What Can’t Be Measured

We sat in the windowless office of the neuropsychologist’s office waiting to hear the results of the daylong series of cognition tests that my son took a few weeks before.

Like most parents, I know my son is intellectually gifted. I can easily point to instances where he figured out a hard problem that he shouldn’t have or learned a new concept much more easily than I could have. Genius? I don’t like to use labels, but since you brought it up, let’s go with it.

In the previous two years, however, my son’s brain had been through a lot. Seizures. Status epilepticus. Toxicity from an adverse reaction to medicine. For a few days, it forgot how to move my son’s body or form words for him to speak. In many ways, we had to start over, helping him form sentences and complex thoughts. Helping him put ideas together in the right order or to remember a simple sequence of steps. After everything he had been through, after having been picked up and spit out by a tornado, we sat in that office to find out where he landed.

“Overall,” the doctor said, “your son is remarkably consistent.” It took me a few minutes to absorb the word and process its meaning. I had expected the results of the test to fall on either extreme of the spectrum. Either he was back to being a genius or his brain was irreparably damaged, but consistent?

Sensing my confusion (probably aided by my snarky “Oh, my son is perfectly adequate, like buttered toast.” comment), the doctor went on to explain that the tests showed that, aside from a few areas that needed extra attention, my son was “about average.”

The higher you climb, the further you have to fall. Selfishly, that was the first thought that came to my head. My genius son who was destined for the stars had been forced back down to earth with the rest of us by a cruel twist of genetic fate.

It was only after a few minutes that I realized what a gift I had just been given. My son was “about average”. After two years of seizures, and status, and side effects. Two years without consistently going to school, of hard work at home teaching him to read and to write and count. After all of that, my son managed to come out “about average”.

It was a miracle.

As I thanked the doctor for her time, she added that she enjoyed spending time with my son. She commented about how hard he worked, even though she could tell that he was tired. Her mouth turned upward into a big smile as she told us how he made her laugh. Weeks removed from the time she spent with him and after seeing countless kids in between, that smile showed that my son had left her with something more than a score on a piece of paper.

Our neurologist had also taken time out of her day to join us in the meeting. She has been an amazing ally and supportive influence who sees what is special about my son. That evening, we received an e-mail from her that said:

I wanted to emphasize that this does not predict where he will go in the future, and there’s a lot of wonderful things about him that cannot be measured at this time given his young age and some of the best things in life just can’t be quantified.


Making Moments Matter

Last weekend, we were in Washington D.C. for the Epilepsy Foundation walk. We had planned the trip for months, and we tucked away some money to pay for the trip and activities while we were there. As it happened, there was a playoff hockey game in D.C. on Saturday night. It wasn’t something we planned on, and hockey tickets are expensive…playoff tickets more so.

I called my wife and told her about the game. “We should do it,” she said.

There was a time in my life where I would have argued. Where I would have tried to rationalize the cost, and crunch the numbers, and adjusted the budget. My wife tried for years to teach me the value in making moments matter, but I had a hard time listening or believing her until my son got sick.

The past few years have been an endless struggle to control his seizures, switching medicines, managing side effects, and behavioral issues, a difficult diet, and the stigma of having epilepsy. Some days, he can’t control his body, or he seizures at night and has an accident. He wakes up some days wanting to give up, or comes home from school embarrassed because someone laughed at him for drinking oil with his lunch. It’s an impossible life for a six-year-old.

Moments don’t need to be expensive or cost money at all. As we walked down the National Mall, he was just as happy playing tag and hide and seek on the grass, and doing the scavenger hunt in the hotel. I could have said I was tired, or that I wanted to see the sights.  But those little moments of playing his game and giving him an opportunity to feel normal and to simply have fun matter, too.

making moments matter epilepsy

But hockey is one of those things that my son hasn’t given up on, and the universe was sending me a message by putting a playoff game in the same city where we would be and, to be sure I wouldn’t miss the message, the game was also against our home team. We bought the tickets and surprised him with the game.

making moments matter epilepsy

Even though our team didn’t win, the home crowd appreciated his enthusiasm and pat him on his head as he cried in to his hands after another tough loss. As we walked out, he had a smile on his face and moved the home team up on his favorite team list.

I’m grateful my wife has tried to teach me to make moments matter.

And I’m glad I finally listened.