Ain’t that a chair in the head

It’s always hard when he cries.  It has been ever since he was a baby.  It’s because of those eyes.  So huge…so blue.  Oceans of glistening sorrow designed to drown a parent’s heart.

But this time was different.  And it was all over one little 6th Grade reading assignment called a “Blog Prompt.”  He was supposed to take any quote he liked from a book he’s been reading and write up a short statement about why he liked it and how it moved the conflict of the story forward.

Thanks for making my son cry, fellas.

Thanks for making my son cry, fellas.

He chose a quote from The Hobbit, with Gandalf giving Bilbo a hard time over a simple “Good Morning.”  It’s a funny scene that is used in the film as well.  He and I briefly discussed how that seemingly small aside speaks to the larger plot and relationship between the two characters.  I didn’t feel I needed to say much, as it was a yawningly easy assignment by his straight-A standards.  So I went upstairs and left him with pencil and paper to take care of business.

When I came back down a half-hour later to get dinner ready, I found an ocean roiling at the table.  He had been able to write down Gandalf’s pithy jibes, but that is where his assignment ended.  “I can’t do it!” he cried out in frustration.  “I try to think about it, but nothing comes out!  It’s all jumbled up in my head.”

He looked defeated.

Exhausted.

Broken.

Yes, broken.  For that’s truly what he was. Two days earlier as he quietly sat and read, a heavy school chair came tumbling down on his head as his buddy behind him lost control trying to take it down from his desk.

Welcome to the world of parenting a child with head trauma.

A hero in life and art

A hero in life and art

As I was collecting the shards of my heart off the floor, my mind turned instantly to, what else, pop-culture.  I remembered an interview with Christopher Reeve and his wife Dana.  After the accident that left Superman a quadriplegic, she soothed his misery by saying, “Yes, your body is broken, but it’s still you.”  His mind was intact, and in his remaining time, he went on to be a forceful advocate for spinal injury research, act and direct in a very interesting version of Rear Window, and even return to the world of Superman by taking on a recurring role in Smallville.

But this bright, funny, introspective kid of mine simply wasn’t him.  Parts of him were there, but both emotionally and intellectually, a significant part of who he is was veiled behind scrambled neurotransmitters and the fog of chemicals that release with the onset of a brain injury.  As the doctor at the SCORE concussion center at Children’s Hospital explained to me, Gus, like other kids with significant concussions, have what amounts to a “software problem.”  It’s not inflammation or a typical bruise.  A concussion is more akin to a computer getting caught in a bad loop, only, as my wife cleverly put it, there is no CTRL-ALT-DEL to reset the system.

Instead, it is the maddening process of waiting, worrying, and, for me, attempting to keep the ghosts of my past at bay.  Until he starts to improve, Gus is really not supposed to do anything to intellectually stressful.  This makes avoiding boredom a real challenge, especially when TV is supposed to be doled out in very limited doses.  So when Gus brought out a deck of cards, I thought that was a great way to pass a little time.

Best...poker...ever.

Best…poker…ever.

He knew Blackjack, but he had never played Poker before and was curious to learn after seeing the crew of the Enterprise-D ante up on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  So I sat there teaching him the rules, and we spilled out popcorn kernels to serve as chips.  The look of delight on his face when he successfully bluffed me for the first time was priceless—mostly because it was an expression that looked like my Gus—a glimpse of what he used to be, and, yes, I know intellectually, what he will be again.

But that intellectual awareness couldn’t stop the memory of the last time I sat at a kitchen table and taught someone Poker.  I was a few years younger than Gus is now as I sat with my Grandpa Nat, who had come to stay with us after suffering a debilitating stroke.  I slowly explained the cards, and we played most hands face-up so I could give him strategy pointers.  He seemed to enjoy it, but all I could think of was that I was teaching this game to the man—the icon—who had taught it to me.

Shut up.

Shut up.

So as my boy slowly and bravely reboots, I have been made painfully aware that in terms of the sheer power of the emotion, concern trumps pride, anger, and, yes, even love.  Or as I think about it, maybe worry is more like a “force multiplier” if you’ll forgive the military terminology; enhancing all of those baseline emotions with an almost uncontrollable ferocity.

And it is why as I take this hopefully short stroll in the shoes of those parents with special needs kids, my already sincere respect turns to wonder and admiration.  Two weeks of this has been positively exhausting.  And while I understand the enormous strength and scar tissue a parent can generate when caring to the needs of a child, the mere concept of having this level of anxiety as a constant partner is close to unfathomable to me at the moment.

Ah, as I’m writing this, Gus just finished that darned blog prompt on his second try (City of Ember quote this time—he listened to the audiobook).  Small headache afterwards, but no problems and no tears.  So as a return to school is looking more imminent, I guess I have only one other job to do; choose the brand of bubble wrap I will be encasing him in for the rest of his life.  I wonder if they have Nationals’ colors.  He’ll like that, I’m sure.

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4 Responses to “Ain’t that a chair in the head”

  1. Solveig-Lynn Says:

    loved this piece, Scott…. well-done… slb

  2. libby harris Says:

    Loved it all, but especially the end. Bubble wrap indeed. Glorious. Lib

  3. Gage Parr Says:

    Hang in there Gus. It gets better but it takes time. I had a bad concussion skiing during winter break in college. Something that had seemed easy two weeks before, like taking notes in class, now seemed almost impossible. But I hung in there with late 80’s medical advice, which was she’ll be fine, and eventually I was. It will soon seem like a distant memory, as it does for me. Except for the day skiing in Vermont, which I don’t remember at all.

  4. Michelle Says:

    So glad Gus is enjoying audiobooks. We love them. And, thank you for tuning me into the Ender series…John is flying through them (I’m making him read…I cannot keep up with his voracious appetite in audio)..

    Praying for complete healing for Gus. TBI is no small thing.

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