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Brooke Grall

For the past three summers, Brooke Grall has rallied around her daughter’s wish to host a lemonade stand, setting up shop in the family’s Murphy driveway.
 
“The first year Zoe said she wanted to give all of the money to her horse Crunchie,” says the mom of two — Zoe, 6, and Lincoln, 2. (Grall also has a 17-year-old stepdaughter, Maddy, who lives in Georgia.) Zoe has spina bifida and is in a wheelchair. She practices hippotherapy (hippos is Greek for horse) and sports riding at Equest in Wylie to stimulate parts of her body and brain that typically lie dormant.
 
The family raised $100 that first year, and as Zoe wished, donated it all to Crunchie. Last year, word began to spread, and they earned $2,500, enough to cover a full semester at Equest. This July, after NBC 5 got wind of the little girl and her lemonade stand, that number quadrupled.
 
“It just became this huge thing right away,” says Grall, 34. “It’s going to cover a full school year of therapy and sports riding. The rest will go into her special needs trust. It was a huge blessing.”
 
It was also a huge relief for the mom and her husband Jay, an engineer for Varian Medical Systems, who had been paying for the therapies out of pocket.  
 
Though insurance covers the bulk of Zoe’s care, it’s expensive. She’s had six surgeries in her six years, struggles with bowel and bladder management and requires extensive medications and supplies.
 
Grall’s mother lives with the family and helps with the day-to-day care of Zoe and little brother Lincoln, whom Grall describes as “a loud and proud” toddler, who is strong-willed and opinionated.
 
“My hands are full,” Grall says. She once dreamed of a bigger family but says without a doubt, two is the magic number. The first few months after Lincoln as born were particularly taxing. “Going from one to two children was exhausting. Trying to meet all of Zoe’s needs and having this baby was brutal,” she says.
 
In the midst of it all, Grall’s father was diagnosed with an aggressive form of soft tissue cancer and passed away just five months later. “As a result, we invited my mother to live with us because we didn’t want her to be alone,” she says. “My husband travels a lot. We couldn’t do life without another adult in the house; there’s no way. If it weren’t for my mom, I wouldn’t be able to work full time.”
 
And she would suffer for it. A music teacher and choir director at Lovejoy Independent School District, Grall truly loves her work.
 
“Music is really the only thing I was ever good at,” she says. “I wanted to be a choir director when I was little. I really love working.”
 
She has a bachelor’s in vocal performance from the University of North Texas and performed with the Orpheus Chamber singers, the premier professional chamber chorus of Dallas, for five seasons. But music education always beckoned her. Eventually, she went back to UNT for her Music Education Teacher certification.
 
“I love seeing kids get better at something,” she says. “And I love being a part of their story at a young age. Working full time is the best thing for me. I get to take my attention off my family and my kids’ needs and just pour [myself] into others,” she says.
 
It also provides the opportunity for Grall to feed herself. She’s in her element when immersed in music. It’s her outlet, her happy place, and in many ways, her personal form of therapy.
 
Grall took a hiatus when Zoe turned 2 to dedicate herself fully to her daughter’s care. But she was eager to return. When Zoe started kindergarten, Grall knew the time was right.
 
Through her ups and downs of caring for Zoe and losing her father, her passion for music education has been a constant, and her school community has been infallible in its support. When she learned of Zoe’s condition just 16 weeks into the pregnancy, co-workers rallied around her in support.
 
“Our little world, which had been going so perfectly, was turned upside down,” she remembers. “It was my darkest hour. I’d never experienced depression, but I’m pretty sure I was depressed at the time. “
 
Today, Zoe and Lincoln are thriving, in first grade and a full-time in-home day care respectively. And Grall is very different from the woman she once was. A self-described “recovering people-pleaser,” she says she’s learned not to care what other people think about her. “I’m pretty blunt and straightforward,” she says. Whether its advocating for a service on behalf of her daughter or arguing with an insurance company about an unjust charge, she’s not afraid to speak her mind. “Sometimes that makes people uncomfortable, but I don’t really care.”
 
She’s also learned how to cope with the stresses that go hand-in-hand with raising a child with special needs and a busy toddler. She survives by taking time for herself, making sure her own needs are met — and the whole family is better for it.
 
Grall starts her mornings before the sun is up and the house begins to stir with a solo Bible study and worship. Then she squeezes in a 30-minute workout — usually cardio or resistance training, sometimes a walk around the neighborhood.
 
“I get selfish with filling my soul with things that are good for me,” she says. “I used to never do that. Now I look at it as an opportunity to meet my needs because I’m constantly giving to my family. If I don’t get my oxygen first, I’m worthless.”
 
Date night is also a priority. Before Zoe was born, the couple learned about the staggeringly high divorce rate among families with special needs and decided then and there not to become a statistic. Grall doesn’t sugarcoat things. “It was very ugly for a while,” she admits. “Neither of us has walked out, but there have been moments when we’ve wanted to. It’s just a matter of dealing and moving forward.”
 
It’s also a matter of making time together a priority. Sometimes it’s a nightcap after the kids are in bed; other times it’s a late-night movie or afternoon at the gun range.
 
Grall’s also committed to spending as much time as possible with girlfriends. One of her best friends lives across the street. “We [talk about] each other’s days; she helps me process things,” she says. “I’ve realized the importance of women in my life because my husband isn’t always going to understand me.”
 
They’re hard-learned lessons she’d share with her younger self, if she could. She says she’d like to go back and tell herself to have more grace — on herself and her husband. She’d tell herself to “take care of you” and forget about crumbs on the counter and toys on the floor.
 
“I’d remind myself to laugh more,” she says. “Enjoy them while they’re little. They’re little for such a short time.”