February 24, 2014

Help Wanted

Today at Support for Special Needs:
She sees her future work life as an abstraction, probably because at her age, the future seems limitless. She believes that whatever she's going to do with her life is a choice that is firmly in her hands. But for Schuyler, and for kids like her, that future may not actually have that many options.

February 19, 2014

Schuyler's Brain

After Schuyler's most recent visit to her neurologist back in December, we were given a cd with images from her MRI. In what felt like a flashback to 1995, the cd wouldn't open on our Mac, much less the app that displays the images. We picked it up during the holiday break, so I couldn't take it to work and try it there. We'd already received the pertinent information from Schuyler's neurologist anyway, so there wasn't really anything to be learned from seeing the images. By the time the holidays were over, the cd sat on my desk, patiently waiting for me to remember to bring it in to the office with me.

It ended up waiting until this week.

It brought the cd to work with me, along with Schuyler, who had the day off from school. It was President's Day, an important national holiday which she celebrated like a serious citizen by bingeing on unwatchable Disney Channel programs on her iPad and eating all the snacks in the building. As she sat in my office with her iPad, I stepped down the hall and had a friend open the MRI viewing app on her PC.

And there it was, again. Schuyler's brain, ten years older but still looking, you know, brainy. There were two different versions of the scan side by side, one presenting as bright features and high-contrast regions, and the other more subtle, showing the details of her brain, the folds and the blood vessels.

Even at a glance, as I watched the layers go by, I could see the thing that has bedeviled my daughter and shaped her world and her perception of that world since before she was born. Slightly behind her temples, on both sides. It was faintly visible on the more subtle image, but stood out as a white featureless area on the other, in contrast with the rest of her brain.

I texted Schuyler and told her to come to my friend's office. When she walked in and saw what was on the screen, her eyes widened. She knew what it was immediately.

"Do you know what that is?" I asked.

"My brain?" she answered.

"Yep, that's your brain. And what's that?" I asked, pointing to the two bright regions on the sides.

She hesitated, and then said "My little monster?"

Her little monster.

She was both fascinated and a little grossed out by the images, especially as we moved through the scans. ("Look at your eyeballs, Schuyler! Look at your teeth!") She watched for a little longer and then went back to her crappy tv shows, her curiosity satisfied.

I have to be honest. I could look at those images all day. Not for the information they contain; we'd already gotten a rundown of all the news, which wasn't all that much anyway. But exploring the physical reality of Schuyler's brain is to tangibly experience a place that has been the center of our family's universe for the past decade, but in a largely metaphoric way. It's not just Schuyler who sees her brain as a mysterious but cool place where a tiny monster lives and throws chaos into her path now and then. To actually see that place is a little like getting satellite photos of weather patterns in Middle Earth.

It's easy to forget that all the challenge and all the wonder of Schuyler, the parts that are broken and the parts that are inexplicably working anyway and the things that are the perfect center of my life, it's all there, in that little ball of meat and electricity. Just a simple thing, and yet the most complex organic structure in the world. For Schuyler, more complicated even than most.

Schuyler's brain is malformed, and significantly so. It has changed a little, but not in a way that concerns her neurologist. The regions affected by her polymicrogyria remain essentially unchanged since 2003, as they will remain unchanged for the rest of her life. Those parts aren't doing nothing, and much of their impairment seems to have been taken up by other parts of her brain. But how that rewiring happens is a mystery. Schuyler's original doctor admitted that where the brain is concerned, even the most advanced medical giants in his field were not much more knowledgable than ancient village shamans. We know what Schuyler's brain is doing, but we have no idea how.

Schuyler's brain is where her monster lives. That's what she says. She embraced the metaphor from the title of my book, and she took it to heart. She imagines her monster, tiny and bug-eyed and fierce, sitting in its little comfy, overstuffed monster chair, and it watches her. It pushes buttons on its big monster console and creates the fog that impairs her thinking. It presses another button and disengages clarity in her speech. It pulls a lever and conjures earthquakes now and then. She doesn't like her little monster, and on the hard days she comments that it doesn't like her, either. She never says she wants the monster gone, however. She accepted long ago that she and her little monster are going to be engaged in this uneasy, awkward dance for the rest of her life.

Schuyler's brain is where her world is constructed, like a template that sits atop the boring one the rest of us occupy. Her world contains big monsters, too. Some of them consist entirely of shadows that only she can see, with the aid of her special goggles (left over from her Amelia Earhart costume from a few Halloweens back). Her world is one in which lights passing overhead in the night sky might belong to airplanes, but are just as likely to be part of a spacecraft bringing aliens to our midst. It's a world where her father might just be a werewolf, which suggests that as my daughter, she might just have some howling and adventure ahead for her as well. Schuyler isn't delusional; she understands that these are constructs. But even now, she brings her world of play wherever she goes, and the invitation to visit her there always stands, for anyone willing to put on a pair of monster hunting goggles and join her.

Schuyler's brain is a place full of contradictions. In that brain, the people she meets are potential friends, and she constructs those friendships mentally long before she makes them. But that brain has a difficult time building those friendships, and so she stumbles, is socially awkward, because she doesn't quite know how to bridge that gap, the one that her monster excavated and the one that she probably just comes by naturally, too. Schuyler is both boisterous and shy. One day she'll make some forever friends. One day she'll find that forever boy, or forever girl, and when it happens, it'll be because that person will see Schuyler's worth, and so he or she will do the work that comes with communicating and negotiating and working out the mysteries of Schuyler's brain.

When I look at the pictures of Schuyler's brain, I see a universe contained inside a perfect little girl's head. And I see the very center of my own world. It's a puzzle and a perfect vacation spot and a remarkable learning lab and a battleground. When I think about that brain, in all its corporeal mass and its indescribable spiritual vastness, I can only say that I love it, with its imperfections and all its beauty and its immeasurable possibilities. It is in fact my very favorite place in all the world.

February 17, 2014

Diversity in Language

Today at Support for Special Needs:
As parents of children with disabilities, we are constantly looking for the word choices that reflect not just our kids’ reality, but also the dignity and the hope and the possibilities that we hold as a kind of sacred trust.

February 10, 2014

Monsters Who Smile

I'm sorry if you're getting tired of this story. I actually wrote this last week. One of the pitfalls of a weekly column, I guess. Anyway, today at Support for Special Needs:
But being Schuyler’s father has also shown me, again and again with stark clarity, that there really are monsters in this world, and some of them smile pretty smiles and take your daughter by the hand if you let them, and God, do I hope I’m alert enough to know those monsters when I see them.

February 3, 2014

You're worth what you're worth.

Today at Support for Special Needs:
My fears for that future, and they are legion, have little to do with what Schuyler will be able to do, or what her worth to the world might be in measurable values. My fear is rooted squarely in those who hold her future success and those of her friends in their hands, and whether or not they truly understand the value of what that means.

January 27, 2014


Today at Support for Special Needs:
Special needs parents and their support professionals frequently talk about transitions. They are wildly important. It’s maybe the hardest part for a lot of our kids, and it’s the one that we know they can’t escape. The thing is, it’s the thing we can’t escape, either. Change is coming, as it always is. Sometimes stealthily as if on cat’s paws, but lately, more like a howling wind that drives everything before it.

January 20, 2014

Here Be Dragons

Today at Support for Special Needs:
For the parents of special needs kids who have developmental and communication impediments to independently moving through the world or reporting the troubling things that happen to them, the map of our world is crowded with monsters and terrors and fears. We’d gladly take on all the dragons and the krakens of the ancient world instead.

January 13, 2014

The Simple Story

Today, at Support for Special Needs:
The thing I find sometimes is how much there is to learn in the simplified version she gives back. She doesn't take something complicated and dumb it down. Often, she distills it, tries to break it down to its most elemental parts. When she gets those parts right, it feels like a tiny triumph, not just for her but also for me. Schuyler teaches me to communicate, even as she works hard to learn those skills for herself.

January 8, 2014

On Competency and Agency

One of the concepts you see referenced frequently in disability writing these days is to always presume competence. It's a straightforward enough principle, and in the world of disability, it goes back farther than you might think, back before most of us even think of disability advocacy being A Thing.

Think of the story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. Sullivan's success in helping Keller develop the means to communicate with the world hinged on one simple thing: the presumption that Helen Keller's problem came from not having a practical and efficient way to communicate. Introducing her to the construction of language was the key. Given those tools, Helen Keller demonstrated that she had competence, the presumption of which hadn't occurred to many of her earlier teachers.

Presuming competence is the beginning, particularly where education is concerned. For teachers, the presumption of competence should be the Golden Rule, or the Prime Directive, or Square One. When we presume competence, we start off by assuming that a student has the intellectual capacity to participate in the world around them, and to be educated in a meaningful way. We assume that even the most physically and/or intellectually impaired student has needs and thoughts and experiences to communicate, and that even the most inscrutable actions and utterances represent forms of communication.

It can be difficult for teachers to embrace presumed competence because doing so places the responsibility for finding ways to reach those students squarely on those charged with educating them. Faced with large class loads and challenging students, it can be tempting for teachers to declare that some individuals simply cannot learn, and whose limited participation in the world is self-imposed. I've heard some very good teachers make those statements before. I've watched otherwise professional people decide that they've found that ceiling, and who are confident enough in their own teaching abilities that they believe further development can't happen.

The issue of presumed competence is something that every special needs parent runs into, and not rarely. It's tough, but it's important, maybe the most crucial piece of the very complicated equation. And it informs everything we do in our quest to correctly implement inclusive education. We don't set out to discover who is capable of learning or participating. We instead search for how that can be done, for every student. For every human. It all starts with the presumption of competence.

The tricky reality of presumed competence has come up over the last year in regards to Schuyler's school environment, but lately I've been thinking about this because of something that happened outside of the sphere of her education, actually.

The short version involves someone who was, I don't know if "offended" was the right word, exactly, but certainly troubled because when discussing Schuyler's possible future relationships, I referred to "that boy or that girl". (All hypothetical; as far as we can tell, Schuyler currently seems to be fixated on boys, albeit some punky ones.) The commenter asked, wouldn't supporting Schuyler if she did ultimately decide she wanted to date girls be another way of making her life more difficult? And in the subsequent discussion, the same commenter mentioned her concern that Schuyler's religious beliefs "mirror" those of her parents.

Leaving aside the twin bugbears of homophobia and religious intolerance that the discussion summons (being the Internet, it feels almost inevitable that they should make their appearance), the thing that bothered me the most was this idea of presumed competence, and of Schuyler's ability to take agency over things like her spirituality or who she wants to date. (As if her sexual orientation is something that she'll "choose" one day, but OH MY GOD, DON'T TOUCH THAT DOOR, WE'RE NOT GOING TO TALK ABOUT THAT HERE, EITHER!)

Schuyler is developmentally disabled. You can word that however you like, but it's her reality. It makes some things hard for her. It necessitates her taking more time in school, and it also requires her to take some complex concepts, and I think dating and religion qualify, and simplify them to some extent.

That doesn't change much, though. It is very clear that Schuyler knows what she believes. If her beliefs mirror ours (and that presumes that my wife and I believe the exact same things, which we do not), I'm not sure what that says. It certainly isn't because we tell her what to believe. We've had long discussions about what other members of our families believe, too, so she knows that her parents' beliefs are exceptions among both the Rummels and the Hudsons.

Furthermore, she attends school in one of the most conservative and bechurched cities in the country. I'm proud of Schuyler for declaring she doesn't believe in God, not because that's what we want to hear from her, but because she has the confidence to say so in defiance of what so many around her believe. If her parents influenced her, I suspect we did so chiefly in demonstrating to her that it's okay for her NOT to believe. That can be hard for a kid, particularly in such a predominately Christian society.

And if she changes her mind, which as a fourteen year-old she is almost certain to do at some point, I will be equally proud of her.

We will always try to guide Schuyler towards making good choices, but there are things we won't decide for her. We won't be the ones to tell her whether she's straight or not. She'll tell us. We won't be the ones to tell her what to wear or what movies and tv to watch or what music to listen to. She makes odd but great choices in that regard already. And we won't be the ones to lead her to her own great spiritual epiphanies, either. Those belong to her as well, along with all the other pieces of who she is that she's only just now beginning to discover.

Because Schuyler is competent. And every day, in ways both large and small, we watch her take more agency over her life.

January 6, 2014

One Resolution

Today at Support for Special Needs:
What I’m doing by not saying anything is a form of silent consent. I let a little piece of verbal poison go out into the world because I don’t want to have an awkward conversation with a stranger, or worse, with a friend or family member. I hold myself up as some kind of New & Improved Rob because I don’t say it anymore, but every time it goes past me unremarked upon, all I’m really doing is allowing someone else to say it for me. I feel like that might be a little worse.

January 2, 2014

A Complicated Homecoming

I don't return home to Odessa very often. Probably not nearly enough, anyway. It's been almost three decades since I actually lived there. I left home a few weeks after I graduated from high school, back during the end of the oil boom and the beginning of some tough years for the place, and for my family. In the mid-80s, the oilfield economy was tanking, hard, and the publication of Friday Night Lights a few years later would train a spotlight on West Texas football and education and the community in a way that was ultimately good medicine but at the time probably felt a little like being kicked while they were down.

My father was to die suddenly a few years after I left, too. The aneurism in his heart burst as he stood in his yard talking to a friend; as a doctor later said, he was "dead before he hit the ground". I don't know why I always imagined a death bed scene like something from a movie, where he and I would somehow work things out before he died. What I got instead was a phone call, and a quiet six-hour drive home to Odessa, and another two-hour drive out to the remote cemetery at Paint Creek where he'd inexplicably chosen to be buried.

His last resting place felt ridiculous and cliched at the time, with its dusty plots and wild flowers and lizards, and most of all a kind of desert silence that felt almost loud. But that was then, I guess. Almost twenty-four years later, I can see why it appealed to him. I suppose most people pick a burial spot with the grieving people they leave behind in mind, but not my father. He thought of himself, and the kind of place he'd like to spend eternity, as if he would be doing so sitting in a lawn chair, sipping from that old plastic cup he always carried, the one with the words "The King" written on the side, perhaps with an irony I didn't recognize at the time, in his own hand writing.

So my father is removed from my hometown, and what's left are the family who still call it home. I should visit them more. I wonder sometimes if they think I don't care. I do care, very much. They've all continued to grow and age and have babies who then have babies themselves. My father is stuck in my head forever at the age of fifty-one, only five years older than I am now. If there was to be any wisdom or even self-awareness waiting in his future, it was ultimately denied him. Denied him, and all of us whom he left behind, hurt and wondering at his choices, and at his love. It was hard to see, that love. All these years later, long after it ever ceased to matter, I wonder if his love existed at all. He's no longer in Odessa, but his presence lingers, in memories and the places to which they're tied. Perhaps that's part of why I stay away. My hometown has grown ghosty.

Schuyler has been asking to see her Granny for a while, and my niece had a new baby at the beginning of December, so it felt like a good time to make the drive. As a retail manager, Julie is pretty much out of commission from November to the middle of January, so Schuyler and I pick a time when her mother wouldn't be home much anyway, the last weekend of the year, and we head west together.

Schuyler is a great travel buddy at any time, but going home is particularly fun. It's been a few years since she went back, long enough that the whole experience feels new to her. She sees the things that seem old and tired to me, but with new eyes. She doesn't see the desert like I once did. Schuyler sees a place that is rare and impossibly flat and ready for adventure, as if mummies or dinosaurs are waiting just out of sight. When I was her age, living there, Odessa felt like a prison, with a desert instead of walls. I thought I'd never leave. I saw places on television and in movies that seemed exotic simply because they were green, or densely populated, or on the cusp of a much larger world. New England could have been Mars.

Now, even the remote desert feels new. As soon as we pass the halfway point at Abilene, great spindly wind turbines begin to appear on the low hills on the horizon, and we notice the most unlikely of motion from their gigantic blades. These are the wind farms that have become the new face, and currency, of West Texas. Schuyler is fascinated by them, and I am, too, come to think of it. They seem so alien, like armies of robots in search of something. Even if they didn't represent a commitment to clean energy in maybe the last place on earth I'd expect it, I'd still love them. They add something to the landscape, something modern and peaceful and strong. It's hard to explain.

Odessa and the surrounding area are now in the midst of a boom, but it feels different than the one of my youth. I remember Odessa then, growing, gradually and organically, with things just generally getting a little weirder but a lot nicer as a result. Driving into town now, though, it feels very, very different this time. Housing is impossible to find, I'm told, and the lines at restaurants and local businesses are long and rowdy. The outskirts of town where my friends and I once did our drinking and lighting fireworks and making out are now built up, with lookalike strip malls and the same box stores you find anywhere in America. Passing into the town itself, things feel... diminished. The town of my childhood is still there, and it hasn't changed much except for growing more ragged. I'd hoped the new boom might save my home, and perhaps it will, in some sense. But from my eyes, those now of an outsider, it seems like new Odessa is simply building over the old. I guess that's the way it happens. Maybe that's why you can never go home.

We spend the weekend with my mother, who somehow manages to get older without growing old, and with my sister and her kids and her grandkids. (Yeah, that was a little hard to type.) By total coincidence, Schuyler's godparents are in town, so we get to spend some much-needed time with them. We eat at the fast food places of my youth and visit the sad little mall where I once hung out. We try to buy gear from the local (and new since I'd lived there there) hockey team, the Odessa Jackalopes, in part because the mascot is exactly as much fun as you'd expect (an angry rabbit with antlers) but mostly because there's something about the idea of a hockey team in Odessa that is too weird not to be celebrated. Sadly, the pro shop at "the Jack Shack" (as the Ector County Coliseum is apparently now known) is closed.

Schuyler has lots of questions about my home and my past. She wants to see the places I grew up, particularly the schools I attended. She wants me to show her the routes I walked home from school, as if the thought of doing so was the stuff of wild adventure.

When I post photos of my old schools and other shots around the area up on Facebook, some people take the opportunity to comment on how unattractive my home is. I get that. I recognize that it must be hard for people who come from pretty places to understand how those of us who grew up in harder environments could somehow still have had enjoyable childhoods, or that we might still have fondness for those places, and even find them beautiful. It's like anything else; we make plenty of jokes about "Slowdeatha" or "Odessalation", because we lived it. We did our time. We experienced our youthful days with grit in our mouths. But if someone else tries it, our defenses go up. It's the "he ain't heavy, he's my brother" effect, I guess.

The thing is, Schuyler doesn't seem to see it as ugly, or harsh. When she sees vast dusty acres of high grass and mesquite bushes, she imagines the snakes and jackrabbits and horny toads that must be hiding out there, just waiting for discovery. Schuyler has sand in her blood, I guess. She's got her father's weird love of the desert.

When we leave Odessa to return to Dallas, Schuyler again asks about my father. We leave the interstate and head southeast, for the tiny town of Robert Lee and the remote Paint Creek Cemetery a few miles away. As we drive out past Sterling City, the wind turbines return, like giants both protecting us and beckoning us further. When I see them, I wonder if they hold vigil over my father's grave now, but the road drops into a shallow valley and the wind farms fall behind us. When we arrive at Paint Creek, it looks completely unchanged, not just since I visited last, but in all those long, full years since I watched my father lowered into the chalky ground, taking his secrets with him.

He's keeping them there still.

December 31, 2013

I will try.

At Support for Special Needs:
I’m not sure I’d call any of these "resolutions". But as we march off into 2014, I will try to be the father that Schuyler needs, more now than ever. I wasn’t ready to take on the life’s work of being a special needs father; I’m not sure anyone ever really is. But it is in the trying that I become a better father, and a more whole person.

December 23, 2013

Christmas Eve Eve

Today at Support for Special Needs:
I mentioned this last year, but one of the things I value the most about a site like this one is how we can come here and be weird. We can find others whose holidays are as atypical as our own, and other families whose traditions are as driven by circumstance as ours. We know the obstacles, and we know how much work has gone in and how much is still waiting in the future. And we understand, in ways we can't describe to typical families but don't need to describe to each other, how deeply satisfying the love we work for and nurture really can be. It's a hard love, and it's the very best love.

Best wishes for the very happiest of holidays
to you and to those you care about!

December 18, 2013

My All, at Fourteen

This week always presents a natural time to stop and reflect on where Schuyler is in her life, with her birthday only a few days away. It's also the end of the year, so everyone's in this whole "looking back" mood anyway. It's a good time for marking transitions.

This year, it feels even more so. When I look back on Schuyler's first teenaged year, it feels like a great deal of significance took place, not all of it easily measured or commemorated. She doesn't come across as a different person than she was a year ago, but she just seems... more. More complete. More complicated. More damaged. Stronger. A little sadder. A lot smarter. And in some ways happier, too.

Thirteen was the year that Schuyler became serious about using her iPad to communicate. It was the year when the software and the hardware caught up with each other, and despite a few snags and professional lapses, it was the year when she began to assemble a team that is developing a real plan for how she moves forward. She still resists using AAC to communicate; once again, we recently had the semi-regular "But I want to talk like everyone else!" tantrum. I don't think she's demanding that the impossible change somehow. I think she just needs to howl at the sky every now and then, to protest the injustice and to fight the future a little. She's learning to put aside her protest when she needs to, and that might represent the best step forward that she's taken in a long time. This next year will tell.

Thirteen will almost certainly be remembered as her cheerleader year. She's still got some responsibilities for the spring semester, but not that much. This was the year that we crossed our fingers and stepped into uncertainty, handing our daughter over to a situation that could very much work, or very much not.

The verdict? I don't actually know. Schuyler loves cheerleading. She's incredibly proud of herself, and she participates with real joy and enthusiasm. When she's actually cheering, she's on top of the world.

But there are... complications. The inclusive environment that we'd hoped for feels more like the "you can stand here and be happy" school of inclusion. Schuyler hasn't received the extra help that we'd hoped she might get, and wasn't even allowed to move to the back row of girls so she'd have some visual cues to help her, despite both Schuyler and us making that request. The mix of girls broke into cliques almost immediately, and stayed that way. That's never good news for the kid who's different.

It's the little things that start to feel not so small. As we discovered last week, Schuyler's name wasn't even spelled correctly on her locker poster OR the official board at the school, and I guess it's been that way all semester. That might sound minor, but it sends a message.

I asked Schuyler if she'd pointed out the spelling error to her cheer coach, and she said no. She's being frustratingly oblique about the whole thing. She has a good time cheering, but she also says she doesn't want to do it again next year. Schuyler has taken the parts that she's enjoyed, and she's given up on the rest, and I'm saddened for her but also proud of her, for her pragmatism and her unflagging positivity.

A couple of months ago, after her request to move to the second row of girls was turned down, Schuyler and I walked to the car after the game. She down and sighed.

"I wish she would treat me like a real cheerleader," she said. And then she didn't want to talk about it any more.

So. That's cheerleading.

Most critically, thirteen was the year that Schuyler began taking seizure medications. Her neurologist had determined that she was likely having partial complex seizures for some time before, but it was only when the aftereffects of a recent seizure were bad enough to send her home from school that he decided it was time. Her MRI showed changes as well. We didn't disagree with his earlier determination that it wasn't time for meds, and we don't disagree with him now.

She's ramping up to her full dosage; she'll be there in a couple of weeks. So far, she's just beginning to show some side effects. None of them are unmanageable, and she's aware of the changes and tries to compensate for them. She understands that this is all in the service of helping her brain heal and manage itself, and she's game, to the point of clarifying how she feels so that I can get it right for this post. ("Now my brain feels weird and strong, like smart.")

I'm proud of her; she knows that the "brain pills" are fucking with her, but she grasps the big picture and never ever tries to beg off of taking them. We should have a better idea in the next few weeks if this is going to help and if she's going to be able to manage the effects.

So her birthday, and the holidays, arrives at a moment of transition, of a kind of change none of us have ever experienced together. Schuyler's having a bit of a rough time right now, but she's holding things together. She leaves thirteen behind at a crucial time, and she's going to need the love and support and, yes, the patience of every person in the world who loves her.

Fortunately for her, that's a lot of people.

What will fourteen bring? It'll bring high school, two words that encompass all the fear and all the potential and all the excitement in the whole world for her, and for us. Fourteen will include meeting new friends and even new family. It'll be about finding a balance that has eluded her. Balance in how her school implements an inclusive curriculum. Balance in her mysterious brain chemistry. Balance between her dependence on her parents and her desire to take flight on her own. Balance between her natural exuberance and the reality of her world. Schuyler's both younger than her chronological age, and wise beyond her years. That may be the trickiest balance of all for her.

Thirteen was big for Schuyler. Thirteen was unyielding and rough, but it was transfiguring and significant. Thirteen showed Schuyler, in ways it hadn't before, that the world might eat her up if she's not careful, but I think it also might have just introduced her to the empowered young woman she's going to be.

When asked if she had a message for the world, Schuyler said,
"Go see The Hobbit and have a happy New Year!"

December 16, 2013

The Buccaneer Life

Today at Support for Special Needs:
The thought of striking out against that, of hoisting a flag of defiance and breaking down some of that restricting world’s walls? That’s some powerful fantasy material for those of us trying to navigate the sweet spot between this rock and that hard place. You don’t have to ask us twice if we would like a turn at the cannonade. Our flintlocks are already loaded.

December 9, 2013

The Hardest Forgiveness

Today at Support for Special Needs:
As parents, we’re probably almost certainly unprepared for the disabilities of our children, at least at first. We go into battle against monsters without so much as a BB gun in our hands. What we discover as we go is that sometimes, we don’t need weapons. We simply need different tools, such as patience, and tougher skins, and ingenuity. And most of all, we need to learn forgiveness, primarily for ourselves.

December 5, 2013

Injustice League

This week (sorry, I forgot to publish this on Monday) at Support for Special Needs:
What I truly want is for my friends to run out of hurts, to have no stories of our community being treated poorly. I want someone to say "I looked up #retard on Twitter, and nothing came up." I want to hear about the organ transplants being granted to patients with intellectual disabilities. I want to hear about how the kids on the bus were kind and the popular middle school girls gave the shy little nonverbal girl at the back of the room a makeover after school and taught her to dance to One Direction. I want to read about kids who are different writing poetry, not suicide notes. I want to read about the community that decided to invest in special education programs, and about the politicians who reach across that aisle to extend basic human rights to the disabled, rather than taking away their "entitlements".

November 29, 2013

The Uncertain Season

Schuyler decorated our tree this year. I can remember a time, roughly a week ago, when she was a small child who would have only reached the bottom branches. Two weeks ago, I believe she was a baby and would have been putting the ornaments in her mouth. Schuyler turns fourteen in a few weeks. Just typing that out felt weird, as if I'm lying to you. Well, of course I am. Little girls aren't fourteen. Babies aren't taller than their mothers.

It's been a strange week for Schuyler. She had an MRI a few days ago, but apparently she wiggled too much, despite her best efforts to hold still, so she has another one next week, under sedation. I'm not sure what her doctor is looking for, if anything. He may simply be looking for an updated picture of what's going on in there. So much of Schuyler's world feels uncertain. I guess it's always been that way.

Schuyler has begun taking her anti-seizure meds, starting at 1/6th of her eventual dosage. It's hard to say what effect, if any, they've had on her. In five weeks or so, she'll be on her full dose, and then look out. For now, she takes her brain pills willingly. It's hard to say whether her behavior is slightly more squirrelly than before because of her meds, or if she's just a girl on her Thanksgiving break, enjoying the world around her with a little extra gusto. I suspect the latter.

Schuyler's broken, beautiful brain will adjust and find its groove, and so will she. Schuyler is wildly interesting at this age, in ways that are kind of new. We talk about big things, like her unpredictable brain and how the planets do their thing and why she believes in monsters but not God.

The future feels more opaque than ever. At this time of year, however, that mystery seems to hold less menace and more of something that feels a little like hope.

November 25, 2013

The Brain Pill

Today at Support for Special Needs
I don't know what I was expecting, but Schuyler's brain, by virtue of its remarkable rewired structure, is a huge unknown to us all. And the potential side effects of this med spelled out on the info sheet were daunting; I half expected to see "werewolfism" listed.

November 22, 2013

Storm Warning

We've embarked down another path with Schuyler. It's not a path we were hoping to ever step foot upon, but then, we were perhaps entertaining unreasonably high hopes.

We received a call from the school yesterday morning, letting us know that Schuyler was in the nurse's office, complaining about a bad headache. When I went to pick her up, the nurse filled in some of the details, including the fact that Schuyler was saying and doing things that didn't actually make a lot of sense. Schuyler seemed tired and a little disoriented when I saw her, and after we got home, she remained... not herself. She complained about a headache for a while, localized on the right side. By three o'clock, she was fine, but even as the afternoon and early evening wore on, she was clearly exhausted. She went to bed early without protest.

So, yeah. Schuyler had a seizure at school. The usual indicators were there, laid out like familiar road signs.

This one seemed worse than before, however, and it manifested itself differently. I made a call to her neurologist, and when he heard the details, he asked that she be brought in immediately. His urgency got our attention.

The short version is that this new manifestation of Schuyler's seizures convinced her doctor that it was time to put Schuyler on seizure medications. Before, he didn't believe that they were serious enough to justify the issues that come with these meds, which are not usually very gentle on the brain. But now, he's concerned that stronger seizures could cause her brain, in its malformed state, to become "kindle" for the harder grand mal seizures that everyone is deeply committed to avoiding if at all possible.

One of the reasons I like this neurologist is that when he talks ABOUT Schuyler, he talks TO Schuyler. He asks her questions directly, only turning to me when she's having trouble expressing herself, and when he's got hard stuff to say, he doesn't sugarcoat it for her. The conversation, some of it dark, about what could happen if her seizures progress, and about what these meds could do to her, was had with Schuyler first and foremost. I like that. She deserves that.

As we talked on the way home, Schuyler suddenly made the connection between the bad and potentially dangerous grand mal seizures we're all trying to ward off and the heartbreaking seizure she witnessed this summer when one of her friends in Miracle League soccer was suddenly stricken in the middle of the field and had to be taken away, still unconscious, in an ambulance. This thought scared the shit out of her, and I don't remember the last time I saw that kind of fear in her eyes, or watched her cry like that. It was hard to watch, but at the same time, she deserved the truth, and the opportunity to take some level of ownership over this thing. She's scared, but she's taking it seriously, in a way that perhaps she hadn't before.

Meds will be good for her. Now that her seizures have reached this level, her brain will benefit from a little control, and will be able to heal and develop without having to fight so much. The risk/benefit balance has shifted, as we always suspected it would.

As we talked it all out in the car on the way home, Schuyler tried to put herself back together. I knew she was looking for answers to questions that she didn't even know how to ask. Big, scary boo questions.

"Look at me, Schuyler," I said. "Everything is going to be okay. I'm not going to let anything bad happen to you. I promise."

Well, I realize I shouldn't have promised her any such thing. Of course I know that. But I've made much bigger mistakes in than making such a promise to her. And I truly meant it in the moment. Hours later, after much contemplation, I still do.