Our 2 year old daughter, Kali, seemed like she was coming down with a bug. No big deal. We met the usual fussiness and whining with some Chinese herbs that usually take care of anything before it ever gains traction. Yet, she still had a slight temperature when we put her to bed. Before I knew it, I was jolted out of my sleep. My wife, Laura, was screaming.
Kali was having a seizure.
I immediately picked Kali up, supporting her rigidly shaking body. The image is emblazoned in my mind’s eye: blue lips, eyes rolling back into her head, frothing at the mouth, tongue being pulled back down her throat – completely unresponsive. It was horrifying. Every second contained more panic than I have cumulatively felt in my entire lifetime. I held her close to me. Finally, she vomited. I knew this had to be a good thing. I have never been so happy to be covered in piping hot vomit. Her eyes returned to their normal position, but only to reveal the glassy stare of a semi-conscious being. She was burning up. We quickly ran into the shower. Her arms and legs were still shaking uncontrollably. She tried to open her mouth and communicate. But her tongue was trapped in the back of her mouth. Nothing came out. Laura was calling for help while I was consoling my baby and coaxing her back to us. Slowly she calmed down. I felt her squeeze my shoulder: a coordinated motor sign – that was relieving. Then I heard a faint whisper. Even our poorly water-pressured shower was too loud for me to make out what Kali was saying.
Was she in pain? Was she trying to let me know what was wrong? I turned off the shower and frantically asked her to repeat what she had said.
She wanted me to sing the alphabet to her. I broke down, overwhelmed by emotions that would soon be squashed due to the need to be a rock. Through the tears, I began the “A,B,C’s. Kali lay in my arms, water softly hitting her back. She went through her usual repertoire of song requests – Her voice still barely audible. But, at least I knew we hadn’t lost our baby.
A baby elicits vast and undeniable love from a parent. But I now understand why so many parents end up filtering that love through a lens of worry. It’s not easy to keep that pure love flowing without it being compromised by the fear of all the potential pain, harm, and suffering that can seemingly pop up at a moment’s notice. The downside of loving someone from the depths of our heart is that we suddenly become vulnerable to heartbreak of epic proportions. For most of us, that’s just too much to bear, and we subconsciously begin trying to protect ourselves from getting blindsided by an unthinkable event. Before we know it, what was once a pure out-flowing of love, deceptively turns into worry and over-protective action. And when we mistake worry for love, we teach our children to do the same. As a parent, my goal is to teach my children how to love unconditionally, allowing the infinite depths of love to emerge from within their heart. But just as a tree’s height can only grow in proportion to the extent of it’s roots, humans can only love in proportion to the depth from which we can hold space within our heart.
Our babies have a way of bypassing any firewalls in our heart, settling into depths we have not dared consciously open. And why would we? We have no ability to maintain any control at those depths, which leaves us susceptible to being emotionally destroyed in a massive implosion. So when we wake up one day, realizing we have fallen in love with our baby past the point of no return, we are faced with a major crossroads: Do we do the hard work of learning how to live in those depths, allowing our root system to take hold, anchoring the sacred space within? Or do we shy away from going through that uncomfortably vulnerable process, and simply attempt to do the impossible – which is to control the world around us – and our children – so nothing can ever hurt us?
It turns out Kali suffered a febrile seizure. Only a small percentage of children (2-5%) respond that way to fevers, and for those that do, they have a 30% chance of having another one. Beyond attempts at trying to keep the fever down via Tylenol, Advil, undressing, tepid baths, wet towels, etc., there is nothing that can be done to avoid this if your child happens to be in the small percentage who are prone to these seizures.
Kali seemed to be fine the next day – No fever, and she was acting like her normal self. Laura and I let out a premature sigh of relief; because before we knew it, her temperature began rising again. Laura immediately got Kali in the car and took her to the hospital. I stayed at home with our 1-year old, feeling confident we acted in sufficient time. However, these fevers spike like a rocket. Cruising down the highway, halfway to the hospital, Kali began seizing again. Laura watched in the rearview mirror as Kali once again stopped breathing: face turning blue: body rigid while shaking. Laura frantically honked the horn as cars blocked her from getting over to the shoulder. When she was finally able to pull off the highway, she called 911. The 6 minutes between making that call and the arrival of an ambulance felt like a lifetime. Laura was sure we were losing our baby.
Kali’s fever had spiked to 105 but she would later stabilize. Despite the reassurance that we had done everything in our power to tend to Kali, Laura was traumatized. The hospital agreed to discharge Kali as long as we felt comfortable guiding her through another seizure – should one occur. We just wanted her home. Armed with more helpful tips, we figured we could do a good job guiding her through another “event”. I have never been so happy to see Kali when she and Laura walked through the door that evening. Laura seemed really shaken up. I wish I could have offered her some comfort – but I was merely a shell, myself. Consumed with fear, we checked Kali’s temperature every thirty minutes throughout a sleepless night.
The thought of my two babies experiencing pain or suffering is more than I care to ponder. Yet, the older they get, the more time they spend outside of my protective bubble – and the less I can exert my control to protect them. Of course, even my protective measures are feeble compared to the chaotic nature of life. I am at a parental crossroads: Where is the line drawn between protecting children within a house of love, vs. trying to protect them within a house of fear?
Love vs. fear: Life’s ultimate duality. It’s healthy to have a modicum of fear; the human body is indeed mortal. An appropriate amount of fear checks unbridled passion; it is akin to gently using the brakes while driving around a blind curve in the road. But when we start worrying about every little thing that can go wrong in life – or every little thing that can potentially injure us, we end up driving through life with one foot on the brakes at all time. Then we wonder why it’s so hard to gain momentum in life – let alone, enjoy the beauty that surrounds us.
It is easy to love when we don’t let the love run too deep. But god must hand children the key that can unlock every dark chamber within a parent’s heart. Every smile, utterance of “Da-da”, finger grasp, hug, falling asleep on my chest – these all blew my heart open to new depths. Each time was uncomfortable, yet glorious. Since my girls have been born, I’ve become much more emotional: tears now threaten to escape at the slightest hint of emotional warmth between a parent and child on T.V. I am ok with that. I get it: My heart has opened to new depths faster than I have been able to grow in order to inhabit those depths – leaving me unable to deal with the emotions emanating from them. So, I’ve been trying to stay present when I feel those overwhelming emotions – I try to remain there in hopes I will soon get comfortable and grow to encompass my heart’s new square footage. But those fuzzy challenges were just the warm-ups. This past week changed the game.
Laura and I thought we were in the clear following the sleepless episode-free night. By the following evening, we decided the whole family could use some ice cream – a well-deserved treat to calm our nerves. But, just before my plastic spoon was set to assuage my jitters with a heaping spoonful of double chocolate/mint chip combo with crumbled waffle cone, Kali’s temp spiked to 103.8. She started to shake. Her eyes began rolling up into her head.
Here we go again.
But, this time we were a bit more prepared. We quickly removed Kali’s clothes, wrapped her in a wet towel, turned on the ceiling fan, opened the windows and then had to sit there as she cried and screamed in agony, begging to sleep – which was a thousand times more enjoyable than watching her seize. Within 20 minutes, we knew we had averted what may have pushed us over the edge. We made it through another sleepless night. Exhausted, we made our way downstairs in the morning, and were met by melted cups of ice cream left on the coffee table – staring at us – poignant reminders not to let our guard down. Over the next 3 days, we battled a stubborn virus that repeatedly triggered Kali’s body to spike a fever. Finally, the ordeal was over. Laura and I barely slept for 4 days. We took shifts every night to take Kali’s temperature every 30 minutes. Kali had finally beaten the virus, but Laura and I were just beginning to realize its effects on us.
Once the shock wore off, and the adrenaline had bottomed out, the intense emotions began to surface. In the blink of an eye, it became painfully apparent how once supportive love can be filtered through worry, resulting in over-protective measures born from fear – masquerading as love. I have always maintained that we cannot actively love people while we worry about them. The two actions cannot coexist. Many people trapped in a “worry-state” will convince themselves that their worry is indeed love. But the actual love has been warped, filtered through fear, and what comes out is not love at all. Rather, it sends a faithless message of powerlessness. And when we impart that message to our children, we end up teaching them to filter life through that same lens. We teach them to worry. We teach them to look for everything that can go wrong and to spend their lives trying to avoid those potential harms. We teach them they cannot handle the pain that can come with living in love. We teach them to disconnect from an infinite source of love by putting up walls. It is everything I do not believe in. I believe our best defense comes from fully occupying the container of our being. Rather than putting up walls along our borders in order to defend our vulnerabilities, I find it healthier to learn how to grow in order to occupy the vulnerable voids, and have our presence act as our border. When we do that, we always maintain the ability to deal with life as we meet it. Sometimes life injures us – and we have to take time to heal and learn. And sometimes life fills us with joy and shows us even deeper love than we knew existed. Either way, our life improves with every interaction – as long as we are there to meet it. But when we take the position of trying to protect ourselves from pain, we end up instilling fear in our heart. And we essentially cut ourselves off from loving the very things we are trying to protect – including ourselves. I trust that I will continually scan the world in front of my family and maneuver to avoid potential hazards. But there has to be a balance between conscientiousness and neuroses.
Kali’s febrile seizures have brought me face to face with how easily my world can be completely crushed if something happens to one of my children. The magnitude of fear offers me a glimpse at how deep my love must actually run for my family. Ok, time to enter into that void and claim it.
If I can successfully navigate to claim those depths within my heart, I will undoubtedly be showing my children how to do the same as they continue to grow into the ever-expanding depths of love within themselves. Ultimately, I will preserve the chance to help them learn to live in love.
Easier said than done.