4.22.2021

some kind of justice

As the mother and champion of an uncommon child—a boy who is nonverbal, legally blind, incontinent and suffers from a serious brain anomaly, cerebral palsy, developmental delay, autism and chronic epilepsy—I can describe instances of being neglected, unheard, misunderstood, dismissed, marginalized, patronized, and maligned by public servants, medical experts and society at large. I know the anguish of having a child who is sometimes treated as insignificant, undeserving, fringe, and in ways scorned and feared. I know what it feels like when others, whose care he is under—doctors, teachers, aides, nurses—don't hold themselves accountable when he gets hurt. I get angry, frustrated and indignant at what I see as injustice. Yet despite the struggles, heartaches and miseries of being Calvin's mother, I've never felt unsafe, vulnerable, discounted or mistrusted merely because of the color of my skin.

On Tuesday, I held my breath awaiting the verdict in the trial of George Floyd's modern-day lynching. Finally, I heard the words describing the homicidal defendant: Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. I exhaled and wept. I thought to myself, finally, some kind of justice, for another unconscionable offense amid generations of neglect, condemnation, oppression, abuse and murder of African Americans. 

Yet, Tuesday's guilty verdict doesn't mean the end of injustice, in the same way electing a Black president is not evidence that we are in a post-racial America.

Equity remains elusive for millions of Americans in this nation of so-called liberty and justice for all. Injustice and barbarism are the foundation of this nation's mostly-white wealth built from the ills of white supremacy, on stolen indigenous land, by generations of the enslavement, exploitation, abuse, terrorization, torture and murder of Black men, women and children. Today's mass incarceration of African Americans is a relic of slavery and Jim Crow, a way to continue profiting off of their bodies, to subjugate, disenfranchise, disempower. White supremacy and racism in this country are not superficial; like some tumors, they're pervasive and malignant, must be strangled or cut out.

Consider that many Black Americans are still fighting for: the right to vote; the right to live in decent neighborhoods and homes; lead-free water; proper healthcare; decent educations. affordable apartments; fair loans; decent jobs, raises, living wages; executive desks and seats in the boardroom; the right to move about freely; to safely drive, walk, jog, birdwatch, nap, barbecue and breathe; the right to take a knee in peaceful protest against their abuse and murder at the hands of vigilantes and the police. All because of the sound of their names and/or the color of their skin.

So, too, Black Americans are still fighting against being racially profiled and therefore unjustly suspected, stopped and frisked, pulled over and assailed, followed, stalked, interrogated, bullied, roughed up, falsely accused, arrested, jailed, unjustly sentenced, choked or shot before they even have a chance to state their case.

Today, we can breathe a sigh of relief for some kind of justice done in a Minneapolis courtroom last Tuesday, but the nation at large—with its toxic white supremacy infiltrating our military, police forces, conservative media, and halls of Congress, and its harmful racist policies and practices from healthcare and housing to law enforcement—is far from fulfilling its promise of liberty and justice for all.

Celebrating the guilty verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin,in George Floyd Square on Tuesday.Credit...Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

4.20.2021

surreal

Last Saturday morning, after having well hydrated myself, I received Pfizer vaccination number two. Other than developing a sore arm with a small bruise, I've felt fabulous. No other side effects whatsoever. As with so many things, I feel grateful and fortunate.

On my late-Sunday walk with Smellie, I went to visit my friend, Lauren, who lives on a busy corner just down the street. She and I stood in the filtered sunlight inspecting her emerging perennial garden. Although sturdy blades of green are pushing up, nothing is in bloom. Still, its potential to be gorgeous as ever is apparent. She then wanted to show me a tiny shade flower called pulmanaria. I followed Lauren through her small cottage with its screened-in porch, then down some steps into her sunken backyard. Walking through the cottage to the shady enclosure felt surreal; it was the first time in over a year I had stepped foot into someone else's private space. I was taken by surprise, my senses vibrating in a way that made me feel light and alive, and very aware of what I have been missing.

An hour later, I was back home preparing Calvin's evening seizure medications while watching him rest on the rug in the next room. Michael was busy making some delicious chicken soup. As usual, we were listening to music at a decent volume. When I closed the refrigerator door I saw a tall, handsome, neatly-bearded man standing in our mudroom. It was our dear buddy, Jens, wielding a gift bottle of champagne—something that is becoming a habit for him. At that very moment, we were meant to be gathering with him, Barbara and their two kids at a safe distance in our driveway. We were supposed to be celebrating our recent vaccinations, but Calvin's morning seizure and sluggish recovery had caused us to postpone. Jens hand-delivered the champagne anyway.

From the kitchen threshold, Jens stood and chatted with us for a bit—maskless; it had been a few weeks since he had received his J & J vaccine. I told him that I'd hug him after I reached maximum immunity on May first, warning him that he might want to wear body armor for the event. It felt surreal to have a friend in our house for the first time in over a year. It was a welcome sign of things to come.

Just as Jens left, the afterglow of the day's two surreal moments—spending time maskless and close to friends instead of at a distance—left me feeling giddy and full of hope, even though I didn't get to embrace them.

Today, some of the small-leaf rhododendrons are beginning to show their pinkish-purple blossoms. Blush magnolia buds are opening and showering their sweet aroma on passersby like me. Daffodils are dotting gardens, roadsides and woodlands. After a long Maine winter that led into a spring which still looks too much like November, and after a fifteen-month pandemic isolation, the opening world is feeling surreal. I'll take it.

Should be looking like this soon.

4.17.2021

blasts from the past in the not-too-distant future (fully vaxed!)

real celebrations. byobs. potlucks. barbecues. standing elbow to elbow. face to face. cheek to cheek. long and frequent embraces. diminishing situational diameters. gatherings longer than an hour and with more than four people. seeing maskless faces. indoor time with my peeps. eating in the screen porch. visiting with neighbors on the same side of the street. making new friends. getting help to take care of calvin. visions of sending him back to school. working in the garden without having to mind calvin. a house full of people. a house to myself. visiting friends' homes. sharing the sidewalk. sitting in close circles around the fire pit, dining table or wood stove. roaming the fields. biking or running the roads. maybe one day going to movies and restaurants. maybe bellying up to the bar with my chickies. sound sleep. deep dreams. carefree thoughts. easy breathing.

From eleven years ago, but you get the idea. photo by Timothy Diehl

4.14.2021

the still waters of yesterday

today, i twice drove out to simpson's point to unwind. the still waters of yesterday had been replaced by endless tiny whitecaps lapping the shore. i cut the engine. with the window down and my kid in the backseat chewing his shoe, i simply sat with the sun in my lap and listened to the world.

to be honest, this yearlong stint taking care of calvin all day every day is taking its toll on me. at times, he's the sweetest child that exists. at others, he totally grates on my nerves. it doesn't help that i don't always know what ails him. time spent with him is at once fulfilling and taxing. stressful and relaxing. unnerving and mundane in impossibly beautiful and tragic ways.

after seventeen years, still i sit with my grief. though mostly upbeat, i'm reminded of my loss on a daily basis. today, i saw a mother in a front yard making a chain of big, iridescent bubbles for her toddler to chase. i watched two boys on the sidewalk bouncing a basketball between them. i saw college students rolling by on boards and four-wheeled skates—all things calvin will never be able to undertake.

i'm mostly home still raising a seventeen-year-old baby—spoon-feeding, changing diapers, cradling. the grief, however, isn't nearly as debilitating as it used to be. i no longer double over on the street. i no longer buckle—sobbing—between friends holding me up as i drag my feet. i no longer weep while swimming, tasting tears, sweat, soda ash and chlorine. but the loss of not having had a healthy child stays with me. like rings inside a tree. or crystals inside a geode. it's enduring. it's in the silent hours of a child who can't speak. it's in the way he sometimes moans and growls, shrieks and seizes. it's in the endless days' emptiness. the broken promises of parenthood. the conspicuous lack of a child's questions—about math, life, the moon and stars, love and justice. the loss persists in the inability of knowing his hopes, dreads and dreams. it's in the absence of his friendships, sweethearts, heartbreaks, epiphanies, all of which would be full of meaning and feeling, and not just for him.

sometimes, i find myself pining for the still waters of yesterday. of the time when i was childfree. perhaps back when i was single. of the days when i was still climbing trees. but then, as i watch the waves' unceasing action against the rocky shore, i realize how life now—with my messed-up kid—is ridiculously rich with roller coaster loops and dives and turns, breathtaking and rare perspectives, and spectacular, transformative waves, the likes of which still waters might be envious. 

The still waters of yesterday

4.12.2021

giving it another go (cbd oil)

calvin went six days between grand mals. not nearly long enough. maybe it's the infection. maybe it's the antibiotic. maybe it's just the fucking epilepsy; (sorry for the expletive, ma, but seriously.) six to eight grand mals per month is too damn many. years ago he'd have just one a month. back when he was little. back when he was on high doses of three mind-altering antiepieptic drugs. back when we had to peel him off the ceiling. back when he couldn't sleep. nearly stopped eating. couldn't walk without falling. had to wear a safety harness. back when the drugs impaired his already lagging progress and caused eternal restlessness:

akathisia: [pronounced: [ak-ah-thÄ­´zhah] noun | 1. a state of agitation, distress, and restlessness that is an occasional side-effect of antipsychotic and antidepressant [and antiepileptic] drugs [and/or their withdrawal, especially benzodiazepines.] 2. a movement disorder characterized by a feeling of inner restlessness and a compelling need or urge to be in constant movement [despite fatigue.] people with akathisia experience inner restlessness which causes them to fidget, rock, pace and panic [and sometimes end their life as a result.]

the seizures keep coming in clusters over two or more consecutive days. he almost never seems to suffer isolated ones. it's why his monthly numbers are so high. last night we went back to trying harmony cbd cannabis oil. on calvin's first go three years ago, he went forty days with no grand mals. sadly, he never regained the same control. so we suspended it. but since the pharmaceuticals have so many wicked side effects, we're giving cbd another go. he hasn't had a second seizure since yesterday morning; perhaps that's promising. too soon to know. crossing fingers. knocking on wood.

Back when, photo by Michael Kolster

4.07.2021

snapshots

After our son's first grand mal of the night, I laid in bed with him. In my head, I began to write my blog. Like our daily car rides, my thoughts looped around. Words took different turns. Images previously seen clicked into narrative landscapes—physical, emotional, virtual. Eventually, I nodded off to sleep.

Of late, Calvin has been too ill to take car rides daily. Some sort of infection—urinary tract, bladder or kidney—means we haven't been out much, or we've driven short loops close to home in case he has another daytime seizure. I lament the days in which I can't travel the backroads. I so miss seeing the gorgeous vistas, the wide open spaces, the big skies, my people: the Carhart man with his three willful dogs; the pair of women with similar haircuts and purple jackets; the tall man with his cute, wiry mutt; the black-clad couple who live at the mouth of the inlet; the bikers and joggers of every age and shape; the marathon runner; even the skinny old hippy chick with the puffy coat, nappy hat, mauve stockings, hiking shoes and poles who looks at me with a bit of suspicion as if she owns the road. They all unwittingly buoy me through this lonesome pandemic. Each sighting, smile, wave and nod somehow lifts me, makes me forget about stresses and worries, Calvin's seizures and our limitations. Without these people, I'd be feeling altogether differently; in other words, not as good. These have been some long-ass, monotonous days—over a year of them—caring for a boy who can do nothing by or for himself.

But I do find respite. Ben came up from Boston Sunday. With Calvin secure inside the house where we could check on him frequently, the three of us sat safely distant in the sunny driveway. Ben's eyes shined bluer and brighter than I remember, at times exuding understanding and compassion. A former student of Michael's, we talked about photography and discussed the art of mindfulness—of finding deeper meaning and beauty in the mundane; with that I have a lot of practice. He asked what kind of relationship Calvin has with language. I was touched by his curiosity and depth of thought.

Ben told us he brings along Polaroid snapshots of his friends when he travels for business. Lays them out in lonely hotel rooms where he can see them. It's as if his people are there in person. It helps him pass the weeks and months away from those he loves. I imagine he might feel as if they're seeing him too, which must be validating in a pandemic for those seen by few.

On Monday, after starting an antibiotic, Calvin seemed to be feeling better. So we took a longer drive down a favorite road to a boat launch eight miles south or so. On the drive out and back we passed the runner. His pace is swift and fluid, as if he never touches down. I'm reminded of the winged feet of Mercury, god of travel. Like when I swim or tread water, it seems he can run forever. Though I reckon he goes quite far, his face remains placid. His endeavor appears effortless. So as not to startle him, in passing I put my hand out the open window hoping he might see me waving as we passed by.

Though we'd already traveled a distance, Calvin remained happy in the backseat playing with his toes. The songs on the radio—some familiar, others newer—soothed me. I chose to take two more favorite loops. Nearing a quiet corner where a sloping neighborhood street meets another road, again I spotted the runner. Well before the stop I paused to give him space—for mind and body. Flying past, he waved a hand in my direction. A sense of joy and ease washed over me. As if evidence of my own pandemic existence, I had been seen and, for a moment, it felt as if he carried me along.

In taking a left turn homeward, I was made to pass the runner one last time. I hesitated to catch his gaze for fear of interfering. As his form receded in the frame of rearview mirror, I was reminded of Ben's snapshots, and of mindfulness and gratitude. I mused: mental pictures of these backroads travelers, a couple of whom have become in ways beloved, are like snapshots in my pocket. I keep them in my thoughts, forever curious of their struggles, passions, hopes and burdens. Not unlike my dearest friends, I carry memories of their forms and faces throughout my days and in-between seeing them in person, like Ben's Polaroids displayed on hotel tables. 

At 3:00 a.m., in the wake of Calvin's second grand mal, he suffered some miserable agitation. After having done all we could to aid and comfort him, I heard the train roll through. Hearing its whistle and rumble calmed me. I imagined taking it to its final destination, wherever that might be. I thought again about my backroads folks. I wondered—not so humbly—if they ever imagine, however fleetingly, my travels through landscapes, time, emotions. I wonder if I've become in some strange ways meaningful to them like they've become to me. Like a stack of snapshots, do impressions of this smiling stranger behind the wheel endure—not as a burden, but as a buoy? Or are my musings more a measure of some real pandemic loneliness and fatigue?

Photo by Ben Painter

4.05.2021

readers write

The sentiments I've received from readers—some from years ago, others more recent—never cease to amaze and nourish me. I send my deepest gratitude to you, dear readers. You are in great part what keeps me afloat. Whether stranger, acquaintance or loved one, you have no idea how much I'd like to hear from you. You quench my thirst for connection in this long and lonely pandemic lockdown.

None of my marathon efforts will ever match yours. Unfathomable efforts by you for so long and with such love, strength and dedication. — Joanie

Wishing you all the best and for Calvin to be well. He is so sweet and he deserves a good and painless life. That is one of my wishes for him and of course you. — Caron

I’m writing an ineloquent email to say that your words touched me deeply and I am thinking of you and Michael and Calvin, and about how time passes and things change and don’t. — Pamela

Thanks for the courage to bare your soul. Such unvarnished truths. And through it all you find the specks of gold. Thank you for you. — David

The difference between the first journey before sunrise and the one you are on now, is that it was a shared experience to which we could all relate ... now we can only see through your eyes and feel from the depths of your heart and try to love you through it from a distance! Know that many of us are swimming along beside you each day, hoping to keep you afloat! XO — Betsy

You mention your body: I think of your spirit. Your soul. Your intrepid resilience and gutsy presence. You are love, and to sit with its awesome glow (undeclared by sincerely-modest you, yet clear to the reader) is a privilege and gift. — Peter

I feel a deep, almost painful love for you and for Calvin. My insides wring out every time I read your writing and experience your conviction and strength. I feel it. We all feel it. And with the strength of that compassion and the collective outcry of empathy, which pours out of your words, I truly believe you can move mountains. — Kaila-Ruth

Yesterday at the end of the movie when your phone rang and you sprang from a boulder like a Momma lion (to quote Joni Mitchell) I realized again how close disaster lives to you, that any phone call, or some little bit of unusual behavior from Calvin and the dangerous dark specter of epilepsy is right there looming over you. But you are fearless and I am full of hope that the right tincture is going to become available soon and it's going to help. xoxo — Lauren 

I don't have a special needs child, so I mean this in the very best way possible, but reading about your troubles makes me grateful for mine. Granted, I don't like my own troubles either, but yours put mine into perspective. Some days, I don't feel like it, but because of you, I take another deep breath, and continue to put one foot in front of the other. — Anonymous

If Calvin could somehow choose anyone in the world to be his mom, there is no one else on the face of this entire blue marble that would be a better nurse, a more conscientious caregiver, a more fierce and committed advocate, or simply a more profoundly loving and patient mom than the one he has tonight. And I honestly think he knows that. You should probably also know that doing what you do also helps some of the rest of us find something a little better inside ourselves. So thanks. — Jim

Wish I were there to bring up inappropriate topics at the dinner table and make you laugh ... for just a minute or two. Thinking of you here in SF. — John

Oh, dear. Time to stop lurking and 'fess up—I am listening too, from Zurich. I am the mom of three n/t (neurotypical) kids and here I am, fascinated, terrified, moved, by what you write. My kids see me reading and I explain to them why and what I am reading ... so we are all listening. — Danielle

Even though you may feel alone, you are not. I get it. I understand your words. I am here for you any time, any day. 
— Karen

I'm listening from far away and feeling. ciao — Federica

From Beyond Beautiful: One Thousand Love Letters, brainchild, curation and drawings by Peter Bruun, text by Christy Shake, photos by Michael Kolster.