2.19.2019

beyond reason and dreams

I dreamt of him the other night, the friend we lost last August. I could feel his strong body standing close to mine, could see the anguish in his brown eyes. In the dream, he hadn't died yet, but we all knew this was his plan; we all knew he had made up his mind and there was nothing anyone could do. In life, I wish I'd known how deep his anguish went.

With his dream-time coming to a close, I wanted every minute of him to be mine. But I knew there were others who felt the same, and I knew also that he needed space to himself, this friend-brother-son of ours. And so, after embracing, he kissed me and I released him to say goodbye to the others he loved. As I rode the streetcar to downtown San Francisco (I dream of that fair city almost nightly), I saw him riding inside a trolley headed in the opposite direction. Looking quite young again, his face thin and clean-shaven, his small ears and nose holding dark-framed spectacles, he was alone and weeping, his face buried in his palms. I understood then how hard his life had become.

Later in the dream we were together again for one final moment. I held him as if he were my child, then kissed his chest where in life a gorgeous tattoo had arced. The tattoo, a quote from Voltaire's Candide, had read, in French:

All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

But in my dream, his tattoo had vanished, revealing a smooth, blank expanse of skin, the one he had been born with. That was the last I saw of my friend-brother-son; he had said goodbye to me in dream-person.

I awoke melancholic, and yet yearning to go back to sleep and dream of him again. In dreams, we see people who aren't reachable, can hear and touch them. I understood how selfish I was to be glad to see him alive again, knowing that he suffered, and yet it pains me to think he's not out there living the life in which he seemed to revel.

While seated at a cafe later that morning, Michael and I saw Hector, one favorite of his former photo students who have kept in touch in recent years. As Hector approached me from behind, I watched Michael's happy surprise. I remained in my seat and leaned into Hector while he slung his arm around my shoulder. Resting my head against his side felt safe, familiar, like it did when I had embraced my friend-brother-son in the dream that morning, and in real life.

Later, I recounted my dream to Michael, told him how sad it made me and how much I missed our dear person. As I described my dream, Michael's eyes turned pink, and watered. Between us, Calvin was up to his usual antics—drooling, fidgeting, cackling. Watching Calvin, I pondered why a boy like him—intellectually and physically disabled, legally blind, incontinent, nonverbal, epileptic, autistic—goes on living with so little tangible purpose, goes on making me sometimes resent him, making me sometimes wish I were free of him, while another life, one with so much genius, vibrancy and potential ends so tragically early.

But then I remember the phenomenal essay, A Life Beyond Reasonwritten by my friend Chris Gabbard about his son, August, who was not too unlike Calvin. At the end of the piece, Gabbard, who has just written a memoir with the selfsame title, describes his son:

August ... is the most amazing and wonderful thing that has ever happened to me, for he has allowed me an additional opportunity to profoundly love another human being.

August died a few years later when he was just fourteen.

Having reread the essay, pausing on that last paragraph, I reconsider the despair Calvin often brings, and the grief I feel from having lost my hurting friend-brother-son to suicide. And instead of feeling sorry for myself, I feel grateful for having been able to know and love them deeply, and to have had the chance to tell them as much, in person and in dreams, past and yet to come.


Photo by Michael Kolster

2.13.2019

choices

Recently, while listening to a podcast about abortion, a sickening thought popped into my head: what if my obstetrician concealed the fact that my fetus, who became Calvin, was missing some—perhaps most—of the white matter in his brain?

Michael and I didn't learn of the grave anomaly until a follow-up sonogram when I was thirty-two weeks along. I remember a Boston specialist's surprise that the malformation hadn't presented in one of my earlier sonograms from Maine. It was her opinion it should have. Thinking back, I wonder if it had without us knowing.

With news on abortion trending, I relive the events of my two pregnancies. I revisit the initial weeks of my first one, and the dreaded feeling at seven weeks that I wasn't pregnant anymore. I remember the sonogram revealing there was no fetal heartbeat—confirming my suspicion—and the gut-wrenching decision to wait for my body to expel the miscarried fetus or to undergo dilation and curettage. I then recall my OBGYN moving her practice out of town and, when I got pregnant again, asking friends to recommend a new one. I relive the first few visits to see the new doctor, my request for a CVS test to check for genetic abnormalities early on, her resistance to assent, followed by her comment that if we found something terribly wrong with the fetus we would be "hard-pressed" to find a local doctor to provide an abortion, asserting her refusal to perform the procedure herself.

She offered no further discussion on the topic, no counseling, no support, no understanding, no offer to refer if needed. In my and Michael's minds, she was negligent and indifferent. In the end, a sonogram proved my pregnancy was in its thirteenth week, too far along to undergo the test.

In revisiting these moments from over fifteen years ago, I wonder if my obstetrician secretly knew early on—though concealed it because of her religious beliefs—that Calvin was missing as much as 80% of the white matter in his brain, a percentage that one pediatric neurologist cited after having studied my fetal MRI and sonograms. He later told us our child might never crawl, walk or talk. He never mentioned severe visual impairments or uncontrolled seizures as possibilities.

If Michael and I had known early on of Calvin's malformed brain, and had we known the dreadful extent to which it might impact his well-being and quality of life, his development, cognition, coordination, communication, vision, ability to move about and function independently, and his increased odds of having unstoppable seizures, or of being abused by caregivers, would we have chosen to terminate my pregnancy? I really can't say. But one thing I do know with certainty: it is torturous to see Calvin suffer on a daily basis, to see him seize repeatedly, sometimes for several consecutive days, bite his cheek so bad it bleeds, see terror in his eyes and malaise on his face, be a veritable guinea pig for neurologists and me, endure the miseries of antiepileptic drugs and their heinous side effects, to see him hurt so needlessly.

Especially during rough stints, it's hard not to imagine how life might have been—perhaps easier, calmer, happier, less restricted, less anxious, less heartbreaking—if Calvin had never come into this world. I find myself resentful of still having to spoon-feed him and change his diaper after fifteen years. I get frustrated by the fact he can't do the simplest of things. I'm chronically sleep deprived from his frequent awakenings. One moment I lament his existence and the next I wonder what I would do without him. And though Calvin brings me immense joy at times, and though he is as precious to me as any mother's child could be, our lives have been profoundly strained by his existence. All three of us suffer, but none more than our sweet Calvin. Life with him, worrying about and watching him endure his maladies—despite, or perhaps owing to, the fact I love him immeasurably—is such a painful and burdensome endeavor that at times I regret ever deciding to have a child.

Yesterday, I read a post on social media accompanied by a photograph of a young woman in a long dark dress cupping her pregnant belly, head bowed. The post read:
I’ll be honest. This week’s news cycle has been exhausting and painful. 
This picture is me, taken the night before I terminated my pregnancy. My head is bowed and my hair covers my face, so what you don’t see is the grief, my face and eyes swollen from days of no sleep and constant weeping. After days of research and google and doctors visits and soul wrenching conversations with my husband about whether we would bring our son into this world knowing he would not survive. 
Women are not waiting until the third trimester and saying “oops, I changed my mind.” They have little outfits in drawers, maybe even have the nursery set up, they have picked out names. And then they’re having their hearts broken after discovering their baby will not come home. Please be kind. Please read our stories. Please research before you post.

None of these situations nor the feelings they induce are easy. There's no black and white, cut and dried logic to apply when pregnant women are faced with these dour choices. Panels of men in suits and ties meeting behind closed doors should not be deciding pregnant women's fate. Sometimes the most intimate and hopeful situations sour. That is when understanding and empathy come in, not hyperbolic, false propaganda and political posturing by men in positions of power who'll never be pregnant. We need to listen to women's stories and trust them to make the best well-informed choices they can when their lives turn upside down.

To imagine again that someone—a stranger to me—could have decided my fate and the fate of my family in such an intimate and tragic matter is chilling, dystopian, really. With the future of Roe vs. Wade now in jeopardy, and access to safe, legal abortion becoming harder in many states due to anti-choice efforts, our mothers, daughters, sisters, wives and partners are facing similar peril, when what they need most is love, understanding, support, and the ability to make their own choices.

2.09.2019

birthday boy

Due to hazard, Calvin's birthday cake didn't have fifteen candles. Like most if not all abstractions, Calvin didn't have any concept Thursday was his birthday. He didn't make a wish, because he doesn't know what that is, and he didn't blow out the candle, because he doesn't know how. He didn't eat any cake that night because he was too tired, still recovering from that morning's seizure, and was well on his way to getting ill. But, we managed to get photos of our precious birthday boy, albeit without smiles, because no doubt he wasn't feeling good and he's oblivious to smiling for the camera anyhow.

Photos by Michael Kolster

2.07.2019

birthday blues

Fifteen years ago today, as I laid on a stainless steel operating table being prepped for my emergency C-section, the busy doctor and nurses patted my legs and feet as they walked past. Their gestures, meant to calm and reassure me, worked. Then, within minutes, I fell under the spell of general anesthesia. Sometime later in a different room, I awoke in a haze, Michael beside me holding my hand. I felt a dull throb in my lower back and the ache of fresh incisions and sutures in my belly. As I looked around at the blurry world, my newborn was nowhere to be seen. Slurring my words, I alerted Michael of my pain. Instinctively, he launched into our hypnobirthing script, which worked to dull the pain and lulled me back to sleep again.

Later the next morning, I emerged from a morphine fog, eager to meet our son. Gradually, I sat up, careful not to pop the staples and stitches in my gut. I placed my feet on the waxed linoleum floor and gingerly lowered myself into the wheelchair Michael had fetched. He wheeled me down wide corridors and into an elevator which took us downstairs to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Somewhere in the florescent-lit room, Calvin was sleeping in a clear plastic box called an isolette, the intubation apparatus that had assisted his frail lungs having recently been removed. We scrubbed our hands and forearms with soap and warm water, then donned paper masks before entering the room.

As we neared our son's station—unsettling bells and alarms ringing and buzzing periodically—we passed by several other isolettes, each housing its own tiny baby, some no bigger than my hand and weighing little more than a pound or two. All of the preemies wore adhesive leads to monitor their heartbeat, respiration and oxygen saturation, and most were hooked up with cumbersome breathing tubes. When we reached Calvin's isolette, I recognized him instantly. His moon-shaped face had red marks where tubes had been taped, and a tiny little furrowed brow told me he'd been stressed. His right hand and wrist were taped with a splint meant to keep his IV in place. I scooted up as close to his box as I could and peered in, marveling at my beautiful boy whose nose I thought looked familiar.

"Hi Calvin," I said softly, and my baby boy opened his eyes for the first time; he was twenty-one hours old.

This morning at four-thirty, on his fifteenth birthday, Calvin awoke to a grand mal seizure. He convulsed for over a minute. He bit his cheek and it bled. His breathing was labored and strident. Afterward, I crawled into his bed. There, I cupped his shoulder with one palm and laid the other on his hip; he rested one hand over my eyes and put his other around my neck. He slept.

While walking Nellie a few hours later, a friend drove past then pulled up curbside. She got out and we strolled a bit. We exchanged stories of life's struggles and of raising pubescent kids. As we embraced, I thought of Mary Oliver's gorgeous poem, Wild Geese. In it she says:

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on.

After we parted, she called to me before driving away:

"Happy Birthing Day, Super Mama!"

With a smile on my face and cleated rubber boots on my feet, I trudged home in the slush and sleet left from a mini ice storm that rolled through last evening. It reminded me of the morning Calvin was brought into world.

In honor of Calvin's milestone, please consider a contribution to CURE epilepsy by clicking here.

2.06.2019

fallout

The night my water broke, an ice storm blew through Maine. Ice caked windows and froze shut doors. It sheathed leaves and needles and burdened branches. It glazed streets and sidewalks, treacherously.

I was only thirty-four weeks along in my pregnancy. A fortnight earlier, a bombshell had been dropped by a doctor who had shocked us with the news that my fetus had a brain malformation. Specialists in Boston, worried that a vaginal birth would stress our unborn child further, had arranged for a scheduled C-section to be performed at week thirty-five. Though I didn't feel any contractions, I quickly grabbed a few essentials and donned my down parka, zipping it up tightly over my basketball-sized belly. Michael kicked open the mudroom door which was encased in frozen rain, and we made our way, driving on desolate roads to our local hospital wondering how, in my condition, we'd get to Boston.

When the on-call obstetrician arrived at the hospital, we explained our predicament—our fetus' enlarged ventricles, his possible brain bleeds, the scheduled 35-week cesarean in Boston aside a team of pediatric neurologists and neurosurgeons, plus donor platelets readied if our newborn needed them. Unable to accommodate our serious case, she made arrangements for me to be transferred by ambulance to Maine Medical center in Portland. The ice storm had made it impossible for us to get to Boston; Medivac helicopters had been grounded.

Once at Maine Med, we explained our situation to another doctor, and a game plan was made. Without blood bank donor platelets in the case our fetus—who we had already named Calvin—suffered another brain bleed, I'd have to undergo a pheresis. In other words, I would be the platelet donor for my son if need be. Actively contracting, albeit subtly, I had to sit upright and motionless on a hospital bed for nearly an hour while my blood was syphoned, put through a centrifuge to extract its platelets, then pumped back into me. The pheresis left me with too few clotting platelets to safely undergo an anesthetic epidural without risking a spinal column bleed. Instead, I had to go under general anesthesia to endure the cesarean. As a result, despite my pleading, the obstetrician would not allow Michael in the operating room, which meant neither of us could witness the birth of our fragile son.

Sorrow and worry wrenched my heart. Everything Michael and I had hoped for, wished for and expected of our child's birth had vanished in a blink. Michael wouldn't hold my hand and offer reassuring words. We wouldn't hear our baby's first cries, wouldn't marvel at the sight of our beloved newborn. I would not clutch my babe to my breast, nor would Michael kiss my forehead as I looked into the loving eyes of a new father.

Instead, my body would become void of all senses. Neither of us would be participant, witness nor advocate. No photos, no videos, no memories would exist of the moment our son was born. I'd be left instead with the memory of kissing Michael goodbye and holding his hand as long as I could until we were finally broken apart. Of seeing him standing alone in an antiseptic room as a white-clad mob wheeled me under a tunnel of lights. Of the fear that I might never emerge from the anesthesia to see Michael's face again. Of perhaps never seeing my wee child alive and breathing.

Photo by Michael Kolster

2.03.2019

beside ourselves

As sure as the new moon's looming arrival, I sensed my son's impending grand mal. Yesterday, my boy and I were both beside ourselves—he agitated and wired and I, as a result, flustered, anxious and distraught—trapped in a vicious cycle of his disturbing behaviors begetting my tension, perhaps begetting his stress and perhaps begetting a seizure. But who knows? Maybe this is just how this effing epilepsy rolls.

Nevertheless, I try to put my best effort into remaining hopeful that we can find a therapeutic sweet spot of CBD that eases Calvin's seizures. So far, the Palmetto Harmony seems to have done a decent job of quelling Calvin's partial complex seizures and, for a time, I was sure it was reducing his grand mals. But three grand mals in a span of thirty days between mid December and mid January has since doubled back to his previous average. No doubt, the uptick is depressing.

Amid this constant doubt and worry, I try consoling myself, knowing that his grand mals are self-limiting, that the convulsions don't last more than ninety seconds. Nonetheless, they are distressing. I try to console myself knowing that his overall number of annual seizures is gradually decreasing, in spite of the fact he is no longer on the benzodiazepine and is taking far less of my homemade THCA oil. I try to console myself by remembering how utterly unhinged Calvin used to be on high doses of three antiepileptic drugs several years ago. Granted, he suffered a fraction of his current number of seizures back then, but his behavior was unbearable for us—then, far harder than the seizures—and I cannot imagine he felt very good. We'd see him regularly crawling out of his skin, virtually without respite.

I try to console myself by the mere fact that we did not have to cancel a gathering of some of our favorite people to salute Calvin's upcoming birthday. Despite Calvin's downward spiral yesterday—and owing to our son's wonderful caregivers—Michael and I cleaned house and put out a modest spread, gussied up, cranked the disco, rock and funk, and stayed up late chatting, laughing, snacking, drinking and dancing. Letting loose with beloveds proves to be one of life's best elixirs for casting out the mean blues and reds. Within minutes, I de-stressed.

Just before five a.m., however, after far too little sleep, Calvin seized. Michael dabbed the blood trickling from between our boy's lips. I gave the little guy his CBD oil then crawled in his bed and held him close to me. He quickly fell back to sleep. An hour later he woke up agitated as he often does in the wake of a grand mal—eye poking, "ooh-oohing," sun-staring, tossing, banging, restless beyond measure. Too soon, I lament, to be beside ourselves again.

1.30.2019

bombshell

Fifteen years ago, I reclined in the same green couch I'm sitting in now, resting and reflecting as I watched the world go by outside a southern window. I was no longer allowed to walk the dog or swim a mile or grocery shop. I wasn't allowed to go outside. Michael and I had stopped attending our hypnobirthing classes, stopped practicing our script, and I had stopped showing up for my prenatal yoga classes. I and the baby in my belly, who rarely and barely moved, and who still had six to eight weeks to develop, simply had to sit and wait it out.

Days earlier, a doctor had dropped a bomb on us. A thirty-two-week sonogram had revealed an anomaly in our fetus' brain: enlarged lateral ventricles, aka ventriculomegaly. I'll never forget the doctor's words to us:

"This is something you need to worry about." 

The discovery had led us to Boston where within one twenty-four-hour visit I underwent numerous additional sonograms, a CAT-scan, several blood tests, one fetal MRI, and a five-hour IVIG, otherwise known as intravenous immunoglobulin. All of this was because of an opinion held by bunch of pediatric neurologists, radiologists and neonatologists who thought they had found evidence of intraventricular and subdural brain bleeds leading to a blocked fistula. This blockage, they hypothesized, caused a backup of cerebral spinal fluid and the ballooning of our baby's lateral ventricles which in turn damaged the surrounding white matter. Their causal theory for the bleeds, based on a false-positive blood test result, was that there was a platelet incompatibility between me and Michael triggering my antibodies to attack my fetus' platelets. The consensus was a scheduled, thirty-five-week cesarean at Boston's Children's Hospital meant to avoid further trauma and injury which a vaginal birth might cause.

After the bombshell, I remember being exhausted, anxious and afraid. I don't remember being brave. I imagine Michael felt the same. So we sat tight in the frigid winter weather, wondering if our baby would be okay, wondering if he'd ever crawl or walk or talk or, as one neurologist told us was possible, might be completely normal. I remember wondering, after such an uneventful and healthy pregnancy, why it turned out this way.

I still wonder to this day.

February 3, 2004

1.28.2019

pent up, awaiting escape

In so many ways Maine was not made for someone like me, for a fair-weather chick with a disabled, chronically-ill teenager who can't manage to walk all by himself, let alone in snow or on frozen tundra. And so every long, Maine winter we stay pent up at home when outside it's five or twelve or twenty or thirty-eight degrees. Frozen seas form in the wake of torrential sleet and rain, sheathing the earth in ice and crusting up pathways. Time outside is impossible for my child in conditions like these.

Yesterday, I wept in Michael's arms, lamenting this feeling of imprisonment, stuck in this place with a kid like Calvin who too often has seizures. I wished I were in California. If we lived in San Francisco—home for Michael and me in our late twenties and thirties—we could take Calvin anywhere quite easily on streetcars, on Muni trains, on buses, on the subway. In minutes we could be padding in the sand aside the Pacific, eating pizza in North Beach cafes, searching storefronts for the best dim sum in Chinatown. Year round there, days are mild and glorious. Parks, cafes and museums are numerous and bustling. Art is everywhere. Vistas abound, begging possibilities.

Here in Maine, January began well; Calvin had only two grand mal seizures by the sixteenth. However, the past two weeks have not been so good. Calvin has had at least five days with seizures in that span. He has stayed at home from school too often. His nurse called in sick. Monotony and melancholy set in. Worry knit its way into my brow. Sleep escaped me, though not from insomnia.

Understanding my despair, Michael came to the rescue as if for a wake, bearing extra attention, tenderness and understanding, and by delivering from "his" kitchen, multiple delicious dinners.

Today, as I look out over the back yard I see a veritable glacier in sun and shade. The rhododendrons have curled up, some tight as toothpicks, amid the frigid temps. All I can think about is spring and making escapes. Maybe I'll take a train south to see my sister. Hopefully I can get back to New York in May. In fall, I hope to make another a trip to San Francisco; too many things I missed while there last spring. All these journey's I'll do solo while Michael stays home taking care of Calvin. We can't easily travel as a family and still manage to enjoy ourselves, the places, our friends and each other, restricted as we are by our difficult boy and his needs.

On the phone yesterday with my dear friend Heather from California, she reminded me that every single day I take care of a sick child. Although I know this to be true, sometimes I forget, probably because Calvin has become my new normal. And though I love him to pieces, he's in great part why I often feel lost, stuck, hopeless.

Despite the fact it's windy and twenty-three degrees outside, I sit here on our green couch soaking up sun rays while trying to remember we're headed toward spring. Maybe it will arrive early. Perhaps we won't get much more snow. Hopefully, with more CBD oil, Calvin's seizures will continue slowly trending further downward. Perhaps I'll get more sleep.

And maybe, just maybe, come spring I'll escape.

Photo by Michael Kolster

1.23.2019

surrender

My mind is a-flutter with all the ills of the world: toxic air and water; floating plastic masses in violent, rising oceans; warring tribes; the attempt to suppress women; the disrespect of elders; the smugness of privileged others; the oppression of LGBTQ and People of Color; the maligning of refugees; our democracy's disruption; the suffering of unpaid workers taken hostage over a wall that most of us don't want; conceited cheaters, liars, fools running our government. 

And yet, for a moment the other day, I escaped into a different world, one where black and white became blue and green and red and gold, where silence was filled with music, talk and laughter, where enemies became friends, where troops from two nations surrendered to each other. This was a world where different languages converged yet people understood another, where fear and hatred melted into humility, camaraderie and concern. I saw this with my own eyes in the documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old.

To make the movie, the director, writer, and producer of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies transformed 100-year-old film footage from World War I by digitizing, colorizing and adding sound. The result is chilling—the looks in soldiers' clear eyes, the ravaged battlefield strewn with bloody, rotting bodies and razor wire, the muddy, lice- and rat-infested trenches, the histories told by veterans.

What appeared on the big screen mesmerized. Most striking to me, however, was the part where British soldiers captured German ones. In no time, it seemed, the men and boys from opposite sides were communing with each other. Some of the Germans spoke a bit of English. They told their captors of their families, of their children, of their work. Neither side understood why they were fighting. The boys and men in khaki and gray-blue uniforms exchanged hats, shared cigarettes, ate together, helped the wounded in each other's ranks. I imagine, by finally understanding one another, they came to love each other as brothers.

That night in bed I reflected on the film and on the recent social media frenzy around the interaction at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial between a handful of Black Israelites, a throng of Catholic high school boys wearing MAGA hats who'd been bused in from Kentucky to attend the March for Life, and a Native American elder who was there with others for an Indigenous People's March. Several videos caught slurs and smirks, chants and taunts that were tossed between the bickering Israelites and amped-up mass of MAGA boys. It seemed the Native elder tried to intercede, tried to part the crowd with peaceful drumming. One boy did not yield. He stood his ground. He did not surrender. His classmates seemed to mock the elder. Across the Web, different takes and narratives bent opinions in one direction. Others bent them back again. Villains became heroes; heroes, villains. In my curious scouring of the coverage, I found this most compelling and thoughtful piece about the rumpus, written by Marcia Mount Shoop, an ordained Christian minister. And though I'm not religious, her piece says it all for me, and every White American would do well to read it.

My thoughts drifted to the wall again. I imagined those hurting furloughed federal workers living on the verge of nothing with no pay for their labor. I thought about the people railing against migrants and refugees, insisting a wall is what we need. I pondered a president who fearmongers and vilifies refugees as hardened criminals while serially giving White Supremacists impunity. Like in the documentary I saw, I wish the folks who swear we need a wall could meet these frightened and fleeing migrants, could break bread with them, could share a cup of beer or wine, could surrender to each other; perhaps their hearts would become less hard. Perhaps they'd work to find a solution to aid their brethren save putting up a wall and razor wire.

And just before I closed my eyes I thought of my disabled, non-verbal, autistic, seizure-racked boy, Calvin. So sweet. So mild. In ways, a foreigner from another tribe. I recalled what I sometimes ask and tell his classmates so they don't neglect, badmouth or mock him. 

"Can you guess why I think Calvin is the best person I know?"

"Because he is your child?" some of them reply.

"Because he deals with so much but is still happy?" others respond.

"Nope," I say, "Calvin is the best person I know because he doesn't have a mean bone in his body and, no matter what, he loves everyone." 

The students usually fall silent. I go on to implore them to be kind and generous, to befriend others who are different from themselves—ones with different colored skin, different hair, ones who come from different nations, who speak different languages, who look, sound, dress, act, live, love and worship differently. 

"We all have the same heart inside," I end, hoping they'll surrender.

lost comments

Dear readers,

I just discovered 247 unmoderated comments to my blog. For several months or more, perhaps years, I have been wondering why no one had commented on any of my posts. It appears some sort of snafu caused them to stop appearing in my email inbox for my approval, and I hadn't bothered to look into it.

Please accept my apologies for having initially missed the incredibly kind comments many of you have written. I finally get to read them! And though Calvin had a grand mal this morning at 4:30, and though I'm feeling frazzled and fatigued, sifting through your generous comments has made my day!

Much love and gratitude,
Christy

1.19.2019

march forward

We were unable to attend our town's Women's March today due to frigid weather. Nevertheless, Calvin and I marched instead around the Hannaford grocery store in solidarity with the millions of Americans who disavow a president whose default is deceit, who fearmongers and incites violence, who falls in love with dictators, will not renounce white-supremacy, disparages women, ridicules minorities, maligns refugees, smears Muslims and mocked a disabled reporter. That image will be forever seared into my mind, and I will always be baffled why any one of the above actions—much less them all—didn't derail his candidacy. Hopefully someday soon we'll know.

Photo by Matt Klingle

1.18.2019

three long days

three long days. one sick kid. no diagnosis. several low-grade fevers. two grand mals. one partial seizure. four hours of agitation, panicky rapid heartbeat and clammy hands. two-plus afternoons with a listless child sleeping on and off. several restless nights. extra meds. one dream of caring for two calvins of different ages, each careening at the end of my arms. three incredible movies. one chapter read. zero words put down. thrice out of the house. seventy-five daily milligrams of cannabidiol. one beloved dead poet of beauty and nature. two inflamed elbows. four-degree mornings. ten to twenty inches of snow on its way. one aching jaw from clenching. one fourteen-year-old finger shut in a door. one crying child. one sorry nurse. one weeping, sleep-deprived mama. one chef husband and his three, savory, five-star meals. six-plus modest glasses of bourbon on the rocks between two people. one reckless president. twenty-eight days of shutdown government. too many hypocrites. millions of hurting federal workers and contractors without money to pay bills. innumerable racists and misogynists. dozens of formidable women in congress. one college art student who inspired this post. one morning without seizures. one child back to school. one smiling teacher ready to receive him. one tired mama, finally writing.

Photo by Michael Kolster

1.15.2019

letting go

After reading my most recent post, a little less stress, about giving up on logging Calvin's behaviors, etc., in a daily journal, a friend my age, who some years ago lost his daughter to opioid addiction, shared his thoughts about what I had written. He said: 

Letting go. Acceptance. It comes last, and in endless layers, one thin peel at a time. I know. Believe me: I know some version of this.

We hold on to magical thinking, and only in release ... slowly, sequentially, only as we are able, feather by feather ... is there relief.

I think I know ... I can't say I for sure know, but I think I know ... I think I understand this sort of surrender of which you speak, and the modicum of peace that follows.

Time and readiness. Patience and prayer. For all of us.


His gorgeous words were particularly moving to me. I hadn't considered my decision to give up the daily task of logging in a journal as a kind of acceptance of Calvin and his stubborn condition of intractable epilepsy. I thought of it more as a way to reduce my level of stress. However, in my first day of not logging, I felt more present in my son's life, not feeling compelled, whenever I saw what I thought might be a seizure harbinger, to run to my journal to jot it down. The result was something I hadn't fully expected, which was a kind of admission and acceptance that I didn't have full control over my son's epilepsy, and that journaling—though it once served a purpose—might no longer be necessary or helpful, and that Calvin will be okay even if he seizes. Rather than logging every suspicious behavior, I've just noted them in my head, sat with each for a bit, then continued to engage with my child—embracing, kissing, tickling. It was a relief not to be hyper-focused on documenting. I was focused instead on my son without suffering some of the angst I usually feel. Putting the journal away, to a great extent, has allowed me to let go.

With new insight, I reread what my friend wrote. Certain words stood out. Acceptance. Endless. Thin peel. Relief. Surrender. Peace. I felt all of these things the first day I gave up logging Calvin's woeful and suspicious behaviors. In giving up that routine, I also give up emphasizing in my mind and on paper the negative aspects of Calvin's days, therefore depriving them of a certain agency. So, too, do I relinquish a certain amount of cynicism leaving more space for hope, optimism and healthiness. Maybe Calvin will feel this effect, too. Perhaps he'll seize less. We run in such close circles, inches or feet away from each other at all times, I can only imagine he'll benefit.

1.11.2019

a little less stress

Something came to me the other night in a kind of epiphany. While cozying up to Michael in bed, I was thinking about my dentist's suggestion of wearing a night guard to protect my teeth from clenching them. Assuming my teeth clenching is due to stress, it occurred to me in a flash that perhaps giving up keeping a daily journal would lessen that stress. I've kept a journal since Calvin was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2006. In it I log his behaviors, star the ones which seem to be harbingers of an impending seizure, underling or capitalizing the most vexing ones. In the outer margins I log his bowel movements, indicating their size and consistency. I circle any suppositories or pain medications I give him. I highlight medicine changes in yellow, night terrors/pain episodes in pink, grand mals in orange and partial complex seizures in blue. I note how many times I am up at night laying him back down and covering him, and draw a cloud around nights when he stays up past bedtime perseverating. Rarely do I write positive things, perhaps because of their infrequency or perhaps, in my eternal quest to fix my kid, my focus is misdirected.

I think the epiphany came as the result of something Calvin's new nurse, Sue, said to me the other day. In relating her own history of hypervigilance over a now-grown son who had intractable epilepsy as a kid, she told me he had once said, "Mom, stop looking at me." At the time he was just six.

In her anecdote, I saw myself and the way I physically and mentally hover (obsess?) over Calvin and his condition. Perhaps, if he could speak, he'd tell me to stop looking at him. It got me thinking that maybe the journal—though it has served a purpose in tracking possible relationships between Calvin's seizures and his meds—might at this point be overkill. After all, I think I've got a pretty good sense of patterns in his condition, and I'm not sure writing down omens prepares me any better for his seizures. And if need be, I can also rely on my monthly calendar where I log the important stuff like seizures and medicine changes.

Years ago, I stopped using a handmade chart to check off Calvin's daily medicines. At one time, using it was necessary considering the slew of medicines and supplements he used to get—as many as twenty-three administrations a day—and sometimes I'd forget if I'd given them. Now, Calvin takes so few medicines—Synthroid, Keppra, multivitamins, Miralax, THCA and CBD cannabis oils—that I can remember them without the use of a chart. Years ago, I also stopped listening to the baby monitor when I slept because I'd wake up at the slightest move Calvin made in his bed. Both decisions reduced my overall stress, if only a little.

So, yesterday, the journal went into a drawer. Starting today, I won't be logging anything in it. Though I'll allow myself the right to use it again, I want to see what life is like without it. Perhaps I'll stop clenching my teeth at night. Maybe I'll sleep better. Perhaps Calvin will feel less stress. Maybe in turn he'll seize less. Maybe its absence will open up scads more time for me to do other things instead. Who knows? The possibilities are endless.

1.08.2019

trending

in the last forty-five days, calvin's grand mal seizures have fallen slightly from an average of six per month to between three and five. in the same time frame, his partial seizures are down from double digits to just a few. days with seizures remain equal to a years-long low of about six per month. despite this slight downtick in seizures, calvin has been, overall, kind of agitated. i wonder if it is because of the increase in cbd oil causing him tummy aches, or because his brain is craving seizures that the cbd hasn't allowed to emerge. i have heard of children and adults becoming seizure free only to suffer behavioral side effects due to the increase in ambient stimulation their seizure-free brains must wrestle. nevertheless, we are grateful for this recent trend of fewer seizures, despite calvin's slightly-wired self. perhaps we'll get to the bottom of it. as always, cross fingers. knock on wood.

1.03.2019

sleepless dreams, stardust and carbon

another sleepless night without real dreams. my son, every half hour sitting up in bed and banging. sometimes cackling. tonight doesn't look too good for us or him. hours later, about to drift to sleep. that's when the squirrels begin gnawing and scratching in the eaves. the sound is unsettling. michael pounds the walls hoping to disturb them. i pray calvin stays asleep. at three a.m., just after finally going under, i hear the scream. this time it's muffled and brief. still, i know its meaning: our son is seizing. we rush into his room. unhook his bed's netted canopy. let down the safety panel. protect his spasming head and wrists and feet. call his name trying to reach him in his seizure-dream. blood and saliva begin trickling from between his lips. when it's over, i gently nudge his mouth open to find the wound. a bitten tongue or cheek. a pool of blood lets loose a scarlet stream. i think of rivers rushing to the sea. i stroke his moonlike face with love and sorrow. then i slowly syringe cbd oil inside his opposite cheek.

before i crawl in with him, i drink a glass of water and pee. outside, it's crisp and black and in the teens. pinned in the sky behind the glass i see orion. i think of emily's little ronan, gone now for how long i don't remember. i used to see orion as his guard. perhaps he's out there in the stardust.

in bed with calvin. michael tucks in a pair of curled-up bodies. in my arms calvin goes to sleep. for me, shut-eye remains elusive. in darkness, i think of little charlotte who has influenza and is fighting off pneumonia—a grave danger for our fragile children. i send a little mojo off to colorado.

my thoughts tumble to our mate who died last august. in our care, he left behind stacks of plastic bins and cardboard boxes. clothes and tools, gloves and socks and shoes. in my sleepless dreams i'm back to sifting through them. a wide-brimmed hat with snaps attracts me. my head is swimming in its blackness. in search of him, i sink my nose into a dress shirt. it smells of soap and plastic. i find him nowhere in its cool soft fabric. it hurts to miss him. he was like a brother-son to me. he has returned to stardust. never again to feel pain or be sleepless. now he is beautiful carbon. he wore that color often. he chose it.

it's not long before my boy awakens. just as my sleepless mind is dreaming of our new year stroll beside the ocean. we were three, not counting calvin. in a perfect world he would have been there with us, skipping, running, tempting white waves crashing at his feet. sprinting up then boomeranging with some precious found thing. a rock. a shell. driftwood. a reed. i picture him making long shadows and sandcastles and scraping his name into the beach—as many grains of sand as stars and planets. but he cannot do those things. instead again he stayed at home, his brain planning its next assault on him. i can smell impending seizures on his breath and fingers, on his drool-soaked shirts and robe. still, we can't escape their orbit. my billion-year-old carbon child, though reeling through his life half-blind with seizures, is not yet stardust. he's there at home to greet us. i hold him closely. i dream of calvin even when i'm sleepless.