Roger Williams Park Zoo

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?

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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.

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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.

 

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.

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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.

 

Dream Night 2014

 

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Photo by Karin

The magic started when we met Hooligan, before we even entered the zoo. Hooligan, a Providence police horse, who was kind, patient, and gentle enough to meet Liam on our way into Dream Night at the Roger Williams Park Zoo this year. That’s the way things are at Dream Night, from the zoo staff walking around with snakes and lizards, to the docents volunteering in costume, the Hasbro Children’s Hospital employees checking families in, the face painters, jugglers, musicians and temporary tattoo artists, even the police officer on horseback at the zoo’s entrance, it is everyone’s mission to ensure that these kids with special needs, their families and even their carers have an even more special night.

 

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Photo by Karin

No exaggeration, Dream Night is our favorite event of the entire year, and after being rained out last year we have been looking forward to tonight for a long, long time.

 

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Dream Night  began at Rotterdam Zoo in 1996 and is now celebrated in over 170 zoos worldwide on the first Friday in June. In fact Roger Williams Park Zoo was one of the first zoos in the country to have a Dream Night, and it shows. Their dedication to this event rings true in the exceptional attention to helping each and every family have as much fun as they can possibly provide. 20140606-213334-77614438.jpg

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Trachs and vents, wheelchairs and walkers, extra chromosomes or chromosomes missing a piece, from CP to Spina Bifida and any other neurological disorder, none of us feel out-of-place or different at Dream Night. The only night of the year that we can say that. At Dream Night more than any other night, we all feel a little more normal. Absent are the stares and frightened looks we’ve all grown so accustomed to. Instead there’s an understanding of our struggles, and a night to forget them. An opportunity to relax in a public space knowing that every other family there in some small way knows exactly why this night is so special.

 

So freeing.

 

So much  fun.

 

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This year we even toured the veterinary hospital in the zoo. Not lost on us was the fact that so many of our families there tonight have more than a passing knowledge of hospitals so being allowed to walk around their hospital may have been my favorite part. Ultrasounds, x-rays, and endoscopy machines exactly as we have seen them used on our own children right down to the end tidal CO2 monitor. It was surprisingly fun to see just how similar the hospital facilities at a zoo are to the hospital Liam has spent so much of his life in, which I think is exactly why they open up the veterinary hospital for this event.

 

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There were snakes named Chuck (pictured above) and Elvis, a miniature donkey named Willy, and a Gecko whose name escapes me. The giraffes and elephants were happy to enjoy their nighttime feeding in front of a crowd even though they normally eat in peace after the zoo is closed. There were no lines to wait in and not once did it feel as if Liam’s wheelchair was in anyone’s way. Even if it was. No one would have said so. We exchanged hello and knowing looks with families we’ve never met but who probably understand our life better than many of our own friends.

That is the magic of Dream Night.

 

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Photo by Karin — It’s the simple attractions like these types of photo setups that we never really get a chance to get near on a normal zoo day. It takes time and effort to get a wheelchair setup back there. One of the thousands of reasons why Dream Night means so much to us.

Only 364 more days until we can relive that magic again.

 

Thank you, thank you, thank you to the wonderful people who made this night possible. The CNDC at Rhode Island Hospital, Hasbro Children’s Hospital, and all of the Roger Williams Park Zoo staff and docents. Your effort and enthusiasm are noticed and appreciated and while the Olson family will probably see you again over the summer, we already can’t wait for this time next year.

 

Editor’s Note: I was much more wordy in 2012 for Dream Night and I brought my real camera instead of just using my phone. This year I decided to not worry about pictures so much and just worry about having a great time with my boy and boy did I.