One Fine Day

Monday night we sent in Thing1’s enrollment fee to UMass Amherst. It was a huge moment but not just because he had finally decided which direction the next step in his future.

He had been back on steroids for a week to give his newest drug a chance to kick in. For four days his energy and resulting mood had been on the upswing. We stopped wondering if he’d need a medical deferral for school.

Thing1’s doctor has told us numerous times that Ulcerative Colitis is a permanent diagnosis, but it seemed as if the drugs and new diet were finally starting to control it. We bypassed hope and moved directly planning for the next few months.

Tuesday he took the last dose. After work we drove an hour to Clifton Park, NY to get a suit on sale for prom. As I drove, he talked about his plans for the prom at his school and the one at hers. A week earlier the long drive and fitting would have drained any energy and interest in conversation, let alone planning.

Wednesday was glorious. I used my day off to fax forms to schools and take care of car inspections. I listened to radio talk shows and reveled in the sunny first day that truly felt like spring. We closed out the day with burgers and silliness around the table at a local haunt. It was a celebration of normal.

It was a celebration of a new journey.

We got home while it was still light out. Thing1 claimed the coveted corner section of the sectional. I got out my laptop to follow up on a few issues at work. Thing2 channel surfed as he worked on his Star Wars fan video script. Chris stretched out on the other sofa for a well-deserved post-burger nap. Thing1 went to bed earlier than the night before. All of us chalked his exhaustion up to his busy day, refusing to entertain any possibility that the glorious string of days was an anomaly.

This morning when he came downstairs, his complexion was paler again. He silently made his diet-friendly breakfast and went to sit on the sectional. I hated the question I had to ask.

“Yes,” he answered. “One step forward, two steps back.”

“I’m sorry, Buddy,” I said, trying not to call a 6’3” gentle growing giant, ‘Baby’ as I’m often tempted to do when his mind or body is hurting.

Thing2 was almost ready for school, and I ducked into the mud room and angrily kicked off my slippers.

“I give up,” Thing1’s voice echoed around the corner. I wanted to swear at something on his behalf, but instead I slid into my clogs and yelled to Thing2 to get his shoes on.

I know parenthood doesn’t come with a finish line. It’s journey. You stay with it — sometimes a little slower — for as long as there’s breath and love in you. I keep wondering, though, if you get to a point where you automatically have a useful answer for the difficult moments.

“It’s a half step back,” was what I finally came up with. I don’t tell him everything’s going to be okay anymore. I know it will, but he’s been looking for real hope and not just flashes of it for a while now. Predicting a rosy future without knowing the solution isn’t optimism. It’s dismissive of his perspective which, while often hampered by youth, is his and which his experiences validates. “I’ll call DHMC,” I said.

Together we wondered if we needed to find a new strategy. Should we talk with our doctor(s) about alternatives such as Cannabis Oil that has been recommended by other people with UC? Should we try the next drug with a 40% success rate on the list? Thing1 finished his breakfast and got up to put his dishes in the sink where they will stay until Thing2 remembers to empty the dishwasher so discussion of staying up later on a school night can ensue.

The only strategy I could devise does not include swearing at the heavens or doctors or my life or Thing1’s. It does not allow giving into tears of frustration once I dropped off Thing2.

“I’ll call and keep calling, Buddy,” I told him, peeking around the mud room. “You call me if you start to spiral or need to come home during the day.” He nodded and started packing his bag for school.

As we have been reminded so often this winter, chronic disease, like life, is a journey. We’ve travel together for a while now. We do have our own paths, and there will be more time in our lives that we’ll navigate them independently than as a team. In these rough stretches, however, I’m sticking close. I making sure that he knows we’re working for answer and that, even with all the steps backwards, we won’t let him give up on the journey.

Oranges and Oranges


Sixteen year old Thing1 got into fitness in a big way last summer. He started working out like crazy. He spent the summer cutting hay (with a scythe) at his girlfriend’s house and jumping in ponds and rivers.

Just about the same time, he began having digestive issues that caused him to lose over 20 pounds in a few weeks — no mean feat for a kid who can seriously endanger the profit margin of any restaurant daring enough to put out an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Thanks to my job, we have excellent insurance, but it still took multiple visits to the ER and the regular doctor, along with a healthy dose of nepotism to finally find us the right specialist to hand us a diagnosis of Ulcerative Colitis.

At the time, all I could do was feel eternally grateful for our health plan and angry at a system that would have left Thing1 at sixteen without a colon if we hadn’t known somebody who knows somebody who could make something happen. I was angry for a while at the seeming apathy of the people in the system and not just on behalf of Thing1, but on behalf of the millions of Americans who have bad insurance or none at all. It left me wondering how many kids miss their potential because of lack of access to adequate care.

I still think about that every time we go for a checkup, wondering what we can do — aside from regularly calling our elected representatives — to change things.

Thing1 has clearly been thinking about it too, taking the ‘change the things I can’ approach to a life that now suddenly includes up to 12 pills a day.

At first when I saw his reaction, I thought I was worrying about oranges and he was thinking about apples. While I made my daily calls to my reps, he began researching his autoimmune disorder and adjusting his diet long with his workout. He googled and read. He experimented with different portions of protein and fiber, fruit and starches as he learned what his system would tolerate (incidentally coming up with a unified digestive theory that involves eating whole crates of clementines while simultaneously helping your parents run up a grocery bill to rival the national debt).

At the same time, we’ve started the time-honoured college search. T1 is a math fanatic, so we started looking at math/science schools, but he surprised us by announcing he wanted to study nutrition to help other kids who might be dealing with similar digestive issues. We’ve since signed him up for a course at the community college, and he’s even considering a blog with fitness and nutrition tips.

I finally realized T1 and I really were both thinking about oranges and oranges. We were just thinking up different ways to get to the good stuff under the skin.

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