Friday, March 11, 2016

Rose Coloured Glasses

March is Epilepsy Awareness Month and time for an update on our guy. I am thrilled to announce he has been seizure free for 3 years and is now off medication as the result of two “twitch-free” EEGs a year apart. This is fabulous for him after so many years of enduring numerous seizure types and lethal medication to control them. I am happy to announce he is fine now.
When friends and relatives learn that our guy is seizure free/off meds they tell us all we must be so relieved now that he’s better. It’s easy to look at a seizure disorder minus the seizures with rose coloured glasses. Human nature wants everything to be hunky-dory, but this isn’t a fairy tale and it doesn’t have the promise of a fairy tale ending. Because he no longer has alarming visible seizures, others can’t see the residual damage and daily challenges our guy bravely faces.

A syndrome is a combination of symptoms and signs that occur together and characterize a particular abnormality and so it is with myoclonic astatic epilepsy or Doose Syndrome (our guy’s specific albatross.) It consists of numerous and various types of seizures but it also brings with it a number of afflictions secondary to the seizures, some of which may disappear over time (as the seizures currently have) and some of which will be with him forever. That’s the best possible scenario, the worst being a return to seizures and a new struggle to control them, which happens in about 20% of cases.

We walk on eggshells and are often considered pessimistic/overly dramatic. The reality is, our guy is a thoughtful, engaged ten-year-old who participates enthusiastically in daily activities but often falls asleep before dinner because he’s exhausted with trying to keep up with a normal school-day routine. He’s an optimist, willing to give everything a shot but his muscles are weak and he tires easily. Some other components of the syndrome include his tremor and sensory issues. He lacks the ability to focus, has poor impulse control, and difficulty with emotional regulation – a result of impaired executive functioning. Add to that, a global learning disability and a developmental coordination disorder which causes severe fine and gross motor delay and you have an inside view of our outwardly fine little boy. Our smart wonderful guy who once tested as gifted is now challenged.

Years ago, when our guy first became very ill, I had a dream. I was sitting on a beautiful beach with golden sand gazing at a horizon of peaceful ocean. I was holding our guy, pointing at the waves and seagulls. He seemed happy but could no longer speak. Then, on the waves, life rafts appeared but they were drifting away from us. We watched them and gradually the people that we loved began to materialize in the boats. They all floated away – our guy’s parents and brothers, Grandpa, aunties and uncles. Soon they disappeared and we were alone on the beach. I awoke terrified, knowing that there was no life boat for our guy and terrified that I wouldn’t be able to stay with him. The dream haunts me to this day.

Our guy has a small but dedicated group of people who surround him with love, encourage his efforts and cheer his accomplishments. He loves swimming, Taekwondo, cooking and video games and in the past year has become a very good reader. He was gone for a couple of years back then, disappeared, missing in action. We like to think he is slowly catching up, that he will get to where he’s meant to be but it will just take a little longer to get there. Reality is harsh but our guy’s family is allowed rose coloured glasses too.
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Friday, January 22, 2016


Amazingness is relative to the situation and in this day of instant everything, it is sometimes difficult to maintain a perspective on what is really important but four years ago, while visiting my husband in the hospital, I met a lady who altered my view of life.

While at the hospital, we often escaped my husband’s tiny space and sat on one of the benches provided for hall-walkers. Mostly we discussed the state of the health care system, the dinginess of the hospital and the friendly and efficient but overworked staff.

One day, we heard a woman humming as she approached our bench. Dressed in hospital scrubs, she was pushing a cart loaded with bottled water which she was distributing to patients. Friendly and enthusiastic, she radiated joy.  “How are you today? Are you thirsty? Would you like a bottle of water?”

We’re fine, no thanks, we said, but she stopped to talk. “Do you know,” she said, in her sing-song accent, “that I have the very most important job in the hospital? I am the water-bearer. In my country there is no life without water and the person who brings the water is the most important person in the village. Where I come from, we spend our lifetime searching for it. I must go now and take the water to these people.” In a sweeping movement, her arm indicated the rooms in the hallway in front of her and, continuing to hum, off she went.

The whole conversation took about one minute but it had a huge impact on me. While I spent my time thinking about what I didn’t like or didn’t have, she was content with her life and what she could give back. Her service to others fed her spirit and the pleasure it gave her shone through her eyes and landed on all who met her. I envied her selflessness and the peace she conveyed.

While I was complaining, this lady was doing the most important job in the world and was happily at peace with her ability to perform a service for others – a lesson in how to bloom where you are planted and in the reward of giving to others.
                               from airdrielife magazine (Spring 2015 issue)                                          

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mothers and Daughters

Thou art thy mother's glass, and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime.
                                                            ~William Shakespeare

In some cultures there is a reincarnation belief – elderly family members who have passed away come back as children in the same family and the cycle continues. In theory, a mother with a daughter may be parenting the reincarnated essence of her mother – the child and the grandmother have the same spirit. This is simplistic, of course. There is a complicated belief system involved but what I wonder is, can the child be born while the grandmother is still alive and still be inhabited by the spirit of the grandmother? And the bigger question – how does the mother, caught between two such powerful female forces, fit in? Talk about being caught between the proverbial rock and hard place. The solution, I suppose is to be still and listen and learn.

One of my daughters resembles her father’s mother and the other, alas, is my mother reborn. Strange that I should say “alas” when all my friends thought my mom was THE BEST. They enjoyed her acceptance and hospitality but Mom and I circled and locked horns over almost everything until I moved away from home. It took time and distance to transform us into good friends.

When daughter number two, the one just like my mother, was growing up, my spider senses told me to watch out. She had inherited what we called the “Grandma” gene. This child of mine was someone to be reckoned with. Her fierce determination and persistence, her stubborn pride, her ability to meet challenges head on, and her open honesty were, at first, points of contention, especially with her grandmother. “Dear, you can have a cookie if you help me in the kitchen.” “It’s okay Grandma, I don’t want a cookie.”
I watched in wonder as the child and the grandmother took turns, shooting and scoring. One or the other was always saying the wrong thing, looking at each other sideways, pushing away rather than drawing together. They circled each other like the opposite poles of a magnet not knowing that if they each just turned a little bit, they would be drawn together by a mighty force. I wasn’t the referee in this action but a fence-walker, often losing my balance and falling soundly into one camp or the other.

These women, my mother and my daughter, never knew each other as adults, but as my daughter grew older, I noticed something else. I learned that these powerful characteristics – the ones that made me crazy – were good and honourable and incredibly handy when it came to dealing with the curves life throws at us. Tenacity, determination, persistence and her constant open honesty have serve her well. Through my daughter, I learned to understand my mother better.

 Sometimes I hear a voice coming out of my mouth that isn’t mine, but I surely do recognize it. And sometimes, when my daughter speaks to her children – my lord, it sounds like me. Have I been an active participant in this dance all along? If you were to ask my husband, he’d tell you the “Grandma” gene didn’t skip a generation at all – that I am my mother and my daughter is me.


Monday, March 16, 2015

Double-Edged Sword

March, Epilepsy Awareness month in Canada, is here again and the update on our guy couldn’t be better. He is happy, healthy and busy catching up.

Over the past seven years, there have been many ups and downs – a first seizure seven years ago, followed by many more, began  a perilous journey. At first there were many seizures each day, varying in intensity and type, loss of speech and awareness – we were all on the roller coaster to hell. But you do what you can. You cope. You have no choice.

Many tests, many doctors, much angst and over a year later, our guy’s drug combination finally controlled his seizures. He got stronger, became more aware. He began talking again. But the side-effects kept him unfocused and tired, making it difficult for him to learn or play games that had rules to follow. He was easily distracted, came unglued easily, and he had sensory issues, especially with food.

There have been ups and downs at school – a couple of amazing teachers have gently guided him but there have been others who have exemplified the quote, “The most important thing a child with special needs learns in a school setting is that he is flawed and that flaw is the most important thing about him.” We hope for the good ones. Preserving his rights and his dignity has been an ongoing challenge for his mom. But there have been wonderful teachers, amazing summer vacations, hikes with his mom and brothers, movie nights, snuggles and much love.

So here we are, more than half way through grade four. Our guy has been drug-free since Christmas. His amazing teacher guides him with love and respect and is as excited as we are at the rate his attention span, his interest level, and his reading ability are improving. For the first time ever, he doesn’t want to miss school. He is trying new foods, he is learning to swim and this past winter he went skiing.

But it is a double-edged sword. On one side there is hope – hope that the seizures don’t return and that our guy never has to spend another minute in that lost world he inhabited for six years. We hope he continues to grow stronger and learn and succeed. Dare we hope there is a bright future for this young man who is so kind and so bright. 

The other edge of the sword is fear – the incomprehensible fear that in the blink of an eye, our guy’s world can be turned upside down again with a return to seizures. There are no guarantees, only the hope that this nightmare is over. There are lesser fears – next year our guy will go off to middle school where he will be a little fish in a big pond. Will he find teachers that will nurture and gently guide him or will our guy be destroyed emotionally yet again? He will have friends but there will also be bullies – can he cope? Can his big brother be close enough and strong enough to help him? Hope and fear go hand in hand.

We wait in fear for the other shoe to drop and we hope that it does not. We remember the terrifying day long ago and the long physical and emotional struggle to get our guy back. We look to the future with optimism. Even though the journey has been terrifying at times, frustrating at others, we have no choice but to go forward and no desire to go back. We are all changed but our guy is doing well. The journey has been worth the struggle. Today our guy is an amazing young man.

 March is Epilepsy Awareness Month in Canada. Go to to learn more about seizure disorders. Education is the key to understanding!

Monday, February 9, 2015

A little late, but ... oh well.

On the Sunday sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday (which is probably relevant to the crankiness of the shopping hoards) I stopped at Bed, Bath and Beyond. But before I rant on, I must say that the staff at BB&B is a shopper’s dream. Everyone is polite, smiling, and helpful. I don’t know how they all remain pleasant under such busy circumstances but they do and I truly appreciate it.

I had phoned ahead for the item I wanted so I know they have it put away somewhere. At Customer Service I wait for a very long time while a man buying stools hits on the clerk. When it is my turn, I ask the very nice young lady if my item is put aside. She says no but she will check with the cashiers at the front of the store. Another customer stands behind me, impatiently fidgeting and huffing. How dare I hold up the line while the clerk goes to find my merchandise? She sighs, very loudly and directly. I turn around and glare at her.

“What?! I dropped something,” she says, which is clearly not the case but I suppose she needs some sort of defence because she has been pretty rude. The obvious audible agitation was aimed at me – how dare I take the time to ask a question. I refuse to be treated like a pain in the neck so I give her the look, the up and down, up and down – the green-eyed stare. It wasn’t until the second up and down that she looked away. A point for me.

The clerk comes back with my item and I take it to the checkout with the shortest line. It is a slow process. I am standing behind a couple of other customers and there is another lady behind me. We form an obvious line. Just as the couple in front of me approaches the till, a tall, well-dressed 30-something shoots out from between two display shelves and stands in front of me. “Excuse me,” I say.

“I have been standing behind this man for a long time,” she says.

“Not nearly as long as I have,” I say.

“Oh. Whatever,” she says, obviously displeased and maybe a little embarrassed. She moves to stand in another line and the lady behind me chuckles.

Have I just had the unfortunate experience of meeting two unpleasant people and everyone else is just fine or are there other dynamics at play here. My recent women and gender studies course and my research on ageism causes me to question motives and view myself as I never have before – as a disappearing entity with little value in our society. I have always hated condescension and I will not step out of the way because some sweet young thing is in a hurry, just because she thinks I should.

I am not sure who I should be angry with. Should I be upset with our culture and our society because it places little value on the elderly because they are no longer a functioning cog in the wheel? Should I be upset only with the young women because of their displays of condescending bad manners? Or should I be upset with myself and other women my age? After all, my generation raised these pretentious, self-centered individuals. We strived to give our children the all the things we didn’t have. We wanted to make their lives easier, not realizing that a little struggle was okay and instant gratification wasn’t such a good thing. They lived an advantaged life. We were too generous.

The whole experience was a bit unsettling. However, there was a little spark of joy glowing in my heart as I left the store. As I passed the other checkouts I noticed that the young woman who wanted my place in line was still standing about four people back at another check-out.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Thank Heaven for Brothers

Each morning I watch my grandsons as they head out across the large school yard to their respective doors. The youngest goes one way, the other two, our guy and his older brother, go a different way. They have the longest distance to walk to the shared grade 3 and 5 door. In this frigid winter of temperatures in the -20s and high wind chills, trudges better describes their movement across the open playground, heads down against the wind, older brother leads the way, our guy follows in his footsteps.

The scene has repeated itself daily through a long cold February and early March. Older brother turns, offers words of encouragement, frustration or panic depending on how far behind we are on any particular morning. ”Come on,” “hurry up,” “faster,” “run,” “we’re gonna be late!” Big brother has several speeds but our guy has only one.

Older brother is pretty great. He understands that our guy can’t move as fast as he can. He also knows that his brother is physically weaker and gets cold faster than other kids. He is eager to start his day and be with his friends but he knows that once they get to the school, our guy, loaded down with heavy clothes and backpack, doesn’t have the strength to pull open the heavy door. Big brother’s job is to make sure our guy gets inside. Big brother complains about many things but never about keeping our guy safe.

We all hover around our guy – we worry about him. We also wonder what the next neurologist appointment will bring. Good news – another clear EEG, or not so good news – still strange activity happening in his “tricky” brain. And if the news is good then the slow process of weaning the meds will begin and then what? Will our guy go on to lead a drug/seizure free life or will the body and mind breaking seizures return him to a world of strong and dangerous medications. The journey continues.

We watch and wait and in the meantime, our guy is doing okay. He’s a neat kid. Sometimes as they walk across the school ground, our guy straggles way behind and big brother turns around again and again, urging him to hurry. Other times he follows close – very, very close.  Big brother turns to check on him and smack, our guy runs into him. I laugh both at our guy’s up close and personal presence and big brother’s eye roll. They trudge on.

Our guy has his issues and is sometimes labeled by his seizure disorder, but he is so much more than that.  He is the peacemaker, the quiet voice of reason amid his three active brothers. He finds solutions, makes allowances, is wise beyond his years. The other kids like him, ignore his “bad” days and include him because he’s a nice guy and they want to be his friend. His grasp of situations and his determination make my head spin. He has the gift to be able to cut through the crap and see the truth of most situations very clearly. He tells me he doesn’t understand why people say they’ll do stuff and then don’t do it. He’s had a lot of experience with that.

Sometimes his friends tell him he can come to their birthday parties, but the invitation never arrives.  The same with play dates. The kids include our guy without hesitation but their parents, who have seen his outbursts and know that he needs an assistant at school, leave him out and that’s too bad. They would be richer by far if they got to know him. He is in grade 3, but other than family you can count his invitations on one hand. It makes him sad. He doesn’t understand. It makes me sad too.

This close-knit little family forms a protective bubble around our guy and in that way, he is fortunate. So many children with disabilities have no one to advocate for them within their peer group and when parents so easily brush off a child that is different, it doesn’t take long for their kids to follow suit. Bullying happens. Often these kids don’t have the skills or the words to defend themselves and if tolerance isn’t being taught at home, a brother or two comes in mighty handy.

But our guy doesn’t hold grudges. He takes each day as it comes with acceptance, optimism and an open mind. He trudges along, following his big brother. And next year, when big brother goes off to middle school, I have no doubt that little brother will step up and take his place as leader/protector/friend. I find it serendipitous that our guy will likely always have a brother in the same school to make sure the door is open and he’s safe inside.

March is epilepsy awareness month! For more information go to

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Chivalry is Dead.

What do you do when someone falls down in front of you? Maybe I’m weird, but I offer what seems appropriate – I hand up, condolences, a sympathetic smile, further assistance if necessary. I need to mention that there are so many kind, caring, compassionate people in the world that I almost, but not quite, feel guilty about writing this post. Maybe I’m off base. Maybe I’m just unlucky when I fall down.

I don’t fall down a lot. I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve fallen down as an adult. It’s always embarrassing and sometimes a little painful but I’m built close to the ground with ample padding so I’ve rarely injured myself. Usually I feel a little foolish and hope that no one has noticed… or maybe not. Let me explain.The past three times I’ve fallen, more than my knees have been it has bruised.

A few years ago, I was waiting for one of my favourite little guys to get out of kindergarten and I slipped. There was ice under the water and mud and down I went. It was messy – I probably splashed. There were moms standing around, a few dads and school bus drivers waiting in their buses. I wasn’t hurt and I picked myself up quickly with only my dignity injured. Only one young mom approached me and asked if I was okay, was there anything she could do, did I want to go into the school etc.? I thanked her, told her I was fine. Her attention made me feel better. I like to think that’s how I would have reacted. After all, I am not invisible.

Then, last winter I fell while walking the dog on our usual path. Jake was acting like his usual overprotective, foolish self so I tried to make him sit behind me while a group of young people went past. These were not kids, but two couples out for a stroll. I tripped over the leash and down I went.

Embarrassing to do this on the pathway right in front of people, no? I got up and brushed myself off and glanced self-consciously at the passing 30-somethings. There wasn’t a smile or a nod – just what I translated as condescending stares at a silly old woman who shouldn’t be out there is she can’t stay on her feet. I silently cursed them to take their chances on the next patch of ice.

I was angry, not at them personally, but at an attitude that seems to be becoming more and more pervasive. Compassion for others seems to be lost. Don’t these folks realize how quickly the years pass or how instantly their own circumstances could change?

However, Friday morning’s incident was the icing on the cake. When I dropped off my grandsons at school,  I waited on the sidewalk and watched them  go to their respective doors. Then, as I turned to go back to the car, I slipped on ice and fell. No one seemed to notice and that was okay.

I wasn’t hurt. I didn’t expect anyone to come running to my rescue but as I began to pick myself up, a dad and his two kids came toward me. I had to wait as he and his kids stepped around me. Come on! He had to notice me there kneeling on the ground. But there wasn’t a word, a hand, or a smile. Nothing.

For some reason, this shook me to my core. When I returned to the car, I cried, not because I was physically injured but because I felt emotionally hurt, overlooked and insignificant. And I felt very, very sad because so many people are too busy to offer a smile, a hand up or kind word. What’s more, they are teaching their children that it’s okay to behave like that. I am not invisible, damn it.