The Painful Truth About Being a Sick Parent
Being a parent sucks sometimes.
We talk about how we “don’t talk about this enough,” but then we sort of do through rose-colored glasses and funny and frustrated columns such as these.
“How come you never write honestly about what it’s like to be a sick person raising kids?” my partner asked today, after I prednisone-raged for 40 sweaty minutes and kept saying out loud things like “I just can’t!”
“I do,” I retorted. “I write about them all the time and all the ways I’m messing up.”
“Not honestly,” he observed. And maybe he’s right, or as right as a man telling a woman she’s wrong can be, that is.
I don’t speak about this enough, but I have two very solid reasons why I don’t, and they’re not my two very insane offspring currently fighting as I attempt to write this.
The first is that I spent so long looking over my shoulder as a single parent that I never learned how to exhale along the way. Even now, the second I say things like, “I just can’t!” I’m quick to add, “But they’re all you’ve ever wanted and all you’ve ever fought to protect, so shut up and know that you can.” It’s as if I think that by acknowledging how difficult some days can be, I’ll have the days taken away completely.
The second reason is a lot less complicated: I have parental amnesia. By the time I actually find the time, peace, and energy to sit down and write what parenting as a sick person really is like, my brain has tricked itself into finding the best again. Unless you catch the rare moments of steroid napalm, I lie. I lie to myself to keep moving forward, because a mom who cries into her coffee at 10 a.m. is a mom that won’t last.
This morning it was 11:33 a.m. coffee, and the tears didn’t stop. You might ask, “But aren’t your kids older?” They are. I have a 14-year-old and an 11-year-old, and I spend much of my time reminding them “it shouldn’t be this hard” because “it’s not like I have toddlers anymore.”
But it is, and I don’t know why. I wonder if it’s just me.
Maybe parental amnesia and medical amnesia are the same? In the same way I will myself to forget how scary holding my body still during double epidural needles last week was — with no sedative and a fully intact fight-or-flight system saying, “Why are you doing this? Move!” — I’m already pretending I’m ready for another round.
Parenting sucks, and it sucks worse than how we tell you it sucks. We are lying to you, just like your brain is lying to itself. It’s not hard because I’m sick, and it’s not hard because sick parents can’t be good parents. It’s hard because it’s hard, and it’s really just that simple.
Kids never stop moving, pulling, pushing, needing. Not ever. Then again, their needs are sometimes all I need to find a better way. A stronger way. To pretend and lie until I actually become someone slightly more deserving of their love.
A few hours after my mid-morning meltdown, I started worrying about my youngest daughter again, and how she has all but destroyed my baby blanket from childhood, affectionally nicknamed “Boom-Boom.” He was once pastel yarn and patterns knitted by my grandmother, and now he’s but fractions of fragments from a former time. She has loved him so hard that there is little to love anymore.
I remember Boom-Boom’s smell so well, and how he felt synonymous with maternal love within maternal love. It’s the type of love that can’t be worn down, no matter how hard the seams are pulled.
“Who will have Boom-Boom next?” I wonder with worry, because that’s all that motherhood is sometimes. “How can we preserve him?”
And then it hit me: This is it.
There is no more after this. She is my last. The final hands to hold this treasured gift. The final gift to make me rage and relent and reconcile who I am with who I wish I could be, again and again. This was it. And it was painful. And sorrowful. And sucky. And so tragically short.
So short that I cling to the days that remain — the perfectly imperfect days I’ve been given, ungrateful as I sometimes may be — like the very last pieces of pastel yarn, stitched from one heart to the next, hoping to never fully fade away.
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