Sprinting a marathon

We have been up here coming on seven weeks. In some ways, it feels like it’s flown by. In others, it seems to drag on. And on.

We are also coming on 7 weeks with no caregiver, full-on homeschooling (which ends up being about 4-7 lessons or therapies a day for Lily) and two full-time jobs that are in the throes of trying to help people through this pandemic. Thankfully we both have some flexibility in our schedules. Stephen is working mornings doing this and I’m working afternoons doing this. As we both manage global teams, our schedules can’t always stick to what we’ve tried to carve out. But we make it a point to participate daily with Lily in her lessons/therapies.

It is more work than any two people should be able to handle or be asked to handle. And as this doesn’t look like it’s ending any time soon, we’ve started to put feelers out there for temporary live-in help.

Don’t get me wrong – we are grateful. Grateful to be spending more time with my two favorite people. Grateful that we are all healthy (or in Lily’s case, healthy-ish), we have jobs, we’ve got a beautiful house to camp out in, and we’ve got a school and an army of therapists who have been working with us from afar to figure out the best way to teach/treat Lily.

But we need help. So I am putting it out there to the universe (i.e., you)… if you know of any college student tired of living at home, wanting to make money and is interested in special needs or maybe you know a therapist or a para-professional or a person who used to be a nanny or caregiver who is looking for a job and a temporary home and wants to spend the next few months living in a private cottage on 2 lovely acres with a swimming pool, taking care of the sweetest, coolest kid in the world, please send them my information so we can talk.

Fingers crossed that the universe will provide.

Take good care.

Love,

C & L and S

A day in the life

Aloha!!

Lily’s 8th birthday was such a success. In the lead up to her birthday (and the subsequent week), she was ecstatic. Birthday parties, Valentines Day and Hawaii? All in one month? It was almost too much.

But not really – seeing her so happy and (mostly) healthy – especially at this time of year – is such a relief.

We are day 3 into our Hawaiian adventure and this kid hasn’t stopped beaming. Thank you Make-a-Wish! Here are a few shots… leaving for Honolulu at JFK, getting a tour of the cockpit with the captain of the plane at landing, riding a limo (with Urszula), relaxing at the pool/beach and partying it up at a luau! More photos to come.

Lily’s luau birthday bash

This kid turned 8 today. Can’t begin to explain how proud I am to be her mom. In anticipation of her upcoming Make-A-Wish trip to Hawaii, we celebrated with a luau!

The party was a success. It started with a ballet class taught by New York City Ballet (check out Lily independently getting her feet into 5th position in the second set of photos) and then the luau at school with pizza, cupcakes, giggles and dancing. Lots of dancing!!! After school we had a play date with her friend Xan, followed by dinner at her favorite restaurant. And then we went home, exhausted, full and happy.

Today

It’s 5:30pm on the 24th of January. And it just hit me. Today marks 5 years since d-day–Lily’s Rett diagnosis day.

What a 5 years it’s been. What a roller-coaster. But I wouldn’t give it up for anything. I’ve got the sweetest, coolest almost 8 year old I know. She is my joy, my inspiration.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy. Every day I say to her when she’s having a tough moment–like trying to walk in the morning or crying uncontrollably in the middle of the night–that I can’t fix things. But that I can make them better. With love and comfort and compassion. But I can’t fix it. I can’t fix it.

That sucks. No one should ever have to see their child suffer so much. Every day. Every day. I’ll say it again: every day.

And we are so fortunate right now as Lily is going through a relatively stable period. And the ‘relatively’ is truly that. I am not trying to sugarcoat any of it: our ‘normal’ is anything but that.

So it’s been 5 years. And we’re getting closer to the ‘cure’ but it’s still not here. And every day as Lily grows and Rett continues to ravage her body, that ‘cure’ looks less and less like a cure for her. At this point I’ll take whatever it is we can get. Just to let her have the ability to breathe with ease, to wake up and not be in pain… I’ll take it.

I can’t believe she’s going to be 8 in a few weeks. I can’t believe how much she’s grown and changed. I can’t believe how much I’ve transformed because of her. And for that, I am grateful.

In so many ways, she’s such a ‘normal’ kid. She’s been putting together weekly hair menus letting me know how she wants her hair done every day. How freaking cute is that? Currently she’s all about pigtails. As you can see from the menu and hairstyle:

Her birthday is on the 8th of February. And I wish I could give you a list of things she wants as presents. But I don’t have one because she cannot tell me outright. So if you want to do something for her, consider making a donation to Rett Syndrome research. Not only will it go to her future, but the future of all her other Rett sisters and brothers.

With love,

C & L

Resolutions

I’m not generally a resolutions type gal, I prefer to use the word ‘guidelines’ when plotting out the year ahead.  For example, some of my guidelines for this year are to practice gratitude more often, learn how to do a handstand and get more sleep.

My child, on the other hand, has created a robust list of resolutions that are truly inspiring.  She’s such a funny, smart, silly kid.  And I hope that 2019 continues to be a great year for her.  And for you all.

Happy New Year!

Giving Thanks

Even though our mornings start with me saying “Lily – breathe”  “Scoot forward angel face”  “Stand up – you can do it!” “Keep your feet under you baby girl”  “Walk forward”  “Lily relax your muscles”  “Lily open your mouth sweetie”  “Swallow your food honey”  “Lily you need to eat something before going to school”, they are also filled with so much love and many giggles.

Her struggles continue.  Some of her symptoms are getting worse.  Some are easing up.  But she still manages to put a smile on her face and bravely move forward with her day.  I do my best to follow suit.

I’m grateful that this girl continues to persevere in the face of so much adversity.  A lesser person would crumble.  I’ve crumbled.  But I dust myself off and remember that Lily needs me.  I do not have the luxury of losing my shit completely.  Though I do lose it momentarily, and preferably when she’s not around.

I am her voice (though she’s getting quite fluent with the Tobii), I am her arms, sometimes her legs, oftentimes her nurse, her doctor and always her advocate.  Oh yes, and I’m her mommy.  So we do our best to have as much fun as possible in between (and sometimes during) all those doctors and hospital appointments.

It’s the season of giving.  And my ask to you is this: if you are considering making a charitable donation in the coming weeks, please consider giving to the Rett Syndrome Research Trust.  We are SO very close to a cure; every dollar raised inches us to our goal.  And all of our Rett sweeties and their families could use a miracle right about now.

With Gratitude,

C & L

Writing letters

My heart is bursting with pride. Sharing a note Lily’s teacher wrote today along with some pictures…

This kiddo had an amazing day! She’s been very interested in notes and letters (wanting to keep re-reading the notes you send in her lunchbox, very proud of the card she wrote for Christine’s birthday, etc). So yesterday and today we started talking more about letters. We talked about parts of a letter (greeting, body, closing) and Lily helped me sequence a letter that I wrote to Ms. Ariel. She was very into the activity (wanted it to be a secret and a surprise, and asked for “more” when the activity was complete). Then, she worked on her own letter. Christine, we sent it home in her backpack. We were blown away… she wrote it almost completely by herself, with nothing but some verbal prompts (e.g. “don’t forget, a greeting is like a hello…”).  She chose who the letter was for, what she wanted to say, and how she wanted to close out the letter. It was really great practice (writing work and using the Tobii), so I’m sure you’ll be seeing more letters in the upcoming weeks.

Today we also read a few more chapters of Junie B Jones and she was laughing hysterically at the silly parts. In one of the chapters, Junie is sharpening pencils (and attempts to sharpen a crayon in a pencil sharpener, which doesn’t go so well). Lily requested, “my turn,” so I took her to the office to sharpen a pencil. She seemed to think it was great fun! She once again did a fabulous job asking comprehension questions during the read aloud, and seemed very engaged. Once again, she was a total cuddle bunny today. At the end of the day, she kept going back and forth between me and Ariel, squealing, and leaning in for hugs. She also put her arm around each of us at least once, which was so exciting! She was very, very happy this afternoon.

See you soon,

Ellie

P.S. Lily and I had matching shirts on today, which she seemed to think was pretty funny!

Summer, on a spring day

What a day we had today! It started at Central Park where we were meeting my grad school friends to celebrate our 15 year SAIS Bologna anniversary (for those of us who live in NYC and who couldn’t make it to Bologna).  It was a hot and muggy morning. But Lily and I had a great time catching up with old friends.

We spent hours in the park – eating, dancing, singing, crashing other people’s parties and listening to live jazz. On the way home I took Lily for a late lunch to Playa Betty’s (her favorite restaurant on the UWS) and then we walked over to Riverside park. You see, we were on a quest to feed the birds. This is something she requested to do earlier in the week. Alas, no birds were to be found. But we will try again tomorrow.  I hear we may have another day of summer weather.

Understanding cognition in girls and women with Rett Syndrome

In my quest to find an answer for whether or not to do the neuropsych, I came across this recent article.  Here is a relevant excerpt:

It is extremely difficult to evaluate the cognitive abilities of individuals with RTT as these are masked by their motor, apractic and atactic difficulties, which limit normative evaluation. On the other hand, many research projects have suggested that individuals with RTT are able to learn [18-21], and that the learning skills can be enhanced with appropriate motivational factors [18] as well as that learning is sustained after a ‘washout’ period of the learning program has ended [18]. It is also clear today that individuals with RTT can learn new skills [22,23], including literacy [20,21,24], and that learning ability is sustained in individuals with RTT at all ages.
The article is insightful in many levels and the premise is basically that girls and women with Rett Syndrome need intensive and constant therapy/intervention throughout their lifetime to maximize their quality of life.
I’ve seen the positive effects of intensive intervention firsthand.  And there is now some data to demonstrate that Lily is progressing both motorically and cognitively.  For example, her first progress report for the year has come in and it is the FIRST TIME that the teacher at school has indicated that Lily has made significant progress in a few areas.  It is most definitely because she has a Tobii at school now, and that her teachers and therapists are committed to engaging with her through it.

Feeling grateful, and sad, but mostly grateful…

Hi family and friends,

Sorry for the long silence.  It’s been a very busy few weeks.  Doctors visits, preschool visits, a quick trip to London (just me, not L), and the general busyness of my job and life with Lily… time seems to slip away.

But at least it’s spring!  (I’m going to ignore that it’s supposed to snow on Tuesday).

Lily has been great.  She is going through a really strong phase where she’s not having any troubles holding her bottle, or pulling herself up to stand (which she did twice yesterday on my friend Stefanie’s cushy sofa – I was awestruck).  She’s trotting around (almost running) and going on long walks with her momma through the park.

To many of you this may sound like silly things to be proud of.  But for Lily, especially given her Rett diagnosis, these inchstones* are miracles.  Truly.

(*This is a commonly used special needs momma phrase.)

On March 7th, we met with Dr. Sasha Dujkic, a neurologist who has dedicated her life to Rett Syndrome research and advocacy.  Dr. D spent three hours with us that day.  Can you believe that?  A doctor who spends hours with you, talking to you, answering your questions, explaining to you this complex genetic disorder…. have you ever heard of such a thing?  (Other than my cousin Ann, of course!)

There was so much to take in that day…  I’m still wrapping my head around it.   Will try to share with you the highlights:

  1. An overwhelming majority of girls with Rett Syndrome can’t walk, talk or use their hands in a meaningful way.  Most need feeding tubes and many have respiratory issues.
  2. After Dr. D evaluated Lily, she said that Lily is likely done with the major regressive phase and that she will continue to walk (horrah!) and that her overall health looks great.  There is a list of about 10 specialists who work at the Rett Center (from orthopedic surgeons to cardiologists) and Dr. D said that Lily won’t need to see the majority of them.  HUGE sigh of relief.
  3. I asked about Lily’s specific mutation and if Dr. D could read anything into it (I had heard from other Rett mommas that you could get a better understanding the impact of the disorder on your girl from the actual genetic mutation) and Dr. D said that this is pretty inconclusive.  And then explained that Lily has the more severe form of the mutation which for all intents and purposes would mean that she would have the ‘classic Rett’ (no walking, talking, meaningful hand use) but it hasn’t presented that way with Lily.  Theory squashed.
  4. Dr. D said Lily will likely never talk or write.  This is where the doctor and I disagree.  This little girl is going to talk and she is going to write (you should see some of the art she’s been creating lately!).  Dr. D doesn’t know me…  Obviously.
  5. The big struggle with all girls with Rett, including Lily, is the issue of apraxia.  Whole body apraxia.  What is apraxia you ask?  A very good question, and here is the answer:
    Apraxia (from Greek praxis, an act, work, or deed) is the inability to execute learned purposeful movements, despite having the desire and the physical capacity to perform the movements. Apraxia is an acquired disorder of motor planning, but is not caused by incoordination, sensory loss, or failure to comprehend simple commands. It is caused by damage to specific areas of the cerebrum.
  6. Apraxia impacts everything from her ability to form words to her ability to poop, and everything in between. She has the desire to do it all and actually has all of the ‘hardware’ to do it, but her brain and body aren’t talking to each other effectively.  It’s more of a ‘software’ issue, to use computer terminology.
  7. Girls with Rett Syndrome are literally trapped in their own bodies.  They often have overly intelligent minds. And Lily is  just so smart.  I’m not just saying this because I’m her mom.  Therapists and doctors have said this from the very beginning about her.
    So how do we tap into this brilliant mind of hers?  Well, assistive eye gaze technology is something she was exposed to at the hospital visit, which she took to quite quickly.  My cousin Maria (who graciously came with us to the appointment) told me that within 5 minutes, Lily was asking for blueberries, using her eyes!  Pretty amazing.

Next steps with the Rett doctor – schedule a visit with the following specialists – GI doc (for Lily’s chronic constipation which is typical of Rett sweeties), dentist (she needs a cleaning and they have a dentist on staff there as dental issues can arise for these sweet girls), and speech therapist (to learn more about the eye gaze technology and other forms of communication).  Also Dr. D has offered to speak to the directors of the preschools Lily may attend.  It will be very important for Lily to be in a setting with verbal, social kids.  Lastly, we will have a follow-up appointment with her in 6 months.

In the meantime, Lily and I will continue to learn, giggle and eat lots of berries!

Love,

C and L

Springtime 2014