August 13, 2014

Joe Cool

I was just sitting here thinking of all the times I have taken Bridger to the park and he has had children approaching him to join him in play.

Thinking. . . still thinking. . . Um, yeah, that has never happened.

Until now.

Bridger just became the Cool Kid.

Thanks to Ty.

I took the troop for the 45 minute drive to our favorite accessible playground, Clemyjontri.  It is ah-MAZ-ing.  Like, been featured on national news amazing.  Love that place.

What I love about that playground is the piece that it has now played in Bridger's life story.  It was two years ago at Clemyjontri that we met a woman holding the leash of a little Golden Labrador puppy with a yellow "service dog in training vest" on.  She was the park manager and a puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence.  We sat on a bench with her and her pup and she told us all about the organization.  We went home from the park that day on fire with the thought of what a tool a service dog could be for Bridger.  We began the application process, and two years later Bridger was proudly wheeling along side his new service dog, Ty, ready to introduce Ty to his favorite stomping grounds.

When we walked into the park the first person we saw was the park manager.  We introduced her to Ty and got to thank her for the part that she played in changing Bridger's life.  Not only is she changing the lives of the future recipients of the service dogs she is raising, but she changed Bridger's life by sharing about the wonderful organization of which she is a part.

Seeing her brought this experience full-circle. We were so excited to show her Bridger's new buddy and take a picture with her.  It was tender to see her moved to tears. Thank you Rebecca!

We took Ty on his first carousel ride.  I'm sure he was wondering what that dizzy sensation was all about.  He took it like a champ -- both the first and second time we made him ride!

The other kids usually buddy up and run around, joining other kids they meet in play and games.  I always am Bridger's playmate, and I convince him that I am all the fun that he needs.  It makes me a little sad at times, because as I watch all of the other kids laughing and interacting, and I know that I am not.  This afternoon was no different.

Then our playtime gained the cool factor.  Ty and Bridger were playing.  Ty could make the cylinders spin around by using his nose.

Ty and Bridger would play "McDonald's Drive-Thru" at the play house.

Ty would even use his big nose to push Bridger in his swing.

Other children started noticing Ty and came up to ask questions.  I would answer the questions about Ty, but then turn the conversation to Bridger.  I would introduce Bridger as Ty's boss and have Bridger introduce himself and ask their names.  This happened a few times and I turned around to see behind me a growing pack of children following me, Bridger and Ty.  I felt a bit pied piper-esque. I stopped at some play elements and the children would come play with Bridger.  They knew they couldn't touch Ty, but they just wanted to be near him, they said.  So in order to do so they would play with Bridger. See the six pair of the little sneakers in this picture? It was just the beginning of Bridger's growing pack of followers.  

In reality, they might have just been there for Ty.  But, so what. Bridger didn't know the difference.  All he knew was that kids were surrounding him to play next to him -- to play WITH him.

I just stepped back and watched the magic happen and let Bridger play with his peers.

Ty is magical.  He has turned the perception of Bridger from the odd child with plastic things on his legs that wheels around instead of walks into the cool kid that has a ginormous beautiful dog that sticks to his side like glue.  It is also magical for me to feel the positive attention as I walk around with Bridger as compared to the other type of attention we usually draw.

We have had Ty for not quite three months.  It feels like much longer because I think he was always meant to be part of Bridger's life.

Watch out cool cats, here comes Bridger and Ty.

August 12, 2014

The Lost Sole

Have you ever seen a random shoe in the road and wonder how that happens? Whose shoe is laying out there on the side of the road and where is the foot that misses it?

I have the answer.

It belongs to Eliza.  Not just a single shoe, either.  A complete pair.

I blame it on a bad day and a bad habit.

Darn gum chewers.

Not to put any gum chewing readers on the defensive, but I find it a little bit gross.  I don't mind the occasional stick for someone's desire to freshen their breath, but the constant jaw smacking sound, cud chewing motion or seeing a wad clamped out the front of the teeth of a child as they talk to you - I find it all a bit disturbing. It's my personal little pet peeve, I know, and I deal.

BUT, when that habit becomes my problem, it becomes a problem.

What I didn't document along our road trip was how many times I stepped in a wad of sticky, disgusting chewing gum.  I think Utah must be the chewing gum capital of the world, and it shared its passion for the habit with the sole of every pair of shoes I brought with me there.

My disdain for the substance was fresh on my brain in the days after we arrived home as I was in the flurry of errands to catch up with life.  Errands and Bridger don't mix.  Errands and Bridger and heat is a lethal cocktail. So when I had just hauled a screaming Bridger back into the car with his wheelchair for the 7th time that afternoon as I was thoroughly sweating in the heat and humidity and turned around to see Eliza battling the world's largest wad of grayish melted goo of gum on both of her sneakers, my brain only saw one option in the sanity column - abandon shoe.

I exhaustively told her just to leave her shoes.  She looked at me, confused.  "Yep," I said, "just leave them and get in the car and do your buckles."

Once I clarified my intention to her, she thought it was hilarious.

Heat and humidity can do that to a mom.

Gum chewers - I promise not to think less of you for your choice of habits as long as you don't think less of me for leaving a pair of shoes in the middle of the parking lot. Desperate times called for desperate measures.

If you happen to find a cute pair of slightly smelly, little red sneakers with soles covered in gum laying in the road, finder's keepers.

August 06, 2014

Want to Know a Secret?

Want to know a secret?  Listen closely, I will whisper it to you. . .

I can't do this.

Shhhh.  Promise me you won't tell anyone.  I have them all fooled.  Everyone thinks I can.  Boy, do I have them snowed over.  I really can't.  I must give the impression that I can because I have lip gloss on.

I am speaking for a lot of special moms when I say that a universally cringing comment we receive often is others saying, "You were certainly chosen for this because there is no way I could do it."

Guess what, I can't do it either.  I just don't have a choice.

The first words that I speak to myself every morning as I look at myself in the mirror at 0:dark thirty trying to ignore the muffled sounds of Bridger screaming down the hallway is, "I can't do this."

How is that for a daily positive affirmation?

The last words I speak every night as I lay in bed are, "I don't know how I did it today." But somehow I did.

It is amazing how much we can say 'we can't do' because we can get away with not doing it.

To those people that have severe back pain and say they "can't get out of their bed" -- if there was a fire in their house that was about to engulf them, I bet they could move.

I would love to say that my insane back pain doesn't allow me to move.  But I don't have a choice. So I just push through it something fierce.

I would love to say that I can't take Bridger screaming for hours, days and weeks in a row for no apparent reason.  I don't have a choice.  So I take it.

I would love to say that lifting and hauling a 70 pound floppy lump of cuteness dozens and dozens of times every day throughout the house and every time I need to leave the home was too heavy.  But I can't.  So I do it.

I would love to not walk in the IEP room to fight discuss and sort out the mess of all messes created by those who are on the other side of the table who decided they didn't need to do their job.  But I look around and I am the only other one there. So I walk into that room and confidently take my seat. I am always wearing fresh lip gloss to those meetings.

I would love to say that I don't have an extra 4 hours of my day everyday to handle insurance/iep/medical matters for my special needs child.  But there is no other choice. So I find the time.

Yes, what everyone who offers that comment intended as a compliment needs to know is:

1) Nothing special about me.  No super powers.  Not chosen.

2) That they could do it too, if they had to.

3) I can't do this.  I really can't.  I just don't have a choice.

So now you know my little secret.  Please see past my freshly washed hair, shaved legs and matching earrings.  They are a front.  Deep down I feel every moment of every day that I just can't do this.

Now if you'll excuse me, someone suggested that I might have a cape hidden around here somewhere.  I need to go find it and put it on because, otherwise, I just don't think I can do this tomorrow.

But what I already know, is that somehow I will.

August 05, 2014

A Fly on the Wall

Do you wish you could have been a fly on the van wall during our trip?

Here is your chance. . .

Audio clip since I am driving

Play that 142 times over and you pretty much have Iowa and Illinois.

Play the clip below another 246 times and you have our long miles through Indiana and Ohio.

Lance decided to video a random moment of the day

It may seem that we are taunting Bridger by bringing up or continuing on the subject of Walmart.  Let me assure you that our conversations softened the obsession.  If we ignored him, the rants would turn into screaming which would turn into full tantrum until he vomits and then some.  Well, maybe we had to have a little fun at his expense in the convo just to keep us all sane. By talking about Walmart in 20 different ways we made him feel that his little voice is heard and his desires were acknowledged.

The last couple days of driving got long and, especially with what you just heard as our background noise, we just couldn't keep the pace that we had been going.  We crashed into a cushy hotel, closed the room darkening shades and let the troop sleep as long as we needed.  We slept past our free breakfast and until we saw a shocking and blissful 9:30am on the clock.  The following night was a repeat of the same.  What day was it? What time zone were we in? Was it still morning? We had no clue. We just knew we needed to slow it down.  We even stopped at a restaurant and had a sit down lunch {insert audible gasp from all the children when that was announced}

Finally, we saw this. . .

Anyone from NoVa recognizes this scene -- it is the bridge crossing from Maryland into Northern Virginia over the Potomac River.  It is a sight that makes you start singing.  You cross it and are greeted by this beautiful sign. . .

Can you see that blur of a red cardinal?  It's the welcome to Virginia sign.   Ahhhhhh. HOME!

36 days, 17 states, 7000 miles.  It was an adventure.  We saw so much.  We learned so much.  The most important lesson I learned is that I am a Virginian.  I love my home.  I love the attitude, culture, pace, history, geography, comforts, people and may even love the humidity {just a little} of Virginia.

The most wonderful feeling after such an adventure is to feel, at the end, that you are right where you are supposed to be.

And that, for me, is now on a pile of laundry, a large stack of mail, a overwhelming list of phone calls and calendar of upcoming appointments, in VIRGINIA!

August 04, 2014

The Part that I Love

There are a lot of painful pieces to this unexpected special journey we are on - physical, emotion and mental.  Perhaps those pieces are what people see when they meet or learn about Bridger and say, "Oh, I'm so sorry."

There is truly nothing to be sorry about.  If they knew of the other pieces that make up the puzzle they wouldn't offer their condolences.  This other pieces of this special life include an acute lesson in compassion, in long suffering, in humanity and priorities - and for that, I wouldn't trade this journey for the world.  In fact, it is such an amazing experience that I am surprised more people aren't lining up behind me to take part.

It is an exclusive and tight club we have here in the world of Special.  I have wonderful people that stand beside me - those other beautiful mothers and fathers of children with special needs. 

But there are wonderful people that are lining up behind us to take part.

That is the part that I love.

Those people are the amazing teachers, beautiful neighbors and friends, kind volunteers or employees of organizations serving those with special needs.  I respect, admire and cherish those people and hold them in the highest esteem because they are part of this journey by their own election.

Most of those people I have the opportunity to meet, to thank in person and to stand beside as we learn these great lessons together.  Technology has also allowed Bridger's love to be shared beyond our immediate circles.

One such connection has been through the IRun4 organization that connects runners who want to be connected with a buddy with special needs.  It is a relationship that allows runners to share their gift of mobility with those who can't run.  It provides mental and emotional encouragment to both runner and honorary runner.  They dedicate the miles that they run to their special buddy and spread awareness about those with disabilities and their various syndromes.

Runners are often on the wait list for months and months as they eagerly await their match. I signed Bridger up for the program last year and he was immediately matched with a beautiful runner, Amy. She is a kindergarten teacher - which was so fitting as Bridger was in kindergarten at the time.  She has a heart full of love to give Bridger.  Thoughts of him inspire and motivate her on her arduous runs.

The long distance, Facebook-based relationship became a little more real this week as our cross country adventure allowed our paths to intersect.  We mapped our travels to navigate an interstate in Iowa that ran right past her home town and we arranged a surprise meeting a local ice cream shop.  It was the highlight of our trip to see Bridger and his runner share their first hug!

That is also the part that I love - watching Bridger share his love with others.  Once you taste it, you will never be the same.

What a joy to see our wonderful runner face to face!  I am so blessed by those who stand with me in this journey, and think the blessing to be mutual as they take part in something special.

I went to bed that night with a full heart.  It was full of gratitude as I was thinking of Amy and all of the other wonderful, amazing and beautiful people that I would have never have met if not for a special little boy named Bridger.

That is truly the part of this journey that I love.

August 03, 2014


I know we get stares.  Looong stares.  I know we are watched.  I know at times our circus is worthy of watching.

I didn't think, however, that we were photo worthy.  Yes, to me {mom} any candid moment of my kids is photo worthy.  But random strangers snapping our picture photo worthy??  I'm at a loss.

I don't mind.  I don't get upset.  I smile at them.  I ready my Sharpie marker to sign something for them.  They don't want my autograph apparently, they just want our picture.

Seriously, not joking. Weird.

I remember one of the first times our picture was taken was when we were on a bike trip when Bridger was younger.  We had quite a contraption rigged up to hold him up in a bike seat since he didn't have muscle control to be able to maintain an upright position.  Add to that the tandem bike with a child perched, pulling a trailer of children and my Barbie side-view mirror and alligator horn and we were the exact illustration of a Crazy Train.  A woman ran up to us to stop us and ask if she could take our picture.  It turns out she was the president of a bike association and wanted to take our picture for her website to showcase how families can still continue biking regardless of circumstance.

Oh, I thought, that is cool.

To this day, when we bike as a family, with our contraptions and tows, we are still asked to be photographed.

A hilarious Kodak moment was when we were in the middle of an epic sweaty screaming tantrum with Bridger at Universal Studios when the security guard asked to take our picture.  Huh? Screaming meltdown mess??  Ok.  We awkwardly posed as Bridger continued in his fit.  It turned out that the security guard used that as a ice breaker to start a conversation with us as he was observant of our plight.  He was wanting to be our personal escort throughout Harry Potter World to get us backdoor entrances to all the rides to bypass long lines to allow the other kids to have some fun while minimizing Bridger's meltdowns.  He would escort us on the ride and then walk our wheelchair over to the exit where he would be waiting for us to escort us to the next ride.  Turns out, he has a brother with special needs.  Of course, I didn't have an issue with THAT picture request, which is still one of my favorite of all time.

I have lost exact count, but there has gone beyond several dozen photos now snapped of us by strangers.  The latest was at Mount Rushmore.

Alan had a moment of road trip weakness and wanted to consider our drive-by sufficient to check this off our bucket list.  Luckily, I wasn't experiencing one of my moments of weakness so we parked and hauled our troop in.  Alan was glad I didn't give in to his drive-by suggestion.  Mr. Rushmore deserved a closer look.

Four kids thought it interesting.  One did not.  Four went to look around and explore.  One was just trying to get through it.  And in those moments, his service dog senses when to step in and just plunked his big head on his lap to calm him.  It is veeeery cute when he does this.

What I love about the picture below is the man behind Bridger, observing and smiling - thinking it just as cute as I did.

Kodak moment for me.

Kodak moment for 3 other strangers as well.

Random picture of random kid with his random dog taking up space on your memory card. To each his own.

Have you had people come snap a random picture of you? of your children? like a few dozen times? 

Our day started with someone taking Bridger's picture with his service dog at the hotel and ended with a photo op at Mt. Rushmore.  Nothing wrong about it. Flattering if they are taking the picture for the reason I hope they are.  Mostly just. . .huh? really?

Snap away.  It's ok.  I know Bridger is just that cute (most of the time) . . .

The rest of them are also just that cute (most of the time) . . .

And so is he (all of the time). . .

August 02, 2014

Thar's Gold in Them Thar Hills

I now understand now why my parents detested McDonald's with playgrounds attached and hotel pools.  They are road trip time stoppers and they slow you down something terrible. However, I do remember that one of my favorite childhood road trip memories was the one where my parents finally consented to let us swim in the hotel pool after a long day of driving.  So I made sure that memory would be included in this trip for my kids.  Just this once. After a long day of driving through Idaho and Wyoming we pulled into our hotel - just a basic looking Fairfield Inn on the outside, but, this hotel had a secret on the inside - a waterpark! When you are in the middle of nowhere the hotels have to compete somehow, so this is how they drew us in.  

The kids were ecstatic and threw on their swimsuits and enjoyed an evening of wiggling every stiff muscle in their body.  

That put us all in good spirits to commence the long drive across South Dakota the next morning.
You can't go through the Black Hills of South Dakota without panning for gold.  We didn't stop at one of the tourist trap versions of gold panning, but had found an old gold mill on the internet that was still operational and offered lessons.

We rolled up our sleeves and sat down to a thorough and exacting lesson on how to pan for gold.  Eliza was captivated.  Lance was plotting all he could buy with the gold he would find.  Bridger wasn't too thrilled with the lesson so he and Ty just took a stroll while the other kids did this activity.

Following the lesson, the kids dug with their shovels to load their gold pans with dirt.

They went to the stream to start flushing their pans to remove the dirt and rocks.

Then they went to the sluice box to slush and stir the sediment around to pick out some gemstones and then to strain the remains to reveal a precious golden flake or two. Yes, that is what you find.  Flakes. Those gold nuggets are just found in the movies.  Each flake was worth a couple dollars though!

Eliza had her own way of searching her pan.  Not a very effective way, but she enjoyed every dirty minute of her gold search.

I think if we had left the kids there there for another couple hours they would have found enough flakes to buy their own dinner.  Of all of the adventures that we have done, Alan said this was his favorite.  Perhaps it has to do with the fact that we actually earned money instead of just spending it!

August 01, 2014

Old and Faithful

That is me.  I just turned *gulp* 40.  I spent my 40th birthday taking in the sights of Yellowstone.  We stayed at a cabin at Old Faithful and enjoyed our view of the geyser erupting every 91 minutes.  

One of the best road trip birthday gifts a husband can give a wife who has been connected nearly every minute of her life to a child/ren for the past 34 days is an hour alone.  Alan took the kids for a drive to scout for wildlife and left me alone at our cabin.  I bought myself a tall ice cream cone and took a good book and went and sat at a bench in front of Old Faithful.  

So this is 40, I thought.  I had been preparing for this day for the past 364 days.  I was going to lose 20 pounds.  I was going to get braces. I was going to take a 10 day excursion to Italy. I was going to leave the decade that I had just birthed and nursed my way through and start this next decade with a bang.  I was going to be fabulous.

I didn't get braces.  I gained 5 pounds instead. I wasn't even close to Italy. The only bang I was experiencing was my forehead pounding against the wall when I walked into our cabin that afternoon to find it had no a/c, filled with mosquitoes and the gross comforters that you use tongs to remove before you will even put your purse down.  We were to find ourselves that night not sleeping a wink, sweating to death and Eliza throwing up all night.

Happy birthday to me.

It was a day that you just have to get through.  The day after you turn 40 is a much better day than the day you turn 40.

But I loved my hour alone with my ice cream, my book and my Old Faithful geyser to digest what was, what I had hoped would be and what I see before me.

When I was browsing the gift store in my alone hour for a bookmark for my new read I came across one with the most fitting sentiment for the occasion and all that I was feeling. I snatched it up. It was Advice from a Tree.

That, I realized, would be the beauty of this next decade.  I have learned to stand tall, I have roots, I am content, Bridger forces me to live on a limb, I'm still working on my water consumption, but I have a VIEW.  I have the most beautiful view. The 30's were about climbing, acquiring, getting somewhere, establishing.  My 30's came with an experience that showed me what is important.  The experiences of my 30's have taught me so much and given me understanding that allows me to stop climbing the tree, but to sit back and enjoy the spectacular view that is a result of that life experience.  This is going to be the best decade yet.

My hour ended.

We played in Yellowstone Lake, we walked the Paint Pots, we saw buffalo, we toured the geysers. 

We came.  We saw.  We Yellowstone'd.