parenting

9 Years of Being Called Dad.

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Nine years ago today. 9:06am. After 13 hours of labor Karin gave birth to Ben Olson.

He had already passed away hours beforehand. We lost him before we ever really got to meet him.

Through our grief on that day, Karin and I appreciated the care, and support provided by doctors, nurses, and the hospital minister as they gave us the gifts of 8 hours with our son. a day to spend in the labor room, holding him, telling him how much we loved him, introducing him to both sets of his  grandparents.

They gave us the time we needed to say goodbye.

But the greater gift given that day wasn’t the grand gestures, the pictures, the clothes Ben was dressed in while we stayed in that room, the footprints in a decorated memory box to take home with us. Those nurses, doctors and other hospital staff gave us what we needed to hear,

They called us Mom and Dad. They gave us the title that we needed to hear.

“You’re doing a great job Mom!”

“Do you want to cut the cord Dad?” and they never stopped calling us that.

Because Karin and I became parents on this day, September 22, 2006. 9 years ago today. We didn’t know at the time that we wouldn’t be able to bring a child home with us for another 2 years and 8 months when Liam was 153 days old, but we knew that we had had a son. His name was Ben and to show him the respect he deserved we needed to believe, as hard as it may have been when walking out of that hospital only with each other, that we were parents.

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About a month ago this article popped into my Twitter feed. “Don’t Call me Mom if You’re Not My Child”  written by a mom who took offense to the nurses in a hospital calling her “Mom” while her son was in for an outpatient procedure. It’s been bugging me ever since I read it, but today looking back on Ben’s birthday crystallized why. It’s snarky and angry which I usually like, but is directed at people just trying to do their jobs and help to make people feel comfortable. I know plenty of parents who agree 100% in the sentiment. Parents of neurotypical children and parents of children with disabilities alike. Parents who mean a great deal to me, who I respect a great deal, and who have helped me through some of the toughest of times. Parents though, who all have at least one child who has the ability to call them Mom, or Dad.

Not everyone has that.

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Being Mom and Dad to Ben has never been easy. It has been heart breaking, but it has also made us better parents to Liam. After the birth of Ben, along with 4 miscarriages and also an unsuccessful IVF/PGD attempt by the time Liam was born Karin and I were ready. Ready to take those titles of Mom and Dad and grow into owning them no matter the circumstance of our child’s health. During the time while Liam was in the NICU we reveled in being called Mom and Dad by the dozens of staff and personnel calling us by the titles we earned. (If I went through the years of schooling it took to get a Phd I’d be that jerk who wants to be called “Dr.” too.)

As Liam got older and we spent more and more of his life in and out of hospitals it became clear that the ONLY time that Karin and I would ever be called “mom” or “dad” was going to be by the nurses and staff in the intensive care unit. Liam communicates with us in ways that only we can understand, but he’s probably never going to be able to say those words. Programming an iPad to say it when he hits a switch is nice but it isn’t the same. I’m Ok with that. As I said, Liam and I “talk” in other ways. But hearing it from a human voice when they tell us that they were finally able to get the central line in place and Liam had access for the meds he would need to keep him from dying? Or the recovery nurse after any one of his many life saving surgeries? Or the PICU nurse who sat in the room for every minute of her shift because there was real concern that he had a heart attack due to the septic shock?  Yeah, I’ll take those “Mom & Dad”‘s. Any Day. Unlike the author of the article, for some of us, it does take a village. The hands and help of people who have saved my son’s life can be a part of my village anytime< along with the people who brought him his lunch and the people who kept his room clean. There’s room for lots of people in my village.

Nine years ago today Karin and I became a Mom & Dad. I don’t care if you’re my kid or not, every person on this planet could call me Dad. It’s the only title that really matters to me.

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Ben, your Mom and I love you and we miss you every single day. Thank you for sending us the messages you send and in the way that you send them. Someday I’ll share our secret with all of these people reading this. They’ll have to buy my book about it first. (although a few of you out there already know what that is. very few) Thank you for being such great big brother and gaurdian angel to your little bro Liam and always watching over him. I know that you know that we tell him about you all the time and he is always with us when we go and visit you resting next to your Great-Grampa.

Happy Birthday little viking. I love you.

Dad

 

Picking Our Battles

Editor’s note: Due to a poorly designed web interface from wordpress, an incomplete, incoherent, and unedited first draft version of this post may have been sent to your inbox if you are an email follower to the blog. So if it reads familiar that is why I’m sorry about that, and about the multiple emails from me tonight. please give it another try for me. Here’s the blog as it should read.

The principal of Liam’s school during a very heated and contentious meeting that also included the director of pupil services and the superintendent of school for the city of East Providence (yes, even the supt of schools, you don’t want to piss me off when it comes to giving Liam the services he needs, he deserves, and he has a right to) once told us that she was offended by the fact that she had heard my wife describe our interactions to demand the wheelchair lift that she had promised as “battles”.

My son was being made to leave his school building up to 5 times a day to re-enter through a different entrance to be on the floor where his other classes (art, library, music) during rain and cold weather but she was offended by our use of the term “battle”.

Her solution, as winter quickly approached and there was still no accessibility for Liam and the handful of other students who use wheelchairs in the school, was to put him in the 3rd grade class for those subjects. 3rd grade, for a developmentally disabled kindergartner, because those classrooms were closer, as if he were a piece of furniture. yet SHE was offended that we used the word “battle”.

During the same meeting this principal was caught flat out lying to us about whether or not Liam was already being put into the classroom with third graders without our permission (helpful to have a nurse follow Liam’s every move and texting us when something feels hinky) yet she was offended that we used the term battle.

It was a battle and we told her so again.

It was a battle that we won.

The wheelchair lift was installed over the holiday break in january. We haven’t had to interact with the principal since. I’m sure she’s thankful of that. But the next time we do have to cross paths. that will be a battle as well.

Because when it comes to making sure that Liam gets the services, the equipment, the supplies and even the medicines that he needs, it is always a battle.

One that his mother and I are perfectly suited for, and happy to fight.

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The equipment company that takes over 10 months to fix the armrests on Liam’s chair after his orthopedist and physical therapist alerted them that his original rests were unsafe and he was at risk for getting his arms caught and/or dislocating his shoulders during a seizure. After months of phone calls and emails, and not only one but TWO scheduled appointments for an equipment technician to come to the house to fix the chair where the tech was a no-call no-show (with Liam staying home from school specifically for both) the tech finally, on the third try, arrived at our house with parts, only the parts that he brought weren’t the new ones, they were the exact same armrests already on his chair. Then we got to start from the beginning all over again, signatures from doctors, approvals from insurance companies, months and months of opportunity for Liam to be injured with unsafe conditions in his chair. Being blown off by uninterested “customer service reps”

A battle in every sense of the word.

It shouldn’t take a full school year to switch a part on a wheelchair when multiple medical professionals deem it unsafe, but this is the system we fight.

Twelve days ago the armrests on Liam’s chair were finally replaced.Still, after 10 months, I have a hard time calling that battle a win in our column.

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The pharmacy that despite knowing that Liam has been on a med for over four years refuses to carry a full refill supply of it. Whether for the saving of shelf space or a refusal to pay for it until it has been paid for by my insurance, every time we call for the re-fill we are given a “partial order”. ‘We can only give you a few doses. Come back in two days for the remainder’ they say, increasing the chance of an error.

Three days ago we were told that they would not re-fill Liam’s prescription. We should have enough for 14 more days the insurance company computer told them, and they would not give us any more until then. End of story.

Or so they thought. Karin can be very persuasive. She has to be. Our sniper of phone calls. Explaining to the poor sap working his part time shift as a pharmacy tech that he was plainly wrong, and that they had to go back and recheck how much volume we were given in our last ‘partial’ fill. That not only would we not take no for an answer, but that we would hold him and his company responsible when Liam would need to be admitted to the intensive care unit the next day because of the withdrawal he would experience if they failed to fix their mistake.

Yesterday they called and explained that they did an inventory of their supply and found that, what do you know, they did owe us 14 days worth of Liam’s medicine. found a whole bottle with his name on it and everything.

That happened this week, but similar situations with prescriptions have happened dozens of times before. Liam takes 11 different perscription medications, Many of them in large volumes that for some reason this enormously recognizable corportaion refuses to keep in stock. The battle against incompetence is very real.

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The medical supply company that provides Liam’s everyday supplies like trachs, trach ties and vent circuits, suction catheters and feeding pump bags, pulse oximeter probes and fenistrated gauze sponges. All the things that keep Liam in his home and not in a hospital but that you can’t just roll up to your local megamart and buy if you run out of them. Again, if we run out of many of these supplies our recourse for keeping Liam alive is a trip to the hospital until we recieve these supplies, so you would think that a person going on vacation or leaving the company for another job wouldn’t put my son at risk but of course, you’d be wrong.

Because even if these companies cared about the patients that rely on them (which they don’t) the patient is not their customer. The patient’s insurance company is and as long as those reimbursement checks and approvals keep coming in, they can and will treat their patients like garbage. Including sending out Liam’s monthly order of necessary items with invoices showing that they have been paid for, but many of the items just happen to be on “back order”. Nearly every other month, when we are washing and reusing what should be disposable felt ties that hold Liam’s trach in place at an exposure point for infection, it gives me such comfort to see that the company has already received the funds for those products. Essentially removing the motivation for them to rush those type of products out to us.

The patient is not their concern, their shareholders are, the insurance companies are, medicaid is. But make no mistake, it isn’t my son that they care about.

So they don’t like hearing my voice on the line, every month when we run out of the things that keep Liam alive. Where Karin is our sniper in battle over the phone; I am our nuclear bomb.

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The oxygen delivery service that brings Liam his oxygen every other week decided last month that instead of delivering on Thursday they would be switching our delivery day to Tuesday. I shouldn’t be the one who has to point out to them that if you are changing us from thursday to tuesday that you have to make that change on the tuesday BEFORE the normal thursday delivery, or else we will run out of oxygen. I shouldn’t have to be since you would think the dispatch and delivery department for an oxygen delivery company would understand that people’s lives rely on them doing their job correctly.

You would think that, but you’d be wrong.

The job doesn’t get done correctly without a fight.  Without a phone call. Without a battle.

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School departments, insurance companies, medical supply and equipment companies. “Partners” in care. They arm themselves with bureaucracies, with paper, with seemingly automatic denials only to approve to anyone with the audacity to appeal. (how many people get an insurance denial and don’t think they can appeal? The math must work out in their favor.) They defend themselves with red tape, with their “policy”, with the incompetent at best and inconsiderate and uncaring “customer Service reps” at worst, and every single time, it puts my son’s life in danger.

Which is why we fight. Which is why we arm ourselves with emails, and phone calls, and documentation. It’s why I can be such an asshole on the phone. We fight incompetence with aggressiveness.

And we always win.  We have to.

Our son’s life depends on it.

The Year (so far) in Pictures

Full disclosure, If you follow me on Instagram (pressuresupport) or Twitter (@pressuresupport) you’ve probably already seen most of this, But this way, you can see it again all in one place.

Yay?

*****

I guess I just picked the wrong year to fall off of my blogging game, because Liam’s 6th year has been a pretty good one.

As you may recall the northeast got buried under record amounts of snow this year. Here in Rhode Island we got clobbered. I usually don’t mind the snow but in 2015 I anticipated the spring in ways I have never looked forward to a season in the past. Liam agreed.

So the year started out a little rough, but as we always we do, we trudged through it, and made it to the good parts. Let’s be honest, no year is going to be perfect, and we’ll never be able to look back on a time period as long as six months of Liam’s life without a bit of medical drama. All things considered, the first 6 months of 2015 were pretty good in that regard, with only a few blips along the way.

Blip the first was when Liam’s physical therapist thought there may be something a little hinky going on with Liam’s shoulder and recommended we see the orthopedist. Which we did, making sure we got in there as soon as we could.  The orthopedist, realizing he hadn’t done a full workup of films on Liam in a long while ordered the works instead of just his arms and shoulders. It seemed like a good idea, so we agreed to get a bunch of extra x-rays while we were there.

You see? I never stopped thinking like a blogger. Who but a special needs parenting blogger takes a picture of his son getting the x’ray work up?

The films came back quickly and we got the news that afternoon over the phone.  Liam’s shoulders are both completely fine.

….

His hips however are both dislocated.

Naturally. They grew that way, and although the shock of hearing it had me very worried for a little while, this is far from uncommon for children with muscle tone issues like his syndrome presents. Liam is showing no signs of any pain or discomfort, which is why the diagnosis came as such a shock. In fact unless he shows us otherwise, because there’s no sign of pain or circulation issues, because he can still use his stander and his walker, and because his spine is straight as an arrow, there’s really nothing to be done about it anyway. Liam will just live with a couple of naturally dislocated hips. Add it to the list.

He’s still a rock star.

Dislocated hips? Don’t care, I’m still walking.

Medical blip the second, a short hospital stay for a bout with pneumonia. Just one of those things that happens, and a chance for Liam to visit with and show off for all the doctors, nurses, and therapists at the Hasbro Children’s Hospital PICU that he hadn’t seen in so long.

Yes other than that Liam stayed away from the hopsital for the most part this year. And it showed, because being 6 years old has been a year for Liam to be where he belongs. Out and about and in the community.

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This year, beginning in January, once the school was finally set up to handle Liam’s needs with the wheelchair lift finally installed, and his teacher and the classroom aides really getting to know how to effectively communicate with Liam, he really started excelling in kindergarten.  With reports of improvement in all sorts of areas, including the making of paper ducks.

But like any kindergartner, Liam enjoyed the special days more than any. Like when a turtle came to visit the class.

And “Take a Special Friend to School” Day, where someone very special got to spend the afternoon with Liam and his whole class for an afternoon. Recess was my favorite part!

Or on field day where Liam and his nurse/ninja/best buddy Walter competed in the three-legged (and two wheel) race.

Outside of school things were just as good this year. If you’ve followed me for very long at all you know just how much the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence RI means to us and to Liam. This year has seen no change to that. In fact this spring when strolling the place we were stopped more than once by Zoo staff who knew and recognized him as Liam! the boy who named Anton.

When Liam goes to his hometown zoo. He gets treated like a rock star.

But not only by the people there.

Liam has fans of all kinds at Roger Williams Zoo.

 

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Dream Night this year was fantastic as it always is. I didn’t take as many photos though, I was having too much fun just taking it all in.

And so was Liam.

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But it wasn’t only when out in the community that Liam had a great year. He had some good times at home too.

 

Like on his swing in his own backyard.

Or showing off for his mom and I when using his head switch to utilize the communication apps on his ipad to answer yes and no questions.

And as much as Liam likes working with his ipad, he’s an old soul and still loves the feel of a good old fashioned book. So a gift of books directly from the artist and writer himself (who went to school at RISD with Liam’s Grampa, my dad) was an especially exciting treat.  Thanks Aaron!!

 

Not as big a treat as hanging out with Dad in the driveway while brewing a new batch of beer using Olson & Son Hopyard hops though.

Liam is an exceptional assistant brewer.

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But the thing with being around Liam is that there is an aura of joy that follows him, not only during special events or during treats. There is a joy just being around him just resting on the couch or going for a walk around the block.

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There was a time when fathers would keep pictures of their kids in their wallets to share with co-workers friends and anyone who would listen. Today we have Twitter and Instagram, facebook and our blogs for that, and here’s mine. While on my blogging hiatus I heard from so many of you who wanted to hear about how Liam was doing and missed seeing his pictures. I’m sorry about that. Along with more essay posts about parenting a child with complex medical needs, I forget how many people just like seeing Liam’s smile.

I won’t forget that again.

Here, have one more smile at the end.

Like I said, the first 6 months of 2015 have been pretty good so far. Let’s hope it keeps up, and if it doesn’t, as long as I get to see that smile every now and again, we’ll get through whatever this year can throw at us.

 

It wasn’t supposed to begin with.

It wasn’t supposed to begin this way.

It was supposed to be a momentous occasion when the boy who wasn’t supposed to make it to his first birthday made it to his first day of kindergarten.

When I was a kid not everyone attended pre-school or a pre-k program. Kindergarten was the first day of school. THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL. For everyone.

This boy of mine who was so early for the day of his birth and so very “late” for so many things after that (first steps, first tooth, heck his first poop was after 43 days) was going to be on time for one major thing in his life. To do something at five and half years old that every other five-and-a-half-year old was doing.

The first day of kindergarten. At five years old with all of the other 5 year olds. On the same day as everyone else.

Now he’ll have to start school a week late. They robbed us of that milestone.

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It began, as so many of these things do, with a phone call. A call from the principal last week to let us know that the lift that was being installed to bring Liam’s wheelchair up and down the short stairway to the gymnasium and music room wasn’t going to be ready for the first day of school. Liam would still have access to those rooms but would have to leave the building and re-enter through another door to get there until the lift installation was completed. She explained that she understood how this was not ideal and that it was a priority to be fixed and that making Liam go outside was unacceptable. She also told Karin  ‘come to my office next week on orientation day and I’ll show you his classroom and the lift and the doors he’ll have to use to go in and out.’. Remember that last bit. It’ll come into play later.

So yeah, it’s a huge pain and it isn’t fair to Liam to ask him to go outside to get to his classes when it rains, or it gets cold (it is New England) but let’s face it, we are going to have to work with these people for years and years, and throwing a fit about it doesn’t do us any favors yet. So we remained calm and decided that we would set our own personal deadline for them and that if we didn’t see any progress two weeks into the school year we would pursue the matter further. Besides, the fact that the principal called us to talk to us about it two weeks before school even started made us happy that at least they were communicating with us well.

Or I guess they were.

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It wasn’t supposed to begin this way.

I didn’t want to begin my son’s first day of school as the angry, demanding parent of the kid who needs some special attention and accommodations. If you start at a ten there’s nowhere to go for when the big problems come up . To build a reputation as a reasonable and understanding parent who understands the challenges that educating a child like Liam can present. By starting the school year with this many big problems they are robbing me the opportunity to build that reputation.

We were supposed to be celebrating Liam’s first day of school.

It wasn’t supposed to begin this way.

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Tomorrow is orientation day.  I know this because I am looking at the letter that the school department sent to us in May. It was the last time we received anything from the school department that mentions the start of school. And I quote…

This year Kindergarten begins on Wednesday, September 10th; however, on Thursday, September 4th, we will have a “Welcome” meeting at 10:00am, where you and your child will be invited to meet the principal and teachers, visit the kindergarten classrooms, and discuss the expectations of kindergarten for your child. In addition, while there, we require that you schedule a 30 minute appointment so that the teachers can administer a short screening test. Appointments can be scheduled Thursday, September 4th in the afternoon, or anytime (9-3) on Friday, September 5th or Monday, September 8th. There is no school on Tuesday, September 9th.

Well that was the last communication we received about the start of school until the phone call today. It’s always the damn phone.

This time it was Liam’s teacher. Knowing that in our IEP we discussed a modified schedule (going in late) to start the year she had called to discuss what time Liam would be coming to school. During a frustrating conversation trying to decifer what the best time for the class would be (during a classroom or activity change so as not to disrupt things more than we already are)  the teacher and Karin settled on 11:00am. Which was when the teacher then explained that she’d see him in class for his first day of school tomorrow.

Tomorrow?

No, no, no tomorrow is orientation day. Our “Welcome” meeting. The letter is on the fridge. The dates are circled on the calendar. The 10th is the first day of school. I used a vacation day from work for it. We called in favors to get nursing coverage because our nurse needed the 10th off for an important obligation. We were augmenting Liam’s sleep and seizure med schedule to prepare. We scheduled doctors appointments for this week. We were doing everything we could possibly do to make sure that Liam doesn’t miss the first day of school, including planning on bringing him in at the normal time on the 10th and seeing how he did with a full day on his first day. The 10th was the first day of school. Tomorrow is orientation day.

“Well not for the special education kids. The inclusive classroom first day of school is tomorrow.”

And that is how the school department decided to communicate to us that Liam’s class was different from all the other kids. Liam’s class didn’t get any communication. Liam’s class didn’t get to have a’ “Welcome”  meeting with their teacher and principal to discuss the expectations of kindergarten for our child’. Liam’s class didn’t get to fully prepare themselves for the first day of school. Instead we got about 20 hours of notice.

Karin explained that we have friends whose children are in the same class and also expected to begin school on the 10th, including one particular child who would benefit greatly from seeing his classroom before the start of the school year. The teacher seemed put off not by the news of this huge miscommunication complete and total lack of communication with families that need it most, but by the fact that she was now going to have to call all of the incoming kindergartener’s families to let them know about the change as well. Sure enough our friends got their own call letting them know that their child’s first day of school was not next week but was in fact tomorrow.

It wasn’t supposed to begin this way.

*****

At Liam’s pre-kindergarten check-up yesterday his pediatrician reminded us of a conversation we had when Liam was only months old about realistic expectations of his life and whether or not he would survive his first year and how remarkable it was that he was about to start kindergarten. None of this changes that. Liam is remarkable. He is remarkable enough that his family deserves to get the communication to adequately provide for his education. I know this BECAUSE EVERY CHILD AND THEIR FAMILY DESERVES THAT!

I don’t want Liam to be treated special. I don’t want us to be treated special. I just wanted us to be treated the same as everyone else. To be told what is going on. To have the same chance to discuss expectations that every incoming kindergartener’s family who does not need the services of special education got to enjoy.

It wasn’t supposed to begin this way.

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I’ve called the principal three times since then. Three times since Karin found out that not only are we now not ready for Liam to attend the first day of kindergarten, but that I won’t get to enjoy the celebration of the milestone with him unless we wait and make him miss the first week of school, and that the stress and phone calls of ensuring competent and qualified nursing care was all for nothing, and that we wouldn’t be afforded the chance to see Liam’s classroom before hand. or at least I tried to. the number seems to be for the whole school, which doesn’t really matter since no one ever answered it. I called her once immediately after I found out. The call went straight to voice mail. Realizing that it might still be the end of everyone’s lunch hour I waited an hour to call back.This time, I politely but sternly explained that I find this level of communication unacceptable,  I reminded whoever answered that voicemail that less than a week ago the principal told my wife that they would see each other and have time to meet on orientation day giving us no indication that it was actually the first day of classes and that Liam was expected to attend, I explained that I expected a call back.

I didn’t get one.

I called the pre-k program Liam attended last year which is in the same school building as Liam’s kindergarten class and asked if they could help me get in touch with the principal and they gave me the same number that I was already calling.

I called again an hour and a half later, and left another message asking if we should even attend the orientation. I asked if we were going to be given a oppurtunity to see the classroom and the lift before sending Liam into school. I asked if perhaps the teacher had been mistaken because again, we had just spoken with the principal last week and she gave us no indication of this being the first day of school, and the letter we received from the city explicitly told us this was not the first day of school. I explained that it was very important that I get a return call answering those questions for me.

I’m still waiting by my phone.

So not only did this entire problem begin with a lack of communication but apparently my child’s school believes that the remedy to the problem they created is to provide even less communication.

It wasn’t supposed to begin this way.

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Maybe I set my expectations too high. I’ve heard so many of my friends who have children with special needs complain about the battles they’ve had to have to advocate for the services and attention that their children need. Based on the amazing job done by the staff of Liam’s pre-K program (IN THE SAME BUILDING AS WHERE HE IS GOING THIS YEAR)  I naively thought that wouldn’t be the case for us.

“Not in our school!” I used to say to anyone who would listen. “The school department has bent over backwards to try to get Liam the things he needs!” I used to say.

#notallschooldepartments

I guess I’m the fool.

And in one afternoon, I have lost all of my faith in the teacher responsible for my child’s education for the next three years, and the principal who supervises her, that they will communicate, needs, issues, safety concerns to us regarding Liam’s education. They have their work cut out for them trying to earn it back. Miscommunications happen. Maybe the city didn’t mail out the letters they meant to for the few families of incoming kindergarteners in the inclusive special education program. But then to add insult to injury you refuse to return three phone calls about it? Not about some event in a few days or weeks but refuse to return phone calls regarding something as momentous as a first day of school and happening as quickly as less than 16 hours away, and you don’t return the call?

A simple phone call back was all I was asking for. To know what was going on with my child’s education.

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I realize that posting this here may put my relationship with Liam’s educators in jeopardy. I’m ok with that. I use this blog to highlight the wonderful parts of parenting Liam, and believe me it is mostly wonderful, but even if the principal calls back at 8am tomorrow and is all apologies, I will not feel guilty about being angry about today and I will not feel bad about sharing it. Because along with all the fun stories about the zoo and road trips to Jersey A great deal of our time is spent in frustrating beurocratic loops of phone calls and excuses with insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, medical equipment companies and state agencies. Now I’ll have to add schools to that list.

I’ll share it because while I was calling the principal three times today Karin was calling Liam’s durable medical equipment company for about the 6th time about the filters for Liam’s vent that they have on back order that should have been changed out of his vent three weeks ago, and the pulse oximeter probes that are supposed to be changed every week but we haven’t been shipped any new ones in four weeks. That was after she called the state about their problem with the handicapped placard form for Liam’s van and the medical insurance company that denies everything on the first submission (unless it’s something we need a denial letter for so another agency will pick it up THEN of course they drag their feet on denying things).

Frustrating situations like this are the pressure for which we need the support.

Besides, Liam’s first day of school wasn’t supposed to begin this way.

I’ll tell you one thing though, his first day of home schooling will begin exactly as it’s meant to.

And at this point, it may just be next month.

The Names of Things

Liam’s agency and dignity being among our top priorities as parents, it’s important to us that , whenever possible, Liam get to choose what is done to/for him. Unable to speak, or point, or  grasp, Liam communicates his wants with eye gaze and head nods. He picks out his outfits every day (between choices given him by his stylist.) Sometimes he decides in an instant. Sometimes he needs a little while to think about it, and sometimes he just can’t be bothered with the demands of making his own decision. He’s five. I’m gonna just assume that all that is universal.

The thing is, when Liam is really alert and engaged in the decision-making process, his preferences are apparent. His attitudes obvious, even strangers would have no problem recognizing his meanings. So it was the first friday night in June during the Dream Night festivities at the Roger Williams Park Zoo. His wheelchair parked in the gift shop, in a corner to stay out of traffic, Karin and I would each approach with pairs of stuffed animals.  A bracket style gladiator tournament to find the winning souvenir  with Liam’s head turns and eye gaze applying the thumbs-up or down decision on just who would come home with us that night.

 

Elephant vs. Zebra., Monkey vs Buffalo, on and on it went until the winners were then put in again. Decision after decision until we were left with a winner.

An Anteater.

Liam’s anteater.

And his name is Anton.

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*****

There are an awful lot of stuffed animals in our house, and they all have names. Karin is the namer of things, and she’s incredibly good at what she does. We have lions named Levon, Lemar, Levi and Lenny (and Frodo, and Ribbons, and Roar-y). Penguins named Gordon, Gordon Jr. and Freddy. A whale named Whale-n Smithers, and even a watering can shaped like a pig and whose name is Rusty. Everything has a name around here. We have a dragon named Douglas, and a stuffed Dinosaur from a hospital gift shop named Enterobacter-saurus after the bacteria in his blood stream from his burst appendix that kept Liam in that damned hospital.

*****

But right from the start Anton seemed different. Liam seemed a bit more attached to the stuffed friend he had to tell his parents he wanted three times before we believed him. He was one of only two stuffed animals that made the trip down to Jersey with us last month. (The other one also in the picture below, LeMar the Lion, has been in Liam’s bed with him since he was ten days old. A gift from his Uncle Phil and Auntie Jannah)

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And before long it would become apparent to us that Liam had decided that Anton was his favorite friend to sleep with. Months now, it’s been Anton, through adventures with flooded diapers and trips in the washing machine and dryer. It’s Anton. So much so in fact that eventually I just had to post a picture to Instagram about it.

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And after seeing the picture, when I tagged their handle, The good folks at the Roger Williams Park Zoo sent along a comment…

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See it? That alone, I thought was a pretty cool thing. Cool because it’s been fun to interact with the zoo on twitter and instagram every time we go there, but also cool because they’re right. Anton is a good name for an anteater.

As cool as I thought all that was though, this morning things got a whole lot cooler. This morning I got an email from the good folks at the Roger Williams Park Zoo. An email with the subject line Anton the Anteater.

Here, I’ll let them tell you, Here’s the text of the email I got.

Hi Eric –

Firstly, I would like to let you know that here at the Zoo we read your blog and it makes us so proud to be able to offer Dream Night, as well as being a space that you and your family love to come to. I noticed on Instagram that you had recently visited the Zoo, and your son Liam had picked out an anteater toy, named Anton. Well, it is a happy coincidence that we recently had an anteater birth, a little boy!

So, in recognition of the support you’ve given to the Zoo over the years, we would like to name our newest addition Anton as well, and invite your family (original Anton included!) to come visit the Zoo as our guests for the day.

Let us know when you’d like to schedule your visit, and thank you for your continued support!

Anne

 

MIND. BLOWN.

There are so many reasons why this is probably the coolest thing that has happened since I’ve started this blog. I’ll only get to a few …

First: I was already almost dancing around our house this morning when I read this since it was just plain awesome to hear that an animal at the local zoo was being named indirectly by us, and by extension Liam. The Roger Williams Park Zoo has always been such an important place for us as a family (as new readers can read about here, here and also here) but then Karin started sending me more information that she was reading about our new friend Anton from the Zoo website and I got even more excited since it seems Anton himself is kind of a big deal. (from the linked article)

Zoo Executive Director Dr. Jeremy Goodman commented that the birth of a male giant anteater is a significant occurrence in captive populations, because there are very few males in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Program.

Corndog (Anton’s Mom) was selected to come to Roger Williams Park Zoo to be bred with Johei based on recommendations made by the AZA. Giant anteaters, native to grassland and lowland tropical forests in Central and South America, are listed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN due to loss of habitat and hunting. It is estimated that only 5,000 animals remain in the wild.

Besides, How can you not fall in love with something like this…

 

Photo by Bret Cortesi for the Roger Williams Park Zoo Website

Photo by Bret Cortesi for the Roger Williams Park Zoo Website

 

Second: As goofy and silly as Karin and I can get with the naming thing. Names mean things. As Anton the anteater makes his way in this world and is transferred to another zoo somewhere in the hopes that he will help the population of his species, he will continue to be called Anton. Liam will always have that indirect connection to him. I realize that this may seem like I’m greatly overstating  things but like any parent, I often think about the impact that my son will have on this world. The waves of influence that Liam and his unique position and perspective will create. The fact that my wife’s love of alliteration and of naming things (ESPECIALLY for her son) have become one of those waves, and that it will continue to go on rippling, fills me with happiness and pride.

Names have power. In the Patrick Rothfuss novel The Name of the Wind (which I highly recommend) he writes…

Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts. There are seven words that will make a woman love you. There are ten words that will break a strong man’s will. But a word is nothing but a painting of a fire. A name is the fire itself.

Yeah, in the novel he’s referring to a type of magic. I still think it fits and the line quickly jumped into my head this morning as I thought about all of this, because no matter the meaning of the name Anton, the story behind him coming to it will always mean something to me. To my family.

To my boy.

Third: I’m already living vicariously through him. I assume the AZA will probably end up transferring him somewhere when he’s old enough to breed. Maybe we can visit him. San Diego? The Bronx? Maybe someday we’ll decide to plan a whole vacation to wherever little Anton ends up having kids of his own. We’re zoo people. Why not take a vacation to see other zoos?

And finally, just because it’s one more story that we get to tell about how lucky we are to be the parents of this wonderful boy of ours. Things like this would obviously never happen without him. His influence and the energy that he puts into the world has continued to come back to us in surprising and exciting ways. This is a story that I will forever enjoy telling.

The time my son and my wife got to name the new giant anteater at our local zoo. How cools is that?

And it’s all in a name

A name like Anton.

 

Somewhere in the Swamps of Jersey

Ok, not the swamps, instead the rolling hills of northwest New Jersey but if you think I’m not going to quote The Boss when talking about our trip to Jersey well then you just don’t know me at all.

Yes the Olson’s packed it all up and headed south for adventure. When I say packed IT ALL up, I mean it. It makes little difference if we are going camping or visiting family in their home, the packing remains the same. 2 days or 2 weeks and there’s little difference to the list. A CVS, across the street from a Walgreens next to a Target a short walk from where we’re staying? Ha! find me syringes, feeding tube bags, ventilator circuits, or  nebulizer parts on any of their shelves and I’ll eat my hat. No, the whole kit and caboodle needs to make the trip when we travel.

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Actually, make that the whole kit and caboodle . . . times two. Because ventilators malfunction. Ventilator batteries lose their juice. Electrical chords and plastic oxygen tubing can all fail. At any time. We have to be ready.

Ready for anything. Twice over.

At all times.

And so we are.

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The trip was great! We visited with family we don’t see often enough, ate good food, and had a relaxing few days away. We even took Liam to another zoo.

 

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For his part, Liam was wonderful. He endured the ride as well as could be expected considering it was RT 95 through Connecticut. He was well-behaved, turned on the charm for his grandparents, and aside from one late night with an increased heart rate that worried us until we realized it was just gas, stayed spectacularly within his baseline sats and numbers. In a new environment in a mostly climate controlled (dry) facility and only recently making a full transition off of supplemental oxygen these are not small details. I’ll be the first to admit that I get a bit nervous travelling and being away from my bubble. It makes me so proud to see how well Liam travels.

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I hope he keeps it up. Because along with our wonderful trip out-of-town for a few days last week, at the end of my vacation from the day job I was approached by the nursing company that supplies Liam’s home nursing care. It seems they had representatives at the conference where I spoke last month and would like to send us all to Pennsylvania so that I can speak to their national meeting of all of their pediatric nursing directors (they have offices nationwide). Details still need to be worked out so I don’t want to say too much, but they want me to speak and I really want them to hear me, so it looks like our trip to New Jersey was just a dry run for a greater adventure.

We’ll be ready.

Ready for anything.

 

 

 

 

 

Still here.

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I could (and will) tell you awesome stories about Liam about to start trialing time unattached from his ventilator, or how amazing his progress as we cruised towards the end of his school year. I could (and will) post the essays I’ve started on my problems with the IEP process or my frustrations with what is commonly called the “dadblogging community”. I could (and will) regale you with the tale of finding a hidden gem of a local hiking path that is wheelchair accessible.

Although I could also (but won’t) tell you awful stories of two months of my erratic and inconvenient work schedule wreaking havoc on the time I’ve had to spend with my wife and son. I could (but won’t) post an essay about the grind of 24/7 care especially when the once a week night nurse relief unfortunately had to miss her shift due to a family emergency, leaving a 14 day stretch of less than 4 hours of sleep a night for both Karin and I. I could (and still might) regale you with the tale of the 14 hour hiccup attack and the car inconveniences and all the other things that come up and take away our ability to get the rest we need. The rest I apparently need to have the energy to blog at the end of the night (early morning) while I’m up watching Liam.

I really need to just start blogging in the morning.

In the meantime I’ll just post a picture and a wave hello. Tomorrow my work schedule goes back to normal. Tomorrow our usual daytime nurse (who has been caring for Liam for the past four years) comes back after 6 weeks on a medical leave. On Friday I’ll start a ten day vacation from the day job.

I’ll be around soon. For now here’s a picture, and a wave hello.

We’re still here. Thanks for coming back.

About a Beard

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Father’s Day morning 2014

Because it’s recently become a FAQ (frequently asked question) and everyone, from co-workers to complete strangers in the grocery store, has a theory on the reason for its existence it’s time to talk about the beard. It isn’t about fashion, it isn’t about trends. It’s not about the hockey playoffs or even the 20013 Boston Red Sox. In fact the beard has only ever been about one thing.

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Fatherhood.

While I can tell you exactly when I started growing this beard, May 29th 2009, our story starts many years and many beards before that. In fact, Karin and I weren’t even married yet. I don’t remember if it was a specific individual or a tradition for her whole family, but what I do remember Karin telling me was that someone in her family would grow a beard whenever his wife was pregnant. For some reason I thought that was just the coolest thing in the world and it was then, years before we were even married, that I filed that little tidbit away and decided I would do the same. Sporting a goatee for as long as I could grow facial hair I decided that a full beard was something I would save. Something I would grow, only as a family man.

Only as a dad.

Or at least as a dad-to-be.

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You can only break your own parents’ hearts so many times, and so after our second miscarriage and my second beard, Karin and I decided we were going to stop telling our families when we were pregnant.  The only indication would be the red scruff on my face and neck.  After two more pregnancies, which many of our extended families didn’t even know about, the act of shaving off my beard after each pregnancy got to be more and more emotional.  Lost in a fog of grief I can’t recall whether I shaved when we lost Ben before or after his funeral. Grief can do funny things to a person. It can cause emotional attachments to our most routine actions.

Like shaving.

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My father had a beard when I was growing up, and as far as I can remember, his father, my Grampa had a beard my whole life, until he got sick. In Karin and my struggle to start a family, and grasping towards any notions of fatherhood that I could find after losing Ben, I kept a partial and trimmed beard for about a year. Never long enough to become a problem at my job in food service, I would keep it short and shave most of my cheeks and neck in an attempt to keep the emotional turmoil of not being a father at bay. Shaving was the only thing that I could control.

A true surprise in so many ways, Liam didn’t give me much time for a pregnancy beard, so just when it was getting started it turned into a NICU beard. Abandoning the plan to shave once we had a baby, the plan became shaving only once we took home a baby. There’s a pretty big distinction between the two.

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Yes, an unhealthy emotional attachment to that hat also happened in the NICU. A Christmas gift made by my Nan, the day before Liam was born.

I kept things trimmed at first in the NICU. Until Liam’s due date. March 19th 2009. For many families with premature children the due date is the goal date for discharge from the NICU. On Liam’s due date (my Mom’s birthday, which is how I remember the date) we were still far from certain that Liam would ever come home. From that day on, if Liam is admitted to a hospital I will not shave, I will not trim, I will not even get a haircut.

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When you spend the first five months of your child’s life watching nurses take care of their every need you can begin to question your role as a parent. I did. No matter how many hours logged in a rocking chair next to the crib. The only thing it seemed I could do to show that I was being a father was to make damn sure that I looked like a father. Apparently, to me a real father looks like he’s been stranded on a desert island for a while. Hence, …

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The day before my last clean shave.

 

But again, that was a different beard. That was a beard born of fear. Born of worry. That beard was shaved completely off on May 29th 2009. For the first time in my life, it wasn’t just shaving, it was a celebration. May 29th 2009, the day after Liam was discharged from his 153 day stay in the NICU. Karin and I had taken our baby home, and I was finally free to shave it all away. The scratchiness, the mess while eating, the references to Grizzly Adams. It could all go away now. I have one picture of me holding Liam clean-shaven. You won’t ever see it. I don’t like it.I didn’t like it as soon as I had put down the razor. The journey to begin a family had changed me. Showing my baby face doesn’t suit me anymore.

May 29th 2009, the last day that I have ever been clean-shaven. 12 days later Liam would be admitted to the Hasbro Childrens Hospital PICU for a 109 day stay.

A new beard was born. A beard built for all that could be thrown its way. A beard built for the father of a child during his tracheostomy and bowel resection.  For 109 day hospital stays, more than a few 40+ day hospital stays, and for too many ‘less than 10 day’ hospital stays to even count. A beard built for seizures. To tickle Liam’s forehead and cheeks so that he knows that everything will be alright. A beard built so that Liam will never have any doubt when Daddy is here.

Dancing the Bowell Blockage Boogie

It has seen its fair share of shapes and sizes now but the beard has endured. My own (until now) private show of my dedication to being a father, and at this point I’m unsure if I’ll ever be able to get rid of it, as ridiculous as that may sound. I got my haircut about a week ago. The woman cutting it remarked about how drastic I had decided to cut the hair on my head and asked if my son would recognize me if I went that short. “Nah, he probably won’t even notice. But if I were to shave my beard off I’m not even sure he’d recognize me.” I told her. Were I to approach him without speaking, that might even be true. I don’t think I ever want to find out. Liam’s dad was meant to have a beard.

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Daddy’s Home!

I’ll be the first to admit that the beard has gotten pretty long these days and I really don’t know why that is. I’ll probably trim it down a bit soon, but not nearly as short as some people would like.  I work in food service remember and I’m sure that if she had her druthers my boss would prefer a clean-shaven kitchen manager. After a lifetime in the industry I completely understand that and don’t blame her. What she didn’t count on though, was my willingness to look a bit foolish while at work in order to look a bit more (in my mind) like a father when I’m not. It’s too bad for her I finally found a distributor for these. . . .

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And that’s the story of my beard. It’s very possible that my attachment to it is irrational. Unhealthy even. I don’t care.

I’m a dad now. And Dad’s have beards.

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At my house right now.

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Karin is asleep in our bed.

Liam is asleep in his bed. The gaseous results of his recent formula change rumbling over the baby monitor to the living room and wafting their way across the whole first floor.

I’m on the couch. Listening to Liam’s breathing (and farting) pattern over the monitor and laughing to tears at old Cheers episodes.

1:30am on a Wednesday. It looks a lot like any other night at 1:30am at my house.

Smells the same too.

He’s lucky he’s so damn cute.