Never Give Up

Never Give Up
Lessons from a young girl and a Pug in a lifejacket


One of my favourite activities happens once a year, on the day after Labor Day. The local pool opens up to local dogs before it closes for the season. I love it because she loves it.

She’s my daughter, Spencer. Which does she love more? The leaning over and splashing her hands in the water, or the dogs? This year, I took her home to rest a little after school. We ate a bite then headed for the pool. Spencer’s absolute joy gave me absolute joy as we entered the pool area, her funny gait skipping forward excitedly. We sat with our backs to the hot evening sun, a sun that heats the earth as it does only in early September. There was something delicious about our feet in the water, our shorts soaked as we sat on the edge, and the smell of wet dog.

She loves dogs! She’s one of those kids who doesn’t need to speak—which she can’t—to communicate. She doesn’t know much sign language, but she has long mastered the sign for “dog” and she pats the side of her leg with gusto. She loves dogs so much that she signs “dog” when she’s happy, dog or no dog in sight.

Who wouldn’t love this event? The dogs run with pure joy, many off of their leashes, thrilled with this annual taste of freedom. It’s a feast for the eyes: curly haired blonde dogs, prancing long-legged Poodles, hyper-active Labs, and little bitty yip yips, all as diverse as their owners. It seemed like we were targets for the long-hairs, who felt the need to be near us as they shook off the water before diving in for more.

One little Pug, hilariously enveloped in a dog life jacket with a handle on the back, kept making his way over to us. Of all of the people throwing balls, chasing dragging leashes, standing and chatting with other dog parents, or sitting leisurely like us, why was he drawn to us? I happily praised him for his bravery in conquering the four inch depth of water in the shallow end, while scratching his wrinkled forehead and fending off Spencer’s eager hands for his tail. He came over again and again, seemingly proud of his huge accomplishments. Why us?

His owner picked him up by his handle for another gentle placement in the abyss when it happened. Damn those seizures. This was a bad one. Spencer’s back arched and her eyes rolled back and her arms stretched above her head. She’s a big girl now, and my arms, strengthened with the hardships of our life, held her firmly but awkwardly as her body shook and seized. The usual state of mind took over: I was immersed in the moment, instructing my neighbours who ran over to help, protecting her precious 11-year-old head from banging on the cement, trying but failing to shield her body with my body because her dignity demanded it. In that moment I was the experienced seizure mom, capable of anything and hardened by our reality.

And yet I felt. I knew we were a spectacle. My heart softly reminded my head that those eyes, watching us from all around the pool, were loving, and they didn’t see us as the freaks that I felt we were.

When it was finally over and she was home in bed for a 12 hour recovery sleep, my mind was chaos. I first thought about the Pug in the life jacket. Is that why he chose us? Then I thought about the way I looked at Spencer’s feet during her seizure. They were still in the water. I felt anger, even disgust, at the world. Those sweet middle-school toes were unfairly taken from relishing the end-of-the summer pool water, surrounded by her beloved dogs. Instead, she had been abducted and held captive by another damn seizure.

We’ll have to wait another year to go back to the dogs in the pool, but we’ll go. Spencer’s memory of this year’s event was most certainly wiped away by the seizure, but we’ll go back for another try. I won’t ever stop feeling angrily heartbroken that the greatest things in her life get ruined by seizures, just as I won’t ever stop trying to give those things to her. I’m inspired by my amazing daughter: she goes through life trying again and again. Just like the Pug, I guess.

*Elizabeth Terry is mom to Spencer, who has Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome (LGS). LGS is a rare and severe form of epilepsy. See for more information.

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