6.11.2019

blonde redhead

Music will save the world. Last night it saved me from monotony and despair. Despite needing to catch up on lost sleep due to Calvin's recent and prolonged waves of seizures, for the first time in what felt like forever, Michael and I stepped out to see a concert in the "big" city of Portland, where most of Maine's hipsters live. Regrettably, the event was sparsely attended, which bummed me out a bit, knowing that the band might be discouraged, too. But Michael reminded me that as artists, these musicians don't care. They just want to play. He was right. They gave their all and everything.

We've been listening to Blonde Redhead for nearly twenty years. Michael first heard them on Bowdoin College's radio station. While driving, he was so blown away by their powerful and distinct sound that he pulled to the curb, found a phone booth and called the station to ask who the DJ was playing.

Inside the small venue, Port City Music Hall, Michael and I positioned ourselves front and center, within arm's reach of the New York-based trio. Italian twinsSimone and Amedeo Pace, jammed guitar, drums and sang, while vocalistKazu Makino, who also played guitar and keyboard, employed her voice quite ethereally and at other times wild and loud.

Bathed in orange and purple light, I danced with abandon to the jazziest of their gorgeously ecclectic rock songs, and beside me Michael did, too. I missed Calvin, wishing he could be there with us while knowing it was something he would probably never do. Regardless, as the bass drum beat in our chests, we felt this musical elixir fix us, at least for one night, before going back to the grind.

6.10.2019

if-onlies and might-have-beens

Foul is the smell coming from my son's mouth, as if there's something rotting inside him. It stinks like a festering wound. I think some of it might be blood from having bitten his tongue during the seizures he suffered the other night and this morning. Of late, the grand mals are coming in clusters—nine in the past month.

These seizures, drugs and side effects have been ruinous for all of us in some form or another, and there's really no end in sight. Calvin can't stay still for even a few minutes. It's called akathisia, the movement disorder characterized by an inner feeling of restlessness due to the use of antipsychotic drugs. I know for certain it's a side effect of the benzodiazepines Calvin was on from the age of three until fourteen. Keppra is also a culprit. I fear they've changed my boy's brain forever. Ruined. Devastated. Wrecked. I despair thinking of all of the if-onlies and might-have-beens.

Forlorn, my antsy boy held briefly in my lap, I remember Michael's notion that music will save the world, so I get up and turn on FIP (France Inter Paris) radio network. I've been tuning in a lot lately, and it's eclectic music and ticklish French accents have been a saving grace. The second song, River Man by Nick Drake, is gorgeously sorrowful and familiar. A few of its lyrics always bring me to tears.


Betty said she prayed today
For the sky to blow away
Or maybe stay
She wasn't sure.

I'm not a praying gal, but sometimes, like when Calvin can't settle, is manic or is in the thralls of epilepsy's fits and I feel myself sinking, like Betty, I find myself wishing for the sky to blow away. Other times, like when Calvin can remain in my arms for extended periods, looks straight into my eyes, or when I see him smile and give Michael hugs and kisses, I'd grip fists of that sky forever.


6.07.2019

on sovereignty

the breakthrough from gray skies to blue doesn't always bring me pleasure. sometimes the shadows cast by an unfettered sun are far too hard-edged for me. i must squint and scowl, avert my gaze. glowing colors which are saturated on dewy mornings appear washed-out and tired at midday, as if an antique snapshot made them that way.

on days like this the events of the world, the nation, feel crushing: weak and deceitful leaders, starving, neglected children, abused and oppressed women, desperate, fearful migrants, mass shootings, suicides, overdoses, executions. i overheard the grocer's cashier say, "she had on a dress she had no business wearing." her words stung as if they were meant for me. i wanted to say something like, people can wear whatever the fuck they want, or, as my dad used to say jokingly, what's it to ya, cabbagehead?

weariness and worry weave themselves into my body and brain. i know it's the consequence of stress and sleep deprivation. almost nightly, i catch myself clenching my jaw or grinding my teeth. perhaps it's loneliness i feel in my bones, strolling around in the garden somewhat aimlessly. what am i searching for? i bend, crouch and stretch, snapping errant twigs, clipping others, forcing growth into otherwise gangly, rambling, branches. i thirst for this control of nature; i have none when it comes to my boy and the seizures he suffers so endlessly. i wish so much for freedom from this malady.

recent talk of a merciful god bugs me. i recall a friend thanking god for protecting her non-verbal, disabled child from nearly choking on a chunk of celery that had been lodged in the back of her mouth for hours. why hadn't god simply protected the girl from gagging on the celery in the first place? why hadn't god saved the child from suffering scores of seizures that rack her brain? no doubt countless pleas have been made to god—concerning war, famine, disease, blight, disaster, injustice. they go unanswered regularly. though the existence of a certain kind of sovereign universal force (Nature?) seems reasonable, it's the belief in a merciful god—and one who condemns and punishes—in this messed-up world that is so astonishing to me.

in gazing through the shrubs and trees, I consider calvin, my little guinea pig, who is surviving on one pharmaceutical drug and two cannabis oils for his epilepsy. one oil i make, the other i send for in the mail. every good month is flanked by awful ones. his seizures are reliable and often come in clusters, of late, at the very least weekly. i hear of others afflicted with this disease, some too poor to afford their therapies.

folks go on about their freedoms while being hamstrung by healthcare premiums, copays, costs and deductibles so excessive they risk bankruptcy. some must choose between food and insulin. greedy corporate bastards and their political pawns feed on people's fear and ignorance, twisting the notion of what it means to be free, keeping people sick and shackled, widening the divide between those who have (money, power, control) and those who don't and never will. no one should profit off of ailing bodies. that's not freedom. that's tyranny.

near the end of my musings, i glance outside again and then at a spoon that hours before had peanut butter on it. it sits on a mysteriously-gotten susan sontag book, patiently awaiting to be picked up. it could sit there forever, until it becomes part of the room's wallpaper—an antique snapshot. i sit here wondering, though not concerned, what life is all about, my motions and emotions so crisscrossed in my body's sovereign continent. yes, sovereign.

a birdsong sailing through the screen door breaks my melancholy. i hear the bus pull up with calvin. bathed in late-afternoon dappled shadows, the garden has softened. the breeze is cool and exhilarating. the sun on my back feels good.

6.02.2019

bigger picture

My husband said, "You have to forget yourself." He was describing what it takes to care for our son. It's a monotonous, tedious, sometimes frustrating job which requires laser focus on Calvin's every move lest he get hurt or make a mess out of things, namely his own shit, of which I have much first-hand experience.

In yesterday's post, helicopter mama, I describe some of the minutiae of Calvin's care, my bad habit of hovering over him and his caregivers and, in doing so, my tendency to step on toes. The post drew a number of comments, the first from my friend, Les, whom I've known for twenty-three years. He wrote:


You are the only woman I know that is strong enough and has the right personality to do what you do.


One of Calvin's former therapists commented:


poignant and insightful for those who hope to say the right thing ... but don't.


A friend and mother of a child like Calvin sent me one of two heart GIFs, and another simply said:


Yup.


One reader with whom my post struck a nerve, wondered for whose benefit I write the blog. I explained that I write it 
for myself and those in similar situations, with the added hope of engendering introspection, including in myself, and to offer insights into messy situations which are nearly impossible for most people to imagine or grasp otherwise. I said I hope the blog prompts readers to put themselves in other's shoes, to recognize their own good fortunes and perhaps inspire empathy, humility and gratitude. I should have added that I aim to reach people who find themselves in any kind of stressful, challenging circumstance, hoping they find solace in my words and perhaps feel less alone.

Another reader, a poet whom I've never met, sent me a personal email in which she said:


I hope most caregivers have grace and understand and allow room for what you need to do to be with your son. Caregivers have a difficult job too—but it is not the same thing as being you in your relationship to Calvin. True healers one hopes for—and the healing is in support of you too. It has to be. You and Calvin are not in isolation from each other, and I (can only) imagine this requires dedicated teamwork. 

She went on to say:


I have been reading your posts for a number of years now—I don’t know how many years. Your honesty about yourself and others—not sham “honesty” to excuse cruelty, but true and difficult honesty—is your integrity. You don’t make this shit up. You hold yourself accountable. I hope most of your nurses and other supporters understand and can be there with you.

Her words brought me to tears; I sincerely hope I live up to them.


While I digested the various comments yesterday, one in particular, I realized that my post was missing something. I needed to helicopter out to see the bigger picture rather than hovering at microscopically close range. I'm not saying caregivers shouldn't forget themselves and focus closely on the job at hand: my boy's safety and well-being. I'm saying that from a more generous vantage point I'm able to see that, for all of my complaining and frustration, most of our many caregivers over the years—nurses, ed techs, teachers, therapists—have been lifesavers of sorts. If it weren't for their assistance, their affording me much needed respite, who knows how I'd be dealing? And I'm not saying I couldn't take care of Calvin without them. I know I could. I did for the first two years of his life and for months at a time since then. But I've little doubt I'd be in far worse shape without having had them, (not that I'm in that good of shape now.) Caregivers have allowed me to walk the dog, romp in the garden, write my blog, research epilepsy treatments, do house chores and shopping, catch a rare movie and sometimes a much-needed nap, and grab a drink and a bite with my husband. But perhaps the most important thing of all that has nothing to do with me is that they have always doted on my son.

As I finish this post—one not unlike most others in which I begin writing without fully knowing where it will end up—I see that it has done what I hope my posts do. It has prompted (my) introspection. It has humbled me some, revealing my thin skin and pettiness. And it has helped me to be grateful for my own good fortunes.


Calvin and nurse Rita