Friday, April 6, 2018

Elf's 7th Birthday

Dear Elf,

Yesterday was your 7th birthday and without a doubt, I can tell you that we love you to the moon and back.

We were in Kentucky looking for a place to live when I got the phone call for our interview with 4 Paws For Ability which determined our eligibility to fundraise.  A few months later, we moved out-of-state, away from friends and family, and started the crazy fundraising journey.  Thinking back, I did not ever really focus on how much money we needed to raise. We were fortunate enough that the right people heard our story at the right time and decided to help us fundraise; a year later we were finished and waiting for the day that we would meet you.

Fun fact, we were supposed to be in a spring class but I decided to call 4 Paws and ask if we could have a summer class because of school and work and life.  Thankfully, we were early enough in the program that they did not have the same wait times that they do now and we were moved to a summer class.  Here is the thing, someone else had decided you were not the fit for their family and if we wouldn’t have delayed, I’m sure we would have had a super service dog but it wouldn’t have been Elf-super.

Honestly, I do not think we really knew what all you could or would do for our family.  We were scared and more than a bit desperate.  Words like tracking, tethering, and behavior disruption sounded useful and well it was all going to be packaged in a furry package so how could we possibly go wrong?

Then the email with your picture arrived and we were in love.  Your happy eyes and loveable face made us feel like we were truly on the right path and that you and Caden were going to do good things together.  However, the morning we met you, you were a bit more enthusiastic than we imagined and we were a little baffled as to how it would all work.  Turns out you were just super food motivated and frequently became Jeremy’s demonstration dog because you loved to do your work and be the center of attention.  Training was an emotional and tough process but it had nothing to do with you.  You knew exactly what to do, we were the ones who had so much to learn and I continue to be thankful that you were so patient with us.

The first night back at the hotel, you immediately looked for your boy when we put him in the bath.  I remember thinking wow, he does not even want Caden out of his sight, which was very true, but now I know you were also worried about what we were doing to your beloved boy by putting him in water.  You know the water, labs generally love, but you avoid at all costs?

Eventually we all settled into our routine.  You have gone to fairs and amusement parks with us, you have been subjected to cheer bows at dance competitions, and you have reluctantly sat on a boat with us. You have spent a great deal of time in the hospital and never complained about the long hours or late dinner.  You have gone to school, on vacation, been on television, and wow have you been thrown up on more times than I can count (sorry about that but your boy really loves you when he is not feeling well).  The other day someone asked me what services you provided and I am embarrassed to say it took me a few seconds to find the words tethering, behavior disruption, and tracking.  Don’t get me wrong, you do all of those things perfectly whenever asked but you have become so much more than that; you are Caden’s best friend.  And to be truthful, at one time or another, you have been a best friend to all of us when we needed you.

Last July we found a tiny painless bump on you and a quick trip to the vet confirmed our worst fears.  You had cancer.  You needed surgery and we would not know until after the biopsy came back what the prognosis was. Needing to tell Caden what was going on and just generally needing to cope with life until we had clear answers was next-to-impossible.  Thankfully, we were able to give Caden the best birthday present ever—the surgery worked and you were going to be okay.

Confronting the reality that you will not always be with us was one of the hardest thing I have had to do.  So much of who he is and what he has been able to accomplish is because of you.  You are there in the middle of the night when nightmares strike and you are there in the afternoon for much needed hugs and cuddles.  You are the first one on a bed and always in the middle of any celebration that we have.  You have been in our lives for so many moments; losing a parent, bringing a child home, moving, and more life decisions and heart breaks than I can count.  You have also just been there at the end of a long day and have never turned down snuggles.

When we started on our journey to you, I never imagined the impact that you would have on all of us and it certainly never crossed my mind that we would eventually need to say good-bye.  Intuitively I knew that because I have lost beloved pets over the years, but you are so much more than that.  Like any family member, no one will ever be able to fill the gap you will leave in our hearts. 
Until then we will continue to cherish every moment that we have with you and be thankful for every job that you do for or with Caden.   And when the time comes to say goodbye, I hope we can be as strong and comforting for you as you have been for us.  The loss will hurt but I will never regret our decision.  I will never regret you. 

If I could give you one thing on your birthday it would be for you to know that we love you to the extent and depth that you love our boy… all the way to the moon and back. 

Happy Birthday Elfie!

Friday, February 9, 2018

Same Tale, Different Perspective

Before my writing went radio silent, I shared a lot about my dad and the struggles that I was having learning to find a new normal without him.  It was such a juxtaposition of overwhelming sadness and yet excitement over our upcoming adoption.  Then in what seems like years and in other ways just minutes, we were off to China to meet our youngest.  Oh how that trip differed from our first adoption; we were in a different part of the country, our children were as different as could be from the moment we met them, and I was anticipating the painful wonder that is adoption. 

I met our daughter on a late Sunday afternoon and by Sunday evening I was wondering how I was going to break the news to the folks back home that the child I was bringing home was in a much worse condition than we had ever imagined.  Without a doubt she endured more trauma than we will ever really know in her short 2.5 years but she has this personality that just doesn’t stop.  It’s almost as if she knows she can’t change her history but she is entirely in charge of her future and she lives every day with that in mind.  Watching her grow and change and overcome has put a lot in perspective for me.

We continued 2017 by looking at colleges and trying to imagine what life will be like as that new chapter begins.  There are moments though, such as shopping for a prom dress and new baby leggings, that are surreal.  Only once has someone thought the youngest was my oldest’s child which makes me the grandma, I guess?   I’m pretty sure though I took grandma better than my oldest took the idea of mom……sigh of relief. 

We ended the year on a bit of a déjà vu. In November 2008, our oldest son was diagnosed with autism and what a journey it has been.  For everything that I have shared with you, there are a dozen things that I haven’t.  Suffice to say, we’ve had our ups and downs and the challenges change every day.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again….I failed to realize early in his diagnosis, that autism would grow as he does.  Once again though, he has taught us more than we will ever be able to teach him.  I asked him if I could share this and he said okay because more mommies and daddies should know this.  We tried a new therapy last year that he was miserable for him; we though the misery meant he was in the right program because he was clearly working on things that were difficult for him.  One day though he broke down and asked us how we would feel talking about our feelings in front of a group of people we didn’t know and then he asked us how people who don’t have autism could be giving people with autism advice.  I explained that we do the best we can and until we know more and then we try to do better.  He stopped both therapies immediately (not a popular decision with his ‘team’) and together we came up with a way to practice the skills in a way that he loves and looks forward to every single week. 

But back to the déjà vu. December 2017, our youngest son was diagnosed with autism.  Strangely not much as seemingly changed in terms of trying to find services and therapies that fall under insurance’s definition of best practices but are also consistent to how we interact with one another as a family.  Add in trying to find an autism specialist who also understands adoption trauma and let’s just say we ask the blue eyed giggle monster a lot of questions. 

Somewhere in the process of last year though, I lost my voice.  I couldn’t figure out any more what was my story to tell and what wasn’t.  I wasn’t even sure what story I wanted to tell or if I had one anymore to tell.  I even debated if I wanted to renew my blog domain or just let it slip away in history. However, over winter break, someone commented on how easy we made it all seem and how lucky the kids were to have us and I realized there has to be a way to frame the tough stuff that honors my children and still lets other families know their struggles are real and it’s okay to struggle.  I also realized that maybe instead of awareness we need to be working on changing the narrative from the children being lucky, to us being the lucky ones.  Our kids are growing up to the be people they are in spite of our efforts to screw them up.  They are the ones who wake up every day, and live their lives.  I am watching them do and become people that I wasn’t ever brave enough or capable enough to become.  I can’t wait to watch them as adults although time could slow down so that doesn’t happen for a long while.  So maybe the story I tell needs to be my story and how I deal with my own hang-ups and screw-ups…the kids are doing great and as parents we need to learn how to sit back and let them guide the ship no matter how hard that is.  So what’s that mean for the blog….absolutely no idea. Caden’s tale doesn’t change all that much as I’ve always tried to balance what I did and didn’t tell but if there is one thing that needs to be much clearer, it’s the fact that as parents, we are the lucky ones.