Category Archives: Parenting

When my Teacher was Dead Wrong

Photo by Thristian (Creative Commons)

Photo by Thristian (Creative Commons)

Update: My mom read this story and added some more detail which I had forgotten. I have put it into the narrative now.

It was a Wednesday afternoon in my sixth grade class, about twenty minutes before school got out. I went up to Ms. Strauss and said, “I really don’t feel good. Can I go to the nurse?” She replied, “School is out in twenty minutes. You will be fine. Now go back to your seat.” But everything was not fine.

I walked my friend-who-was-a-girl-but-not-my-girlfriend home, and then turned to walk down the road to my apartment. Feeling sleepy, I laid down on a grassy hill before crossing the street. In what seemed like a moment later, I got up and started to walk.

I was still in my postictal state, so I turned the wrong way to go home. I stumbled along for 90 minutes, crying and wondering why I wasn’t home. I started to pass a cemetery and realized I was walking toward my Grandma’s house. Crying from exhaustion and confusion, I finally made it home 4 hours after school.

As I walked into the door, I saw my mom’s face in a panic. “Oh Thank GOD you are okay! Where have you been? What took you so long to get home? I was about to call the police. I thought you were kidnapped, or killed, or who knows what else. What happened?” We both broke down crying with relief and fear.

“I don’t know. I was walking home and then I passed the cemetery by Grandma’s house. I don’t know what happened or why I got there. I am so confused Mom.”

“Oh honey, you must have had a seizure. I am so glad you are home now.”

I realized for the first time that day…I was not like everyone else.

Needless to say, my mom called the school the next day after I got home. I think she wanted me to hear her defending my safety. The principal was on the line with her. Practically yelling, she told him, “My son has EPILEPSY! You and your teachers cannot treat him like any other kid whining about his stomach. He knew he was not alright, and his seizure proved it. I expect better from you and your school. Starting NOW.”

Epileptic or not, I was so proud to be my mom’s son that day. She showed me how to love and defend and protect and care for a child. I still think back on this snippet from my life with gratitude, and challenge myself to rise up and be a parent like my mom.

Do you have any moments where you watched someone else and realized you wanted to parent just like them? I would love to hear your story.

Why I’m Proud to Wear My Superman Shirt

Image

Photo Credit: Klobetime (Creative Commons)

It was a hot summer Arizona day. The smell of barbecue burgers was making everyone wish it was lunchtime already. The joyful screams of children playing in the swimming pool filled the air as the adults lounged twenty feet away, enjoying the respite and the shade. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my daughter Cynthia jumping into the water. Then her body went limp in mid-air as she started into an absent seizure.

I threw my sandals aside, dashed to the pool and jumped in after her. I saw her body face-down, lifelessly floating downward in the pool. I grabbed her and rose to the surface fast as I could. As we neared the edge, Cynthia remained in her seizure. I pulled her out of the pool with me and cradled her in my arms for about three minutes, as she stared off into space.

As quickly as it had started, the seizure was over. She looked up at me, completely confused. “Poor girl,” I thought. “She has moved into her postictal state, and is probably done swimming today.”

Not exactly….she smiled and said, “Dad? Thanks for hugging me, and I love you too. Can I go back to swimming now?”

I let her go swim with her friends, and stayed on the side of the pool, silently weeping prayers of gratitude.

What would have happened if I had turned my head to the left instead of the right and missed her jump? What if nobody noticed and my daughter slowly sunk to the bottom of the pool?

There is a possibility that my daughter may have died if things had been different.

It’s not very often that we have true life-or-death moments in parenting, but this was one of those rare moments in time.

Every day I don my Superman shirt, I think of that warm summer day, and thank God that I had the chance to play a superhero for an afternoon.

Even now, just thinking of that causes all the emotions to flood back into my mind though. The panic. The fear. The relief. The gratitude. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that a tear is running down my cheek as I write this.

When have you been a superhero?

 

Originally posted as Fear, Trust & Parenting 1 of 4

Ghosts of Christmas Past, Hope For Christmases Future

I was probably eight years old, and we were at my uncle’s house for Christmas. All of us kids were in my cousin’s room. I wish I could say we were having a great time, anticipating who would get what presents, or when the hot chocolate would be ready, or if we were going to get a visit from Santa Clause this year. Unfortunately, we weren’t raised in this sort of family.

No, we were all in this bedroom, hiding and hoping nobody would notice we were gone for a while. You see, we had all been screamed at and threatened with beatings for playing tag in the back yard, so we were afraid. We didn’t know what to do.

Aren’t children supposed to happily play in the back yard during holiday festivities, we thought to ourselves? Apparently not…but we weren’t sure where that left us, so here we sat, afraid.

I wish I could tell you this was the exception, but it was not – every family gathering when I was young was marred by actual violence or its spectre, so a shadow always hung over each holiday.

Some twenty years later, its pallor still haunts me. I cannot shake the suspicion that an angry drunk man is going to come lumbering into the family room ready to take a swing at me for some imagined offense, and ruin my joy.

So I make a choice. I preempt him. I preempt joy.

Unfortunately, my kids and my wife pay for my choice. Every year as Thanksgiving rolls around, the storm cloud begin to roll in over my head. I become more short-tempered than usual. My depression kicks into high gear. I find myself crying at nothing one moment, and seething angry the next.

I made a vow a while ago to not be like my dad’s generation, to bring joy into the holidays, but instead I find myself shackled by my past. Each year, it seems like it gets a little better, but I fear progress is too slow, the scars are too deep, the pain is already settled into the hearts of my own children, the expectation of anger is already set for my own wife. I begin to lose hope, the tears start to flow, and despair mounts again. Then I recall Lamentations 3:22:23 –

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

This promise each year becomes the prayer of my spirit. “Oh God, do not allow your compassions to fail, or I will be consumed by my own past, as will my children. May Your compassion arise fresh and new every day in the eyes of my family, as they view me through Your grace, and see the best in me.” Slowly, I begin to conquer these demons from my past and make meaningfully good memories for my own family that extend beyond these fears.

I know now I am making some progress. Six years ago, my oldest son told me he never wanted to get married, because he never wanted to fight with anyone around Thanksgiving and Christmas the way my wife and I fought. He doesn’t say that anymore.

Now he talks about looking forward to raising his kids with his wife in a home where they will celebrate and enjoy the holidays, like we do. Sometimes even miracles takes times, sometimes decades or even generations.

Epilepsy brings out the mean in people sometimes

I don’t generally direct my irritation toward individuals or specific sites in this blog, but I came across something today that is just grossly upsetting.

ImageIt comes from this site: http://illogicopedia.org/wiki/Advertising_Epilepsy, which might be one of the meanest things I’ve come across in years on the Internet. I wish this site was the exception, and in a certain sense it is, because it is so rude as to be obnoxious, but I’ve learned people are afraid of epileptics.

When people are afraid, they say and act weird, or cruel, or just plain avoid you altogether. Unfortunately, this is what we’ve experienced in my family, especially now that we have TWO epileptics rather than just one. It’s like we are creatures from another planet. Some people struggle to see my daughter as anything more than this:

Image

but that’s not the whole truth. Truth is, she took this picture when she was trying to figure out her iPod, and it came out pretty funny. It makes her smile, so she kept it. But she not just some weird face with a creepy eye – she is also this:

Image

She just a precious girl, made in the image of God, who happens to have seizures for some unknown reason. Her smile can light up a room. Her laughter is contagious. Her innocence is something we could all learn a bit from in this dark world. But some people can’t see past the seizures, and she becomes a label with skin on, a statistic with bones, an anomaly without feelings….but that’s just not true. And now that I am also officially diagnosed with epilepsy, I worry that I will be minimized in the same way. Even worse, that my whole family will be ignored, shoved to the side, mocked, feared, and belittled, like the website above.

My prayer is that we will find those will are not just tolerant of our epilepsy, but go beyond that; friends who understand the difficulties our seizures can create, but don’t judge us for them; individuals who see us as more than the sum of our diagnoses.

I am sure that at least one of you reading this has to deal with labels that seem to define you to the outside world. How do you deal with that? Overcome it? Rise above it? Teach those around you to see more than the problem and find the real you? Any thoughts on how I can help my daughter deal with the mean bigots of the world?

Then She Started to Hula

One of my college buddies recently found this blog and commented on it. As I read his words of wisdom to me, I realized something about the short life of this blog: it has definitely been written in the minor key of pain and sorrow. Certainly this has been due to the recent challenges we’ve faced as a family, but it’s unrealistic to write only about difficulties, because we also have a lot of laughter in our home. There is nothing that warms my heart like seeing joy – pure unadulterated joy – on my kids’ faces. Here’s some examples of what I mean, from when my kids were younger:

ImageImageImageImage

Today I want to walk down memory lane with you as I recall a particularly fun day in our family history. About 6 years ago, we visited the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach with my mom and step-dad, and it’s likely not a day I will soon forget. Our kids had such a wonderful time coming face to face with literally hundreds of sea creatures. The day was filled with “Ooohs” and “Aaaaahs” and “Look at that” and “Have you ever even imagined a creature like this before,” and then it got better.

Some professional Hawaiian hula dancers were visiting the mainland, and gave a demonstration to the crowd. Then, they called for volunteers…and our daughter Cynthia was chosen. She was so nervous, and a little confused. She’s never been the most coordinated person on the planet, and she has always had some social anxiety. But we cheered her on, and encouraged her, and she walked up on stage and did her best to imitate the hip gyrations of this master hula dancer. Now, she was preschool age, so she didn’t have a clue what she was doing, but it was adorable. She was hula-ing her little butt off, and grinning from ear to ear. Because of her joy, the whole family was just filled with laughter and merriment, as we watched Cynthia – daughter, sister, granddaughter – smile her head off and shake her booty. It was one of those precious moments where all seemed right with the world. Joy overcame any sorrow, and fear of future problems. It is moments like this that we live for as parents.

I would love to hear your stories – when did you kids’ infectious joy capture your heart?

Returning to the Scene of the…Seizure

Last summer we got season passes to the local waterslide park. It was loads of fun, and everyone really enjoyed being able to go once or twice a week, until Cynthia had a seizure about two stories up on the stairs to a large waterslide. Then things got weird for me. Every time I got to the landing where she started seizing, I unexpectedly found fear gripping my heart.

What if she has another seizure? What if she is not leaning against me this time? What if she falls down the stairs and has a concussion? Oh my God, she could die if she fell from this height!

It’s amazing how irrational fear can be. I know that height isn’t a trigger for her seizures, but it didn’t matter. My emotions wouldn’t respond to these facts, and every time I walked up to that landing on those stairs, my heart rate quickened. I was able every time to just let it pass, but the emotion of that seizure returned to me afresh every time.

Parents of epileptics, do you have this same thing happen to you?

Fear, Trust and Parenting – Part 4 of 4

My oldest son is 17, in his junior year of school, and now gainfully employed at McDonald’s. In less than two years, he will be done with high school. We are having conversations right now about what college to go to, his top choices for majors, and how to get through his schooling with as little debt as possible. We have come a LONG way from potty training and multiplication tables. He is well past the stage of life where his decisions are easily reversible, and is now moving steadily into adulthood.

My wife and I have worked hard for all the years of his life to teach Jonathon how to live an honorable life; how to love deeply; how to walk purely; how to think then act, not the other way around; how to understand God’s Word; how to worship freely; how to spend and save money wisely.  We have given our best to him, invested all the energy we could muster (and more), in the hope and expectation that he will have every opportunity to succeed in his life, and to surpass us in every way.

Yet even here, fear has a chance to take hold of me, if I let it. What if I haven’t taught him everything he needs to know? What if we missed something really important, and he falls into some trap that he cannot escape from, but he never even knew the trap existed? The questions can go on and on, if I let them. Some days, I do let these thoughts paralyze me, cause me to question my parenting, my love, and my son’s readiness for adulthood? In those moments, when I allow doubt to creep in, I get stuck. And then, a favorite verse comes to mind:

ImageThe key here for me is “when he is old” – as much for what it does NOT say as for what it does say. Proverbs doesn’t say when he is 19, or a college graduate, or a new dad, or a high school junior. No, it says “when he is old.”  My wife Barbara and I have spent literally hundreds of hours building into Jonathon the values, theology, morals, kindness, wisdom, humor and love that he have within our hearts. We have given him our all, and we will continue to do so as he moves into adulthood. We hope and pray he will move forward into a vibrant life in Christ that he has already started, and that we won’t have to pin our hopes on “when he is old.”

I don’t have any answers, and I don’t think Proverbs is a magic bullet for good little Christian families. I have seen too many friends go through the heartache of watching their children walk away from the church, and eventually from God Himself. But I still remember being too young, and believing that I knew EVERYTHING, regardless of how ignorant I really was. I also remember waking up one day, and realizing how foolish I had been. So as my son walks into adulthood, my prayers are for his protection from the darkness of the world, and from the foolishness of youth. But beyond that, I take a stand against the fear that says “Your son will fail,” and trust that he will be the man we have taught him to be.

Fear, Trust and Parenting – Part 3 of 4

As we round third base on this series of blogs on fear trust and parenting, I am going to talk about my youngest son Elijah now. He fits the typical profile of the youngest child – social, outgoing, loves to be the center of attention, dramatic, charming, spoiled, entitled, and handsome. A lot of these traits are commonly seen as the result of birth order research, but some of these traits rest solely on my wife Barbara and I, and we own them. It is exhausting to have 3 kids in 4 years, so we let some things slide.

In keeping true to his outgoing self, Elijah auditioned for a local holiday-themed play about two weeks ago. His attitude coming into the audition was amazing, and sounded something like this:

I assume that I am going to get a part, and probably a large part to boot. I am a very good actor, and have been in every play I ever tried out for. Plus, I have people tell me ALL THE TIME that I should pursue acting more seriously because I am so good. I actually think they might make a mistake if they don’t choose me.

In other words, he looked a little like this:

ImageAs I am listening to him talk about this, I have two completely adversarial thoughts running through my head:

1)      I hope Elijah does not get a part – he needs humility.

2)      I hope Elijah does get a part – it would be exciting for him to be in another performance.

On the one hand, I was afraid that Elijah would walk out with an even bigger head if he got a significant part in this production. At the same time, I didn’t want his heart to hurt, and I was worried it would if he got rejected for this play.  These crossroads in parenting are always interesting to me. Elijah’s emotional needs and his spiritual needs were really at odds with one another in this moment. Spiritually, he needed a reality check, a moment of clarity in which he realized that he was not indeed God’s gift to the acting world. At the same time, his heart is so very tender, and he is so easily discouraged and wounded. I would have hated to see him struggle with the pain of rejection, especially in an area that he perceives as a strength.

Thankfully, this time the decision was not in my hands. I did not have to determine whether to prioritize his spirit or his emotions. The director of the play got to decide this one, and his concern was merely ability, not the condition of Elijah’s heart.

My son received a small but active role in this production, and along with it a dose of humility. As the cast did the first read-through of the play, he realized that he was not ready for a major part in this play. Indeed, he was in awe of the actors with the two major parts:

There are so many lines. I have no idea how I could memorize all those lines in just a few weeks…Dad, did you hear how different her voice is when she is in character, as opposed to real life. I don’t think I could do that…I am SO GLAD that I didn’t get a big part in this play – it’s hard to learn so quickly.

One of the things that I love about our God is that He is ever watchful over every ounce of our being: spirit, body, mind, soul, and emotions. He knew I would face those parenting crossroads long before I did, and He had Elijah’s best interests in mind the whole time. I am so thankful that God does not leave us alone to parent our children, but that rather He joins with us. When we stand at a decision point, He is beside us. Truly, our God is always with us, supporting us, sustaining us, guiding us.

Have you ever had a conflicted moment as a parent, where you wanted two things for your kid at the same time? What happened?

Fear, Trust and Parenting – Part 2 of 4

I am continuing my thoughts on the balancing act we as parents often have between fear and trust. I just spent the weekend talking with my 11-year-old son Sean about purity and puberty (you know…the TALK). I think we both learned a lot about each other during this process.

Image

For example, I learned more about the girl that he has a crush on, his first crush. He told me that she is very cute to him, but he is embarrassed to even think about being alone with her. He is afraid that she will know what to do, since he knows he doesn’t. He also told me that he does not believe he is mature enough to actually go on a date with this girl, or anyone else for that matter….We agreed.

He learned a bit about my dating history, or rather my relative lack of dating history. He learned that I am serious about helping him to honor God with his sexuality, and that I still remember the pressures that come with being a pre-teen and teenager in this dark world. We had some challenging conversations, and I am not primarily talking about the topics, though the description I gave him of the actual act of intercourse was overwhelmingly embarrassing for him. He challenged me heartily on some of the boundaries I put around his dating in the present and future. Sometimes he got angry with me; sometimes he acted like he wasn’t angry when he was; sometimes he acted impatient when he was uncomfortable. At one point, we both raised our voices with each other. Oh, the joys of raising adolescents, right?

It was really good for us to have this weekend though, for a few reasons. First and foremost, I was rededicating myself to my son as he grows into a young man. Though it has been years, I still remember feeling abandoned by my parents when I was his age, and feeling like nobody could possibly understand what I was experiencing. This weekend then was a stark reminder to him that I do love him, I am for him, I am interested in what’s happening in his life, and I will not fade into the background of his life. It was also a time for us to simply reconnect. There are very few things that allow a father and son to reestablish their kinship like a 3 hour hike, even if we are both only partially sure of where we are going.

Coming back to the issue of fear and trust, this event brought to my mind a whole new array of fears about his son’ and his seemingly quick ascent into manhood. My prayer is that he is able to make wise choices, sexually and otherwise. When he does make foolish choices, I pray that the results are reversible. He is getting to the age where his choices can have far-reaching impact, and the results are much more meaningful than paint on the carpet. I had to consciously make a choice to pull away from fear as we ended our weekend, and choose trust.

Adolescence scares me more as a parent than it ever did when I experienced it. Nevertheless, I will trust my son to make the right choices. I will trust that he will talk to me when he come up against a situation that he is unsure how to handle. I will trust that my wife and I have laid a good moral and spiritual foundation for him to be able to make good choices. I will trust that I remain accessible to him, rather than distant. Alongside these trusts, I will work hard to be available, to continue coaching, to ask the tough questions, to recognize when he is struggling, to not let him live an unexamined life.  But above all these, I will trust my God to be present with Sean, to guide him by the Holy Spirit, to bring good positive encouraging friends and mentors into his life.

Despite all this trusting, the fear lingers. I have to make a choice many times a day to move through the fear. I am finally starting to understand that fear and trust are not antonyms, but companions on this journey of life.

Today’s question is going to be a broad one – any thoughts you would like to share on how to survive parenting an adolescent, while guiding them toward a godly adulthood?

Fear, Trust and Parenting – Part 1 of 4

I will never forget the day I got to be Superman for my daughter.

ImageOur family was at a friend’s house two summers ago, just chilling out and swimming. All the kids were in the pool have a great time, while the adults were relaxing about twenty feet away under the porch. As is often the case, we were half-paying attention to kids, while also secretly enjoying the ability to finish conversations without interruption. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my daughter Cynthia jumping into the water…and go limp in mid-air as she went into an absent seizure!

In a moment I slipped off my sandals, ran to the pool and jumped in after her. I saw her face-down, body limply floating downward in the pool. I grabbed her and rose quickly to the surface. As we got to the pool’s edge, Cynthia was still out of it. I pulled her out of the pool with me and held her in my arms for about three minutes before she came out of her seizure. She looked up at me, completely confused. “Poor girl,” I thought. “She is moved into her postictal state, and is probably done swimming today.” Not exactly….she smiled and said, “Dad? Thanks for hugging me, and I love you too. Can I go back to swimming now?”

I let her go swim with her friends, and stayed on the side of the pool, silently weeping prayers of gratitude. She had been in the deep end playing by herself. What would have happened if I had turned my head to the left instead of the right and missed her jump? What if nobody noticed and my daughter slowly sunk to the bottom of the pool? What if…what if…what if. Even now – over two years later – as I tell you this story, I am starting to tear up. There is actually a possibility that my daughter may have died if things had been only a little different.

It’s not every day that we have true life-or-death moments in parenting (thank God – I wouldn’t make it as a parent!). But we do have choices as parents about the freedoms we give our children, and this is always in contrast with trust – trust in our children, and trust with God. The next four posts are going to be focused on this contrast, and the struggles that I continue to work through in this context.

This was one of those moments that changed the way we parent Cynthia. As you might imagine, Cynthia never swims alone anymore. We also came face to face, really for the first time, with how dangerous this world can be for an epileptic like my daughter. This paradigm shift has impacted our parenting in some really significant ways, some pretty frustrating for our daughter. Our tendency now is to hold our daughter close, maybe closer than we should, and maybe closer than she wants.

ImageRecently, Cynthia has been frustrated, because she sees these safety concerns through the lens of mistrust. I realize that we will need to pull back and give her some chances to experience life outside our watchful eye. I want her to know that we love her, we trust her, that it’s not really about her per se; it’s her epilepsy we don’t “trust.” Yet the fear, the what if’s grounded in perhaps the most emotional moment of my life two summers ago, won’t go away.

I’d love to hear from you – how do you figure out the balance between fear and trust? I’d especially like to hear from you if you have a special needs child, as I think the answers might be a bit different.