All The World’s A Stage

Recently, my son performed in his first school play. School has been physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting for him this year. He likes school, but it takes a huge toll on his body and mind doing full days. In an otherwise difficult year, the play was the thing he most looked forward to, so we adjusted his schedule to allow him to rehearse with his class and have a part in the show.

He worked hard rehearsing for his role. Memorization is extremely difficult for him, but he practiced reciting his lines almost every day. We’d catch him at random times singing the songs from the show as he played with his toys or started to drift off to sleep. It was the first thing in a long time that he had that was his and that he was excited about.

When the day of the show finally arrived, it started with six seizures before breakfast. He had big circles under his eyes as he slowly crawled out of bed. As it goes with epilepsy, we didn’t know why he had more seizure than normal. But we let him rest most of the day with our fingers crossed that he would feel well enough to go to the show. Even after an afternoon nap, he still seemed tired but, thankfully, his excitement and adrenaline gave him the boost he needed to make it out of the house.

My wife and I sat in the audience anxiously waiting for the show to begin. I had a big smile on my face when I saw my son peak his head around the curtain. I heard the kids getting into position and felt my heart start to beat faster. Finally, the curtain opened, and I thought we made a terrible mistake letting him do the show that night.

I could see by the look on his face that he wasn’t really present. The energy that got him out the door seemed gone. Most of the time, he looked lost on the stage, bouncing between children to try to find the spot where he should be. I felt helpless every time we made eye contact. I felt angry that they didn’t set it up better or give him a buddy to remind him where he should be. While these thoughts raced through my head, I tried to keep a smile and to be a friendly face in the audience for him.

My wife and I struggle with finding the right place for my son. Not just with school, but finding environments that are safe for him and that try to understand what life is like for him. Watching him on the stage, unable to find his place, brought that fear of him never finding that place center stage. It acted out my anxiety of what life will look like for him as he gets older because the world doesn’t know him and doesn’t understand him. I saw on that stage a future for my son where he spends his life bouncing around, bouncing off people, endlessly lost.

When the show was over, my son came running off the stage and into our arms. He was happy. He had just done something impossibly hard and felt good about himself. At that moment, everything I was feeling melted away and I held him and told him how proud of him I was.

It’s hard to not get lost in those visions of what the future will look like for my son. There have been too many times where I get swept up in those feelings and miss what is happening right in front of me, in the present where my son needs me to be. It’s in those moments where he continues to show me what he is capable of and remind me that the future is unwritten and filled with as many possibilities as it will be limitations. The only thing that is certain is what we have at this moment. As I held my son and felt his joy, I didn’t want to miss it.

A Childhood In The Clouds

I wonder how my son is going to remember his childhood. Sometimes, I wonder if he is going to remember it.

My son and I watched a Philadelphia Eagles game and we saw a player that my son had met at the hospital. I asked if he remembered meeting him and he said that he didn’t. We met the player almost two years, so at first, I chalked it up to my son being too young to remember. But he was also in the hospital because he was having more seizures and because we needed to adjust his medication.

Like other medicines, epilepsy medications have a long list of side effects. But medicine that controls seizures targets the source of those seizures, the brain. As a result, the side effects show up in those areas that the brain controls, which is everywhere. We have sees these side effects alter his mood and behavior and impact his motor control. As he gets older, we’re also seeing how much they affect his ability to learn and his memory. Those side effects were likely there all along, hidden beneath the surface. But now that those skills are being tested, the latent effects are being revealed.

We’ve passed the three year mark of my son taking medicine for his seizures. Three years of my son’s brain in a constant fog. Three years of struggling to form solid shapes around thoughts and ideas. Three years of a childhood spent in the clouds.

Three years of exerting all his energy to focus on one task at a time. Three years of that focus sapping all his energy. Three years of wondering if there is enough energy or will left inside of him to enjoy an experience.

The more we explore, the more gaps we find. Milestone events never happened. People erased from existence. It’s impossible to tell whether the failure is storing the memory or recalling it. The result is the same, though. A void where a childhood should be.

My wife and I repeat stories of our adventures to him, and we show him the albums of pictures we’ve taken. I’m hoping by continuing to expose him to those memories that he will have something to remember. I don’t know if it will be because we’re unlocking old memories or creating new ones through our stories. I’m hoping his brain doesn’t know the difference. I’m hoping that when he looks back on this time in his life, he’ll have something to find.

To Be A Kid

We’ve seen many ups and downs over the last few weeks. An increase of dosage for one of my son’s new medications brought back unwelcome side effects. His seizures are only slightly more under control than they were before, but he’s exhausted and has a hard time sleeping through the night. His mood and behavior have been bouncing around from stable and happy to angry and defiant.

When it’s at it’s worst, little incidents explode into big ones. The escalation is so fast that it’s jarring and catches us off-guard. It’s so fast and the situation is so frustrating that we don’t always respond in the best way. Then we find ourselves in the middle of the tornado. He’ll say mean things. He tells us he wants us to throw everything away and that he deserves it. I can sense the shame and guilt swell inside and overwhelm him. We hold him and tell him that we love him and wait for the storm to pass. When it does, there are usually tears and remorse and regret. As a father, these moments rip me apart.

These side effects are cruel, especially for someone his age. Between the side effects, the diet, the appointments, and the seizures, he has little time to be a kid. There aren’t many chances for him to be free, to make a mess, and to not have the complications of his life burden him. There aren’t many chances for us to let our guard down, either. We’re always on the edge worrying about him, trying to keep him safe and regulate these side effects. We’re as confined as he is.

But, sometimes, we find opportunities where we can all have fun and enjoy the moment. My son loves dressing up as Captain America, so my wife planned a Super Hero Scavenger Hunt for his birthday. He and his friends had to chase down the evil villain the Snake Robber, the role that I was taking on. The idea of running through the streets with a mask and stuffed snake around my neck made me anxious. I’m a shy, quiet, reserved individual that follows rules and avoids chaos. But I went into it with an open mind and the singular thought that it would make my son (and wife) happy.

I made my way to the location where the superhero party would encounter me for the first time. I waited nervously on a bench in the park while curious onlookers moved further away. Across the park, I saw one of the kids spot me and point in my direction. Then, they charged. Within a minute, they had covered me with Silly String and laughter. My son had a huge smile on his face as he and his friends chased me around the park. Then I used my freeze ray to, well, freeze them and escape to the next location.

epilepsy dad kid childhood seizure

I had a huge smile of my own on my face as I ran to set up the next battle. This time, the kids trapped me until I told them that I hid a dozen of their teddy bear friends in the park. While they looked for them, I escaped again. Eventually, they caught up with me and saw me entering my lair to assemble a machine to steal their powers.

In the final battle, the superheroes found me near the pool assembling my machine. I froze all the heroes again except for Captain America who used his shield to deflect the ray. He advanced on me while his friends watched and defeated me by pushing me into the pool.

epilepsy dad kid childhood seizure

As I laid in the pool, I looked up to see my son with the biggest smile on his face and his arms raised in victory. Behind us, I could hear his friends screaming and cheering him for him. Captain America had saved the day. At that moment, there were no side effects. No appointments. No seizures. There was just my son being happy. And being a kid.

epilepsy dad kid childhood seizure