Friday, July 1, 2016

Our Week in Orlando--CdLS Conference 2016

It's becoming obvious that I don't handle change well. 

Me 2 weeks ago: "I don't want to go to Florida. Why did I even plan this trip? It's too expensive. And stressful. And hot. Is seeing our CdLS family even worth it? Specialists Schmecialists.. There have been so many awful things happening in Orlando lately. I just want to stay home in the Midwest with my corn fields where it's safe and quiet. There's no alligators here. I like my home. And my animals. I like my life. Why would I even want to leave? Maybe we shouldn't go.."

And then me on Sunday: "I NEVER want to leave Florida. I'm going to become a millionaire and buy a house on the ocean. I love the ocean. All our CdLS family can come live with us. Let's stay on vacation for all the days. There are no bills to pay! No chores to do! No house projects waiting for us! We'll lay around by the pool all day and look at the palm trees. I'll deal with the alligators. Where is home? What does my house even look like? Do I have a house? Do I even know how to cook? I have no idea.. Who cares? Tra la la la.."

Is it just me or does everyone feel this way after going away for a few days?
I faintly remember going through the exact same thing 2 years ago during the California Conference..

Anyways, we spent last week in Orlando for the CdLS Conference and had such an amazing trip!  The kids did SO well on the plane.
I think Ella was sleeping on JJ's lap during this picture.
We left a few days early and were able to spend some time at the ocean on the Gulf. When we asked the kids what they wanted to do in Florida, spending time on the beach hands down ranked #1 far far above than anything small and insignificant like, say.. Disney World. (And FAR less expensive too! Win-Win)
Pure joy.
It did not disappoint.
You can see shell-obsessed Charlie in the background.. That kid wouldn't have left a single shell in Florida if he had his way.
Our bags were considerably heavier on the flight home..

Sand castle fun
The sunsets weren't too shabby either..

We were at Clearwater Beach so we also went to the Clearwater Marine Center where the movie Dolphin Tale was made and created after. The kids were pretty excited to see Hope and Winter, the dolphin who had lost her tail. And I love the inspiration and correlation between so many kiddos with CdLS who have limb deformities as well.

We were the very first people in the center and the sting rays were so playful right away in the morning! It was amazing to see them so interactive--splashing the sides of the glass and wanting attention.

Since our hotel for the Conference was on SeaWorld property we had the chance to do some fun SeaWorld stuff too. Ella LOVED the dolphin show. 

She was so fun to watch--her face was total amazement the entire show.
Giraffes had better step up their game or dolphins just might take over Ella's favorite animal spot!!
 And now on to the BEST part of the week. 
Yes, even after all the fun 'extra' stuff we got to do, the absolute best part was when the CdLS Conference started. It was nothing short of amazing! 
Ella & Addison
 It was so exciting to start seeing CdLS families showing up at the hotel and popping around every corner. 
Ella's BF Payson
We were able to reconnect with so many friends from past Conferences.
Sweet Eva
And make so many new ones as well!
Meeting Micah
This sweet girl has a brother with CdLS and loved on Ella all weekend.
She whispered in my ear at the Banquet on the last night
"I wish I could be Ella's sister.."

Levi made a few friends as well!

Oh, and some pretty cool people got some pretty cool awards too.. Just saying.. ;) 

The older boys loved reconnecting with friends they had made in California. I love watching them build relationships as well and I know I've said it before but I think it's so so important for them to have other siblings of CdLS-ers that they can talk to as they grow up and face different challenges. 
I am so excited to watch them grow and have opportunities at upcoming Conferences to volunteer and interact with other CdLS families even more!
We had some really great consults with doctors as well. The OT remembered seeing Ella in California and couldn't believe how well she was doing. She had her run down the hallway and kept exclaiming over and over "Oh my gosh! Look at her trunk rotation! I can't believe it! Did you see her trunk rotation??" Seriously. Over and over and over. Crazy OT's.. Apparently it is pretty rare for someone with CdLS to have the fluid movement Ella does when she walks or runs. And also not to have any restriction in her arms or wrists. She was able to give us some good tips for strengthening her hand muscles so she is better able to grip her pencil and push harder on her paper to write in school. We also met with a Special Education Coordinator who reviewed Ella's IEP and reaffirmed that we are working with a pretty great school and are getting her the services she needs and also gave us a lot of helpful information I will be reviewing over the next few weeks! It was crazy to look back at our Speech Session from 2 years ago and see that our therapist told us that she believed Ella would not only someday be able to say her name, but read it and write it as well. I remember being so excited to hear that.. I had no idea that day would already be here! I can't wait to see what she does in the next 2 years! There are quite a few different research opportunities at Conference (and some really exciting new breakthroughs we were able to learn about!). One of the booths we stopped at we were already signed up with the registry through our local hospital.. and then we realized that the guy was from our local hospital. Small world!

My heart was so full over the weekend seeing all the CdLS kiddos and their families. It's just an amazing experience being in a place where kids who are sometimes looked at or treated differently by the world are not only accepted, but treasured and cherished and loved beyond belief. There is no 'your kids' or 'my kids' but instead they're all our kids. We celebrate together when someone reaches a milestone, we laugh together, we cry together when we lose a baby too soon, we encourage each other when we're down and hold each other up when we think we just can't do it any longer. Even though CdLS means something different to every family, no matter where you're at in your journey, it's inspiring to know someone has been there before you and can help guide you through it. We are so very blessed to have the welcoming and supportive community at home that we do, but this Conference is truly the one time where families can get together and feel normal, where everyone instinctively 'gets it' and where your everyday conversations about therapies and specialists and medical devices and communication apps are everyone else's normal conversations as well. The doctors and specialists are wonderful and so so important to meet with, but sometimes it's the families who have been through it who can provide the most help.

I've sat down so many times to write this post this week, but it's been hard. We have been struggling a lot adjusting back to real life. Ella has been having some very difficult behaviors (one in particular resulting in a doctor's visit for Hudson..) :( Apparently the Behavior Specialist should have been part of our consults last week.. She has been acting out and regressing in areas and I'm hoping it's in part attributed to sleep deprivation and disruption in schedule. I've felt many times this week I've reached my breaking point. But then I remember. . .

I remember the brave mamas who shared their stories and their everyday struggles with me during our mom's small group session. I remember how every behavior we talked about there was someone who could say "My child used to do that too and here's what helped." I remember the inspiring couple we met who raised their own family, and has now adopted and is fostering 8 other children right now, 2 of who have CdLS and who drove 1500 miles to be there (with those 8 kids..). I remember the selfless couple who already has one child with CdLS and couldn't make it to this Conference because they were saving their money to adopt a little boy with CdLS from Ukraine, who sadly just passed away this week before they even had the chance to hold him. I remember the strong mama who unexpectedly lost her sweet girl only a month ago who was able to come to Florida and love on her CdLS brothers and sisters. I remember the man who passed away this week who was the oldest living person with CdLS in the US (unfortunately only in his 50's) and the adventures his mom would post about. I remember the panel of young adults with CdLS we heard at Conference and the inspiring ways they are living independent lives. I remember the stories and the pain. I remember the joy and the love. I remember that I have a community who has been through it, is going through it and is there for me when I need it.

I feel so thankful that I was able to be filled up with so much love and inspiration last week. It makes all the difference in the world. The only bad part about Conference is that it lasts only 4 days, every 2 years. I loved meeting and connecting with every single person and I only wish there would have been more time to connect with even more. For me this was the best Conference yet. I am finally at a point where I'm not worried about what Ella is going to be like. I'm not comparing her to others to see what she's doing and what others are doing. I'm not racing around to find every answer and stressing out over every test. I've settled into a groove-- it's about who Ella is, not who I want her to be. It's about treasuring the time we have, not worrying that it's not enough. It's about welcoming others into our community and supporting them in this journey. It's about loving on those babies and counting down the next 730 or so days until the next Conference.. :)

Thank you thank you for everyone who helped make this trip possible!

Goodbye Florida.. We miss everyone so much already.
We can't wait for Minneapolis 2018!!!!!

*Another HUGE shout out to Grandma and Papa for coming along with us again. Our trip would not have been nearly as fun or relaxing and I'm not convinced all 7 of us would have even made it back together if not for you being there! 

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully written. I hope to make it to a conference one day with my grandson Austin and connect with all the wonderful families I have met on Facebook.