March 25, 2011

Have you ever seen Office Space?

Here's an embarrassing but perhaps amusing story for you. (Before you ask, no, Schuyler was not home for this incident. It would not have happened if she had been.)

This afternoon, I lost my shit. Julie was on the phone trying to accomplish an important task with a customer service rep who seemed to be doing everything in her power to obstruct said task. She was in full-on "There's nothing I can do" mode, with that tone that suggests she wished our names were Mr. and Mrs. GoFuckYourself since that's clearly what she wanted to say. At the conclusion of the conversation, when the person had succeeded in making Julie actually cry, I needed to print something off, and at this tense, unhappy moment, our printer decided that it was no longer in the business of printing.

It was a very poorly timed print error.

So yeah, I lost it. I cursed at the printer, and I hit it. Okay, I may have hit it a couple of times, but when the flimsy shelf on which it sat suddenly gave way, that was it. Swearing dramatically and creatively, I proceeded to stomp on the printer, repeatedly, feeling it crunch beneath my feet, hearing it make a sound that, while not as satisfying as the sound of printing might have been a few moments before, was nevertheless a wonderful guilty pleasure. I lost my temper in the most ridiculous, over-the-top way, and that was that for the printer.

When I got my sudden flash of anger under control, I looked over at Julie sheepishly. "Want to join in?" I asked weakly. Without a word and with a stoic expression, she quietly stood and walked into the other room without answering.

I started to get up to follow her, to apologize for my shameful, destructive outburst, but before I could take more than a step or two, she returned from the bedroom.

With a softball bat. Which she put to astonishingly effective use.

Anyway, our printer most definitely doesn't work now. But I think we both feel much, much better.

March 23, 2011

The Dad Zone

Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob
Well, here we are. This morning saw an event that has loomed in the future, not as a bad thing, but just a thing. Today, Schuyler reached an important milestone in every pre-teen girl's life. You know what I'm talking about. Her crazy ride into young womanhood has begun.

(Note: Before the Corps of Righteous Indignation fires up the eFinger of Scoldage, yes, I did ask Schuyler if I could talk about this.)

When I mentioned this on Facebook, I got some interesting reactions. One was that they couldn't believe I was talking about it on Facebook, even after I pointed out that Schuyler knew I was doing so.

You can disagree with my choice to write in such detail about Schuyler's life; that's a valid discussion, and one that I've had from time to time.

But if I am going to write about the milestones in her life, why wouldn't I include the positive, non-disability ones as well? It's personal, to be sure, but I'm not sure it's more personal than the things that she has no choice but to expose every day, just by virtue of the fact that she attends a special education class and talks with an electronic device and a robot voice. And really, I think the reason she didn't mind was simply that from the moment we figured out what was going on, we presented it to her as something positive, something cool, to be celebrated. She told us that she was scared, but also that she was excited.

Schuyler is always very concerned about being taken seriously as a Big Girl, and once we explained what this meant, she stood a little taller and embraced the positives of the moment. I realize that will probably fade in a hurry, especially as the reality of the experience sinks in, but she's starting off from a place of celebration, not shame, and while I admit that we've gotten some things wrong in the past, I think we got this moment right. High fives, Team RumHud.

The other reaction I got, one that I suppose I should have seen coming, could be expressed along the lines of "Ooo, do you think you'll be able to handle this, Dad? Just wait until you have to deal with feminine hygiene products!" (Cue sinister music.)


So let me make this clear. No, I don't love the fact that Schuyler's entering this phase of her life, not least of all because for her, the hormonal changes that bring her first period may also be causing seizures or otherwise stirring her neurological processes in a way that no one can predict or prevent. Puberty's a lot less amusing when it bares a monster's tooth and claw.

But for me, the anxiety I felt this morning mostly grew out of the unavoidable reality that Schuyler is growing up, quickly and wildly, and the days when her otherworldliness is cute are rapidly running out. And more narcissistically, it makes me feel old. REALLY old. That's a universal Dad experience, I guess, with or without a disability. My little girl isn't going to be a little girl much longer. Perhaps she already isn't, and hasn't been for a while.

So yeah, this makes me twitch a little. Maybe more than a little. But it's not because I have some inexplicable fear of icky girl stuff. Is that really supposed to be my reaction? "Ew ew ew, stop talkin' about it and turn on the ball game already! Jesus Christ, woman..." Someone asked if I would be capable of going to the store and buying "supplies" if Julie couldn't. Really? Why wouldn't I? Someone else pointed out that as a man, I wouldn't necessarily know what to get. Which is very true. Which is why I would ask. I don't drink coffee, either, but I still buy it for Julie when I go to the store. I can read a shopping list. I can absorb information when presented to me. Honestly, I'm baffled that this would even come up, and yet part of me understands perfectly. But it's still bullshit.

So let me ask you, Society. Do you want fathers to be involved in the lives of their daughters? Then you have to let go of the Big Dumb American Dad narrative. You have to forget about Fred Flintstone, Homer Simpson, and the cast of every stupid "Tyler Perry Presents..." show on TBS. Because I do whatever Schuyler needs me to do, and in the past that has included taking her to buy new bras. Yes, I realize that everyone's comfort level will obviously be higher when Julie takes the lead on this particular issue (there's progressive, and then there's pragmatic), but this isn't something that's permanently outside The Dad Zone. It's ALL in The Dad Zone. When Schuyler needs help with this, if I'm the one here, then I'll be the one to help her.

And here's the thing. That's true of every other father I know. The only fathers I know of whom this might not be true are a generation apart, maybe two generations, and honestly, I suspect most of them would step up when the situation called for it, too. I'll make a big, overly generalized statement here, while I'm at it. If you're a father here in the year 2011 and you're NOT comfortable helping your daughter with "girl stuff"? You need to GET comfortable with it. It's your goddamn job. You're not being cute if you run away from it. You're being a shitty dad. And you're kind of a shitty mom if you let him get away with that.

Sorry, but that's my snotty opinion. You know where to send the hate mail.

March 20, 2011


Baby Schuyler
Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob
I had a memory pop into my head tonight, kind of out of nowhere. It was the fall of 1999, late fall, almost winter. It was night time, probably almost midnight. Julie and I lay in the dark of our shabby but not too shabby apartment, in a shady but not too shady suburb of Detroit, and we were discussing the future. Specifically, we were talking about the future of our soon-to-be-born child, the one we called the Grub and whom I knew (but Julie did not) would be our daughter.

That night, we quietly talked about how we wanted to raise our kid, a child who was both completely theoretical in our minds and yet sitting right there in the room with us, floating serenely a world away and at the same time no distance from us at all, just Not-Yet-Schuyler and the little secret monster inside her tiny, forming head.

We talked about conversations we would have with our child one day, decisions we'd make with that kid, the things we thought she would do, the rules on which we would stand firm and the rules we'd never even lay down in the first place. We wondered what our kid would call us (Mom? Dad? Mommy? Rob and Julie? Did we care?), what kind of half-Midwestern, half-Texas accent she might develop. We talked about our ridiculous ideas for what would make a kid succeed. I was steadfast that ours would be a Disney-free home (ha); Julie declared that she would only give Schuyler hand-crafted toys. (She actually tried this, but Schuyler hated them. To this day, there are few toys that excite Schuyler as much as a crappy piece of My Little Pony plastic from a Happy Meal.)

That night, in the dark, we tried to push back some of the uncertainty of what lay ahead of us by constructing a little pretend future. It didn't matter if things turned out the way we imagined. We didn't know if things were going to be okay, although we had no reason to think they wouldn't. We simply had to believe they might, and that was enough.


Tonight we step into Schuyler's room to turn off the tiny pink lights that we hung in her room at Christmas, the lights that she asks us to leave on every night when she goes to bed. I can't imagine she wants them on because she's scared. She wants them on, I think, because they give her the light she requires as she has her quiet conversations with her dolls and her animals and her monsters and dinosaurs before she goes to sleep. She wants them on because they are pink, and pink is still cool, the coolest thing there is.

We turn off the lights, and Julie says, "She's sleeping with her witch." Sure enough, Schuyler has dug out her little Groovy Girl witch and is holding it close to her chest. Julie leaves the room, but I stay for a while. I lay down beside Schuyler and we sit in the dark together. She wakes just enough to talk with me, about her witch and Supermoon and what she's going to dream about. She curls up beside me and goes to sleep again, her witch still clutched tight, and doesn't wake when I leave.

And it strikes me tonight, as it does on many nights, on most nights, even, that more than ever, I still don't know if things are going to be okay. Unlike that night almost twelve years ago, I have reasons to believe they won't be.

And like way back then, I just have to believe, with a little more desperation and a lot fewer threads to grasp than before, that things just might be okay. And like that long ago night, it might just be enough.

March 15, 2011

The Ifs and the I Don't Knows

Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob
Waiting two months to see a neurologist sounds like a long time, even though I'm told that it's really not. Well, it is a long time, but I guess I should say that it's not an unusual wait; it's actually pretty good compared to the wait that many parents and patients endure. Most people end up waiting months, and that's right here in America. I can't tell you how many times I've read conservatives disparaging the Canadian health care system's long waits when they are listing the failures of socialized medicine. As far as I can tell, the big difference between that system and the one we have here in God's Perfect Perfect Country is the fact that we'll get a gigantic bill for our trouble. Well, what are you going to do?

It's frustrating, in part because we're trying to catch a very elusive monster. Schuyler hasn't had consistent issues with this, after all. She had a few "incidents" back in January, and then again two weeks ago (and twice last week since I last wrote about this). This week? Nothing so far. What we'll be hoping for is IF she's having seizures, and we don't know that she is, she'll just happen to have one of them while she has wires connected to her head in about six weeks. If we could have gone to the neurologist's office when she was having these incidents, then we would have a better shot at catching one as it happens. Doing it this way is like finding evidence of some animal in the forest and then returning with a gun two months later, hoping it might come back. And not knowing if it's a rabbit or a bear. Or a Tyrannosaur.

Identifying absence seizures is hard because they are so hard to recognize, and in Schuyler's case, the evidence that she might have had one follows the actual seizure itself, IF she's having them. If if if if if if if. Fucking ifs rule our lives now.

I don't know if she's having seizures. We continue to rule out the other possibilities, such as UTIs and blood sugar issues, but that process of elimination isn't much help. From what I've read, it's not unusual for absence seizures to go unrecognized or unobserved for years. Do you know when some kids discover they're having them? When they start driving. Think about that. Spacing out for a few seconds in class or at home goes unnoticed for years, easily, but imagine your child having one at 70 mph on the freeway. Assuming your kid survives, congratulations! Now you know they're having seizures.

Well, Schuyler's eleven, and she still doesn't ride a bicycle, so that's a fun fear that I can put off for a while. It's good to pace yourself, after all.

When we learned of Schuyler's polymicrogyria almost eight years ago (God, I can't believe it's been that long), this wasn't what we expected. I suspect that's true for a lot of parents. You imagine the Big Event, you imagine that first seizure arriving like a hurricane or an earthquake. You don't think about the possibility that you just might not know, it might take years to discover the truth.

There's a lot I don't know. I don't know if Schuyler is having seizures. I don't know if she's significantly (and permanently) impaired intellectually. Will she ever catch up to her classmates? Will she graduate from high school one day? Will she drive a car and live in an apartment and have a job? Will she date boys and get married? Will she date girls and scandalize her grandparents? When I die, will she cry her tears and then move on with her independent life? Will the monster that holds her back now begin to gently release its grip on her as she gets older, or will it one day crush her in its hands? I don't know. I can't know.

Other parents worry about their neurotypical or otherwise unafflicted children's futures, I get that. But not like this. I wish I knew how to explain to those parents, the ones who try to cheer us up by telling us how they worry about their kids, too, just like us, that no, they don't. I wish I could make them see that the things that worry them, things like good grades or their daughters' first periods or their kids' lives after high school, these things terrify us. Even the usual stuff is hard, the stuff we can see coming. The thing you learn with a kid like Schuyler is that even the boring stuff goes down differently with her. You think you know how it'll play out, but you don't.

Sometimes I feel like the worst thing that happened to Schuyler was simply that she was our first born. After Schuyler, we made the decision not to risk more children, and while that has been a source of some sadness over the years, it was nevertheless exactly the correct choice to make. But if we'd had another child before Schuyler, if she had an older, neurotypical sibling, then at least she wouldn't be as alone as she is. I don't know, though. Maybe it wouldn't be any better. Schuyler is loved by a great many people, including members of her family, but the harsh truth is that the reality of her situation is understood by very very few. Our friends, our co-workers, and both our families want to get it, to get her, but they don't. And really, I don't know that they can.

Because honestly, I don't know that Julie or I do, either, although I know we get closer than anyone else. Some of her teachers have probably gotten close from time to time, too. The hope and the enthusiasm we all felt when we first moved to Plano has been replaced by some grey truths. Schuyler can be difficult to teach. Schuyler can be age-appropriate in some ways and astonishingly delayed in others. A world in which she can attend mainstream classrooms and learn alongside her neurotypical classmates seems more out of reach now than ever before. And she might be having seizures.

Sometimes when I write about Schuyler, I have a point that I'm trying to make. I take my topic and I use my skills as a writer to present it, sculpted and shaped into something that works as an essay, something that might have meaning and value to others. But every now and then, when I feel overwhelmed both by the way things are and the unknown and the unknowable, I just start writing, just let my anxieties flow out without shape or craft. No art, just "fuck".

Sorry, but yeah. Fuck.

March 4, 2011


Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob
You watch for the big monsters. You brace for them, wait for them to come so you can wrestle with them, your feet firmly in place, set for the match. But the thing is, when they arrive, they never feel like big monsters. They don't even reveal themselves all at once. They quietly walk into the room, never in the light but rather in the shadows at the edges. It can take a long time to notice that they're even there, and to identify what they are.

Two years ago, we faced the possibility that Schuyler was beginning to have absence seizures. This was tough, but not unexpected; the majority of kids with polymicrogyria, as many as 85-90% of them, develop seizures. Over the next couple of months, we went trough the whole process of EEG evaluation, including a fun test where Schuyler had wires glued to her head for a whole weekend. That test was ultimately inconclusive. It didn't record any outright seizures, but it did show a "significant neurological event" occurring periodically on the left side of her brain while she slept. Her neurologist had no idea what it was, only what it wasn't. No seizures, not yet, but maybe... something.

I hate writing about something that might embarrass Schuyler one day, but it's kind of hard to avoid at this point, so I apologize in advance. A few weeks ago, out of the blue, Schuyler had an accident. She peed her pants. A few days later, it happened again. Both times she said she tried to get to the bathroom in time, but didn't make it. She explained, as best as she could, that it just happened. One minute she didn't have to go, and the next, it was too late.

Last night, at the house of a friend, it happened again, catching her completely by surprise. And then tonight, after we got home from school, one minute she was sitting down with her Happy Meal, and the next, she was running to the bathroom, in vain. Another accident.

On none of these occasions was anyone actively observing her in the exact moment. But we know the warning signs; we've known them for years, always kept them in the back of our minds.

Typical absence seizures are primary generalized seizures characterized by brief staring episodes, lasting two to 15 seconds (generally less than 10 seconds), with impaired consciousness and responsiveness. They begin without warning (no aura) and end suddenly, leaving the person alert and without postictal confusion. Often, the person will resume preattack activities, as if nothing had happened. Simple absence seizures are characterized by staring spells alone. In complex absence seizures, which are more common, staring is accompanied by automatisms, such as eye blinks or lip smacking; they may include mild clonic, atonic, or autonomic components involving the facial muscles. There may also be a slight nod of the head or semi-purposeful movements of the mouth or hands. The automatisms tend to be stereotyped, with the same behaviors occurring during each seizure. Penry et al observed automatisms in 63% of all absence seizures. However, the automatisms are less elaborate than those observed with complex partial seizures. There may also be autonomic manifestations, such as pupil dilation, flushing, tachycardia, piloerection, salivation, or urinary incontinence.

"Absence Seizures and Syndromes: An Overview", from Perspectives in Pediatric Neurology

So again we brace ourselves, not for that often-imagined moment when Schuyler falls to the floor in a grand mal seizure and suddenly It Has Come, but rather for the suspicion, the realization that something may already be happening, that the odds may have caught up with her at last. Last time, we wondered because Schuyler had been spacing out from time to time. This time, the signs are even more compelling. And again, we'll put Schuyler in the hands and the sensors of a neurology team in the hopes that they may have their crown of wires attached to her at an opportune moment so that we can finally know if this is beginning in earnest.

Schuyler is eleven now, and we believe that she's old enough for a little more adult conversation about this. She's known about her condition for a while. A number of people have written to me over the years, afraid that words like "broken" and "monster" were going to scar her somehow, but the fact is that we've had some version of this conversation going with her all along. People afraid of how Schuyler might feel if she read my words one day are missing the point. She's been hearing the words, she's been soaking up the concept. Hiding her reality from her would be wrong, and it would be pointless. She faces the big truths in her own way; she processes them in her own time.

She was feeling humiliated by her accident tonight, as she had the night before, so I sat down with her and explained that these accidents might not be her fault. I told her that the same thing in her brain that makes it hard for her to speak clearly, the thing that causes her to drool sometimes and keeps her from eating some foods, that thing might also be causing her to pee her pants every now and then. I explained how our brains run on electricity (which she thought was pretty cool), and that some brains use too much electricity sometimes, which causes them to overload. Those overloads are called seizures, I told her. Some of them are brief and small, so small that the person doesn't know that they had them, while others are bigger.

I told her that we will have to see a doctor again to be sure, but that she might be having those little seizures, and if she is, that might be causing her to pee her pants. I told her that these seizures were cause by the thing in her brain that made her different.

"What's it called?" she asked.

"What's what called?"

She pointed to her head. "The little monster in my brain."

It occurred to me that I might not have ever actually told her this part. "It's got a long name, it's called polymicrogyria."

She thought about that for a moment, and then laughed. "That's a funny name," she said.

"Do you want to call it something else?" I asked.

"What's it called?" she asked.


She laughed. "I know, I know!" (She says "I know, I know!" a lot when she gets excited.) "It's Polly the Monster!"

I see a monster that may finally be giving my little girl seizures, might be delivering on the ugly promise we'd been made when Schuyler was diagnosed almost eight years ago, and I feel my heart drop again.

Schuyler sees that monster, and she nicknames it Polly.

As we drove to pick up Julie at work, Schuyler sat quietly in the passenger seat, processing. Finally she turned to me.

"Daddy? I don't want a little monster in my brain."

She said it seriously but not somberly, sad but not crushed. I told her that I didn't want her to have it, either, but there was nothing we could do but make the very best of it, the same as we always had.

She shrugged a little and said, "I know."

Later, she asked Julie if she was sad. She said it with concern for her mother, but I didn't get the sense that she was terribly sad herself. I mean, she wasn't thrilled by this new situation, but she was processing it already, moving faster than we were, perhaps sensing that some very hard stuff may be waiting in the near future but already impatient with the sad.

"I know." She knows.