Gypsy, Tinkerbell, Voodoo, Tank, Luna. These are the names of some of Willow’s goats. Yes, some of her goats. Our daughter is seven years old and might be one of Rhode Island’s premier breeders of Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats. She has twenty and adores them all. She feeds them, holds the babies, milks them and—through the 4H—shows them on weekends at fairs around New England.

We live on a farm in Richmond, RI. We also have sheep and harvest their wool to help make Rhody Warm Blankets. It’s a beautiful, quiet spot where we also homeschool Willow. Sometimes I wonder if she learns as much from the animals as she does from us because she has such empathy and compassion for both animals and children.

People say she’s mature. I think maybe that’s because she’s had to be. She’s been going to Hasbro Children’s Hospital since she was two. At first on an emergency basis, but once they diagnosed her with Panayiotopoulos syndrome (a form of epilepsy) she’s been a regular in the neurology department. There were a lot of tests and MRIs and some tough symptoms. But the episodes are no longer daily and treatment and training have helped get it under control.

Anxiety—like worrying about getting an IV—can bring it on. But cruelly, so can excitement. So something she’s really looking forward to—like showing her goats—can bring on an episode.

They helped her learn how to listen to her body, and if she feels an episode coming on, to take steps to pre-empt it. Guided meditation. Breathing exercises. Hot shower. She even came up with her own calming goat milk soap she calls “Flower Power.”

She’s an independent, strong-willed girl who doesn’t give up easily. Like a willow tree, our Willow may bend, but she won’t break.

—Shannon (Willow's mom), Richmond RI