Happy 11th Birthday To My World-Changer

Today, my second child, Jack, is 11 years old. It’s a weird kind of day. I remember my 11th birthday back when I was in the sixth grade, and now Jack is that age. I was excited and had fun that day. Jack doesn’t even know today is his birthday.** I haven’t blogged in months, but I owe him a post on his birthday. My life wouldn’t be what it is today if he was any different.

About five days shy of 11 years ago.
About five days shy of 11 years ago.
** If you’ve never been to this site before, click here to see what Operation Jack is and why the site exists (it’s because of Jack, my birthday boy).
Jack was born perfectly healthy on September 16, 2003. But that was then. He’s nowhere near healthy now. Jack is severely autistic. He still wears diapers and makes holes in walls with his head and punches himself when he’s in pain (sadly, he doesn’t understand that makes it worse). He has severe issues with his gut and his brain. He has a mental retardation diagnosis. I will fight for him until the day I die. Heck, I basically got kicked out of Colorado fighting for him and I have no regrets about that. I’m not in this to make friends. I’m in this to fight for my family.
At this point in his life, he was a healthy child.
At this point in his life, he was a healthy child.
But realistically, his stay here in this world is ruined. I’m not as optimistic as I used to be that I’ll ever converse with him, although I do hold out hope that someday he’ll be able to live independently in a guest house that we would build for him, and maybe have what we would consider to be a simple job, like bagging groceries or fetching shopping carts or something like that. That’s not my target for him — I’ll always shoot for the moon. That’s just what I suspect he’ll be able to do.
I always wonder what he's thinking about at times like this.
I always wonder what he’s thinking about at times like this.
How he got to where he is — well, it’s controversial to talk about when you’re trying to be a diplomatic autism ambassador, spreading awareness and raising money for charity. But really, today, I don’t care. I’ll bring it up. Vaccines ruined him. It’s as simple as that. Don’t bother telling me they didn’t, because they did. Yes, vaccines can prevent illnesses. But they can also injure. The government admits that and compensates for it. In Jack’s case, that’s what happened — he was permanently damaged by vaccines. It makes us sick to think back about it, like we did this to him. But we don’t really spend a lot of time dwelling on that aspect. Obviously, we had no clue it would be like this, and at this point, we just run ourselves into the ground trying to do everything we can to improve his quality of life.
Jack does well in his special ed classes and every teacher who has been willing to work with him has always loved him.
Jack does well in his special ed classes and every teacher who has been willing to work with him has always loved him.
We moved to Pennsylvania last year, sight unseen, based on the schools and services offered here. That was tough to do, since we’re 3,000 miles away from our family in Southern California, but it’s been amazing for him and our other two kids. My wife Tiffany and I are pretty resolved to the fact that our days of hands-on parenting will last until the day we die, and that’s fine — there are no guarantees when you become a parent, and it’s nothing compared to what his life will be like.
Love it when he smiles! Love me a happy Jack!
Love it when he smiles! Love me a happy Jack!
But, while sitting here being upset about the negatives, about how I think he didn’t get a fair chance, I still am overwhelmed by this journey with him and how it’s impacted us. For me, a lot of it revolves around Operation Jack. He taught me to think beyond myself, that’s for sure. He inspired me to start a charity, the Operation Jack Autism Foundation, because I wanted to help other people and do something positive so that what he goes through isn’t for nothing. I’m confident at this point that we’ve done that. I’ve had a lot of people tell me how he’s inspired them in one way or another, and I see the dollars that go out and help charities, and it makes me happy to know that he is leaving a footprint.

He's 50% Irish (Tiff's genetics)
He’s 50% Irish (Tiff)
He's 50% redneck (me)
He’s 50% redneck (me)

Selfishly, I’ve met a lot of great people and had a lot of great experiences that I wouldn’t have had if not for him. I’d trade all of that in without hesitation, but all we can do is move forward, so at least there’s that positive. He’s made me a better person, I have no doubt about that. I have a ton of flaws, and I’ll be on my deathbed someday feeling like a failure because of a lot of those flaws, but I do know that he taught me to think of other people, and to try to be a little less selfish and a little more helpful.

Most 4th graders don't have to go through 24-hour EEGs. But he handled this very well.
Most 4th graders don’t have to go through 24-hour EEGs. But he handled this very well.
The way he’s shaped my wife Tiffany has also been amazing. We’re buried alive by all of our obligations and stresses, and a lot of times, it can be very difficult getting through the days because of the impact he has on us (try to imagine chasing around an 11-year-old toddler who’s a threat to hurt himself or damage property without warning, who’s up at 7, not typically asleep until 9:30 p.m. or later, and frequently awake with meltdowns for hours at a time in the middle of the night). It’s tough living under this roof. I look at Tiff and see somebody who’s worn out and living with not enough happiness. There’s not a ton we can do about a lot of that, but at the same time, I’m so proud of the mom she’s become. I think back to the 18-year-old I started dating 20 years ago and the look at who she is now, and she has turned into an amazing mom, the fiercest mama bear you’ll ever meet, as committed as she could possibly be.
Chilling in the back yard, playing on his tablet. Life is good.
Chilling in the back yard, playing on his tablet. Life is good.
Jack is very difficult to take care of. He can be very frustrating to try to control. But everybody who ever works with him falls in love with him. He really only has problems when he’s in pain (which, unfortunately, is far too frequently), but he’s a very sweet, affectionate child. I’d do anything to make him better, but realistically, I know he faces long odds.
Jack and "Temmy" ... that stuffed bear has been through the ringer, but he still sleeps with him every night.
Jack and “Temmy” … that stuffed bear has been through the ringer, but he still sleeps with him every night.
Today marks 11 years since he was born healthy into this world. We’re still waiting for the first day that he doesn’t cry at all. We’re also still waiting for the first time we can talk to him and ask him how he’s doing. But we’ll keep doing our best for him, never giving up, always optimistic that someday he’ll break through and get better.
Jack and his sister Ava at a candy shop in Philly. I love this picture!
Jack and his sister Ava at a candy shop in Philly. I love this picture!
His birthday today, it’s certainly bittersweet. There’s no way around that. But I’m grateful we have him, I’m grateful for the impact he’s had on us, and at the end of it all, having him in our life is definitely something to celebrate.
[subscribe2]

Comments

  1. Michelle Taylor says

    Sam…my heart aches for you and your family with your brutally honest birthday blog….as you know, I have and continue to walk in similiar shoes, no pair are the same. It is more than difficult to try and manuver the craziness of Autism….it appears that you have a wonderful teacher in your son Jack. I hope that you might be able to meet my son Max….he may be a glimpse of Sam 10 years fast forwarded….have faith.
    Michelle

  2. Jennifer Cammack says

    Sam…thank you for your honesty, truth and painful celebrations. You, your wife and Jack are brave and courageous soldiers. Is there a therapeutic riding facility near you? Bring Jack to Maine and let us introduce him to horses. They are magic…and will ease his pain. Happy Birthday Jack…many, many wishes for you. Jen Cammack, Springy Pond Farm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *