We've been waiting for almost Tess's entire life to meet someone like her, to meet a family like ours. And it finally happened.
It's part of life, at least for us, that we take Tess to the doctor. A lot. She's generally a pretty healthy gal. Not many sicknesses, like coughs or colds. Just a ton of stuff that we have to figure out. Like why her hips don't work. Or why she hasn't grown an inch in about a year.
Recently Kendra left that preschool. When you leave, they do an exit interview. And one of the questions was, what has been your greatest accomplishment during your time at this preschool? Kendra had a one-word answer: She said Tess.
The mere mention of PECS in this IEP meeting makes me feel like I'm taking crazy pills.
Tell me what you're supposed to do with that friend. You know the one I mean. You've been friends forever, maybe since childhood. And you call yourselves friends, but the truth is this: they aren't there for you.
In case you've never been in an IEP meeting, let me tell you what it feels like. It is an endurance sport, only instead of doing physical stuff, you're listening. You're listening harder than you ever have in your life.
Tess was headed to summer camp. But what if there was literally no one who knew her? And even worse, what if no one cared about including her?
At this point we’re reeling. We aren’t exactly a roll-with-the-punches kind of family. If we had two typical kids, maybe we would be. But we don’t.
Not everyone thinks before they speak.
I saw progress. With my own eyes. In a hallway and in a series of offices, on a Thursday afternoon in the town of Windham, Maine.
"Come on, Sara," the voice says. It's a woman, probably older, judging by the sound. It's like the way you'd speak to a small child, but there's something else underneath that.
On Christmas Day we wrestle her into a pair of tights and a dress, and she essentially gives us the finger but also kind of tolerates it.
It woulda been so much easier if somebody told us this stuff.
Dads are hard to shop for, and we say we don't want anything. But is that true?
Here is where the toy store becomes oppressive. Because as I browse, I find whole sections that are inappropriate. Almost tauntingly so.
Sometimes a thank you is just not quite enough.
Don't wait. Push for it now.
Holy toledo. As soon as I got to the summit, I realized I was surrounded by powerful people.
Pretty much every night these days, after dinner she and I coax the kids into bed. We shake off the evening weariness, the yearning to binge-watch a delightfully mindless season of a TV show, and put on a pot of tea. And we get to work.
There's a new email in my inbox. "To whom it may concern," it starts off. "My name is Mike Fountain and I conduct research at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX. I believe I have some answers for you and Tess."
This week the boy broke his arm. Broke it right at the elbow, which is hard to get healed up. He's in a cast. He got some signatures on it, and then novelty wore off pretty damn quick after that.
When you have a child with a rare disease, the unknown, the unsolvedness, gets into your bones. Finds its way into your nights and shakes you awake.
My wife and I are a tiiiiiny bit type A. We try to be laid-back and pretend we aren't, but we totally are. We run marathons, we get up in the dark to work out, we engineer our diets for maximum performance. In her career, she constantly seeks ways to be better, to give her patients an even higher standard of care. As for me at home, I scour reading lists for the kids, scout out nifty DIY science projects, and hatch sneaky ways to stimulate growing minds. This intensity is what drove my wife and me to marry each other. Our first date was a 17-mile run, essentially on a dare. We pick the hard things. And then we do them until we succeed.
Now that Tess is starting kindergarten this fall, something completely insane but also necessary is about to happen in our house.
Summertiiiime, and the livin' is actually not so easy. This is my sixth summer being at home with the kids. It is without structure. It is free form. It is a freaking disaster. Or at least it can be, if I don't do it right.
As you may know, I had knee surgery a few weeks ago. You see, Last December I went to a trampoline center. I was enticed by something that'll probably never happen for me without significant elastic assistance: dunking. That's right, they had a giant trampoline under a basketball hoop. How could I say no? What could go wrong?
For some time now, we've suspected that Tess has an auditory processing disorder. She's slow to respond to sounds. Sometimes she doesn't appear to register them at all. We narrate her day, singing, "Okay Tess, let's walk walk walk," or "Want to eat? Eat eat eat?" I'm sure we sound like nutballs.
School vacation week is coming to an end. As in other years, with time off Tess blazed new trails. We never know when she'll hit a new phase of development. She's on her own timeline. But it's safe to say that this week she finally reached a new phase. One that we've been dreading in a big, big way.
This week my wife and I both got an email. It was one of the greatest messages I've ever gotten in my entire life. It was from Tess's teacher.
For a few months when we lived in another state, I sometimes drove our car, even though I had let the inspection lapse. "What are you, on glue?" my friend wanted to know when he found out. "You could lose your license. You can get fined. They can take your car away."
Five years ago, Bo Bigelow quit his law job to stay home with his kids. Turns out his daughter Tess has special needs. She is almost entirely nonverbal and is only just beginning to walk at nearly age 6. She just started kindergarten, but functions at the level of a 1.5-year old. She's different. And now, so is everything else.
Follow their family's journey as they navigate Tess's relationship with her older brother, deal with school and special education, and try to solve the genetic mystery of Tess's ultra-rare disease.