Life Was ‘Rich’ When I Was Poor

Growing up as an 80’s kid

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The most interesting thing about growing up poor is that I didn’t realize I was poor. As long as I had food in my belly and a place to sleep, life was good.

I loved my childhood. My mother was a waitress and my father was a car mechanic. I don’t have many childhood memories of my father because my parents separated when I was five years old. We moved from a trailer in the hood (although I had many tricycles as you can see), to another trailer located in Hollywood, Maryland with my to-be step-dad.

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My step-dad worked in Washington, DC, near the Capitol so he was a bit of a celebrity in my eyes. I had only visited DC once on a school fieldtrip. My friends used to ask me: “Hey, where does your step-dad work?” I’d respond: “He works in Capitol Hill with very important people.” I felt good about my standard response but I’m sure it confused many kids considering we lived in an unflattering trailer. I laugh when I think about that now. My step-dad looked more like a Bounty Hunter than a Capitol Hill employee. Imagine: A trailer in a lonesome field, a big guy living in it who could kick your ass, a German shepherd named “Axel,” and a few beaten down vehicles. Oh yeah, baby.

The trailer was tiny – brown and off-white in color. It wasn’t pretty, certainly nothing to brag about but it was “home.” My bedroom was like a human sweat locker, just big enough to squeeze in a single sized bed and a tiny dresser. Dark brown paneling surrounded me. Didn’t everyone have paneling in the early 80’s? It was hideous yet nothing made me happier than being with my family. I especially adored my little brother, Michael. We didn’t have much but we had love and togetherness. Today, lots of families live in huge homes even though most only use a handful of the rooms. Why do people need all this space?

No one complained there wasn’t central air conditioning or a dishwasher. Nobody whined that there was only one TV console with no remote control. Funny thing is I don’t know how I’d survive today without a remote control. If my remote died in the middle of the day, I’d rather run out to Walmart for new batteries than get up and change the channels.

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Who remembers the TV Guide? It was awesome. I used to sit down and circle every show or movie I wanted to watch. If I missed the opportunity to see a good movie, I might not see it again for another year. That ain’t no joke.

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The Wizard of Oz always left me in “awe.” I didn’t believe dwarves (or little people) were individuals I’d ever see in real life. After all, I did live in a small town. As a kid I felt amazed that TV producers found so many of them for one movie. Am I the only person who thought this way?  🙂 Now, there’s several reality shows starring little people and I love it.  I’m a fan of Little Women LA and The Little Couple.

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Another thing I find thought-provoking is that I didn’t hear sexual or foul language on regular TV channels back then. Today, children can turn on the TV and learn more about life’s vulgarities than I knew of at 25 years old. Actors and reality stars can say “ass,” “dick,” “bitch,” and insult others because it’s considered funny to so many people. I don’t get that? Why? I guess saying “Take a step back, jerk!” isn’t as cool as saying “Take a step back, motherf**ker!” Haha.

I remember the enthusiasm I felt when the fat Sears catalog was delivered around Thanksgiving time. I put my marker to work circling a thousand items I wanted, knowing I’d only get a few of them. But that was okay because just the book alone made me feel happy inside. I loved looking at the many colorful pictures. Who feels that way anymore? There are no catalogs for kids any longer. Now children are on Amazon asking their parents to order them things all year long.

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School days taught me a lot about different cultures. My most influential educator was my 5th Grade Teacher, Ms. Betty Brady. She went above and beyond the typical 5th grade education. She actually cultivated us about life. We wrote poetry and talked about our feelings. We took picnic lunches in the woods, sat in a circle and named positive things we liked about each other. Another cool thing we did was write down our name/address on a piece of paper of which we attached to a balloon. All at once, we released our balloons into the sky hoping someone far away would receive it and become a “pen pal.” A few kids were lucky and it worked! Can anyone imagine doing this now? That’d be like giving a possible child molester your full name and location.

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Hollywood, Maryland was so small that we only had one African American in our class. His name was Jermaine and he was super cool and friendly. I didn’t understand until I was older that racism is something that’s taught by adults to children. It doesn’t naturally exist on its own. We also had one disabled boy in our class. His name was William. I don’t know what condition he had but he wore a sturdy back-brace daily and struggled to walk sometimes. My classmates were helpful and kind to everyone. No one was cruel or obnoxious acting.

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I didn’t have a miraculous wardrobe, and I owned just a few pairs of shoes yet I felt okay with that. None of my buddies made me feel inadequate over it. I’m not sure the same applies in today’s world.

Our elementary school had a special program called “Grand Pals.” It was an incredible experience. Each 5th grader “adopted” two elderly persons living in our local nursing home. Our grand-pals were chosen by drawing names out of a jar. Although I don’t recall their names, I vividly remember who my grand-pals were. One was a blind black man and the other was a disabled veteran (both legs amputated at the knee) who carved wooden ducks as a hobby. I was fascinated by both of these gentlemen. They were so welcoming and kind to me. They shared stories about their lives with me and my letters were posted on their bedroom walls. Those two men will never know how much their wisdom and friendship meant to me. How many elementary kids in this generation can say they’ve had this type of experience?

When I had a school assignment I turned to the Britannica Encyclopedia set in our home. Those books were amazing, filled with color portraits and easy to understand. My parents took out a small loan to buy them. Now, schools basically require you have a computer/Internet at home to research projects and essays. Oh, and a printer.

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In middle and high school, a fight was just that… a fight. A kid worked off his or her aggression, spoke to the assistant principle, then went home for a few days. Today, most schools have cops permanently located within the school “for your safety.” Now a child could be smeared with a criminal record if he/she gets into a fight. Did bullying become worse or was it there yet ignored because social media didn’t exist?

I wrote letters to friends and boyfriends in school. In class or in the hallway, I passed my note to my recipient with a big smile upon my face. Also, back then people wrote addresses down in an actual address book. What have we gained since social media and email began? Swiftness of communication. And for this generation, speed is everything. What have we lost? Closeness, voice contact, the intimate communication of actually knowing what a person is feeling, and that can only come from presence. I don’t know any families that are actually closer as a result of email or social media.

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I remember the enjoyment I felt when my favorite song played on the radio. I owned a stack of 45-records and a few albums.  Then cassette tapes came out.  Major improvement! I discovered new music at a local record store called “Can’t Stop the Music.” I eagerly awaited the release of new albums. There were no piracy issues because people were allowed to record songs straight from the radio.  Imagine that!  Who else thought it was incredibly annoying to play their favorite song on their cassette tape? Fast forward. Stop. Play. Rewind. Fast forward. Stop. Play. God forbid you tried this out with your “Walkman.” It was ridiculous. Now a person can just turn on their iPod and hear their favorite tunes whenever they want. The “thrill” is over.

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House phones: I’m reminded of when “call waiting” first emerged. My friends and I were so excited! I told my girlfriend, Sheri: “Okay, call me at exactly 6 p.m.” Then, I’d have my boyfriend call me at 6:05 p.m. just so I could hear the BEEP and try it out. Mission achieved.

If I met someone I wanted to talk to, we exchanged home phone numbers on a piece of paper. If paper wasn’t available I wrote their number down on the back of my hand. If I wanted to ask a guy out, I didn’t start communicating via texting or IM’ing. I called his house. ‘Ring-ring…riiing-riiing…riiinnngggg-riiiinnnngggg’ (Please don’t let it be his mom or dad who picks up the phone… please don’t let it be his mom or dad who picks up the phone…) Then I’d talk to that boy for HOURS on the phone. Time just flew by. What the hell did we actually talk about? Who knows…

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I kept my sanity after breakups because back then there was no way to keep tab on your exes. Then the Internet came. Yikes! “Oh no, girllll… He was tagged in a picture where he’s hanging all over some chick. You gotta see this.”

A 35mm camera was the happening thing but if you were poor, Fujifilm invented the modern disposable camera. When I wanted my film developed, I had to take it to a store, drop it off and wait a few days. There were no do-overs. I photographed what I photographed. If I didn’t like the picture and wanted to redo it, too bad. The moment was gone. It’s printed now. If my eyes were closed, my hair was a mess, I had red-eye… oh well. Now, a smartphone takes better pictures than some digital cameras on the market. Constant do-overs make people appear flawless and it takes away the humor of an ugly photograph.

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Renting a movie was an adventure! I strutted around the movie store looking at all of the boxes of beta/VHS tapes available. I read the covers from front-to-back and glanced at the actors’ fashion statements. I dreamt of becoming a beautiful woman like the many featured on the movie covers. Who remembers “Be Kind. Rewind.”? Haha. A person had to rewind their tape or else the rental store charged a fee. I was sneaky too because I used to wander into the X-Rated room in the back to check out the naughty porn collection. That is how I learned about porn as a kid since there was no internet at our disposal. It scares me that a kid can easily access a porn site without their parents knowing.

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If I wanted to play a video game I went to the arcade armed with pockets full of quarters. I stood at a big boxy thing squeezed in next to a lot of other big boxy things, put in quarters and played the hell out of the games. And then I went home happier and poorer. Now there’s X-Box, PlayStation, games on our phones… you name it… endless entertainment available right at your fingertips.

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I spent my free time outdoors. Nature was my life. As kids, my aunt, Kristi, and I loved playing on the old railroad tracks behind her house. We caught tadpoles and held them in our hands without thinking “ewww….. gross.” I’ll admit I was afraid to hold a frog in my hand because I was told it would give me warts. I must have some kind of wart-fighting-power because I never did get any warts.

We rode in the back of my step-dad’s pick-up truck. There were endless bicycle journeys; Kickball; Tag; Candy cigarettes; Mello Yellow; Starburst; Scraping change from the couch cushions; fruit flavored Chapstick. We used make forts in hollowed bushes and re-hammer rusty nails into makeshift signs or we made mini sailing vessels with old pieces of wood. We flooded the narrow hillside of my yard using a garden hose and like magic, a “flowing river” appeared for my sailing vessel. Speaking of garden hose, I used to drink water straight from it without hesitation. Now, I’d probably need an immunization shot before pulling such a stunt. I was easily amused with a dirt driveway and a few small rocks to carve out Hopscotch blocks.

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On pretty days, we’d try to catch butterflies. This is totally unrelated, but I have a confession. I’m 42 years old yet I’m still haunted by an act of violence I committed once on a butterfly. I saw a wounded butterfly on the ground and instead of putting it out of its misery I took one wing and ripped it off. I have never forgotten that horrible act, as if it were some Jeffrey Dahmer shit or something. I have no idea why I did it. “I’m sorry, Mr. Butterfly. Please forgive me.”  😦

In the evenings, my grandmother gave us old mason jars and we’d run out in the front yard trapping lightning bugs. We poked holes in the metal lids and kept them overnight. I loved how they lit up the room at night. Some of the breathing holes weren’t big enough so many of my lightning bugs suffocated and died as a result.

Come to think of it, I’m starting to feel like a bug murderer… WTH.

Honeysuckle bushes lined the right side of my grandparent’s yard and we picked many of them for a taste of sweetness. Raspberry bushes were located in the woods right beside my house. Kristi and I picked huge bowls of them. It took hours and the chiggers we were totally worth it because the berries were free and delicious in exchange for the labor.

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I roamed the back streets throughout my neighborhood until sunset without concern from my parents. I wore a watch, the only way to tell time – A Swatch Watch.  Now, if a person doesn’t know where their kid is at all times, there is possible cause for panic — and a call to 911 may be in order.

We used yarn for ‘string art’ – ‘Witch’s Broom’ or ‘Cat’s Whiskers’.  Endlessly, we tried to come up with new string tricks.

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I had multiple bundles of colored string of which was used to make friendship bracelets. I pinned the knotted end to a pillow and then braided until it was long enough to fit my wrist.  I loved seeing the final outcome.

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Kristi and I choreographed dance acts to our favorite songs and performed our synced moves in front of our family in the living room. We looked ridiculous but it was fun and it killed time.

Often times, my grandparents took Kristi and I to the flea market and we loved it!  We frequently came home with multicolored rabbit foot key chains. I wouldn’t want one of those now – how depressing… “Let me cut off an innocent rabbit’s foot and color the fur. Children will love this.” Hell, I’d have PETA beating down my door today for owning such a trinket.

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Yard sales were fun. My mom and I used to hit up every yard sale in town. I’d always come home with a cute top or VHS movie. I wasn’t embarrassed to wear hand-me-downs. Before we left our house, we used to scrape up change from all around the house to treat ourselves to McDonald’s after yardsaling.

My parents used a map to go somewhere… Yes, it’s called a map. Crazy, isn’t it? I bet if I handed my adult son a map today he’d have no clue what to do with it. I recently watched an episode of 20/20 where a college student decided to spend her Spring Break on a solo road trip. She followed her Yahoo Maps app all the way to a dead end dirt road in the blistering desert. She was stuck there for nearly a week without gas or cell phone reception before someone finally found her.  She could have died.  Why aren’t we using maps as backup to GPS?

When I started working at my first job I had to either balance my checkbook or visit the bank to know how much money was left in my account. Pretty wild, isn’t it?

I had to teach my adult child how to write a personal check just last year:

Matt: “Mom, how do I write out a check for the security deposit on my apartment?”

Me: “You fill out who it’s going to, the dollar amount, and write the cash line out as (ex.) “One Thousand two hundred twenty-five dollars and xx/100. Date it. Sign it.”

Matt: “What? I don’t understand.”

Me: “Re-read what I last texted.”

Matt: “Can you just send me a picture of a voided check and pretend you’re writing this out so I can see?”

Me: {Laughing out loud} “Sure.”

If I left my house I didn’t care if someone couldn’t reach me. If I needed to reach out I used a pay phone booth. They were gross but it got the job done.

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Nearly everything I did in my childhood for entertainment was cheap or free. That’s the intriguing part. What kid can say that now?

Killing time never involved me texting, taking a selfie, scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, Snap Chat, or Twitter… seeing how many “likes” I had… Instead I took time to think… really “think.” Boredom made room for me to reconnect with myself.

Did technology take over? The Internet came with a lot of knowledge but it also filled our heads with plenty of junk and fluff like YouTube, endless porn, social media, and crimes. It gives people an excuse to stop speaking to others in person. It provides individuals with online bravery to insult or bully other people.

Life seemed simpler and healthier to live with less communication technology than we have today. Most would agree that it creates a sense of dependence that we did not used to have, not only in the form of separation anxiety from the people in our lives, but also from the separation anxiety we have developed for information and technology itself.

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Pediatric Cancer: Take a Stand

Our children deserve better than 4%

One child… One moment… One word…

A powerful ‘word’ that will break hearts and send thousands of children to heaven

“CANCER”

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I met Nolan Scully only once at a fundraising benefit held in his honor. I had been following his Facebook page (NolanStrong) and I knew he had a rare cancer, Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS). Like a superhero, he flew across the huge room (or shall I say ‘ran’ with a cape on), headed toward my direction. With his black satin cape flowing in the breeze behind him, he suddenly stopped to say ‘hi’ and pose for a few pictures. It was a quick greeting, muffled through the protective mask he was wearing to keep bad germs away. But that mask couldn’t hide the huge smile Nolan had upon his face. His crescent-moon shaped eyes squinted with joy as he paused to admire all of the attention. By that time, a mini-paparazzi crew, with myself included, were all on bended knee wanting to snap a picture of this courageous, fun-loving little guy.

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I instantly fell in love with Nolan. I looked forward to every post his mother, Ruth, put on Facebook. “Oh, look. There’s a new post about Nolan. Let me go read that before I do anything else,” was my typical feeling toward my Facebook newsfeed. That’s a powerful punch considering I had only met Nolan once for a few minutes. I was amazed by his fighter mentality, his charm, and his bubbly, positive attitude. It was clear to me that he loved to laugh.

Like many, I wanted to do everything I could to help Nolan fight this fight. Most of us could never imagine, or possibly understand, the devastation a child with cancer and their family will go through. Pediatric cancer is so much more than a St. Jude’s commercial we all look away from because “we’d rather not cry today.” Let’s stop looking away and start trying to make a difference.

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Although Ruth highlighted many treasured, beautiful moments shared with Nolan, darkness always lurked behind the scenes. Ruth braved sharing the ugly truth about pediatric cancer:

  • Doctors take an educated guess at how much chemo to administer
  • Parents lose their own identities because healing their sick child is #1 until the fight is over
  • Countless surgeries
  • Fevers, Diapers, Weight loss, Diarrhea, Vomiting
  • Tubes, needles, tests, procedures, transfusions
  • Spending several months of their life in a hospital
  • Emergency room visits; doctor visits
  • Panic, fear, frustration, anxiety, anxiousness, tears, loneliness, sadness, depression, anger, devastation, helplessness
  • Salespeople trying to profit off your child’s illness: “This product could save your child’s life!”
  • Siblings suffer emotionally as they watch their brother or sister suffer and possibly die

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And the ugly truth of pediatric cancer goes on….

Nolan has spent more than half of his ENTIRE life fighting just to stay alive. Now he’s living out his final days under Hospice care with his loving family at his side. It’s heart shattering and I’m praying to God for a miracle.

Life can be so cruel and I cannot make sense of any child suffering. “Why?” I’ve asked myself this over and over again. As I watched this tragedy unfold from afar through social media, futility became overwhelming. I felt so useless. Then, I realized there are some things we CAN do:

Here’s why that’s so important: The vast majority of cancer research dollars go toward fighting adult diseases. Of the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) annual $5 billion budget, only about 4% on average is spent on projects specifically targeted at combating childhood cancers, though another quarter is devoted to basic research that could theoretically help both pediatric and adult cancer patients.

In 20 years the FDA has initially approved only two drugs for any childhood cancer – ½ of all chemotherapies used for children’s cancers are over 25 years old. Research and development for new drugs from pharmaceutical companies comprises 60% of funding for adult cancer drugs and close to ZERO for childhood cancers. Pharmaceutical companies don’t commit resources to childhood cancer research because the adult cancer drug industry is viewed as more profitable and less risky to them.

Does this piss you off? Because it definitely pisses me off.  There’s clearly a disproportionate focus on adult over pediatric cancer research.

NCI’s funding for pediatric clinical trials is $26.4 million while funding for AIDS research is $254 million, and breast cancer is $584 million.

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According to CureSearch, each year, the parents of approximately 15,700 kids will hear the words “your child has cancer.” Across all ages, ethnic groups and socio-economics, this disease remains the number one cause of death by disease in children.

  • Every day, 46 children are diagnosed with cancer
  • 12% of children diagnosed with cancer do not survive
  • 1 in 5 children diagnosed with cancer will die within 5-years
  • More than 40,000 children undergo treatment for cancer each year
  • 60% of children who survive cancer suffer late-effects, such as infertility, heart failure and secondary cancers.

Let’s take a stand for Nolan and all of the other children battling this demon called cancer. Bombard Congress with your emails and letters. Support pediatric cancer research so that kids fighting cancer have a better survival rate.  Pray for the children suffering from pediatric cancer, and pray for their families.

❤  Nolan  ❤

A brave little superhero who wanted to dedicate his adult life to helping others.

A boy who loves emergency and first response vehicles.

A kid who loves life, people, and animals.

A kind, loving child who died from pediatric cancer on February 4, 2017.
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 ** TAKE A STAND AND DO SOMETHING **

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A video of Nolan’s journey:

 

Brave Girl Battles Two Rare Diseases

Chloe’s Hope: Stop the Burning

What does a juvenile disability look like?  Some might envision a homeschooled child or perhaps a wheelchair user. What if a child outwardly appeared normal yet their insides were screaming in agony?  Try to imagine a child who’s never known a life without horrendous pain and suffering.

That is the case for 11-year-old Chloe Louise Kuschert of Corowa, a town in the New South Wales in Australia. She oftentimes cries to her mother, “Why me? Why can’t I have a normal life? I hate this so much.”  But all her mother can do is comfort her and wipe away the tears streaming down her face.

Chloe was just two years old when her health began rapidly deteriorating. It started with a sensitive area that some people wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about. Debilitating symptoms of bleeding, swelling, redness and pain developed in her vulva (female external genitals) area. As her condition progressed, the burning became so excruciating that Chloe could no longer function. Her life became overshadowed by throbbing pain and discomfort. After visiting numerous doctors over a 4-year period in Australia, doctors were still unable to diagnose Chloe’s condition. The doctors decided to have Chloe’s medical chart reviewed by a pediatric group based out of the United States where a genetic specialist finally made the diagnosis.

Chloe had a rare disease called Erythromelalgia (EM) which not only affects her vulva area, but also her face, ears, and hands.  The condition affects 1.3 in 100,000 people, and there is no cure.

EM causes unbearable burning pain, noticeable redness of the skin, swelling, and increased skin temperature. The exact underlying cause of EM is unknown. It’s thought to result from vasomotor abnormalities or dysfunction in the normal constriction and dilation of the caliber of certain blood vessels, leading to abnormalities of blood flow to the extremities.

There isn’t a typical treatment for EM, and sometimes nothing helps. Chloe has tried many prescriptions and supplements, and dealt with dreadful side effects. She is on a strict ‘cooling’ regime to prevent overheating.

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EM flares on Chloe’s face and ears

“Managing her EM pain is incredibly difficult,” said her mother, Jacqui. She  went on to say that every day is a battle in which Chloe fights for her joy and freedom from pain. Since the condition also affects her private area there is no way of knowing the impact it will have on adulthood with sexual activity and childbirth.

Chloe’s health continued to worsen over the next several months after her EM diagnosis. She began experiencing vaginal bleeding, frequent toilet needs, urinary incontinence and burning along with bladder and stomach pain. After seeing several doctors, going through more examinations and cystoscopies, a gynecologist diagnosed Chloe with interstitial cystitis (IC), a condition that results in recurring discomfort or pain in the bladder and the surrounding pelvic region.

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“I felt helpless as I just sat there crying. I wanted to take all of her pain away,” Jacqui said.

Chloe has been repeatedly tested for everything you could possibly imagine and still no doctor can provide answers.

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Just a few months following the EM and IC diagnoses, Chloe developed more unbearable symptoms. Her joints began aching and swelling, and she bruised more easily. She had trouble walking due to the pain in her knees and ankles. Ultimately a rheumatologist diagnosed Chloe with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a group of inherited disorders marked by extremely loose joints, very stretchy skin that bruises easily, and easily damaged blood vessels. EDS affects about 1 in 5,000 people globally.

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Most parents couldn’t fathom their child dealing with one rare disease let alone two.  The effects of having all three conditions has caused Chloe to have fainting spells, abdomen pain almost daily, dizziness, and low blood pressure.

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“To manage her many combined symptoms Chloe regularly sees a local general practitioner, pediatrician, gynecologist, neurologist, and a cardiologist. Currently she’s taking 11 pills a day plus a pain reliever in an effort to give her a somewhat normal life. Of all her conditions, EM is the most painful for Chloe,” her mother said.

Chloe is in the fifth grade. She battles through the pain most days because she loves attending school. Her teacher is very kind to her, and her classmates are supportive and understanding. She’s sad to miss school days when she’s overwhelmed by pain.

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An emotional Chloe as she struggles with daily pain

EM causes the body to quickly overheat during physical activity so Chloe is unable to participate in any outdoor sports. Although it’s disappointing, Chloe maintains a positive attitude. Instead she enjoys reading and doing arts and crafts.

Chloe enjoys spending time with her family — mother, Jacqui, father, David, and brothers, James, 18, and Caleb, 14.  She also loves hanging out with her dog, Molly, and her rabbit, Gizmo.

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Chloe with her brothers, James and Caleb

“The unknown is scary. I don’t know if my daughter will ever live a normal life, free from pain and misery. I want her to be happy, and not just have ‘happy moments.’  This is all very devastating.  I also have to accept that she may never experience the gift of pregnancy. I’m heartbroken inside,” her mother said.

Disabilities aren’t always recognizable to the public. So when you see a child who seems carefree and happy, please think of Chloe. There are children out there like her whose lives are a lot harder than they appear to the outside world.

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If you’d like to support Chloe Kuschert, you can do so by helping spread awareness.  Please Like and Share her Facebook page titled Chloe’s Hope: Stop the Burning

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Chloe and her mother, Jacqui

To see this story on The Huffington Post:

Brave Girl Battles Two Rare Diseases

To read more about Erythromelalgia, please see the following blog:

Burning for Hope

Jacqui and Chloe are active members of the “Parents of Little EM Warriors” program where they communicate and share their experiences with other families in need of support. Join “Erythromelalgia Warriors” on Facebook to learn more.

EM Warriors on Facebook

Chloe has also joined the “I Am The Face of Erythromelalgia” campaign.

Please Join Our Campaign here

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EM Awareness Video:

A Mother’s Love Is Forever

A story for my son, the true joy of my heart

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Dear Matthew,

Because of you, I have been blessed with the greatest gift of all – to be your mother.

I’m so proud of you, and the man you’ve become. You’re exactly how I envisioned you’d be: tall, handsome, funny, and talented. I had no idea you’d be into cars like you are, but it’s no surprise. As a kid you always enjoyed mastering a complicated transformer or fixing things.

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Society makes people feel like we shouldn’t talk about previous relationships, but I’m going to break that rule. Everyone has a past. If a person’s wed before (regardless of divorcing), he/she obviously loved their spouse once upon a time.

I think it’s sentimental for kids to know how their life’s story began.

I graduated from high school in May 1992. On July 4th, I returned home from a Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) Shorthand II US-wide competition held in Chicago, IL. My parents convinced me to join them at an Independence Day celebration in Hollywood. I noticed your dad and his youngest brother, Brian, hanging out at the party and thought they were cute. So I asked my step-father if I could ‘hold a beer’ so I’d look older. I didn’t plan on drinking the beer (I hate beer), but I wanted to ‘appear’ mature.   Reluctantly my step-father said okay. I walked to the cooler and grabbed an ice cold can of Bud Light. I paraded around holding my beer, talking to family, trying to act wise beyond my years. It seemed to be working.

About an hour into the event, I sat on the porch steps petting the owner’s dog. Your dad came over and started petting the dog with me and began a light conversation. As he went to sit down next to me he politely moved my beer to the lowest step. “WOW, your beer is REALLY WARM, and it’s full. What’s up with that,” he said. Uhhhh…I felt so stupid. The gig was up and I was busted. I played it off saying I didn’t prefer that kind of beer… as if I was a beer-drinking professional. I also neglected to mention I wouldn’t be 18 years old for another month, knowing your dad looked to be at least in his early-20’s.

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He ended up introducing me to his yorkie, Maxwell. He was the cutest little guy ever. After dating for a few months your dad told me he used to screen all of his dates on how they treated his little dog. Hilarious.  I passed!

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In April 1994, I found out I was pregnant with you. I kept the secret to myself for a few days.  I had a miscarriage before you and I was afraid I might lose you too.  When I told your dad he was overjoyed and we couldn’t wait to meet you!

During the first sonogram my heart burst with so much emotion! There you were, my little peanut. The technician zoomed in and I could clearly see your tiny hands and feet wiggling around. Your dad just stood there in ‘awe.’ It was the neatest thing I had ever seen. Then we got to hear your heartbeat for the very first time. Your heart sounded vibrant and strong.

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May 18, 1994: My first sonogram of you.

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My intuition immediately told me I was having a boy, and then I realized something… If I had a boy, he’d be the first child in that generation on your dad’s side to carry on the family name.

Four and a half months into the pregnancy, I felt you kick for the first time. It was incredible! After that you kicked me nonstop until the day you were born. Then it was like, “Ok, dude, you can chill out now.” I had conversations with you all the time. I wanted you to know how much I loved you even before you were born.

During the second sonogram you were a total circus act. You put on a show for the entire staff. You flipped around, kicked, and moved your head and neck around as if you had just drunk a Red Bull. Your dad and I laughed nonstop. Technology wasn’t that great back then, so the doctors couldn’t tell me the gender of the baby. But in my heart I still knew I was having a boy.

Whatever I ate or drank, you reacted accordingly. One time your dad made tacos for dinner. He was on the phone with his mom while I was eating when we observed you doing somersaults. Your dad burst out laughing as he told his mom, “WOW! The baby’s moving around like an alien creature right now!” I used to sit my plate of food on top of my belly as if it were a little shelf.

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YOU STARVED ME TO DEATH! Every day felt as if I hadn’t eaten for a month. I had a schedule: peanut butter and jelly sandwich at 10 a.m., followed by a Food Lion meal of fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and green beans at noon. You had me eating myself into a food coma. No joke.

At six months pregnant, many people thought I was already due because I was HUGE… and I waddled.

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Fashion for pregnant women of the 90’s was horrendous as you can see.  Everything was drapey, too colorful, and ugly.  This is a picture of me at my baby shower. I rocked my ‘Baby Love’ shirt.  Don’t you agree?

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When I was seven months pregnant, Maxwell was diagnosed with terminal cancer and we had to put him to sleep. It broke my heart, and it was the first time I ever saw your dad cry. The family was afraid I’d go into premature labor.  Your dad and I just couldn’t handle it so Mommom and Poppop stepped in. Mommom held Max in her arms at the animal hospital until the very end. She has always been a kind, loving and nurturing soul as you know.  Thank God for her.

I wanted to name you Brett. Your dad refused, saying he’d never name his child after something that sounded like a hair-clip. Haha. One night Nana was reading biblical names out loud to us to see if we liked any of them. We liked plenty but none of them felt ‘perfect’ until she said, “How about Matthew?” We looked at each other and in that moment your name had been chosen. Your name means “Gift from God.”  We said we’d never nickname you “Matt.”  Ummm…. I’m not sure what happened with that. LOL!

I remember the day you were born as if it were yesterday. It was dinnertime, around 7 p.m., and I had just sat down on the couch to eat a cheeseburger and fries. Halfway through the meal you let me know you had enough. You were running out of ‘womb’… LMAO. I looked at your dad and said, “It’s time!” At 20 years old, I was absolutely petrified. TWELVE HOURS later, you made your entrance as you pissed on everyone in the labor room, literally. Doctors and nurses were too busy ducking, trying to dodge the urine stream flying across the room to answer my cry of, “IS IT A BOY or GIRL?!” It was hilarious and your dad was cracking up!  I had no idea what was going on at the time. But then the humor paused. Your dad came to my bedside holding you in his arms and said, “Missy, {pause}… it’s a boy,” as a tear rolled down his cheek. I began to cry too because I felt so blessed to have you.

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A few weeks after we took you home

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Your Godmother, Aunt Laura, babysat you for the first nine months of your life, and she was wonderful. Your dad drove you to daycare, and I picked you up.  Aunt Laura’s house was 30 minutes one way, but she was worth it.  You loved spending time with her and her family on the farm.

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You’ve been blessed to have a big extended family that adores you, especially your grandparents. You are loved by many!

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Your dad and I took you to Virginia Beach when you were two years old to see the Atlantic ocean for the first time.

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You were a little junk collector. I’d take you into Walmart and you’d come out with a small handful of nuts, bolts, paper clips, and any other trinkets you found on the floor. You made little robots or gadgets out of the mess.

Not all moments of motherhood are beautiful, and there were several times I panicked when a crisis occurred. However, the scariest time as a mother had been when you were two years old. It was a Saturday and your dad was working at a construction site that day. We were invited to a pool party down the street at Bill and Madeline’s house. We arrived then walked to the poolside and stood there waving to everyone. For a second I let go of your hand. Within a flash I looked down to my right and suddenly you were gone. It’s a paranoid feeling that only a parent can understand. My heart pounded out of my chest as if I could hear it beating inside my head. No one was swimming yet so the water’s surface looked clear. I frantically glanced around and that’s when I noticed a small figure at the bottom of the 8 ft. pool. My heart sunk and there was no time to think! I jumped in feet first with full force. As soon as my feet hit the bottom of the pool’s floor, I wrapped both of my hands tightly around your waist then firmly sprung up to the surface. By that time everyone knew what was going on. Someone grabbed you out of the water. A million thoughts ran through my mind within a few seconds. “Is he going to die?!” “Will he be brain dead if he does survive?” I can’t even remember who did CPR, or anyone who surrounded me. It was like I had tunnel vision. It didn’t feel real. After you coughed up all the water, you cried in my arms. I sobbed uncontrollably. We went back home and I called your dad.  Mentally, I was a mess and I watched you like a hawk to ensure you didn’t fall asleep anytime soon. If you had left my life that day my world would have been shattered.

Okay, back to happy thoughts…. You were never a picky eater, and your favorite meal was fried hot dogs and eggs, and burgers/fries from McDonald’s. You were infatuated with happy meal toys and Nana made sure you owned a toy box filled with them.  She took you out to eat all the time and you adored her.  Every Saturday, Nana and I took you to yard sales.  We found great toys, and of course we always ate lunch out.

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Mommom and Poppop A. always showed you a good time.  Mommom cooked for you, and took you on mini adventures — like the pumpkin patch in the fall to pick out your favorite pumpkin.  Poppop used to push you in the swing in their backyard.  You loved, and still love, the country life and spending time with them.

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Prep N Play Preschool was your happy place. Your best friend was Jeremy, and you two were always together – like peas and carrots.  That’s my old Ford Taurus… Yuck.

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You weren’t athletic by choice. You showed zero interest when your dad signed you up for little league baseball. I watched and chuckled as you sat on the ground in the outfield playing with the grass. You didn’t care about catching the ball whatsoever.

When you were three years old your dad and I separated. Although we didn’t work out, YOU will always be the greatest treasure between us. Your dad was my first adult relationship, and we were together for seven years. He taught me a lot about life, and for that I am incredibly thankful. Your dad, Bitsy (step-mom), and I successfully co-parented throughout your school years, I’m proud to say.

After Prep N Play, we moved you to Ms. Debbie’s daycare. She was like a second mom to you. You loved going to her house and she treated you like gold.  Also, her cooking was phenomenal.  You loved her fried chicken and sweet treats.

As an elementary child you loved The Land Before Time. You used to call leaves ‘tree stars’ because of this movie (below).  You’d say to me, “Mommy, look!  It’s a bunch of tree stars!”  So adorable.  Here is that scene:

We both loved The Lion King. The video below was our favorite scene.  We impersonated these crazy creatures over and over again, and then we’d laugh hysterically at each other.  HAHA

Your favorite movie of all time was Toy Story. You loved Buzz Lightyear and Woody. You owned every Toy Story figurine, even the green aliens in the claw machine.

You have always had a pure, kind heart. As a child you used to bring over your neighborhood friends whose families struggled with poverty. You whispered in my ear, “Mommy, my friends said they haven’t eaten yet today and they’re thirsty.” We fed them. Your kindheartedness almost led us to feeding an entire village. LOL. We did the best we could.

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As you grew older, I saw a ‘mini-me’ emerging. It made me smile.  You’re so much like me in your computer/corky/funny ways.  I see my own blue eyes when I look at yours. But you look a lot like your dad too. Mommom always said, “There’s no question that’s David’s boy!” …. then she’d laugh.

You and I blasted songs in the car and screamed out the lyrics together.

“ALL STAR” by Smashmouth was your favorite song- You chanted every single word out, and you loved Shrek.

You also loved “I’m Blue” by Eiffel 65 – da ba dee da ba daa / Da ba dee da ba daa, da ba dee da ba daa, da ba dee da ba daa  (Shoot me now! How annoying, right?)  I’m betting you’ll scroll right past this whacked out music video because you don’t want to hear these horrendous ‘repeating’ lyrics.  It’s the type of song that stays in your brain for eternity. Go ahead. I dare you to listen to it. 🙂

Our taste in music has definitely changed over the years (thank gosh) but we still enjoy a wide variety of music together. We liked listening to Coldplay.  Remember ‘Clocks?’  Youuuuu….. Areeeeee…….

We both want to be the ‘deejay’ in the car.  I convince you to listen to new songs that I like, and then you’d do the same.  I pity the fools who ride in a car with us together.

I’ve always been protective over you. I think I’ve proven that. The saying is true: “You can pick on me but don’t you DARE pick on my kid.” I will turn into an ugly Satan creature if you mistreat my child. Haha.

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I took you to the Poconos for a vacation once.  We went because I heard nearby “Dinosaur Land” was a neat place to visit, and I thought you’d love that.  Hah! What a joke that place was.  Just a bunch of fake dinosaurs in a stupid park, and that was it.  Well, of course the dinosaurs were ‘fake.’  LOL!

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We went to Orlando when you were seven years old.  I don’t know how I did it on the salary I was earning at that time but I somehow pulled it off.  I bargain-shopped every theme park ticket price, hotel, and I wore a backpack with a built-in cooler filled with our many snacks and drinks.  We went to Disney World, MGM Studios, Sea World, and Medieval Times dinner theater. The full version of this video is at the end of this blog (you petting the dolphins, Shamu, etc.)

Yup. I just went there.  I included a photo of you eagerly awaiting Mickey Mouse’s signature.  You look pretty pumped up about it too.  I’m just sayin’

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Christmastime in our townhouse. You were so excited!  This was the first home I purchased on my own and I was very proud of myself.  We had a wonderful Christmas and I loved having you wake up with me to open Santa’s many presents. (Full video of Christmas morning is available at the end of this blog)

PETS: Oh my goodness, the pets we’ve gone through. LOL.

We had two hamsters when we lived in the condo. They ended up having about 15 babies together. What a disaster that was. I separated the father from his babies because he kept trying to eat them. Gross!  We were mortified. Then the father hamster escaped from his cage and we couldn’t find him anywhere in the apartment. The next morning we spotted him jumping off the third floor balcony as if he were trying to commit suicide. We ran downstairs attempting to rescue him. Nope. He ran. He was “The one that got away.” God only knows what happened to that little guy. We gave the mommy and babies to the pet store, and I think we both felt good about that decision.

The gecko from HELL – What was his name? I think it was ‘Little Dude.’ He was a mean, violent little creature. You tried to have fun with him but he’d always bite you and hurt your feelings. One time he bit you so hard that it drew blood and you cried, so I sold him to a nice lady. Buh-bye little monster!

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The Chihuahua named Marshmellow. Thank gosh for Ms. Debbie. That dog tried to die from the moment we brought him home. I don’t know why he had so many health issues – one seizure after another. If not for Ms. Debbie nurturing him around the clock he would not have survived. Luckily he grew to be an old, happy little fellow (renamed Cuppy) with her and her other doggies.

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How about the dog you convinced me to buy for $25 at the Farmer’s Market… Ummm…. Yea….. Confession time: I’m sorry I lied when I told you he ran away.  I actually gave him to a really nice lady during the week you were with your dad and Bitsy.  I couldn’t help it.  That dog was cray-cray.

The goldfish – I saved a voicemail from you in 2011 because I thought it was hilarious. You and Leo went to the county fair when a huge thunderstorm struck.  You were determined to get that goldfish home safely even if it involved you and Leo drowning in a thunderstorm. LMAO.  You succeeded.  The goldfish died a few weeks later.

We finally lucked out with the yorkies – Daisey-Mae & Rudy. They’ve had a total of 12 puppies together. They’re 13 years old now, and we’ve been blessed to have them a part of our family.

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I’d also like to mention the dogs you grew up with at your dad and Bitsy’s house.  Jackie-girl and Jake. You loved them a lot and you took it very hard when they died.

I feel guilt ridden for some of the challenges you went through as a child.  I wish I could take those few years back and redo them but I can’t.  Just know that I love you with all my heart.

We went rollerskating several times and you were naturally good at it… And your mom was a pro.  I won a speed skating competition that night and you loved bragging about it.  “Yep! That’s my mom that just kicked your 14-year-old ass!”  Haha! By the way, that flaming shirt was your favorite. You wore it often.

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We used to sit next to each other on the couch all the time with our laptops sharing funny YouTube clips with each other. We thought Dane Cook was soooo funny.  Remember when I took you to see him in concert in DC?  🙂  Good times!

The shopping plaza played a big part of your tween/teen years. You loved hanging out with your friends, skateboarding to the store for snacks/drinks.

Do you remember that time you and your friends came home with those mannequins you pulled out of the dumpsters? We had a “mannequin’s ass” in our living room for months. That was so funny!!!  I believe you nicknamed the torso “Shelby.” LMAO.  I can barely type this out without laughing.  Yep!  That’s My Boy Right There!

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One time you came home laughing because you and friends noticed a to-go bag hanging outside the door of the Chinese restaurant after they had closed for the night. No one came for the bag so you and your friends decided to eat whatever was in the bag. HAHA. Those egg-rolls were delicious, you said!

I remember our many trips to the mall and our time spent in Hot Topic (our favorite store back then). We laughed so much in that store.  We bought funny t-shirts and always had a fun time. You were into the ‘skater’ era by then, and you were absolutely adorable.

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Here we are dancing on the Ocean City boardwalk as a violinist played My Heart Will Go On. The original sound in this video wasn’t very clear so I changed the music up.

I had no clue what a sand crab was until this moment (below).  You and Ricky had such a fun time in Ocean City that week.

I taught you all about the 80s through music and old movies so when it came time to watch Kickin’ It Old Skool, you understood all the humor. We laughed our butts off watching that movie with Lori and Sam!

I surprised you with concert tickets to see your favorite band back then, My Chemical Romance. You, Zach, and Jeremy were thrilled! You guys stood on top of the chairs screaming out every word to every song.  It was great!

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I have to admit, I like this song too!  Welcome to the Black Parade:

Heck, we took, and still take, selfies together all over the place.  Below I see we’re in the movie theater, at a relative’s house, on the porch, and in the kitchen modeling our new winter hats for our New York City trip.

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I took you out of school early when any of the Twilight Series movies premiered at the theater to avoid the huge crowds. Now THAT’S great parenting!

Remember our 1 a.m. McDonald’s run in New York Times Square?!  Yea…. We were totally freaked out by all the weirdos on the street. We hung out in the restaurant until that creepy guy stopped stalking us, then we RAN LIKE HELL back to our hotel.

The next day we ice skated together at Rockefeller Plaza.

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You and I have rolled all over the place together: Poconos, PA; Orlando, FL; Ocean City, MD many times; Washington, DC; Baltimore, MD; Rehoboth, DE; Winchester, VA; Myrtle Beach, SC; New York, NY; Key West, FL; The Bahamas; … and another trip soon to come.

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Remember your first time parasailing in Key West?  We were like free birds soaring in the sky… not a care in the world….

To see you graduate high school with Straight A’s made me so proud. I knew you could do it. Your dad and I always had faith in you.  You had the highest class average in your residential wiring program too. Yep!  That’s my boy! You look like your dad in your graduation photos.

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Look at you now… a kind and caring  adult who treats others with respect. You’re enjoying your life and having fun.  That’s all I’ve ever wanted for you — to be happy.

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I love how goofy we are together.  Here we are at Panera Bread in 2016, on Snap Chat, laughing hysterically with no regard for how loud we were being in the restaurant.  TOTAL CLASS ACT.  The funny part is that strangers were laughing at us because we were cracking up so bad in our booth.  What can I say?  We’re just f’ing hilarious even when we’re not trying to be.  I make one hell of a beautiful George Washington.  That’s all I have to say about that.

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I’m proud of how smart you are, and your willingness to learn new things about cars/engines all the time.  You never cease to amaze me.

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Through every stage in your life you’ve never made me feel like I didn’t matter to you as a mom. I know some parents go through hard times, and I’ve been fortunate in that you’ve always made me feel valued and loved.

You’re a blessing from God and I treasure every moment I spend with you.

I love you with all my heart! ❤

Your Biggest Fan,

Mom

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Full Length Video of Sea World Orlando….  Apparently I was obsessed with Sea World’s map.  I’m betting we NEVER got lost in that theme park.  HAHA.

Full Length Video of Christmas Morning, 2002: