7.17.2019

i can't breathe

Summer 2014

The evening was blazing hot. I was in the middle of mixing myself a bourbon with ginger beer on ice while Michael busied himself cooking our dinner. Calvin was screeching and spinning in his johnny-jump-up. He’d had an off day, whining a lot at who knows what. When I turned to check on him I saw that he was jackknifed in his jumper, his contorted limbs rhythmically pulsing.

“Oh no!” I cried, as Michael and I ran to his side and began prying his stiff body from the jumper, the crotch of which was wedged tightly between his rigid legs.

I had a hard time telling if or when the seizure was over, except for that he had begun breathing again. I gave him several drops of cannabis oil since, even though the color in his face had returned, he continued to twitch and flinch like a tortured bug. After a few minutes the spasms had subsided and he fell asleep on the couch.

That same summer, a Black man named Eric Garner and a Black man named Michael Brown also stopped breathing.


The seizures continue to batter my son every three to nine days, or so, though now they occur almost exclusively in the middle of the night.

Epilepsy is relentless. The seizures and the pharmaceutical drugs used to treat them rob our children of meeting their full potential, of living life to its fullest and often make them feel horrible. It pains me to see Calvin suffer, particularly when there seems to be nothing I can do. Try as I may, the seizures continue their steady assault on our fifteen-year-old son's brain and body. Our only hope in stopping the battery, it seems, is to continue giving Calvin an herb—cannabis—which is illegal at the federal level. In doing so we are essentially breaking the law. Luckily, I am insulated by a state law which sanctions the use of medical marijuana ... plus the fact that I am white.

Perhaps experiencing the injustice—the plague—of epilepsy is partly why I empathize so deeply with the family members of the unarmed black children and adults being gunned down at an alarming rate by white police officers and bigots like George Zimmerman. Lately, when I watch Calvin in the grip of a seizure, watch him convulse, watch his skin and lips blanch, his eyes sometimes rolling back or vacant and at others full of fear, I can't help but think about the scores of mostly black victims that continue to be sprayed with bullets, cuffed, punched, tasered, gassed, pepper-sprayed and choked to death by white cops. How did these fellow humans feel during their assaults? How do their loved ones feel when they see the distressing videos and hear their beloved's last words:

it's not real. i don't have a gun! stop shooting! officers, why do you have your guns out? please don't let me die! what are you following me for? mom, i'm going to college. why did you shoot me? i love you too. i can't breath!

Some of you might wonder why I continue to write about racism in a blog largely dedicated to motherhood, epilepsy and disability. Some of you might be fatigued by the rash of stories in the news and peeved by the talk of racism, by the inconvenience and violence of protests, by the lingering frustration and fury over the grand jury failures to indict the White police officers in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner killings, uncomfortable because of the Facebook posts condemning racism, police brutality, riot gear, racial profiling and the videos showing police assaults. Maybe you're sick of it all. Maybe you wonder why I continue to fuss about it. I'd say those are White-privilege problems, and I'll tell you why: Because as someone who feels deep despair, anger and hopelessness seeing my child pummeled by relentless seizures, seeing him stop breathing for minutes at a time, seeing his progress choked by vicious drugs and to be always fearful of the next attack thinking it might be his last, I shudder to imagine what it must feel like to be a Person of Color today and to suffer under a system built to oppress them, to mother a child who will no doubt at some point in his lifetime be wrongly profiled, targeted, pulled over, frisked, suspected, feared, questioned, blamed, arrested, charged, beaten, incarcerated or murdered by White law enforcement officers in a White criminal justice system, to live in a country where most White people deny that racism exists or is at the root of these kinds of wrongdoings. I write about it because it is wrong and pervasive and I love and understand my Black and Brown friends, and it is a problem that is not simply going to disappear until White people start to acknowledge there is a problem, until, perhaps, White people start to feel uncomfortable, which is little to ask considering what Black people have had to endure in this nation for four-hundred years.

The night after the Grand Jury declined to indict the White police officer who put Eric Garner in a choke hold that lead to his death, in the wake of Calvin's seizures, I laid awake lamenting the outcome and the plight of so many others and I thought about my fortune: My boy is alive. I live a life of privilege in a nice home in a safe community with a husband who has a good, steady job. We've got plenty of food, a comfortable, reliable car, good health care and money to spend—and I am White, which is not to say I am proud to be White. It's to say I can go to our local cannabis dispensary and procure two ounces of the best bud which nearly fills a large mason jar. I can transport it home in its white paper bag never giving it a second thought if I get pulled over for a traffic violation. At home, I can make it into an oil which I give to my son to lessen his seizures. I can tell friends about it. I can blog about it. I can feel relatively sure that I won't be arrested for possession and put in jail or have my son taken from me by Child Protective Services.

In a different world, one in which I were Black and male, would I make it past security even with my medical marijuana cards on me? Would someone call the cops because I looked suspicious since I was wearing a hoodie and I had my hands in my pockets? Would they believe I was buying the cannabis for my son's epilepsy? On the way home, would I be pulled over for, as some say, driving while Black? Would I be harassed? Would I, in my legitimate expression of anger and frustration over being questioned and doubted by the cops, be seen as belligerent, be cited, be assaulted, be put in a chokehold, be arrested, be thrown in jail? Would they shoot me while I reached into my purse to get my son's medical marijuana card? Would my last words be, "I can't breathe"?


7.16.2019

questions (some rhetorical, others not)

will these early-morning seizures ever stop? will calvin eventually succumb to them? am i slowly going crazy? is my son already insane? when will so much of white america finally confront their ugly racism and bigotry? do i have traumatic stress disorder? has being a helicopter mama ruined me? will my patience ever give way? how can i stand my angry self? will life with calvin ever get better? why did that guy sitting on his porch look away from us when i caught his gaze? will folks ever stop gawking at calvin and me? will my son ever learn how to feed himself? will he ever be potty trained? will he ever be seizure free? when might i get a full night's sleep? am i being selfish? how do i manage living with my son's chronic illness and disability? when will police ever stop mounting violence against black and brown people? will contempt for the poor ever fade? will the occupant of the oval office ever be dead to america? when will women be treated equally? what will happen to the children of refugees? how can so-called leaders seem so unmoved by their caging of humanity? why are some folks so ignorant, cowardly and afraid of change? will calvin live beyond our years? will he die next week? next month? next year? how can i keep caring for him? could i really let someone else be his caregiver? will others prey on him? have they already? why do i feel such love and the next minute such contempt? will i ever get my life back? is this my life? what would life be like without him? will i ever return to rome? paris? madrid? will we ever leave maine? why do some folks believe in a merciful god amid such vast injustice and misery?


Photo by Michael Kolster

7.13.2019

curses

For the past two days I've been channelling my inner Joan Rivers, my best Samuel L. Jackson, my George Carlin, cursing worse, even, than Andrew Dice Clay. With paper-thin patience, I've been struggling to not let my kid drive me crazy with his constant grousing. Needless to say, I'm failing. To make matters worse, Michael has been out of town for three days at his solo photo show at the Telfair Museum in Savannah, thankfully to return any minute, so I've been flying solo since Thursday evening.

I haven't been counting, but I'm certain I've spat—at least once—most of the words on George Carlin's list of things you can't say on TV (think of the worst swear words possible) plus a peppering of other foul curses. I'm exasperated, sleep deprived and irked. Calvin has been intense the past two days, at times devolving into sudden manic tantrums, the source of which, since he can't tell me, I can only guess are either gas pains or a side effect of his Keppra, namely emotional lability.

I'm so fed up with listening to him shriek and whine and grouse all day for two days, and I'm sick of listening to myself at times respond with such ugliness. The scowl on my face feels etched in so deeply I wonder if it will ever fade.

Photo by Michael Kolster

7.12.2019

the ice man cometh

This weekend, the current administration has plans to raid our communities in search of unauthorized immigrants to deport. This will inevitably mean that the families of some of our neighbors will be split and splintered. This means that good people who have integrated into our communities, who contribute to society, many who build our homes, care for our children, cook our food, clean our hotel rooms and homes, harvest our crops, package our meat, and who pay billions in taxes, will be torn from their loved ones and their homes. This means that people, some who have lived in this nation for decades, many who have American wives, husbands and children, and whose children are dear to our own, will be forcibly taken, put into detention and face deportation, their only offense having been to flee hunger and danger, to seek a better life for themselves and for their families, to have claimed asylum.

Keep in mind these ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents will likely not be targeting undocumented European or Canadian immigrants. Why? Because this is a racist policy put in place by a racist administration targeting Black and Brown people who fled from nations south of "our" border. This is an example of White Supremacy. Beware, American citizens will also be swept up in these raids because of the color of their skin. Like this administration's proposed census question, its neglect of Puerto Rico, and its Muslim ban, racial profiling will be at work.

Once again, I am reminded of fascist Germany's Nazi raids of homes like mine, in the kidnapping and detaining of disabled, infirm children before going after other "undesirables"—Jews, homosexuals, Catholics, non-White Europeans. It can happen again, even in this nation, lest we forget our government's internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Like some Jewish American activists are doing, we should be protesting these seizures and detentions of refugees. We should be shouting, "never again!"

And when it happens, these immigrant and blended families will be left in shambles. Their breadwinners and caregivers will be arrested, detained, deported. Their children will be orphaned. Their communities will be shaken. Their families may never be reunited. We should imagine their fear as our own, and condemn this administration's actions.

Keep in mind these immigrants and refugees who, study after study show, make our communities safer, have committed no crime by claiming asylum on land that was stolen from its natives by many of our White ancestors, its prosperity largely built by slaves stolen from their native lands. These immigrants and refugees are not "illegals." Ironically, their ancestors may have lived in what is now Texas, California, Louisiana. These people are human beings. They love and toil and grieve and bleed just like the rest of us. We have room for them. We'd do better, be better, if we welcomed them. Remember the quote at the foot of our Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Yes, the ICE man cometh. He will wreak havoc, tear wounds in our communities, rip apart families with his sanctimonious contempt for those he sees as threats to his privilege. But know that he is ignorant. Know that he stands on the wrong side of history. Know that his power is withering, his reign limited. Still, beware his acts of desperation. Shelter, if you can, these innocents from the ICE man's chilling grip.

Photographer unknown

7.10.2019

early drink

warm maine evening. semi-compliant child. lauren's sweet invite for an early drink. stroller ride, popping grapes and cashews into calvin's mouth from behind. gray clouds in parts of the sky. nellie by our side. sitting in lauren's screen porch on an heirloom swing with the perfect patina of peeling paint. calvin content for awhile pumping his legs and chewing on a plastic lid. rum and lime and honey on ice, plus a sprig of homegrown mint.

7.06.2019

secularly blessed

These past several weeks I've been feeling pretty fortunate, lighter and livelier simply knowing that my son Calvin has only had six seizures in a month's time. Granted, all of his seizures have been grand mals, but since 2007 they've been self-limiting, each convulsive fit lasting about about ninety seconds rather than the twenty or forty-five minutes of yore. Six is the rare figure equal to the least number of seizures in any given calendar month since September of 2016 when he had just five. That was when he was on a higher dose of Keppra by weight, and was still taking nearly four milligrams of the benzodiazepine, Onfi. In other words, this past month he's done as well as when he was on far more pharmaceutical medicine, albeit not as well as a nearly a decade ago when, on high doses of three anticonvusant drugs, his monthly seizures were in the low single digits. But back then we had what felt worse even than seizures: an impossibly manic, agitated and shrieking child who reduced me to tears nearly every day.

What also feels liberating to me lately is the absence of partial (focal) seizures these past several weeks. My gut tells me that their recent disappearance is due to the reduction in Keppra we did in mid May, though it could be due to the increase in my homemade THCA late that same month.

Noteworthy, too, is Calvin's recent growth and weight gain, which was enough to put him on the charts; for the second time in his life he has hit the first percentile for weight for his age. He's also in the thralls of puberty, sprouting hair in all the usual places and, on these hot, humid days, is just beginning to smell like teen spirit. Despite all of this, his seizures aren't going crazy. Knock on wood.

When I am feeling grateful about a relatively seizure-sparse month, it reminds me to be grateful for our other fortunes. I think about how lucky we are to be breathing clean air and drinking clean water, and for the privilege of living in a comfortable home in a safe part of a nation which is not war-torn. Also, we are secularly blessed this time of year to have air conditioning in Calvin's room, and to have a thriving yard chock full of beautiful flowering shrubs, a milky way dogwood in full bloom, a burgeoning perennial garden, and to be able to eat dinners in the screen porch that Michael built years ago. I feel most grateful for our friends, for our community and for Michael's job, and the fact that we have decent health insurance because, as unjust as it is, not everyone does ... yet. I thank my lucky stars for Calvin's various caregivers who help me out a handful or more hours each week. I think myself fortunate to live close to the college campus and its students, its athletic fields and their trails, and to our modest downtown. I owe a debt of gratitude to Calvin's medical marijuana dispensary where I get his THCA flower, and to the amazing folks at Palmetto Harmony for making Calvin's CBD oil. I'm grateful for wicked-smart people who have the wherewithal to advocate for women's rights, the rights of oppressed and marginalized Americans, and for the rights of refugees hoping for asylum who are currently being held in horrendous detention centers at our border, many of the children separated from their parents just as was done to enslaved Africans and Native Americans, and to Jews and others in Nazi Germany, causing great physical and psychological harm.

So this enormous gratitude and humility comes with more than a modicum of hope that Calvin's seizures continue to retreat and hope that our nation will choose to move forward—to progress—rather than to carry on its more recent backwards spiral into dirty air and water, fear, ignorance, hurt, hate and misfortune.

7.03.2019

leaves of grass

This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.

—Walt Whitman, from the preface of Leaves of Grass