Stroke of Genius//

Give Me My Mashed Potatoes

"There is no way to be a perfect mom, but a million ways to be a good one."

Photo by Liam Alexander
Photo by Liam Alexander

Being a mom means more than having given birth to my son, Kyle.  It was loving and knowing him before he was born. He would punch his fists in the womb, my stomach gleefully bulging with each punch. It was knowing I was committed to caring for him completely, knowing I was dependent on his survival. I wanted to be a source of inspiration . I knew this road would take hard work, patience, and perseverance. On April 21, 1986, I was ready for the challenge, not knowing it would be bigger than I ever imagined.

It soon became apparent to me that part of this journey included an inner fear of the possibility of losing my child either to an accident or a disease. I believe it’s a fear that all moms and dads have, but most of us keep that emotion deeply buried. Sometimes it surfaces for a short period, but we have the strength to stuff it. Part of that fear was that if I ever lost my son,  I couldn’t have more children, and being a mom was the greatest gift on this earth.

The first ten years of Kyle’s life were basically easy, without incident. There was no reason to feel that “fear”. He started walking at 9 months, was happily running on his first birthday, became an honor roll student all through elementary and middle school. He excelled in basketball and baseball, even becoming quite the golfer. He was happy, had a multitude of friends and loved a challenge. We taught him to always finish what you start, never give up, be kind to people. He understood all of that. How lucky was I to have an easy time  raising a child eager to learn about the world around him.

Kyle’s All-Star baseball team was taking a break in-between tournaments, and he was invited to go to the beach for a few days with family friends, and we encouraged him to go. He was incredibly independent and had no problem being away from home in the past. But one night he called from a pay phone at the campground, and there was an uneasiness in his voice. He assured me he was brushing his teeth (so not like him!) and spoke of how homesick he was. I called his dad, who was out-of-town, tearing up, as I told him about the phone conversation. He didn’t sound like himself I said. Something was not right. That fear began to surface again, and it was out of my control.  Dad offered to go pick him up, but we both agreed to wait and see how the next day went.

It was a phone call no parent wants to get. Hospital…Santa Barbara…Kyle….stroke…unconscious…may need surgery. Now that fear was full blown, an unwanted reality. The hospital was 4 hours away. I was immediately surrounded by friends assisting in making those unimaginable decisions.

When I arrived to the hospital Kyle was in the pediatric intensive care unit in an induced coma. He looked healthy, tan from the beach sun, sand in his blond hair. I wanted to be assured that he was going to be ok, but I knew no one was going to tell me that due to the severity the trauma. We sat by his bedside, the doctor spending hours with us somehow putting us at ease, waiting to see if the bleeding would stop. But that dreadful fear was continually tugging.

A surgical team was standing by. They would have to go through healthy tissue to get to the bleed which was deep in the brain. He was having several CT scans to watch the bleed and nurses would check his pupils. It was 3:00 AM when everyone was moving quickly but not saying anything. It was when I read “anesthesiologist “ on a doctor’s coat that I knew he was going in to surgery. Kyle’s eyes were fixed and dilated. The bleed was now traveling to the brain stem. The neurosurgeon took us to see the scans, and they were horrifying. The hematoma was the size of a walnut. He said, “If this were my son, I’d opt for the surgery.” The procedure would take 3 hours, maybe as long as 12.

Three and a half hours later we were informed they had stopped the bleeding . He may wake up the next day or next week. It was excruciating, constantly wondering will he fully recover? Will he have any disabilities? We knew it was the right side that was affected. So back to ICU we went with a full time RN and respiratory nurse, none of us leaving his side. Occasionally, it appeared he was moving his right side, but we were cautioned it might only be reflexes.

Two days later he awoke unable to speak or move his right side. It was as if a line was drawn down the center of his body. He was confused about where he was. Why was there a tube in his throat? Why did Mom have tears in her eyes? There were Disney characters on the wall, and he’d close one eye to look at them as if they were blurry. He remained in bed with tubes everywhere, dosing in and out of sleep, still with 24/7 nurses at his side.

Soon, tubes began to be removed, and for the first time, he was able to sit in a chair. It was time to see if he was ready to begin swallowing soft food. It was a day of hope! I was feeding him mashed potatoes, not paying enough attention to when he was ready for more. He grabbed the spoon from me with his left hand and quickly consumed the rest of his meal! To this day I call it “Give Me My Mashed Potatoes” day!

I knew right then that the fear needed to be replaced with that hope and encouragement, strength and perseverance to see him through the months and eventually years of therapy. We were now advocates for his future making sure that all doors were open for him, that he received the best education possible, including graduating from college. But the most important part of his recovery was that he had self-worth and could go out into the world and be who he wanted to be. Parents would say to me, “I don’t know how you do it, I could never go through what you went through.” I would reply, “Of course you could, it’s what parents do. We stand by our children and love them to the fullest.”

Self-worth. Getting that self-worth and confidence back was not an easy task. There were moments of tears, but there were also times of laughter and happiness. It was tough seeing Kyle go through puberty and adolescence, which is hard enough, but also how he struggled with trying to fit in and be accepted as a whole new Kyle, having to wear an arm and leg brace and his continuing difficulty with communication.

I believe his perseverance as an athlete was also key to his recovery. Also, his dad and I were able to be there every day, all 6 weeks in the rehab hospital, encouraging him not to give up. Friends and family came by the dozens! Every day of therapy he worked his hardest, never saying, “I can’t do this.” He might have cried, but never did he give up. Actually, I don’t think those words exist in his vocabulary today.

How did I get through all the ups and downs? Quite honestly, with a whole lot of stress and hiding my tears. Support is key. I had an amazing group of friends and family that were there whenever I needed help. So many times I didn’t have to ask; I even had a friend hire a pool man to clean our pool when we already had someone! It was a pretty clean pool!

Today, Kyle is thriving. Yes, he ended up with some disabilities. He is unable to use his right hand. He has a bit of a “slap down” with his right leg. I’m convinced his speech only gets better year by year! It’s near perfect except when he is overly tired, he tends to struggle for a word. He graduated from college with a degree in film and currently living in NYC as a Creative Producer.

There is no way to be a perfect mom, but a million ways to be a good one. Kyle says,” You listened when I was frustrated. You were there with huge hugs whenever I needed them. You were understanding with the pain I felt. If I couldn’t find a way to do something we would create one.”

I have always told Kyle, ”I’m so glad I got you and no one else did.” I’m proud to be his mom and the one who supported him through those difficult times all these years!  Barbara Walters said it best, ”Motherhood is tough. If you want a wonderful, perfect little creature, you can get a puppy!”

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