Monday, July 6, 2015

SB277 - Mandatory Vaccines And The Loophole That Makes Everyone Happy

Last year (2014) there was a measles outbreak that traced "patient zero" to The Happiest Place on Earth, Disneyland, in Southern California. California scrambled to find an answer to the question of how a mostly eradicated disease could possibly be so virulent to infect hundreds of patients in a mostly vaccinated society. This lead to weeks of debate about the pro and cons of vaccines, the possible autism link, the "dangerous" ingredients and subsequent "cover-ups" done by both the government and Big Pharma, the real risk of measles, and even our ability to govern our own health and bodies... "It's those damned Anti-vaxxers" vs. "You're poisoning the children! (Insert hand-wringing) The Children!"

Whatever the cause, or the fault, it was determined that California had fallen below the "herd immunity" threshold. Herd Immunity is a theoretical percentage of vaccinated population that is high enough that an outbreak will no longer spread... or at least become pandemic. I've read 90%, I've read 80%, it doesn't matter which is true as that number is theoretical anyway. Herd immunity thresholds, in statistics terms, could only be a lagging indicator, because you won't know where it needed to be until there's an outbreak.

We (I am a Californian) needed to do something and since vaccines had long been the responsibilities of the schools (and daycares) SB277 was introduced to the State Legislature.

SB277 in its entirety  passed and was signed into law last week.

What's new about SB277? There's really only one important thing to know... it no longer allows exemptions based on "personal beliefs". From this point forward, only "medical exemptions" will be allowed. California would be joining West Virginia and Mississippi with the strictest vaccination requirements in the Nation.

On a side note, some States have, or have had, "religious belief exemptions"... California did not, however, they fell under personal belief exemptions.

So, what is/are/were those personal belief exemptions that were "ruining" our State? Good question. I am enrolling my daughter for Kindergarten next year and had to go through the rigmarole of paperwork it requires. My daughter is fully vaccinated (she's been in pre-school) but I still need to prove it with a doctor's report. So this year I examine the form... the blue one in California, and make an appointment with her doctor to fill it out. $15 for any form filled out through our insurance. No problem. Have to have the original signed (no photocopies), so I have to drop it off, or mail it. No problem. It takes up to three days to get it back, but that's okay, too. I have time.

Or...

It's right there on the back. A little box that says "personal belief exemption". I could just check that off... not even initialize it and avoid all this back and forth (and $15).

So, to claim a personal belief exemption, I just have to check a box? Don't I have to plead my case? Don't I have to bring in pages and pages of documents proving the harm of vaccines? Don't I have to recite a Holy Prayer to prove it's against my religion? Don't I need to bring in paperwork to disclose my daughter's immunodeficiency?

Nah. Just check that box.

I can't be the first parent to think of this.

***

I get asked a lot about vaccines. My son has autism and I am a writer, so friends and family and neighbors and strangers often ask me what I think about the safety of vaccines. I am not, however, a physician or research scientist. The information I can give you comes from those professionals.

I can, unequivocally, tell you vaccines did not cause OUR autism. I can also, unequivocally, tell you that OUR autism is nowhere near miserable, hopeless, or worse "than the slight risk of potentially catching what might someday come back as an historically viciously deadly disease".

Others disagree with those two issues.

I first heard of SB277 from a friend asking me what I thought about vaccines. It was being introduced (maybe February) and the friend that told me about it  pitched the bill as follows... "They're introducing a bill in California that only allows medical exemptions."

I thought, cool. Putting public health concerns in the hands of health professionals. I dig that.

And I didn't think about it again.

***

So, who are the exemptions in my State? Certainly the children with allergies or compromised immune systems that could suffer serious harm from receiving a live vaccine. Certainly the anti-vaxxers. They've got proof that their science is better than yours. Maybe the parent like myself in the above scenario... but that would be a vaccinated child posing as an exemption purely because I'm lazy.

Do those groups really account for the 10-20% of exemptions in this State?

***

That leads us to who is this bill really for.

How many children in this State have never been to a doctor (outside of an ER or Urgentcare) at Kinder enrollment? How many parents missed an appointment? How many thought it was too much money? How many simply had no idea we vaccinate? How many single parents couldn't afford to take a day off work for this? Much less three? Up to 10 if you want to space out those vaccinations.

And how many of those parents picked up their enrollment packets, saw the blue form, said "what does this mean?", realize they have to wait 3 years to catch up on a proper vaccine schedule to enroll their child...

Or they could just check that box.

But the anti-vaxxers and the sickly are the guys to blame. We can't possibly point the finger at the poor, uneducated or lazy. Not in California!

Maybe we need a better public outreach program. Maybe we need a way to reach ALL of our State. Maybe we need an advertising campaign about the importance of vaccines. Maybe this really is a public health issue and not a school issue after-all. Maybe, just maybe, you should counsel a physician on vaccines instead of bloggers.

How can we get these parents (and kids) to those health care professionals?

It's called SB277.

***

Here is a copy of the letter Governor Jerry Brown wrote to the State Senate.


What Governor Brown wants from this bill and from our schools and from our State and from our parents and from our Health Professionals is awareness. In his own words, medical exceptions exist "when a physician believes that circumstances - in the judgement and sound discretion of the physician - so warrant"

There is no list of what qualifies as a "medical exemption". Your Doctor doesn't believe in vaccinations? Bam, medical exemption. Your Doctor believes in delayed schedules? Bam, medical exemption. Your doctor thinks it's risky to your child's immune system, even though your child does not have recognized immunodeficiency? Bam. Medical exemption.

It was and is (in Brown's own words) - left purposefully vague.

What I like about this bill, personally, is that it is putting the responsibility of a public health issue back in the hands of health officials. Quite simply, you can still opt out of vaccines, but you need to prove you spoke with a physician about it.

Even better news! The ACA requires all Americans to have health insurance so you can no longer say I couldn't afford to go. But wait, there's more, California also quietly passed a mandatory Paid Sick Leave Act for ALL employees (it went into effect July 1st), so you can no longer say I couldn't afford to miss work to take my kid to get their vaccines.

Putting a public health issue back in the hands of health professionals...

I like the sound of that, Jerry.

***

There is something deeply disturbing about this bill, too. The punishment for not vaccinating your child is mandatory homeschooling. Can you imagine if this was carried to execution of said threat. One of the greatest undeniable civil liberties of this entire country (California included) is the right to FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) for EVERY child.

Autonomy of your own Health Care and body is debatable as a civil liberty in this country (at least regarding who is going to pay for it).

Free Appropriate Public Education is an undeniable civil liberty. Even mandatory in most states. We are one of only a handful of countries that educate EVERY child, including the very poor, the disabled, and immigrant populations.

We are the only country in the world, that does that for free.

And I am pretty damn proud of that.

Imagine a child denied that right because of what may, or may not, be a public health issue? Imagine a punishment that does not fit the crime of a parent(s)?

If homeschooling were a serious threat, every school district had better be prepared to pay for said homeschooling program, oh, and for the salary of the parent that stays home to administer it.

I will not allow undeniable civil liberties to be taken away from any child in the name of agendas.

But I doubt that will happen. As said before, I think the intent of this bill, now a law, is to get more kids to the doctor.

I don't really see many "real" expulsions from the State via the school district.

And the ACLU agrees with me.

I look at this law like the jury duty law. You can go to jail for ignoring a jury summons. It says so right on the pamphlet (even cites the law). But in the searchable arrest records database, Los Angeles County (the largest County in California)... there are 0 arrests for ditching Jury Duty.

The punishment (of the child) does not fit the "crime" (of the adult) here.

***

In the end, it doesn't matter what I think. I'm just a dad thinking out loud here. I can listen to the shouting of either side about the harms of vaccines versus the benefits. I can choose to believe whomever I want.

I have that right.

But I probably shouldn't make that decision without the input of my child's pediatrician.

And Jerry Brown wants to make sure I had that conversation.

Putting a public health issue back in the hands of health professionals...

I still like the sound of that.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Come Sail Away

Do you remember those "Hidden Image" paintings that were really popular in the 90s? You were supposed to stare at a series of seemingly random dots or images for a long time and a background holographic image of a sailboat (or something) was intended to pop out.

I could never see the sailboat.

***

Jack has been in Summer School for two weeks now. Summer School has always been great for him. Smaller class, shorter hours, less demands, who knows why, but it is usually a breeze for us. This year Jack made us a deal that since Summer School is shorter, he wanted to try going un-medicated for a day. He said he was ready to work hard on focusing and listening enough to prove that he doesn't need to take his meds at school anymore.

I will take one paragraph here to discuss Jack and meds. I won't go in to specifics because this blog is not intended to be about medications for our kids. I am not interested in defending or disclaiming any pharmaceutical or natural treatments people or their children use. I have several blogs about that if you really want to have that argument or push your agenda... please find them. Jack hates taking his meds. He likes the way they make him feel. He recognizes the effect of focus and attention they bring him. He prefers it if we are going to go to a birthday party or a movie where he recognizes the meds will allow him to have a better time. But he hates the physical act of actually taking his pills. We have already been through the other delivery systems, and pill is the way he hates least. Also, his meds do severely alter his hunger drive. I don't really have a "picky" eater... I have a kid that just isn't hungry. So, on weekends and non-school days, Jack is unmedicated... mostly so he will eat. And eat he does (which is nice).

So Jack has earned going to Summer School without meds one day a week. It has been okay. Jack has severe ADHD... not the kind of snap your fingers to get the kid to pay attention type, the "we want you to try and sit still for 1 minute straight type."

ADHD is not only for movement. His little brain is constantly seeking stimulation. Physical, mental, verbal, sensory, whatever, he seeks stimulation constantly. This is a very difficult child to "control" in a classroom setting. This is a very difficult child to "control" at home. This is an extremely difficult child to simply have a two-sided conversation with.

***

My wife took the baby to San Diego last weekend and I took Jack to the arcade at our local mall. Jack was unmedicated and all over the place. He had fun, don't get me wrong, but it was an afternoon of me holding his shoulders so he didn't slam into people, telling him "I already heard this", and "Jack, quiet voice". We made our way up to the food court for dinner and I passed one of those sailboat paintings.

I stepped back and took a stare. Nothing.

Then Jack started knocking on the window of the storefront and we re-directed to the food court.

***

My wife called on her way home and we were talking. She asked me how the day was and I told her it was rough. Nothing major, but it's truly exhausting to keep up with the ADHD (she knows this, btw).

But there was something different about that mall, that day, that dinner... I told my wife that I just started feeling bad for Jack. I can tell that he is trying sometimes (to stay still, to have a conversation, to lower his voice), and I appreciate the effort... but most of the time, he just can't help it. He's not wired that way. And all the re-direction, social stories, modelling, or yelling in the world aren't going to help.

He just doesn't see the world the same way I do.

And that's beautiful in its own way.

But I can not allow that beauty to hit other people, get kicked out of class for talking (more specifically, refusing to stop talking), or saying mean things in your enlightened beauty.

I'm still his god-damned parent. My wife and I are still responsible for his future and his personal responsibility within.

We are responsible so that he knows and believes that despite his abilities or disabilities he can still accomplish anything. He needs to know and believe that if he wants to open the firmament of Heaven, he will have to work for it.

We are responsible that he knows he belongs.

***

Jack saw his psychiatrist yesterday. She got to see him unmedicated for the first time in several months (maybe even a year). She was impressed with how well he interacted with her. She also noticed how distracted he was.

Two conclusions:

First: This gets better. He will learn and mature into a better, more manageable inner-self.
Second: His meds are working really well.

***

His neurology is different than mine. I accept it. I know how hard daily tasks that are human nature to me can be challenging to him. I recognize and praise the moments that I can tell he is trying.

And for that... I am proud (of him and us).

***

I may never ever see that fucking sailboat...


But I'll never give up trying.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Fly

Here we are on the eve of the last day of school for my third grader. We had our IEP a few weeks ago. It went swimmingly well. I realize now that I never mentioned it on the blog or the Facebook Page... and I realize now that I have written hardly anything about Jack, or autism, in the last few months. There are 2 reasons. 1) Epilepsy took over our lives for a little bit there. 2) There is very little to write about that hasn't been said about Jack.


And that, my friends, is a good thing.


***


The other night, the four of us were talking on the couch. Jade was asking us if she was ever going to leave the house we are in now. Julie and I were fantasizing again about the house we want to buy atop the Sierra Nevadas. The mountain house we want to retire in. The mountain house we want to die in. The mountain house we saw as a young couple on the most romantic drive we ever had, almost 20 years ago. The same drive we watched the sun go down over the Northern Truckee River and listened to "Not Dark Yet" by Bob Dylan over and over again. The drive we fell deeper in love over.

The mountain house that we both wanted to be scattered from.


***

Third grade was amazing for all of us. We had an amazing teacher. We had an amazing team. We made amazing friends. We caught up academically. We caught up socially.

We belonged.

But I had very little to do with any of that success. Sure I did homework. Sure I drove to therapies. Sure I filled out permission slips.


But it was all Jack, this year. This year it was all my boy. I'm always careful to thank Jack first for his successes, they are, after-all his to own. But this is the first year I've really, honestly, entirely, and humbly meant it.



I am so proud of how hard you have worked this year.




So proud of you facing fears, discomfort, and uncertainty and rising above.

Jack, did you know that this year at your IEP you had some services cut for next year? The advocates in your mother and me protested. The parents in us beamed with pride. Why?

Because they were the proper cuts, not because you had "aged out" of them, but rather because you had "graduated" them. We celebrate that those OT services are now available to another student. That extra 30 minutes of RSP can go to a new little girl that might need help reading.


You will start 4th grade with all of your peers, at grade level...


That's not say that there isn't work to still do, but you've done so much.


***


You we're talking with your mom tonight about tomorrow being the last day, and I can tell you were sad. I know it will be hard to say good-bye to your friends. I also know this is the first time you've ever struggled with that. I know this is a hard emotion for you to verbalize.


But you'll do it.


I will help you.


***


Back to the mountain house...


Jade wanted to know if she would move there with us. She wanted to know where she was going to go to college. She wanted to know where she would practice law.


Jack asked if he was moving with us to the mountain house.


Julie said "I don't think you'll live with us there, but you'll be close by. You'll probably be a trail guide or some sort of naturalist since you like hiking so much. But you can come over for dinner any time."


We all laughed. We had a great moment.


***


It wasn't until a few days later that it hit me.


Julie's fantasy involved Jack as an independent adult.


***


I'm 80 years old. The sun is going down over the river. My wife is a retired judge by my side still holding my hand. My daughter is off changing the world.


My son is off changing the world, too.


And I smile.


"I was born here and I'll die here.
Against my will.
I know it looks like I'm moving
But I'm standing still.
Every nerve in my body
Has grown vacant and numb.
I can't even remember what it was I came here to get away from.
Don't even hear a murmur of a prayer.
It's not dark yet
But it's getting there."


Not Dark Yet - By Bob Dylan


In the meantime, my boy...


Fly.






Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Till Human Voices Wake Us

I overheard a conversation the other day between Jade and her babysitter. I only caught the tail end, but it was lovely.

Dee: "Well, Jade, if Dee could be in two places at once, that would be a wonderful fantasy world"
Jade: "And there would be an octopus!"

I still smile every time I think of this. The thought that the idea of Jade's fantasy worlds automatically contain an octopus delight me. I imagine he is a friendly octopus. Perhaps with a British accent. Maybe he wears a top hat and monocle. A top hat that magically stays on his head under the sea. He is probably purple. Maybe pink.

***

This morning Jack woke up in a mood. He was excited to tell me about his dream. He prattled on and on about he and his classmates being chased from a haunted house by dozens of snakes. This is not unusual. Jack is pretty interested in both snakes... and his classmates.

One thing that we have been working on with Jack is better pragmatic speech skills. Pragmatic speech (put simply) is how to have a conversation, turn-taking, when to STOP talking, etc. Jack has a tendency to repeat himself over and over again. When I talk to him about it, he claims it's because he wants to make sure he was heard.

EXAMPLE

Jack: Dad! Fantastic Four was Stan Lee's first series. He wrote it in 1967. He was his first series. He was the first writer to write about them. It was the Fantastic Four. They were his first. It was 1967. They were definitely his first.

(I have no idea if that is factual)

The newest approach is to "cut-him off" after a complete sentence (or thought) to do two things 1) acknowledge that I heard him, and 2) Ask a question that furthers the conversation in a different direction to avoid repetition.

Ideally, it would look like this:

Jack: Dad! Fantastic Four was Stan Lee's first series.
Me: Wow. That was his first? What year was it?
Jack: 1967, He wrote it in-
Me: 1967 was a long time ago. Did he draw the pictures or just do the writing?
Jack: I don't know.

Wouldn't that be fantastic? Wouldn't it be a wonderful world if I had the patience to do that every time? With every conversation? Day after day? Week after week? Month after month?

Because often those conversations end with...

"I already heard this part" or worse yet, "stop talking"

I openly admit, that I eventually have enough of being on my "A" game and will literally "silence" my son.

And that may be the worst thing you can do to any child.

***

This morning, however, I was on my game. I Jumped sentences correctly. I validated narrative. I furthered the story with leading questions.

Most importantly, I enjoyed the story. Sure, the hero's journey was incomplete, the imagery was sloppy, and there was a little too much deus ex machina for my taste, (a little writer humor for you) but Jack told me an entire story. In a proper way.

Now, I was trying. I was making the best effort I could to "guide" the conversation.

Son-of-a-bitch, that approach worked.

I half expected to see Jade's purple octopus come by.

***

Jack, I pledge to work on this with you. I respect your voice. I am a writer myself. I write blogs about you, and me, and Jade, and your mom, and your sitter, and your grandma, and your cat, and your imagination.

This is the medium I have chosen...

Perhaps, if you've read this far, because nobody can silence me.

I know you have taken to journal writing. You have notebooks upon notebooks of your innermost thoughts and plans and fantasies.

Do you want to know a secret?

I have read every single one.


And you have a voice worth sharing.

***

I, too, once dreamed of the sea.

"We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown."

(T.S. Eliot)

***

Thank you for reading.

Monday, March 30, 2015

I Hope You Dance

I spent the last two weeks with some pretty horrendous back pain. The horrendous part was only about three days, the other 10 were spent trying as hard as possible to not aggravate that horrendous pain from rearing its ugly head. On a sidenote, if you ever have to spend four days on the couch "relaxing" your back, do it during the NCAA Final Four tournament.

My wife really stepped up during that week. My parents, get this, came down to Los Angeles and took the boy home with them for a few days, since he was on Spring Break and I was not in a position to take him out of town, nor even chase him around.

Forever grateful.

I did, however, manage to take care of a few things during that week. I met with the accountant to take care of taxes. I made it to a steak dinner we had been planning for about a month. I spent a lot of time arguing on the phone with the insurance companies.

And, the task my wife just can not do, I took the baby girl to her latest blood draw.

Most of you know that my 5 year old baby girl has epilepsy. We're still new to the "epilepsy spectrum" and experimenting with meds and dosages. The rough part is that Jade has to have her blood drawn fairly often. All routine stuff, checking med levels, etc. but tough on a 5 year-old. My wife cries when she has to give blood herself and has "opted out" of taking the baby girl. That's cool. Besides, Jade is a champ. She doesn't enjoy the process, but she does it. So, last week, Jade, her faithful stuffed Piggie, favorite blankie, and her old man with his cane went down for her blood draw.

***

I hate to dance. I love music, but dancing is not for me. Jade, however, loves it. The first morning my back was not going to cut it, Jade was at her dance class. I called my wife and said I couldn't do it. I wasn't gonna' make it home, could she swap out with me. She did.

That afternoon, I had to explain to Jade that Daddy was "tender". She had to be careful running and jumping on me for the next few days. She needed to help me picking things up off the floor. She had to hug me very gently.

And she obliged. Every morning she asked me if "my back was better yet". She gave me the most gentle hugs. It was very sweet. Jack, on the other hand, figured out pretty quickly that I couldn't catch him very quickly and took the week to get into all sorts of "prohibited items".

I was truly impressed with my daughter's show of empathy.

Last week, Jade and I are in the OT lobby waiting for Jack. I'm feeling better (at least enough to be out and about). Jade finishes her homework and asks if we can turn on the TV (I think it was a Tom and Jerry DVD this week).

The theme music starts and Jade asks me if my back was better. I told her I was doing better. So she asks if I would dance with her. Not that good yet, Baby Girl. But I'll watch you.

***

I painfully made my way in to the chair at the diagnostic lab. Jade made her way up to my lap. She knew what was coming and started to whimper a bit as the nurse tapped around to find the best vein on her arm. She started to cry when the nurse put that blue elastic band around her bicep. I told her to look at my face instead of the needle as it went in. She cried a little bit. She asked for it to be over. She started counting to 10 through her tears (hoping when she got to ten that she would be done). But the nurse needed 3 vials. This was going to take more than 10 seconds. I assured her it was okay and then, through her tears, she had a seizure.

***

When we got home, Jade was allowed to play with her new toy. A talking "Gabby" doll that she had earned for being so brave. She told her mom how well she did. She was showered with attention and praise.

She even let her daddy take a goofy picture.

***

Jade has what are known as "Absence Seizures". She rolls her eyes up to her left and simply stares off for 2 or 3 seconds. Sometimes, she kind of "pulses" with them. She has no idea what is happening during those 2 or 3 seconds. At least that what we surmise.

What is amazing, however, is that she can not tell us if she just had a seizure, but based on the reactions of others, she can ask us if she did.

I am truly impressed with my daughter's show of empathy.

I spend a lot of time wondering what happens during those 2-3 seconds. Where does she go? What does she feel? Is it painful? Why doesn't she remember?

But I do know, that she was fretting, crying, scared and brave at the same time. She stared up into my eyes and it suddenly stopped. She pulsed a little bit as I stared into her tear-stained blue eyes. It's an image I will never forget. She snapped back, smiled at me, and turned her head to see the needle in her arm. She started whimpering again and then it was over.

I was given proof that she has absolutely no idea what happens in those 2-3 seconds.

I like to think she goes somewhere beautiful. I like to think that she goes somewhere she can feel no pain. I like to think it's perfect for her.

Well, Jade, wherever you go...

I hope you dance.


We'll get there, my love.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Endless River

Last night my five year-old daughter woke up around 330 and came in to our room. "I had a bad dream." She wanted to get in bed and snuggle with mom. Mom, as Jade has NEVER wanted to sleep with us... EVER, delightfully obliged. I could hear them whispering as I fell back asleep.

What was your dream about?
I was dreaming that I was talking to all of you and then everyone turned into stuffed animals.
All of us?
Everyone. It was very scary.

And I drifted off to my own dreams.

For me it was the same dream I've had since I was a kid. I had it several times. My dad had recently taken me to the mountains for an Indian Guides YMCA outing. We fished and told stories around a campfire. We probably made s'mores (but I don't remember for sure). And we stayed up later than I ever had before in my 6 year-old life. I remember climbing into the white Volvo with my dad and we drove about an hour home. You would think it was the fishing or the s'mores or the time with my dad I'd remember. But it was the drive home.

I had never driven in the mountains before. I vividly recall hugging a mountainside and trying to look as far down the other side of the road as I could see. But it was night... just blackness. I knew the bottom was down there somewhere, but tonight was just darkness... nothing. I was horrified at the unknown. I remember the sheer terror I felt as we rounded every bend and the headlights would shine briefly on the top of what hid certain death and uncertainty below. It was both terrifying and exhilarating. I marveled at the duplicity of the road. The headlights showing me what lay in front, but not what lay beneath.

Thirty Five years later I had the dream again. In my dream I was riding my red beachcruiser Schwinn. I remember it well. It was fat and clunky. Safe. It represented freedom. I could go wherever I wanted on my bike. It would never fail me. In my dream I was riding in, you guessed it, the mountains. It was certainly a bit of deus ex machina as to how a six year-old got to 4000 feet in the Sierra Nevadas.

I was free. I was literally above the world and held that childlike exuberance that gives us unlimited confidence That feeling I so, so long to re-capture now.

And then night falls.

I take a turn too fast and tumble over a railing.

And I fall.

As a child, I would usually wake up here. Gasping. Terrified.

But not always. Now, as an adult, with a better understanding of the silent lucidity of dreaming, I allow myself to fall. It's darkness, and I'm still falling. Certain to smash into something... soon!

Splash! It's a river. A river moving fast. I look to the left and right... nothing but rushing water. I frantically turn around and notice calmer water, with several reeds piercing the surface. I could probably grab on to them. As long as I don't give up swimming. The current carries me as I try my hardest to get there, continually knocked back into the eddy of my swirling river. I try again and again until... at long last... I grab a reed.

***

I think of the journey with my son. I think of all the mountains and rivers and chasms and unknowns we have, and will continue to face with his journey through autism. I get the metaphor.

But I think of my daughter. I think of her journey through epilepsy. I think of how ignorant I am and how little I can guide her. I oddly wish it were autism, because the devil I know is better than the devil I don't know. I'm reassured that 80% of kids with absence seizure childhood epilepsy "outgrow" it by adolescence... but that means that 20% don't.

This evening, we got the news that she was going to need to do further blood work tomorrow. Routine. Checking levels. But, have you ever taken a 5 year-old to get their blood drawn? I have. It's terrifying to them, and it takes longer than a quick shot in the arm.

But my baby girl is a champ. She said "okay, daddy. I'll do it again. But I want a new Equestria Girl doll for it."

So, tonight, I took her Target to get the Equestria Girl doll for tomorrow's reward. Apple Jack. On the way to the register, she eyed the Los Angeles Kings (excuse me, World Champion Los Angeles Kings) hockey caps. She said she wanted one. I said, "are you sure? I can get you a different hat, something with the equestria girls?"

"No, daddy. I want to be like you"

***

And I think to myself... "why?!?!"

I am scared baby girl. I am scared that I can only see the surface and terrified of the darkness below. We might fall. We might plunge into that darkness and find ourselves in the rushing water. Helpless. Flailing. Overwrought. Seizing.

We could take the easy way out, baby girl. We could wake ourselves up. We could return to the comfort of mama's bed. We could go back to that warm embrace of maternity. We could be safe.

Or we could swim.


Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Tale of Two Turtles


So this is not autism related at all but it's a funny, heartbreaking story nonetheless submitted entirely for your entertainment.

We spent the Thanksgiving week in Lake Tahoe, CA. It was great to get away and the kids both did great and had a great time.

On Tuesday, I took Jade (4) to the arcade at the casino and she won enough tickets to buy four erasers that are shaped liked turtles. Any of you that frequent arcades or Chuck E Cheese know ow frustrating the prize counter is. I mean we spent about $20 to win enough tickets to buy four... ERASERS!?!? You could probably buy a three-pack of these little chingaderos at the Dollar Store, but, no she earned them. She pressed the right buttons and had all the skee-ball skills to win enough tickets to buy 4 turtle erasers. She named them. One was pink, one blue, one green, and one yellow/orange. The shell comes off so you can have two, count them two, erasers if you need them. But, once again, they were hers. She earned them. She gave them backstories. She decided to love them and they turned out to be well worth the $20 in entertainment value.

So, Thursday night rolls around and we are going to drive up to Reno to have Thanksgiving dinner with the in-laws. Jade asks if her turtles can come with. Of course they can. I tell Jade they can stay in my special pocket (the lower, seldom-used pocket on a pair of cargo shorts). I'll keep them safe for the drive to Reno. Reno is a dangerous place, after all, and turtle erasers deserve protection beyond their hard gummy shells, right?

As it usually goes with four-year olds and their fathers' suggestions, the pocket was not an acceptable means of transport. "It's too dark" "The turtles are too scared" but her complaints had a fatal error in them. She had already established that the orange turtle was clearly the leader and most brave of the bale (I looked that up). So I told her that the orange turtle could talk them in to it. He turned to the rest of the cowering turtles and Jade made a speech to the cowering turtles of bravery and confidence that would make Braveheart fans proud. So the turtles entered the lower pocket and were not heard from for the rest of the evening.

"They will be fine, Jade", I reassured my doubting daughter.

***

The next morning as I was brushing teeth, my wife set something down that she had found in the dryer.
 
I thought nothing of them.
 
We went back to Reno for the day and when I was playing with the kids outside, Jade pulled this out of her backpack.
 

 
 
"Daddy, where are my turtles?"
 
As I fumbled in my pocket for those funny looking erasers my wife had handed to me, it hit me. I never took them out of the pocket... and they must have gone through the wash... those funny-looking erasers must have been...
 
"WHHHAAAAAA! What happened to the turtles!?!?"
 
I had pulled the heads out of my pocket and Jade had seen them.
 
She wailed.
 
"Daddy! What happened to the turtles?"
"I accidentally put them in the washing machine, Jade. It'll be okay"
"Okay!?!? That's their heads!?!?"
 
She became a bit more hysterical. I tried my best to reassure her.
 
"Look, Daddy, that one doesn't have a mouth anymore. He couldn't scream for help"
 
I started to feel really bad for her.
 
"Jade, it'll be okay. It was an accident"
 
She simply sobbed for a moment.
 
"But, daddy, they were so scared. Remember they didn't want to be in the dark?"
 
And finally the words that haunt me still:
 
"And you said they were going to be okay"
 
***
 
It's okay folks. A friend of mine found them on-line and I ordered Jade a dozen (for only $4.99... can you believe the profit margin of that damn arcade?). I felt so bad for her. I did, indeed let her down.
 
But a few days later, I found myself so impressed with her.
 
You see, Jade is only 4. I am sorry I was the one that committed the reptilicide, but she cared SO much. She had created back stories. She established a leader. She showed a true empathy.
 
And she was so, so very sad for them.
 
And she is only 4.
 
These are things we have worked on with my son for 5 years now. He has such difficulty taking perspective already... true empathy will hopefully come with more maturity, but he still has such a poor understanding of the subject. I found myself sad for him.
 
So I told him the story. He sat for a moment. I expected little or no reaction. Finally:
 
"Dad, is Jade sad that you killed her toys?"
 
Yes, my boy. Yes she is.
 
"Did you know that they ate turtle soup on Scooby Doo goes to Zombie island?"
 
I did not know that.