There is, in life, a fine distinction between being compassionate and being a patsy. All parents walk the line between being a parent and being a friend, and the smart ones are parents for the first 18 years and THEN friends. I've always been the "cool" mom - never saying 'no' to the slumber or pool party, always having extra people over for dinner. I'd like to think I've usually been the "tough" mom - unafraid of whether or not my kid hated me for taking a stand and saying 'no way!" to a lot of the things kids think are cool.
Parents of chronically ill children are on a very uncomfortable tightrope without a net. Being compassionate to your child's suffering without letting them take advantage of that compassion requires more discernment than Solomon.
When Citygirl stopped eating, I took her to three different visits every week. The family doc did weigh-ins and blood work. The counselor dealt with emotional issues. The nutritionist/eating disorders specialist did weigh-ins, counseling and tough advice. At one point I told the nutritionist about a fall Citygirl had taken during a softball game, and how it demonstrated a level of muscular weakness that frightened me. Her response was eye-opening: "WHY on earth are you letting her do sports?" Her point was well-taken. Why would any parent of a nutritionally-impaired child let that child burn off calories unnecessarily? It was a massive 'Aha!' moment. I could use Citygirl's love of team sports as a carrot-on-a-stick: You maintain a healthier weight and I let you play. I truly believe that it is what led to her recovery. As I made her balance exercise and food in a healthier way she found her way back from the brink of disaster.
There were similar moments with Curlygirl. Her asthma was not nearly as big a force to be reckoned with as her personality. But one particular attack (which she herself doesn't specifically remember) at age nine turned the tide of compliance entirely in my favor: She, after three rapidly consecutive breathing treatments, had a spell of coughing that lit up her eyes with fear. Her body was clearly telling her that she was losing the struggle and that she might not get enough air. We had been fighting that attack for months already and fought for months after, but it was a watershed moment in her desire to take meds without arguing, do breathing treatments before the crisis hit, and come and ask for help and trust that it would be given.
For both of them, the crisis lasted about a year. To top it off, it just happened to be the SAME year. So to Citygirl's three weekly visits, add all-night breathing treatments and monthly runs up the highway to the pediatric lung specialist 70 miles away.
I am no stranger to fear and medical burn-out.
Babygirl is ten years younger than Citygirl, and six years younger than Curlygirl. I am ten years older now than I was when her sisters were in their crisis year, and she is on her third year of crisis management. It is easier to let 'crisis fatigue' take over. I am more at risk of accepting 'the way things are' instead of fighting for 'the way things should be.' Are we being hopeless, fatalistic or realistic when we accept, day after day, that not feeling well is normal?
September to December Babygirl missed a day or two of school weekly. It was better than last year at the same time. But January to now I think she's gone to school for maybe three days? Five? Her specific complaints of headache and abdominal pain have gradually morphed into "I don't feel good." Headache, sore throat, body aches, belly aches, and an ever-decreasing vocal volume and unwillingness to get up and do ANYTHING have become our new 'normal'. Her tutor stayed only an hour the other day because Babygirl was so clearly exhausted. I am sure Babygirl is not exaggerating how bad she feels. But how many times have we, as grownups, had to pull on our Big Girl panties, suck it up and carry on despite all that? It sure as hell is what I've been doing for the past three years.
Yesterday morning I woke Babygirl up to take her medications. A bit later I realized that I hadn't actually seen her come and take them. I checked the sorter - not only had she not taken her morning pills yet, she had not take the ones from the evening before, or the evening before that. I snapped. SNAPPED.
After hauling the blankets off of her I yelled, and yelled some more. I told her in no uncertain terms to get her a** out of bed, get dressed, take her pills and be ready for me to take her to school "and never mind crying about it!" It was a 'put on your Big Girl Panties or die' moment.
It wasn't pretty. There was cry-until-you-vomit. There were calls from the school nurse, who bravely gave her Tylenol and a rest and sent her back to class. There was me, sitting on my phone (which God very kindly let die sometime around lunch) and holding my breath and hating myself. There was hubby, doing the same. Babygirl walked home and went straight to bed. But she got up and actually ate a little dinner with us.
So now I am bracing myself, trying to work up the courage to go upstairs and do it all again (perhaps without the swearing and screaming this time). I hate making her suffer through school, but my gut feeling is that if I don't make her try, that if I let her give up, that the damage to her spirit and courage may become irreparable. Until now I've done my best to let how she feels decide what she will do. But I think that it is time to teach her to do what she must despite how she feels. So say a prayer - I'm going suck it up, put on my Big Girl Panties, be the mean mom and hope to God that this is the time to teach her to overcome, and not some massively mistaken version of tough love.