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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Hindsight's 50/50

Shortly after my recent dairy reaction, I was talking with my dad, letting him know how I'd been and how I was getting on, and he apologized for passing on faulty genes. That really hit me hard. I reassured him it wasn't his fault and that there was no way anyone could've known this was going to be my reaction. He and I have had our share of differences, but he's always wanted the best for me; I'm certain of that.

Now that I'm a dad, it's almost like I've turned the clock back. I try to see a picture of my dad now--remembering him through my kid eyes, yet imagining what I would've done in his situation. It also helps this exercise that my boys are 30 years younger than my brother and I. I find myself thinking, "What did Papi do when he was my age?" Or, "Am I remembering this right? What must it have been like for him to move us halfway across the country to start a new job?"

No matter what stage I'm in, my dad has said how proud he was of me, and I can see a bit of him in me as I parent my boys. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Papi's sick

Ten years ago I couldn't walk.

Let that sink in for a minute.

I was studying and living in Madrid, Spain, when I got sick with Guillain-Barré syndrome--the best label we could put on it--which meant I had ascending paralysis from my feet, up through my legs, and into my arms and trunk. I would have episodes of paralysis--something highly irregular for Guillain-Barré--which would last from 30 minutes up to 4 or 6 hours. In addition to the paralysis and general weakness, I was having excruciating pain in all of my joints, so walking was extremely difficult even when I was using my forearm crutches. Sometimes I couldn't speak. After about two and a half years of recovering, physical therapy, occupational therapy, an additional Bachelor's and a Master's degree later, I had started teaching and had started my career. I felt like I was on the up and up!

About six months after we got married, my wife was diagnosed with Celiac disease, which meant that not only did she have to be careful about not eating gluten in our home, but I had to be careful also, so as to not get her sick. After we moved to Memphis, we decided to go completely gluten free at home in order to feel safe and healthy in our own home. We agreed that any time we went out to eat, even by ourselves, that I could have all the gluten I could eat, and boy did I splurge in those early months of discovering glorious Memphis eats--fried chicken, catfish po'boys, hamburgers, and RIBS!

But I would feel awful afterwards. I felt sluggish, like my mind was in a fog, like I couldn't concentrate. I would feel weak, and I'd be in pain. My students quickly got used to me using my cane at school, and they would start to ask about my arthritis whenever they saw me with my cane at school. After JJ was born in 2011, we had him genetically tested to see if he would be predisposed to Celiac disease, and it turns out that he has genes for a gluten sensitivity as well as Celiac disease, but get this: he got one of those genes from me. I decided to go gluten free, and in the spring of 2012, I went dairy free, too, and I now have way fewer instances of pain and weakness! Those were the best health decisions I've made!

About three weeks ago, I somehow got some dairy, and I had an awful allergic reaction. Not the "break out in hives" or "just take a Lactaid pill" reaction. The "lie in bed because it hurts too bad to talk or even breathe" reaction. I spent the rest of the day in bed and most of Sunday sitting carefully on the couch. My wife took over with the boys who wanted to play with me. I overheard her say numerous times, "Papi can't play with you today. He's sick." And though it was the absolute truth, it hurt, because I love playing with my boys. I've been dealing with illness for over 10 years now, but they're just barely 2 and 3, and they know that Papi plays with them. When I'm home, I take over a lot of the parenting duties in order to relieve my wife from a long day or in order for her to do some of her own work, as she works from home. Also, it's a way for me to be hands on with my sons and support my wife. Even after a hard day with my students, I love mixing it up with my family!

I love being up and about with my boys, but for the next two weeks, I could barely walk. When I came home, I was so tired, I couldn't do much more than sit on the sofa and watch them play around me. I kept repeating, "I can't play with you today. I'm sick." JJ would grab my hand to get me to chase him, and I couldn't. AJ wanted me to hold him up so he could "fly," and I couldn't. My wife was amazing at helping me and being generally encouraging. She put her needs aside in order to keep caring for the boys and for me. We knew that my dairy reaction would take about two weeks, and she kept reassuring me that this was temporary. I told her that I didn't want my sons to think that I wouldn't take the time to play with them, all the while hoping they would understand it was because I was sick. That's been something I've been musing over the last 10 years--long before I even got married and had kinds. Of course, she said that they would understand when I got sick that I couldn't be active with them, but they'd remember all the fun times when I did.

My parenting with allergic reactions, weakness, and pain may change from week to week, and I don't like that inconsistency, despite all the factors I try to control for. It messes with my mind. But I'm glad I have more good days than bad and a wife to partner and parent with who also understands that. I know what triggers my pain and weakness now, and I'm stronger and in better shape now than even 5 years ago. Through all of these reactions and episodes, what I want my sons to learn most of all is something I really learned only when I first got sick: their worth as a man does not lie in what they do; it lies in who they are.