August 31, 2015

Here I Sit

So here I sit.

I am counting down the final five minutes until they return.  Savoring them, actually, as I sip on my very belated lunch of tomato basil orzo soup and some fresh sourdough bread -- my treat to myself today to mark the occasion.

All 5 children were gone today -- for the whole day.

This is a monumental day.

It is a day that I have been looking forward to and dreading at the same time for the past 14 years.

When I had 4 children under 5 at home with me and not a one of them in school, I couldn't imagine what this day would feel like.

When they started trickling one by one into elementary school I realized that this moment might come too soon.

So here I sit, with very mixed emotions.  Do I dance with giddiness? Do I cry and wipe my eyes with my apron strings?

It is a weird feeling.  One that I processed today as I scrubbed bathrooms, did laundry, made the menus for the week, went grocery shopping, took flowers to a friend and received the delivery of Bridger's ginormous new shower/potty chair pictured above (actually called my equipment dealer because I was sure that it was way too big.  Nope, right size.  He apparently has grown, again.)

Hugged each one tight as I sent them off today onto their 2 buses.  TWO!  After having 4 buses and 8 different bus times at one point the new consolidated schedule will be downright dreamy.

Love those kids  and I loved having them home with me all summer.

And I just discovered today, that I also really love them a lot when they are at school all day.  My kitchen loved it, too.  Somehow it stayed clean all day.  

Funny correlation.

August 14, 2015

A Taste of What it Takes

During the final week of school as summer was nearly knocking at the door, I had the opportunity to do something really exciting -- an opportunity to puppy sit a service dog in training for a Puppy Raiser with Canine Companions for Independence for several days.  I thought it would be a great chance for my children to love all over an adorable puppy to their heart's content to make up for not being able to touch Bridger's service dog, Ty, as much as they would like.  

A fluffy yellow lab named Watson came to our home, complete with his yellow "Service Dog in Training" super cape.

We were spoiled having Ty come to us fully trained.  I shouldn't have been surprised that the miniature yellow cape didn't magically make Watson behave like a service dog.  He has the potential to be an amazing skilled companion one day, but at that moment he was very much a puppy - and a very cute one at that!  Even though I only experienced a small taste of what it takes to be a Puppy Raiser, my appreciation for those elite volunteers grew enormously!

I was exhausted after just a few days.  Our fun time with Watson made it just so crystal clear what complete patience, devotion and sacrifice it takes to be a Puppy Raiser.

Puppy Raisers for Canine Companions for Independence are volunteers that receive the 8 week old puppies that have been bred into the program.  They attend training sessions, provide medical care at their expense, train and expose the puppies to everything imaginable - from bright lights and loud sounds, to big crowds and everything in between. They teach them core commands and prep them for Advanced Training which they will receive when they are 18 months old.  In a nutshell -- they do the hardest part, and then pass over the leash and walk away.

In the many conversations that Ty elicits from others, over half of them are from people curious as to what is involved in being a puppy raiser.  It all sounds very exciting to them -- until they get to the part about having to return the dog they have just devoted the last 1 1/2 years of their life to.  

"How do the Puppy Raisers do that?" they ask.

I don't know.

But I suspect it is because of what they see.  They see through what they are doing to who they are doing it for.

During the time we cared for Watson, I was signed up to be the guest reader for Eliza's kindergarten class, so I decided to make a splash by reading a book about service dogs and bring Ty and Watson in.  

Ty, Bridger and I visited a few classrooms, including the art room.  As Bridger was telling his art class about his dog and demonstrating what Ty did for him, I noticed through the corner of my eye that the art teacher was crying.  As we left the class she came and stopped me in the hallway to thank me and to explain her tears.  She thought the relationship with Bridger and Ty was so remarkable and she wanted to be a part of the work that changed lives like that.  She was interested in being a Puppy Raiser.  Watching Bridger and Ty, she could see how it was possible to hand over the leash and turn the other direction and walk away.

Ty's Puppy Raiser, Ms. H, is at the Canine Companions for Independence facility as I type, turning in CC, her 3rd puppy that she has raised.  CC will live at the facility now and receive her advanced training for the next 6-9 months after which time she will then be matched with a person with special needs, whose life CC will forever change.

Ms. H will return to her home, pick a few pieces of black dog hair off her sofa, stare at the empty dog bed and try not to think of the little hole in her heart that just formed that weekend by saying goodbye to what she had just devoted her complete energy, time and money to for the past 18 months.

Even through the separation, those puppy memories will always be strong in the mind of both dog and Puppy Raiser.  I will always be grateful that I was able to witness the strength of that memory.

I saw it first hand on the day of the big graduation for Bridger and I at Canine Companions last year.  We were all dressed up and going into the kitchen of the facility for breakfast before the events of the day began.  To get through to the kitchen, however, we had to slide past a crowd of people lined up at the end of the hallway.  It was the eager group of Puppy Raisers that had been invited there to spend a few last moments with the dog they had raised before the graduation event when they handed the leash off to the person that the dog had been paired with.  I hadn't met Ty's puppy raisers yet, but I watched the trainer walk down the hallway from the kennel with Ty and watched his ears perk up when he heard the voice of his Puppy Raiser, Ms. H.  He charged her and his entire body was wagging.  He remembered every moment he shared with her for those first 18 months of his life.  There was a love and excitement oozing from an otherwise emotionally neutral dog -- such strong emotions that I had yet to see in our two weeks getting to know him.   I don't think she ever saw me, but my sideways glance watching that moment felt a little intrusive, so I turned the corner into the kitchen with Bridger and fanned the tears that were already welling over in my eyes.  I was overwhelmed with gratitude.  Seeing her and Ty was such an important part of Ty's life story, that was becoming part of our life story.

Ty has changed Bridger's life.  By doing so, has changed my life and my other children's lives. By using Ty to gain his independence and fill his needs, Bridger is less dependent on his siblings and myself.  It is a process Bridger is still learning and Ty is patiently learning with him.  Ty came to Bridger knowing what to do.  Bridger was the one that had to learn what to do.  He had to learn how to take this amazing resource and put it to work in his life.  Step by step and day by day, he is.  

Ty is his companion and his helper.  He is his easel, he is his door opener and his picker-upper.  He is his pillow and his footrest, his protector and his playmate.  He is his shoe removal and his retriever. He is his pusher and his tugger, he is his goodbye and his welcome home.  He is his sedater, comforter and his guardian.  Ty is his ambassador.  He comes before him, stands beside him and waits behind him.  He fields the questions, takes the brunt of curious onlookers so Bridger isn't the subject of such. 

Every day Bridger asks me the same question, "Mom, can I keep him?"

My same answer, every day, "Yes, forever."

After watching the adorable Watson for those several days, I had an even deeper gratitude for Ms. H and all of the Puppy Raisers out there.  They have mastered the emotional ability to think beyond what they are doing, to who they are doing it for -- which then makes it possible to hand off the leash and walk away.  Thank you, Puppy Raisers.

Thank you, Ms. H, for handing us that leash.

August 13, 2015

Playing Tourist

A highlight of our trip was the VIP tour the kids and I took at BYU.  With BYU being the alma mater of both my husband and myself, we hope our children follow in our footsteps.  We thought showing them some fun elements of campus could help point them that direction.

We started our tour at the BYU Broadcasting center.

But, really, it turned into a tour of the set of Studio C.  Studio C is a television show broadcast by BYUtv and could be compared to a very clean version of Saturday Night Live -- or so I am told.  I have actually never seen it but it is the favorite show to watch by all of my kids.  A backstage tour and seeing all of the props and sets and a glossy autographed pic made for the coolest day of their life.

After the Studio C tour, we had a tour of the campus which included a tour of the student disability center.  It is amazing to see how technology and resources can be a matter of making education, and consequent meaningful employment, possible to students.  So inspiring.  We purchased hoodies and hats and such and headed over to Brick Oven where we enjoyed a fun lunch with their famous homemade rootbeer with our sweet tour guide.  I'm sure she was impressed with Eliza's burping skills.

Following lunch, we headed up for a tour of the BYU football facilities.  The kids and I were introduced to the person that would lead us through our tour.  I shook his hand and introduced our family to him.  He seemed nice.  Another man came down to join him as a co-tour guide.  He seemed nice too.  They talked about the different pieces of sports memorabilia they had on display. . . including the first man's BYU and subsequent NFL jerseys. . . and the second man's BYU's national football championship trophy he won in 1984. . . 

Oh, hello nice men.  HELLO Chad Lewis from the Philadelphia Eagles and Robbie Bosco from the Green Bay Packers! {insert palm smack to the forehead} I think I probably was supposed to know who they were and gawk and start taking lots of pictures and quoting their football stats!  They were both quite lovely and unfazed by my ignorance.  

Yes, thoroughly embarrassed my husband by my ignorance when I told him of our adventure that day.

The kids and I enjoyed a fun tour with them as they took us through the different exercise facilities.  Lance got to strut through the locker room with Chad and they greeted other former BYU now NFL players working out there before their respective NFL pre-seasons started.  Lance even enjoyed hanging out in the office of the head coach for BYU, Bronco Mendenhall. 

The kids all agreed, this was an incredible day.  I hope I have four future Cougars trotting in front of me. . .

Not hurrying that process though.  They are very much still cubs.

August 12, 2015

The Stinging Nettle

A trip in Utah wouldn't be complete without taking the opportunity to hike one of the beautiful mountain trails.  Reunited with Lance once again, we threw on our sneakers and hats and went off on a family hike along the Stewart Falls trail behind Sundance.

Deja vu.

20 years ago, I would jog the Stewart Falls trail every morning before I started my day as a camp counselor in a family camp resort tucked behind Timpanogos mountain.  Every Wednesday afternoon, I took a crazy crew of 15-30 little kids ages 10-12 on that hike.

The former was bliss.  The latter was sheer torture.  Our campers included children that spent their lives running up and down those mountains, and children that never stepped foot from out of the front of their video game monitor.  We had children that would run off, and others that clung to our leg in tears because they missed their mom.  I carried a backpack full of peanut butter and honey sandwiches that were all squished into one soggy ball of wheat bread and some brown apple slices to offer them when we finally arrived at the summit of the hike at which time some pronounced to me they couldn't walk a single step back and I carried them off the mountain.  Hump day lived up to its name that summer.

Every Wednesday the hike was the same.  We started along the trail which had a pile of large sticks.  The campers would all insist that they needed a walking stick and my co-counselor and I would wait while they painstakingly picked their perfect stick out of the pile.  As the summer passed, a pile of sticks was growing about 25 yards beyond the original pile of dead sticks, where they would discard their walking stick after they decided it was more trouble than it was worth.

Much further into the hike we would warn them of the Stinging Nettle growing along side of the trail.  At first it would be a few plants here and there, but for a long stretch of the narrow path it was overly abundant.  It was growing over the trail with little room to pass untouched.  Some kids would whack it down with a branch as they walked.  Others would do a careful choreography to side step and avoid the touch of the nettle leaves that would leave an itchy, stinging rash.  It was impossible to avoid.  As a remedy, I had been told, rubbing the leaves of the Lamb's Ear plant would take away the stinging itch.  I pointed out to the kids the Lamb's Ear as we would walk by.  They would pull all the soft fuzzy leaves off of the plant and stuff them into their pockets for later use.  As I watched the campers frantically rubbing the Lamb's Ear on their fresh stings, they seemed soothed.  Whether by the medicinal benefits of the plant, or by pure placebo effect, it worked.

Fast forward 20 years and I was on that hike with four of my own.  We dodged most of the Stinging Nettle, and Eliza tightly clung to some Lamb's Ear just in case.  The kids loved going behind the waterfall and picking all the M&M's out of the trail mix as we sat to catch our breath and enjoy the scenery.

As I hiked I couldn't help but reflect at how much life had changed in those two decades.  Some parts of my path I could have likely forecasted, others I could not have.  But the similarity in that path and my own I am walking now is the Stinging Nettle.

My trail is full of Stinging Nettle.  Some I can avoid, some I try to dance around.  When you get tired of being stung, once in a while you might be like those children and whack the Stinging Nettle out of your path.

Some tell me I should whack all of the Stinging Nettle out of my path, others tell me I should just walk through it, getting stung with my chin held high and press on and ignore the stinging itchy rash.  Some say that I shouldn't feel the rash because it wasn't the intention of the plant to sting.  Does lack of intent absolve us of the liability of any rude thing that could come out of our mouth?  If only.

The other day I had come from a doctor's appointment hearing some awful news with Bridger.  

I went to Target where I was pushing Bridger through the aisles and a couple older children said some very rude things about people with special needs that I won't repeat every time we wheeled passed them.

I just wanted to buy a loaf of bread.

After Target I went to lunch with him after and wheeled in to have the person in front of us staring at him then looking at me and saying {at 60 decibels}, "What's WRONG with HIM??"

"Oh, it is just a rare condition," I whispered.

"Can he speak?" she said looking at me. "CAN YOU SPEAK?" looking at Bridger. "HE CAN'T SPEAK," looking at her husband.

"He can when he feels like it," I answered back explaining all that I felt necessary.

I just wanted to order my taco.

We left the restaurant and went to the library.  While I was waiting at the reference desk I watched Bridger roll himself over to the children's area.  A boy ran screaming away from him with a look of sheer horror like he had just seen a monster.  His mom tucked him safely under her arm as Bridger just sat there watching the boy with a sad confused face at why someone would run away from him screaming in terror.

I just wanted to take him to the library for a book.

This was just a snapshot of our morning that day, which matched our afternoon of that day, which mirrors the rest of the days of that week which is identical to our months.

The hike is worth it, the view is beautiful.  Forgive me if I whack a weed out of my way every once in a while.  Sometimes it is the final little nettle plant that gets the brunt for the other larger plants .  I am trying to learn how to manage the hike, but for the meantime I will keep my pockets loaded with Lamb's Ear.


August 11, 2015

Always on our Minds

My road trip across country filled many primary practical purposes, but also included a secondary benefit which was to allow the other four children to have a breather from the daily demands of their brother.  I didn't share with them this secondary benefit, but nonetheless, Eliza would go around telling everyone, including strangers, "we just needed a break from Bridger."

This showed me that Eliza likely needed a break from Bridger.

Even physically distancing ourselves from him by thousands of miles, however, he is always on our minds.

Jackson Hole has a way of making sure of that.

Can you see through my bug splattered windshield?

We were especially sad that he did not understand why we were away and the concept of time to know when we would return.  When we would talk to him on the phone he would just start softly crying.  I am so grateful he had Alan and a loving caregiver to help try to fill the hole in his heart caused by our absence.

Sign or no sign, Bridger always holds a place in our hearts.