December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve, 2011

I usually write a Christmas Eve post that is mostly about my own faith, such as it is. I'll certainly link to and quote from one I like, from 2008, which says it pretty well already:
I guess on Christmas Eve of all days, I permit myself to believe that perhaps Schuyler's strange words aren't necessarily broken, but from some other world that I'll never be able to visit but which, through her, I get to glimpse.

In 1 Corinthians, St. Paul describes the tongues of angels, unintelligible to us. Maybe, just maybe, this is what he meant. On today of all days, even in my deeply held agnosticism, I'm like Thomas Hardy in his poem "The Oxen". I'm not inclined to believe in miracles, but that doesn't mean I don't pay attention to the things around me, like Schuyler, that sometimes seem miraculous.

I don't necessarily believe, but sometimes I hope, and that might just be enough.
There's a poem that I like to quote, one that speaks of an agnostic's dilemma at Christmas, and how he doesn't have faith, but sometimes wishes he did.

I love that poem. I'll probably quote it at the end here, too.

Today, however, my thoughts are of Schuyler, and what she calls "the little monster in my head". There are two reasons for this. The first is that as we continue to observe Schuyler and read more about what might be happening to her, we start to figure things out. We're tracking the probable relationship between her menstrual cycle and the onset of seizures, for example.

And we believe we have a better idea of what they are. Not the absence seizures that we originally thought, at least not now. As they become more pronounced, and especially since we observed one of them first-hand recently, we believe that she is having partial complex seizures.

From the site:

How long do they last?

They usually last between 30 seconds and 2 minutes. Afterward, the person may be tired or confused for about 15 minutes and may not be fully normal for hours.

Tell me more

These seizures usually start in a small area of the temporal lobe or frontal lobe of the brain. They quickly involve other areas of the brain that affect alertness and awareness. So even though the person's eyes are open and they may make movements that seem to have a purpose, in reality "nobody's home." If the symptoms are subtle, other people may think the person is just daydreaming.

Some people can have seizures of this kind without realizing that anything has happened. Because the seizure can wipe out memories of events just before or after it, however, memory lapses can be a problem.

Some of these seizures (usually ones beginning in the temporal lobe) start with a simple partial seizure. Also called an aura, this warning seizure often includes an odd feeling in the stomach. Then the person loses awareness and stares blankly. Most people move their mouth, pick at the air or their clothing, or perform other purposeless actions. These movements are called "automatisms" (aw-TOM-ah-TIZ-ums). Less often, people may repeat words or phrases, laugh, scream, or cry. Some people do things during these seizures that can be dangerous or embarrassing, such as walking into traffic or taking their clothes off. These people need to take precautions in advance.

Complex partial seizures starting in the frontal lobe tend to be shorter than the ones from the temporal lobe. The seizures that start in the frontal lobe are also more likely to include automatisms like bicycling movements of the legs or pelvic thrusting.

Some complex partial seizures turn into secondarily generalized seizures.

What else could it be?

Complex partial seizures sometimes resemble daydreaming or absence seizures.

That describes Schuyler's episodes perfectly. Last spring, we observed her making tiny movements with her mouth while she was "out"; the last time a few weeks ago, she simply slouched down in the back seat of the car and opened her mouth. None of this is terribly new information, just a matter of us putting pieces together and making the connections. I'm also not sure if partial complex seizures are any worse than absence seizures. Just a slightly different monster, and perhaps a slightly better understanding.

The other reason I've been thinking about her seizures today is that I'm pretty sure she had one yesterday, while we were at the mall doing the last of our holiday shopping. It would certainly be a good time for one, as far as stimulus goes. The mall isn't the best place to go on Christmas Eve Eve, after all. I felt a little like I was trapped in an episode of The Walking Dead, not running from the zombies but just scooting along with them.

Schuyler alerted me to this one, telling me that she felt dizzy. This is how she's described it in the past. As soon as we could break free of the "Every day I'm shufflin'" crowd, we grabbed something to drink and took a seat. I took out my phone, hoping to catch this one on video, but it had already happened, probably before she said anything to me about it. What I caught instead was a photo of Schuyler's expression, beautiful and sad. She was probably in what I've learned is called the postictal state, in which she's basically rebooting. A little crabby and a lot disoriented. Another parent of a child with seizures wrote to me and said she knew that look.

And like before, after ten or twenty minutes, Schuyler was back to her old self, although a little fatigued.

The thing about yesterday, however, is this: I think that at the end of the day, when she crawled into bed with Jasper and kissed me goodnight, she was happy. We'd mostly had a good day. And I keep coming back to this in my mind, the fact that we've reached a point where she can tell us that a seizure is either coming or has just happened, and we can deal with it and move forward. We adapt, we recognize that there's a monster in the room, and then we readjust our seating and carry on.

This Christmas Eve, I'm as far away as ever from embracing the Christian faith, and now Schuyler is old enough to express that she doesn't buy it, either. I'm sure that's as much about fitting in with her parents as anything else, but it means that she's aware that this choice sets her apart from most of her peers, and she's making it anyway. She's used to being different, and I believe that she's too strong to put her faith in fairy tales.

And yet, on this Christmas Eve like so many others, I find myself looking at the comfort of big-f Faith and envying that comfort, silly though I may find its underpinnings to be. Thomas Hardy understood that, I think.

The Oxen 
Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock,
"Now they are all on their knees",
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease. 
We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then. 
So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel 
"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know",
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so. 
-- Thomas Hardy

December 21, 2011


I have spent the last twelve years in a state of grace.

I've known happiness that I can't describe, and I have felt sadness and fear that also feel too big for words.

I've watched a quizzical little baby grow to an ethereal little girl, and I've seen that child grow into a beautiful and tough young lady who walks and lives in this world now, but on her own terms.

It hasn't been easy, and I've not always (or perhaps even mostly) been completely up to the job of being Schuyler's father. I've probably stumbled as often as I've gotten it right. But I wouldn't un-live a moment of it, not even the sad times, nor would I trade places with any human being on the face of the earth. I have lived a charmed and privileged life in these twelve years, and I know now that the thirty-two years that preceded them were nothing but prelude.

Happy birthday, my weird and wondrous monster-slayer.

December 19, 2011

A Season of Difference

There's a new post at Support for Special Needs for your consideration. It deals with the holidays and how Schuyler's "differentness" may be coloring her own perspective on them. It's about being different, as a little girl with a broken brain and as a family, and how one may inform the other.

Schuyler is growing up; she turns twelve on Wednesday. Sometimes I look at her and see the young woman she is becoming, and my feelings about that are... complicated. As are most things where Schuyler is concerned. Most things, except her love, which is the purest thing in the world.

December 13, 2011

A Ghost of Christmas Past

I unearthed another short video, this time from Christmas of 2002. Schuyler had just turned three. She didn't care much for her presents, but she dug the snow and she loved her mother and father without limits. And her mittens didn't fit. That was Schuyler in the waning days of 2002.

This was the last Christmas we had without the known presence of her monster, and all the heaviness in the air that accompanied that knowledge for so many years. It was also our last real Christmas in New Haven, Connecticut. By this time the next year, we were on our way to Texas.

Nine years, wow. It feels roughly a thousand years ago. Approximately.

As long-time readers will remember, we used to call Schuyler "The Chubbin". You'll see why. It's hard to reconcile that fat, totally wordless little monkey with the tall drink of communicating water we have now.

I sort of wish I could warn that family how much sorrow was waiting for them, and how much joy, too. Mostly the joy.

December 10, 2011

Well, he did ask...

This might be a story of how, in a moment of truth, I failed to properly advocate for Schuyler, and how it ultimately didn't matter. Or it might just be a cute little anecdote. It may very well be an indication that everything is going to be okay. You decide.

Last night, Schuyler and I were at a favorite semi-fancy grocery store in our neighborhood, looking for a birthday cake for Julie. (I know, a day late. Don't judge.) We don't go there all the time, on account of that whole "not made of money" thing, but it's a nice place with an interesting clientele. A few weeks ago, I found myself standing next to one of my favorite actors from one of my favorite tv shows, for example. (Idea for a new show: Looking at Beans with Buddy!)

There's a slight snoot factor with some of the shoppers, but the people who work there are super nice, and the store hires a lot of persons with disabilities and doesn't hesitate to present them up front as the face of the store. That matters to me, a lot.

When Schuyler and I shop, we have fun. She's still young enough and... odd enough to find adventure at the grocery store, and really, so am I. (Well, not so much with the young, but certainly the odd.) On yesterday's trip, we stumbled across a display of very cool holiday hats, and we were trying them on and being goofy when a gentleman stopped and watched us for a moment. I was posing for Schuyler and she was laughing and jabbering happily. As she does.

The man waited until he caught my eye. "Is there something wrong with her?" he asked.

He didn't say it rudely, and I suppose he might have even thought he was simply being curious. But he said it, and he said it right in front of her, as if she wasn't there, or more to the point, as if she wasn't capable of understanding what he said. An assumption, far too common, made based on the fact that she didn't communicate in a way that he understood.

I would like to be able to say that I responded with patience and took advantage of this teachable moment to educate him on Schuyler's disability and his own need for empathy. And really, I wouldn't mind reporting that I instead came back with some clever zinger that put him in his place, either.

But honestly? I did neither. I stood there for a moment, dumbfounded. I dropped the ball.

The ball did not stay dropped for long, though. Schuyler scrunched up her face, pointed to the man and gave him a thumbs down.

My hero.

The end of the story is a little anti-climactic. When I saw Schuyler, I broke up laughing, and due to my persistent holiday cold, that laughter led to a coughing fit. I couldn't stop, and that cracked up Schuyler, who then started laughing her goony little laugh. So basically, we answered him with laughter and coughing. The man just sort of walked away while I bent over coughing and Schuyler pounded on my back, still laughing.

I guess we answered his question. "Yes, she speaks Martian and I have tuberculosis. Happy holidays."

So there you go. Self-advocacy at its most concise. I like to think we're raising her right.

December 5, 2011

Welcome to the Club

Right on schedule, my every-other-Monday post at Support for Special Needs is up. Go read my current thoughts on community within the world of disability, at least from this parent's perspective. My feelings have changed a bit over the years. Well, it happens.

By the way, Schuyler just walked over to my desk and gave me a message for everyone who said such nice things about her percussion performance video. She said, and I quote, "Thank you for watching." So there you go.

2003, the day after Schuyler's diagnosis

December 3, 2011

A Good Day, with an Asterisk

Yesterday, Schuyler had a very good day.


After a semester of hard work, Schuyler's beginning band class held an in-school recital; in her case, the beginner horns and percussion. Schuyler has been excited but anxious about this performance. I'm not sure she's completely accepted that she was really going to be able to be a member of something like a band program. She's been a little hesitant, as if someone was going to take this away from her. Being able to participate completely and meaningfully in an actual performance was exactly the thing to convince her that this is all for real, and hers if she wants it.

So it was a big deal, this performance.

Still, when I walked into the school, I wasn't expecting to see two of our very best friends, Schuyler's godparents, waiting inside. I actually did an old movie-style double-take when I saw them. Their attendance was no small thing; they live about six hours away, after all. Jim and Kim have been huge supporters of Schuyler's all along. Jim is an old friend from high school who is now an exceptionally talented band director; his wife directs the color guard at their school, the girls whom Schuyler still refers to as her "sisters". When they learned that Schuyler had a rough week with at least one seizure and probably more, and knowing how important this first performance was to her, they simply piled into their car and drove to Dallas.

Just like that.

Schuyler loves Jim and Kim without hesitation or limits. When she saw them, she waved and smiled a smile that was pretty much in evidence throughout the performance. She ended up doing very well on the recital, and loved every minute of it.

Don't believe me? See for yourself:

After the performance, we scarfed up some free cookies and spent some time visiting with to Schuyler's band director. She's an overbeliever; we like her very much. Afterwards we killed some time until Julie got off work and then headed out for dinner.

It was then, in the car, that Schuyler began to unravel.

Julie noticed it first. Schuyler was trying to tell her something, but her speech was suddenly very hard to understand, almost like a baby babbling. As we parked the car, I turned and saw Schuyler leaning lethargically against the door, her eyes distant and her mouth open slightly. I said her name a few times, and she snapped back. She was irritable and disoriented for maybe a minute and remained a little quiet and distant at dinner.

She came back to us, though. For the most part.

We were all a little shaken, as this was the closest any of us had really come to actually witnessing one of Schuyler's absence seizures. But we took our cues from Schuyler, who seemed determined to have a fun evening despite her lingering disorientation and fatigue.

Schuyler had a good day, mostly. At its conclusion, she decided that it should be a good day to the very end, monster or no. We're okay with that decision.