiraling trip into a life that we had no idea would be like? Enter, the nurse, with our darling son. She must have caught wind of what was going on, because she started in on a spiel about how she'd seen babies diagnosed with something before, only to have it turn out there was nothing wrong. She was sure Joey would be fine. Is she trying to make us feel better? I suppose, in her own way. I wanted to hold Joey. I tried holding him, I really did, but all I could do was cry, and search his face for any signs of this Cornelia de Lange Syndrome, not even knowing what I was looking for. I tried holding him, I really did, but I was too scared I would find some evidence that something was wrong. Soon, I had to give him to my husband, saying I'm sorry, I just can't hold him right now. I felt terrible, what kind of mother has a precious new baby and is too afraid to hold him, afraid of what she might discover? Me, I guess. And so began my trip into denial, which I hate to admit lasted for the better part of Joey's first year of life. The doctor came in after an hour or so of Shawn holding Joey, and me wanting desparately to, but just couldn't at the time. It's hard for me to explain, but I guess I can blame it on the mind numbing fear that was racing through my body. He said they were going to do an ultrasound of Joey's brain (what?) and basically his whole body, to see what they could find. He had already been in contact with some geneticists in Omaha, and normally it takes 3-4 months to get an appointment, but he was able to pull some strings and get us in a week from tomorrow. Do we have any questions? Questions? Of course we have questions. What are we supposed to do now? Is he healthy? Can he see? Can he hear? Is he in pain? What is Cornelia de Lange Syndrome? Will he walk? Will he talk? Is he sick? What does all this mean? Where do we go from here? Joey showed no signs of distress, was good size, but was having some trouble taking a bottle. He showed some facial characteristics of CdLS, and also small hands and feet. He does not have enough characteristics to say that this is definately what he has or doesn't have. He should be able to go home tomorrow. Okay, so we have a baby that someone thinks there is something wrong with, possibly CdLS, but no one can say for sure at this point. So what did we do? The next day, we took him home of course, and tried to absorb everything that was happening. At home, we took care of him, just like we did our other kids. Only this time, when Shawn was at work and the boys were at school, I would wander around the house bawling like a maniac, trying to find some answers to something I didn't want to believe was true. When Joey was 10 days old, we took off for Omaha to have our first encounter with a geneticist. He examined him, telling us he does have some of the signs of CdLS, but not enough to say for sure if this is what it is. He has the general facial qualities, small hands and feet, only one line across the palms of his hands, but doesn't have any of the health problems that are associated with this particular syndrome. And guess what-there is no blood test currently available to recognize CdLS. Great. So what do we do now? We make a follow-up appointment and head home with this precious baby and no one can definately tell us one way or another what is going on. So, like I said, I was in a deep state of denial, but I knew deep in my heart something wasn't quite right. When Joey was about 4-6months old, we noticed that he wasn't doing some of the "typical" things a baby his age should be doing. No rolling over, no wanting to sit up, and basically falling into the good old "failure to thrive" category. When he had a check-up with our family doctor, we discussed this and he gave us a referral to our local children's therapy facility. He began attending when he was around 8 months old. Meanwhile, I will still blame denial as I had not yet bothered to reach out to any early intervention programs or do any research about Cornelia de Lange Syndrome. Oh, and did I mention that through all this, I became pregnant again? We never thought that was in the cards, given how long it took to have Joey. Our beautiful daughter Emmaletha Mae was born March 14, 2005 as healthy as can be, weighing 8lbs. 1 oz. and only 10 1/2 months younger than her big brother. Our other daughter, Abbigail Diane followed along 14 months later, also as healthy as can be, weighing 9lbs.1oz. But these are stories for a different day. When Joey was around a year old, we had an appointment with a specialist to have him evaluated for a cranial helmet, as his head seemed to be a little misshapen. Well, he didn't meet the criteria for the helmet, but this particular doctor had some experience with CdLS, took one look at Joey and declared that he had Cornelia de Lange Syndrome, no doubt about it. And I'm like okay, someone has finally told me that he definately knows this is CdLS. That's all the kick in the rear I needed. I climbed out of my pit of denial, and finally took some action. I contacted all the early intervention services I could find, and one of the most important things I have ever done was to contact the CdLS Foundation. They are an incredible wealth of information and support. Since that day, we have hit CdLS full force and done everything we can to enrich Joey's life. When the denial phase was over and done with, there was a whole new world open to us. The more we learn and share about Joey and the syndrome he has, the better off he is. We try to utilize every resource available and spread awareness about CdLS every chance we get. I do regret not being honest with myself that first year, and not getting the help we needed right away. As much as I would like to, I can't turn back the clock. All we can do is forge ahead, take it a step at a time, and pray for the best. I would like to sign off with these thoughts--- Yesterday, I took Joey to therapy, and his PT took him outside for a little workout. As I was watching them through the window, he played in the play house and enjoyed some sand and water time. And something I will never forget, she had him climbing up the stairs and sliding down the slide. She put him in the swing, and he was actually enjoying it, which is not typical of Joey because swinging is usually one of his least favorite things to do. He was laughing and smiling and playing. It was one of the best days of my life.

Monday, October 5, 2009

CdLS Family Gathering...

On Saturday, we had the pleasure of attending a CdLS family gathering here in Nebraska. We had such a good time! It was hosted by Christy and Dave, whose daughter Baylee has CdLS. There were 5 families in attendance - Vinny was the youngest at age 15 months and Beth Ann was the oldest at age 20. In the middle is Joey, age 5, Baylee, age 13 and Katy, age 15. It was so nice to get together with other families that have children who have the same syndrome Joey does. I think we could have talked and laughed and compared notes all night! We had a delicious meal and yummy desserts. It feels like we are all old friends and hated to have our time together end. Hopefully we can get together again soon! I can't hardly wait for the CdLS National Conference which will be held in Dallas in June 2010. Here are a few pictures from our time together!

Joey, John and Vinny

More Joey, John and Vinny

Shawn, Joey, John and Vinny

John and Vinny

John, Abbie, Vinny and Emma

Our family kind of liked Vinny - can you tell?

Me and Vinny

More me and Vinny

Beth Ann


Delicious food and fellowship...

Beth Ann, Katy and Baylee - aren't they gorgeous! If you look close you can see Joey flipping the light switches in the background!

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