question and answer

"How old is Calvin?" the first child asked, and when I said that he was nine they giggled, then one girl pointed out that Calvin is older than most of his classmates. When I told them that Calvin's brain wasn't formed right, they giggled again, probably, to some extent, nervously.

While I sat in a chair at the front of the class Calvin squirmed in Mary's lap. I tried my best to describe epilepsy to the students who were huddled around me on the floor. One child asked what a seizure looks like, so I attempted to demonstrate an absence, a drop, a partial and a tonic-clonic. "Have you ever had uncontrollable shivering or twitching muscles? Some seizures are like that," I said, "but stronger." I went on to say that during many seizures you lose consciousness."Do you know what unconscious means?" I asked the group, and most of their faces went blank. So I told them it's kind of like sleep. Then a few children chimed in:

"Like when you faint?" asked a girl who'd been in Calvin's first grade class.
"Like when you get knocked out? You can get knocked out when someone punches you in the teeth," one boy remarked.

The questions about Calvin and about epilepsy streamed from their mouths for thirty minutes, often punctuated by their own experiences of illness, of losing teeth, of knowing someone with cancer, of sleepwalking. Their questions were good and they were varied:

Why does he wear that harness?
How come he makes those noises?
Does he do any sports?
Will he ever be able to talk?
When he's, like, eighty-four years old, who will take care of him?
What happens when you have a seizure?
How did you find out he needed glasses? 
Is he colorblind?
When does he go to recess?
Does Calvin sleep in a regular bed?
Can he feed himself?
How does he get dressed and undressed?
Can he say any words?
How does he get on and off the bus?
Does he have play dates?
Can he brush his teeth?
Does Calvin use a highchair?
Can Calvin understand what you are saying?
Can I hug Calvin?

I told the kids that Calvin is the best person that I know, that he doesn't have a mean bone in his body and that he is loving and affectionate and, beyond some stubbornness, he tries hard to do his best at things. I told them that he can sign for the word "hug." I told them that they have the opportunity to set a good example for the rest of the kids in the school by treating Calvin with love and kindness and, too, by treating all kids who are different from themselves with the same warmth and acceptance, "because we are all the same at heart."

I explained, when they asked if Calvin would ever be able to talk someday, that I don''t think he will unless we can find a cure for epilepsy so he can stop having seizures and stop taking the drugs that slow down his brain, slow down his learning and make him dizzy. And while I was talking, I glanced over at Calvin to see him giving Mary, his one-on-one, a big hug, and the kids looked over, saw the same, and some of them even smiled.

Calvin with his one-on-one, Mary, December 2011

1 comment:

  1. In Jewish, you are doing a "Mitzvah" by explaining epilepsy, by sharing your experience and knowlege with these children. Takes knowledge, honesty, and skill....and understanding grows. Kudos!