After Ms. Kavanaugh, whose brother has epilepsy, introduced me, I began telling the children that Calvin, who is eleven but can’t speak and can’t walk very well, was born six weeks early and missing part of his brain. I went on to explain how, because of this anomaly, it takes Calvin a very long time to learn things and, to add insult to injury, when he was very little he started having seizures. Two of the children, one whose dad is an EMT and another whose mom is a nurse, seemed to have a good notion of what seizures are, even knowing enough to tell the class that sometimes breathing stops during seizures and that some seizures can lead to death. The others seemed uncertain, so I did my best to try to explain the different kinds of seizures and how they manifest.
When I opened it up for questions, several hands popped up at once:
If I have trouble breathing is that a seizure?
How old was Calvin when he started having epilepsy?
How do blind people know where to go?
What does Calvin’s day in class look like?
If I hit my head will I get epilepsy?
What kind of medicine does Calvin take for a headache?
I calmed their concerns about breathing trouble and hitting their heads (a handful of the kids wanted to tell me about their injuries) and I explained what it means to be legally blind versus totally blind, and how people like Calvin who are legally blind often have enhanced senses of touch, hearing and smell. I told them about the drugs and their side effects and how sometimes I think they're as bad as the seizures, then I told them about the cannabis and how it seems to be helping.
When asked what Calvin’s favorite things to do are, I told them that, perhaps more than anything, he loves to hug and that he probably would love everyone, no matter what they look like or sound like or where they're from. I told them he’s a very loving boy who likes to eat and take baths and snuggle, all of which, Ms. Kavanaugh pointed out, are things he has in common with most kids.
At the end of our time I took one last question from a cute boy with thick brunette hair and dark eyes.
"If Calvin could talk, what question would you ask him?"
I told the boy that was one of the best questions I’d ever been asked, and then mentioned how good it would be if Calvin could tell me what was hurting him, but since I only had one chance to ask a question, I said I’d ask Calvin if he was happy.
Wrapping up, after having asked the children to show kindness to Calvin and to others who are different from them, the class and I applauded each other. A few children corralled around me to tell me their stories. One blondie who had been itching to relate his, told me how his sister made him so mad once that he punched a wall and something metal hanging on the wall fell off and hit his head so hard that the piece of metal bent around his head, then he made the shape of an omega with his hands.
“You must have a really hard head, dude!” I said smiling, and he grinned a toothless grin and we gave each other a high five.
As I was leaving, Ms. Kavanaugh took me aside and said that the brunette boy who had asked the last question told her that if it were he, he’d ask Calvin how he could help make him feel better.
At that moment, I felt I’d failed his question question. It was obvious, and yet in the moment I hadn’t thought of it, even though I think it a lot, often wondering and wishing Calvin could tell me how the seizures and the drugs make him feel and if and where he hurts. I left hoping that smart boy grows up to be a pediatric neurologist, but not just any pediatric neurologist, a good one.
Later, when the bus pulled up to drop Calvin off at home, his aide, Mary, told me that a girl in the class I'd visited came up to her and said, “I learned in class today that Calvin is a lover!” I chuckled knowingly and swept my boy into my arms, and he gave me a big smile and a huge, spidermonkey hug.
|Kids from Calvin's kindergarten class|