A Different Life

There have been times when I have wondered how my family’s life would be different if my son didn’t have epilepsy. There have been times when I have wondered what it would be like even if his seizures were under control, or if he didn’t have the side effects that he does from his medications. But a television show forced me to confront a much tougher question.

I’m a big fan of the show Black Mirror, and I found a similar show on Amazon Prime called Electric Dreams, based on short stories from Phillip K. Dick. In an episode called The Commuter, the protagonist is a father who has a son prone to violent outbursts. As the story develops, the father is offered the chance for a different life, an easier life, in which his son was never born.

electric dreams the commuter parenting
The Commuter, Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, Amazon

As I watched the episode, I thought about turning it off. The story hit too close to home, because I’ve also thought about what my son’s future will be like if we can’t get his seizures under control. I’ve wondered what his future will be like if his emotional and behavioral issues weren’t able to be controlled. And I was ashamed that, when things were at their worst, I also wondered where my life would be if my son wasn’t born.

Even writing it down, I feel sick. I’m looking at those words and I’m not sure where to go with them. I want to spin it to be about my son because this wasn’t the life that I dreamed for him. But, while that is part of it, there is also a selfish component. When we were having to hold him to control his angry, dangerous outbursts, my thoughts went to darker places. I thought about having to do that for the rest of my life. I thought about someday having to put him in an institution or visit him in jail. I dreaded the phone call where someone on the other end tells me something that my son has done that we can’t excuse or take back. But those thoughts weren’t about what his life would look like. They were about what my life would look like.

Our life is hard sometimes. It’s also amazing, and we’re very fortunate in so many ways. But it’s also impossibly hard. It’s hard to watch my son struggle every day. It’s hard to feel like everything is always out of our control. It’s hard to keep having conversations about what to try next because everything we’ve already tried didn’t work. It’s hard to hold on to hope for a future that is different than what is in front of us. It’s hard to not let fear take over and seek out alternative paths.

But having the thought isn’t the same as wanting it to be true. If I were given the choice, I would choose this life every time. I would choose my son every time, because being his father is one of the best things about my life. Being his father has made me a better person and a better man. Being his father has opened me up in ways where I can have these impossible thoughts and come out the other side knowing that I am where I am supposed to be. And every day, when I see his face, I also know that I am where I want to be.

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.