love and trouble

Most evenings, sometime between five and six, Michael and I head upstairs with our son to listen to the nightly news before putting him to bed. I sit on Calvin's diaper-changing table and Michael gets into bed with him to cuddle while he chews on his toys. Last night we listened to a rebroadcast episode of This American Life, a two-part installment called Unconditional Love. It was one that I vividly remember hearing for the first time when Calvin, now fifteen, was just two-and-a-half years old. That time, Michael and I had been listening to the second half on the kitchen radio, Calvin perhaps already asleep upstairs, and I recall weeping as I heard a couple describe the trouble of raising their autistic boy.

At the time of that initial broadcast, September 2006, Calvin had not yet received his PDDNOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) diagnosis, a condition found within the autism spectrum. Seven months earlier he had been diagnosed with epilepsy. In August of that year, he had suffered the worst seizure of his life—a forty-five minute grand mal which did not initially respond to emergency medications, prompting us to believe he might die.

By that point in Calvin's life, while toddlers his age were running about, talking, playing with toys, using forks and spoons, our boy could barely crawl, was just beginning to take first steps, had failed three antiepileptic drugs, and was still being spoon-fed and drinking from a bottle. The parents in the episode described their very large teenage son who was often violent. His twin brother, who did not suffer from autism, described a household full of loud noises, fear and stress. The couple went on to relate their difficult choice of whether to put their son in a group home, and what happened next.

Listening to this episode again was timely. Recently, Michael and I have been talking a lot about where we might live once he retires in several years. We discuss returning to our beloved San Francisco, but we have so many questions about such an endeavor: Where in the city would we live? How could we afford it? Would Calvin live with us? Are there group homes there for people like him? What kinds of assistance and programs does the state of California offer people as afflicted as Calvin? After years of living in a relatively small, college town in the Maine suburbs, would city life be too stressful?

The thought of living back in the Bay Area is both exciting and troubling. Exciting for its mild year-round weather, its amazing public transportation, its proximity to the beach, the bay, the Marin Headlands, its diversity and openness, and for the cherished friends we left behind eighteen years ago. Troubling for all the reasons I listed earlier. The thought of putting Calvin in a group home is equally thrilling and petrifying. I worry about his seizures getting out of hand. I worry his medicines will be mismanaged. I worry staff won't change his soiled diapers, linens and clothes. I worry about neglect as well as predators who might abuse him. Mostly, I worry about who will hug and love him unconditionally like we do. But I know I can't go on taking care of him forever; at some point—hopefully not for another twenty-five or so years if we make it that far—Michael and I may be too feeble to handle him, and/or we may not want to. Once Calvin graduates high school when he is twenty, perhaps it will be better for him to be in an environment with more activity and stimulation than we can offer him at home.

For now, though, we'll keep on keepin' on. We'll traipse around the house and yard with him in endless circles. We'll get up nightly to lay him back down and cover him. We'll give him extra meds in the wee hours of the morning if we expect a seizure coming on. We'll change mountains of dirty diapers. We'll bathe, dress and feed him. We'll burp him, like a baby, on our laps. We'll brush his teeth and clip his nails and wipe his drool. We'll hold him while he seizes. We'll endure his tantrums, mood swings, screeching, agitation, and perseverations—all of which, by the way, have improved on a higher dose of CBD oil. Whenever possible, we'll continue to bring him out into the world. Most of all, we'll keep loving him unconditionally despite his troubles, caring for him as best we can, and searching for other people and new places that will.


  1. Christy,
    This post is so beautifully written. Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. This is so sad Christie. I can’t go there...not yet, maybe never.

  3. I love your blog and your rawness. I am very reared up by what you share today. It’s like you do all you do for Calvin, give up on your own
    Life for years and in the end you may have to give him up to someone else who can carry the torch because you are too old or weak to do
    It anymore. It is so very sad, because deep in my heart I know that day will come for me too, it will not end well. It is so sad.