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Chronic illness: the parts we don't talk about


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I love you, but I don’t always like you

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Parenting is supposed to provide unconditional love: you for your children and from your children to you. And it does.

That’s a parenting truth.

Here’s another parenting truth: your kids won’t like you all the time.

They go through stages where they prefer daddy over mummy, and sometimes, mummy over daddy.

Then they hit puberty and don’t like either of you.

I can see you nodding, Can I get an Amen?

What people don’t talk about is how sometimes you, wonderful parent that you are, don’t like your kids.

So I’ll fess up here and tell you my truth:

Sometimes I don’t like my kids

In fact this last week I have seriously disliked my kids.

  1. Is it because they don’t listen at bedtime and are messing about the whole time?
  2. Is it because they are testing the limits on food requests? Taking advantage of their eating issues to just pick their favourite food?
  3. Is it because I haven’t had enough me time to recharge my batteries?

Yes. Yes to all of them. But mostly it’s No.2

F does have quite major issues with food and it’s still really hard to have food available for her that she will actually eat. I’ve written about it many times and our patience and encouragement is working and she is eating more and more. Did I mention that she ate roasted butternut squash? Voluntarily. And she keeps asking for it. Isn’t that fantastic?

Yes!

Except for when it isn’t. Except for when she can’t face it anymore.

You see, with her condition, her electrolytes can go all over the place, she ends up feeling nauseous and then it becomes hard for her to eat. Her appetite disappears. Food smells and tastes funny to her.

So you never know when she is going to stop eating. Because of her condition.

And then she’s a kid. All kids do their utmost to create the most perfect life for themselves (go kids!).

  • They want to wear their favourite clothes all the time.
  • They only want to eat their favourite food.
  • They want to watch their favourite tv programs.

So, is the sudden difficulty with eating a result of her condition or has she decided she doesn’t fancy it anymore?

Well, I don’t know either. But my gut tells me that she has been playing me lately. Playing me. And I don’t like it.

I got frustrated. It showed. So I told her my suspicion. I asked her outright:

Are you only eating things that you absolutely love and fancy eating?

Yes, she replied.

Mo’fo’!

I’m going nuts trying to feed her. And S? She doesn’t have these issues but she’s a smart girl. She sees the pattern and copies it, uses it to her advantage.

So we had a talk about it. We have called a truce.

But here’s another truth:

The dislike is temporary. The love is permanent.

p.s. her growth has stagnated and her neph says she needs to gain weight. Hmm, I wonder how much this has got to do with my tension? Probably more than it should.

 

This story was also published on Youshare so follow the link and like it there please.


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Sometimes we want to be afraid

Last sunday we went to a creativity workshop and open day with the girls and they loved the freedom to get really creative with their painting … and not have me worrying about getting paint on the floor. (Remember Monica in Friends? yeah, sometimes I’m like that “I want to control the fun”, keep it tidy. Shaking my head in shame).

On her way back from washing her hands F ran into a wall (in a straight, empty, corridor. I mean, how is that even possible?).

Turns out she thought she had reached the studio, turned left, her shoe flew off and she kicked the concrete wall. Hard. With her big toe. (is it wrong that I had a moment of relief at this point? the fact that she meant to turn means a lot to me)

It’s not broken. We got it checked out in the way that parents of chronically sick kids do: 4 days later. Don’t judge. The last thing we want is another trip to hospital. We do enough of that already. And it’s the last thing our kids want too. But that’s another story.

She rested up for the whole afternoon. Noone could touch it or sit on the same sofa as her, just in case they touched her (not just her toe, we couldn’t come within 1m of her).

Bedtime: the obstacle of skinny jeans

“I’ll help you with your jeans. We’ll be careful when we take them off” I said, thinking that this was a good thing. Oh, how can I still keep on forgetting who I’m talking to?

She processed this and realised straight away that this might hurt. She started crying. Really hard. This lead to one of the most beautiful moments I’ve had with her; the two of us sitting in the bathroom, she on the toilet, me on a stool.

“It’s time to take off your trousers. While you’re sitting, I’ll pull them off” I said.

“No!” she cried. And cried. “I’m scared!”

I tried to calm her down:

“I haven’t done anything yet. Please calm down. You can cry if it hurts but please don’t cry because you think it’s going to hurt.

You don’t have to be afraid. Do you know that you can choose to be afraid or not?”

She said “Yes”. (So she does listen to what I say to her).

“Do you want to be afraid?” I asked. And this is when I saw her at her most beautiful: honest, open and accepting of herself

“Yes, I want to be afraid” she replied.

So I let her. I put my arms around her and let her be afraid.

She cried some more. Then she started talking, laughing.

She let me take the jeans off her uninjured foot. Then she let me take them off her other foot. There was a lot of pausing and checking in. She was still scared, but much less so.

It hurt a little.

I carried her to bed. She slept on her back the whole night, not turning like she normally does. She told me how she was able to do it: “I kept telling myself, don’t turn, don’t turn. And I didn’t”.

This experience taught me a couple of things:

  1. Just how amazing she is. I know it, but now I see her even more deeply.
  2. We don’t need to make our children happy all the time.

Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to make our kids happy that we forget that they want to feel other emotions too. She wanted to feel scared. When we honour their feelings and their choices, we honour them. We tell them that they matter.

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“I want to be normal”

For so long, F has consumed very little food by eating. Apart from the nausea, the extremely sensitive gag reflex and the throat spasm affecting her ability swallow, there has been another factor: her teeny tiny bites.

No matter how small a piece of food you give her, she will always find a way to pick a bit off and eat that. Crumbs. Her bites have been crumb size.

With increasing regularity she has been taking bigger bites, always showing us “look at the size of this!” and then putting it in her mouth.

In the last couple of months she has actually been putting enough food in her mouth in one go to fill her mouth; enough to puff out her cheeks even. It takes effort. Sometimes you can see that she is gagging and with the incredible control that she has, she stops herself from vomiting. She is proud of herself for setting a challenge and then making it. We cheer her on.

I never thought much about it (I only drive myself crazy trying to figure out how I can make her eat).

It’s part of her journey of learning to eat. It’s the hard way because it is conscious. She actually thinks about how to move food around her mouth, how to move it to the back so she can swallow. Next time you take a bite, pay attention. Do you even know how you use your mouth to eat? Well, unless you are a speech therapist, you probably don’t know. None of us do. We learn to eat before the age of two and we are not aware of what’s going on. Food goes in, we chew, we swallow. End of story.

For late eaters like F, who started eating much later than that, it’s a conscious process. They are aware about what’s going on when food goes in the mouth. Quite frankly, it’s quite a gross process.

So as parents, we encourage eating (I wrote about how we do that here and here) and allow her to set her own pace. If she wants to take teeny tiny bites, then ok. It will just take longer.

Then something happened and my heart paused, then beat again. Tears burned at the back of my eyes.

Just recently she told J why she does this. And this is what she said:

“I want to be able to eat like you guys do, you know, normally”.

 

We forget how much children are aware of. They don’t talk about how they feel different but they do feel it. They don’t say that they feel excluded, left out from something that everyone else can do (like eating). But they do feel it.

We should not take silence as “everything is ok”. If we listen carefully we can find out so much of what is going on in their lives.


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Why I hate Frozen

If you are a mum like me, you do this:

run and hide in the bathroom when the kids are driving you nuts.

Well, my sweet, smart and cheeky S just destroyed for me.

Today, while I was trying to find my sanity she came up to the bathroom door and sang “do you want to build a snowman?”

then she sang through the lock and then under the door.

how could I not open the door?

so thanks Frozen. I have lost my refuge.

It was incredibly cute though. I’m still smiling.


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I don’t know what this means, but I bet you’ve thought it too

On monday night we were all sitting together at the dinner table chatting.

The girls are fascinated by age and love to play this game “when I’m x, how old will you be?”

J went big on this. “When A is 80, F, you will be 74 and S will be 70”. The kids loved it!

I watched their happy faces and tried to imagine them sitting together having fun, at those ripe old ages.

And I could. Except for F. This little thought fluttered through my head so fast that it was almost imperceptible.

“Will F reach 74?”

I didn’t have this thought about the other two.

Now, you never know what the future will bring and I don’t know what it means, that I can picture S and A in their 70s and 80s but draw a blank when it comes to F.

I don’t even want to try and interpret it.

But I just bet that all of you out there, with kids with a chronic illness, will have that same fluttering thought if you play this game.

You might even have that thought about yourself.

Is life just so much closer to the edge when you are sick?


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What’s different about chronic illness No.5: always sicker

Soemtimes it feels like the only reason we have school holidays is so that F can fit in her “get sick” time and not miss school.

Every holiday contains some days of sickness. Every one.

This December was no exception, except that it started with S. She got 5th disease, otherwise known as slapped cheek syndrome.

S was a bit itchy, achy, cried more easily but otherwise was actually kind of okay. I would describe her as being a bit off for a few days.

Then F got it. It just hid her harder. Because she is actually ill almost all the time, any other illness can really put her out of action.

She had to take to her bed, couldn’t keep on playing.

THEN she got impetigo on top. How cruddy is that? (pun intended).

My heart ached and I didn’t know what to say as she cried in bed, not understanding why S only got a bit of a rash but she, F, was sick in bed, with painful, itchy, sores all over her face.

You see, she knows. She sees the difference. She does always get sicker than her little sister. Than anyone else.

And she knows that it means that she has to miss out on fun, playing and parties. Not her brother, Not her sister. Only she misses out.

My heart still aches and I still don’t know what to say to that.

Do you?

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p.s. she didn’t scratch her impetigo sores, not once. She had them all over her lip and chin, really like a beard. And she didn’t scratch them once. She is my hero.

 


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Come on in, my old friend Self Doubt. Come on in.

Inspired by a session with my coach on how we can shift out of (negative) emotional fields. We all have these thoughts of self doubt, that we are doing it wrong. But we don’t need to stay there. We can invite the feeling in, get to know it and then send it on its way.

Come on in, my old friend Self Doubt. Come on in.

You’ve been knocking on my door for so long. Whispering, and in turn shouting, through the letter box.

No matter how tightly I hold my hands against my ears or how loud I set the telly, I can still hear you.

So come on in. Have a seat. Get warm. Have some tea. Take two biscuits, not just one. Yes we are in the Netherlands but we are flouting the rules anyway by being together like this. Take the whole tin.

So what is that you want to tell me? What must I know?

Yes, I am a terrible mother.

Yes, I am emotionally scarring my children and they will never recover.

Yes, I am not doing all the things I set out to do.

Self Doubt, you keep telling me this as if I don’t know. What is your urgency? Are you trying to keep me away from joy? Are you trying to keep me small, afraid and guilt-ridden?

Well, it’s been working my friend.

But now that I have invited you in I can see you clearly.

You are small and frail. Brittle. Be careful with that tea, it may melt you, turn you into a puddle of ash.

Yes, now that I have invited you in I can see that you are small, not me. You are guilt-ridden, afraid, urgent. Not me.

You look tired. All this banging on doors and shouting through the letter box has tired you out. The anxiety is wasting you away. So let me send you to a wonderful place. A place in the sun, where you can relax. You do not need to speak for there is no one to hear you there.

Go. With my blessing and good wishes, go my old friend Self Doubt. It is time for us to part ways. We do not belong together.

I belong with Self Believe for I am interesting. I am quirky. I am dance.

I am a good mother.

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