Friday, May 28, 2010

My Eyes and My Heart

This entry is an attempt at catharsis for me. You might find it somewhat whiny. If that's the case, I apologize.

My family has a "genetic predisposition" for childhood cataracts on my father's side. As far back as we can trace, it has made life more difficult. Those of us born in the last seventy years or so have actually been the "lucky" ones. Corrective surgery, especially in children, is a recent development. From what I've heard, my great grandfather never had any form of corrective surgery, even after it became more common place. He simply learned to live blind.

A cataract is a medical condition that causes the lens of the eye to become progressively opaque. Treatment involves removing or at least destroying the defective lense (I still have some remnants of my original lens floating in one of my eyes). In most cases, artificial lenses are inserted at the time of cataract removal.

Cataracts in children are rare, and the causes are varied. It's hard to find statistics. My wife read that there were 3 cases for every 10,000 children. They can be caused by infection, hereditary factors, and various syndromes.

My grandfather used to tell the story of his surgery, and it was horrifying. He woke up with a brick on either side of his head to prevent movement, he was tied to the hospital bed for days, and had to be hand fed.

My surgery wasn't that traumatic, but it was one of the most traumatic times of my life. I was almost four years old. I was the first child that my surgeon had encountered with cataracts. I had to spend two to three days in the hospital in a children's ward. My parents were only allowed to stay overnight on the first night, and that was in the waiting room area. They tried to make me more comfortable by telling me that my parents were actually just retiring to another room after visiting hours, but even at that age, I knew that didn't add up.

It didn't help that they had a ward instead of individual rooms. The kid across from my bed had been badly burned. He was in his teens, and he hated it whenever I'd get whiny or cry for my parents.

One night it hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew my mom had left for the night, and that I couldn't see her. I started screaming and tore the protective patch off my recently operated on eye. The nurse calmed me down, replaced my patch, and rocked me to sleep. I don't remember a lot of pain, just fear and separation.

After the operations, I could only sleep at night if I was in bed with one of my parents. I had an extreme fear of separation that I'd never had before. I'd wake up screaming with nightmares about the hospital.

In those days (1977/1978), they didn't replace the defective lens with an artificial one. I had to wear what are commonly known as "Coke-bottle glasses." The vision isn't bad. There's no peripheral sight of course, but the vision is pretty clear. Without the glasses, everything is extremely blurry.

You can imagine the stereotyping and bullying I endured for most of my childhood because of these glasses. By the time I was ready for contact lenses, my self esteem was firmly set at low. I only recently received artificial implants.

As a young man, I'd daydream about what it would be like to be a husband and eventual father. It was always something that I looked forward to, but a dark thought would often fill me with dread: what if my kids inherited my eye problems?

The nightmare came true for me this week. My oldest son, Owen was diagnosed on Monday. Since his birth we've had him periodically checked. Last year he went to see an optometrist who confidently stated that he was cataract free even though he was showing signs of being near sighted. His failure of two recent vision tests for kindergarten had us visiting a new optometrist who quickly noticed the cataracts.

I've been trying to be brave and strong, but it's heartbreaking. I hate that he will never have 20/20 vision. I hate that he has to go through any kind of surgery, even though the process has gotten so streamlined that he'll likely not have to stay in the hospital at all.

More than anything though, I pray that the process doesn't traumatize him. I pray it doesn't take away an ounce of his innocence, his fun.

It's doubtful that he'll have to wear thick glasses, so I think he'll escape most of the bullying and stereotyping, which I'm grateful for. People keep saying that all of those hard situations molded me into who I am now, they made me a stronger person. I see their point. I see how the same situations molded my cousins into good people, tolerant people, but I can't imagine ever wanting my kids to go through it all the same.

My parents are especially understanding, and have pledged to do everything possible to help (as have many friends). My mom is taking it pretty hard. All of Owen's grandparents have stepped up their doting.

We're still in the early stages of the process. He has another appointment with the actual surgeon next Tuesday. We're being told he's the most experienced pediatric cataract surgeon in Genesee County, which is a relief. I'm full of anxiety about weeks filled with eye drops that Owen already hates, after surgery pain, Owen's frustration over everything. I know, in the end, it has to be done, and Owen will be able to see at least as good as I can. I know there's light at the end of the tunnel, but we're at the farthest point away right now.

I've been praying and will continue.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Late Randomness

  • "Vacationing" with the kids isn't like the vacations I remember from just a few short years ago. There was no down time. There was no care-free, we're disconnected from the world realizations. There was just us trying to keep the kids in line, entertained, and engaged. Don't get me wrong, it was still a great time, very memorable, but there were some things I missed.
  • My wife is a guru at planning cheaper vacations. We wanted to take Owen to Cedar Point last year, but couldn't afford it. So, we jumped on the pre-Memorial Day hotel rates this year. She tracked down some discounted park tickets, and we invited our parents along to share in the room costs. (My parents declined) We were only gone for two nights.
  • Owen had to warm up to the rides at CP. He started with things that stayed on the ground and required no input from him. Little brother Gage had no problem jumping on anything he saw. Eventually Owen caught up.
  • I took Owen on the Junior Gemini expecting him to freak out. As we exited the ride he asked whether or not they had any other roller coasters. We proceeded to ride the larger, faster Woodstock Express multiple times.
  • I'm a bit of a wuss when it comes to roller coasters. I prefer less hills, and fewer drops. I can handle upside down, twirling until sick, but I hate being dropped in any way. I went on the Gemini for the first time this visit.
  • Stop laughing.
  • In public restrooms, why is the toilet paper often positioned behind you on the left?
  • I hate to tell whoever does the restroom budgeting, but you can use the thinnest one-ply paper you want, it's just going to make everyone use four times as much.
  • One of my long-time, personal nightmares came true this week. My son Owen was diagnosed with cataracts, something that runs in our family, something I went through as a child at his age. I'm trying to keep a brave front up, but it's hard, especially when I spend time with him one-on-one. I know treatments for this condition have come a long way in the past thirty years, but it's hard to think about putting him through even the improved methods. Taking deep breaths.
  • I've said it before. I'll say it again. If you want to learn about God and why or how He could love us, become a parent.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Random Things from My Weekend - May 17th

  • Is it weird that I know why Hebrew National hotdogs come in a pack of seven instead of eight?
  • Owen is going through a stage where many of the other kids at the parks and play areas we visit don't want to play with him. They're often family groups that don't play with any unknown kids. He doesn't really pick up on this well. He usually just tags along anyway. The hard part is, we pick up on it immediately. We often leave biting our tongues, wanting to say something to the effect of, "You all have man kids. It's been great spending time with them."
  • On our way home from our neighborhood park last night I talked to him about deciding to be mean or deciding to be nice. One little girl had been particularly rude as we left telling him that he wasn't welcome at the park anymore. I looked at her father to see if he would add anything. He did not. On our walk home, I told Owen that it was okay for kids to decide that they didn't want to play along with him. He got really flustered and struggled to basically say, "What part of not wanting to play with me is okay?" I told him that everyone has the right to decide whether or not they want to play with someone else, but hopefully they'd express their decision in a nice way instead of being mean. I explained that I hoped he'd always choose to be nice to people.
  • He's four, and I'm already having what feel like deep, meaningful talks with him.
  • We attended a fun cookout this weekend. Our first of the year.
  • Owen spent some of his savings money this weekend on a rubber snake from Target. The cashier screamed and literally jumped backward when it came down the line. She refused to ring it up. Her coworker had to come over.
  • Both of our sons spent the night with grandparents Saturday. We're still in reprogram mode.
  • I hate yard work (mowing, weeding, trimming), but I love planting and gardening. I planted grass seed this weekend.
  • I can't wait to finish planting our garden next weekend. We've been trying to be "greener" for a few years now. Our garden saves us money, makes me feel productive, and in a round about way, lessens our carbon footprint. There's something about dirt, seeds, and my attention that feels so spiritual to me. It's like I'm participating in something… that I was made to do.
  • I'm almost finished with How to be Good by Nick Hornby. It's fiction, funny, and British, but it deals very realistically with relationship/marital issues. I'm finding it very timely. It even has parallel themes to a recent sermon our pastor gave. Thank you Katie M. for the suggestion. I'm reading a few other books too. I don't usually read more than one or two at a time, but they're all so good.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Weekend Randomness Parenting Heavy Edition

  • I was looking through a bunch of old photos last week, preparing a project or two for Mother's Day. Found this photo of my parents and maternal grandparents. My dad is the guy with the beard (obviously), but my youngest brother Bill is the spitting image of him in this photo. Bill even thought that it was himself when given a quick glance of the photo. Even the way he's standing is apparently a genetic trait.
  • I attended "Mother's Day Tea" at Owen's preschool last Friday. Luckily I was far from the only male present.
  • There was mainly just singing. Owen didn't know most of the words. At first, I thought he was just being shy. He kept looking at me, and his expression seemed to ask, "Will I get into trouble with you if I sing along?" I kept trying to get him to participate.
  • Luckily he wasn't the only one not singing. There was the clearly angry kid that was protesting this public group activity, and there was the kid who was moved to loud sobbing because he really, really, really didn't want to be singing.
  • There was one teacher, her whole job was to hand out tissues to the kids before they got too far into their nose picking.
  • Cookies and lemonade followed.
  • Owen had a physical/"well visit" last Friday.
  • Parenting moment that stops you dead in your tracks with dread: Receptionist at the pediatricians' office telling you that your four year old, who has never done such a thing before, will have to pee into a cup that you hold. To the best of my knowledge, my kids can't pee on command, and I was certain we'd be there for hours waiting. Just then, God must have heard an unspoken prayer from the depths of my soul because Owen states very loudly and publicly, "Papa? I have to go pee right now!"
  • It went… okay. I wish there had been paper towels in their restrooms. Now I know what the little metal door in the wall is for.
  • Despite the fact that I'd asked six months prior whether Owen needed any vaccinations at that time and being told no, he was "late" for a few. I had assured him earlier in the day he wouldn't need more than one or two. He needed five!
  • Watching your children cry out in pain because of vaccinations, not easy.
  • With the rain last week, we were forced to take our kids to many indoor play areas. They've gotten used to the extra exercise with our frequent park excursions throughout the week. There were some hard lessons for Owen on more than one occasion last week. You see, sometimes it's fun to pretend that one group of kids is the "alien" or "monster." It all works out okay when it's a group, but sometimes your kid is singled out as a single alien. Usually parents are quick to perceive what's going on and intervene, but sometimes parents don't really care or even seem to remember that they brought progeny.
  • Owen has also failed two vision tests. I'm praying he hasn't inherited the family curse of early onset cataracts. Praying, praying, praying. If I have trouble when he gets vaccinations, I'm not sure how I'd get through eye surgery.
  • Gage is finally stringing words together. Last week he ran in very randomly to ask, "Papa? I ah Beezzah?" Which translates into, "Dad? Can I have a pizza?" The kid goes nuts for pizza.
  • Can't wait for him to go nuts for using the big boy potty.
  • Gage also likes Buddy Holly. I've never heard him attempt to sing before playing Buddy Holly's greatest hits last week while we were driving around.
  • Sorry. I've got to say it. I'm sick of all the Iron Man hype. I love comic books. Liked the first movie enough to watch it twice on DVD. Meh.
  • Thanks to a friend of mine and Relevant FM, I've been listening to a band called 'Fun.' I'm really digging that.
  • Is it wrong that I talked my kids into picking out slightly sexy pajamas as a gift for my wife for Mother's Day?