Storms Make Trees Take Deeper Roots

Fitting into the working world as a mom of a chronically ill kid can be challenging.  I have found that for the most part, part-time work has been the best fit.  It’s flexible, it’s convenient, and it allows me to still take Wendy to doctor’s appointments, or call insurance companies, or figure out prescriptions and durable medical devices, or whatever.  Being the mom of a chronically ill kid can be a lot of work.

But I still want to be a professional, and I have trained to be a historian, or a teacher of history.  For the past ten years I have worked part time as a history adjunct in both Vermont and Massachusetts.  Recently, the college where I worked shuttered its doors.  It was devastating to all involved:  students, professors, and administrators.  We had all been cut adrift with not so much warning; we were told in April that the college would close in May.

So I needed to take stock of what I had done for the past ten years.  I had cared for my very ill child, I had advocated for her in a hospital setting. I had monitored and adjusted her 24 different medications, her three different insurances, and her doctors in three different states.  I had spoken at Grand Rounds, had spoken to medical students and new residents.  I had helped to revise documents released to the public about medical conditions.  I had created a welcome video for children when they arrived in the Emergency Department, sick and scared.  I had lobbied politicians and representatives for medical insurance rights.

Here’s the thing:  no one cared.  No one in the medical world would give me a job based on these qualifications.  They thanked me for my service and after the initial interview I never heard from them again.

I also applied to many different part-time teaching jobs.  I had lots of experience, I’ve taught lots of different subjects, from world history to American history, to Native American, African American and women in American history.  I’ve taught courses on totalitarianism and brought students to concentration camps.  But when I was asked why I worked part-time, my response of taking care of my daughter while working was seen as a liability.  They thanked me for my services and after the initial interview I never heard from them again.

Let’s be clear:  I’ve worked hard for the last ten years.  I’ve had to do things to and with my child that I would not wish on my worst enemies.  I have been brought to the edge of sanity with grief and worry and sleep deprivation.  But as I suspected long ago, the rest of the world does not value that kind of commitment, or organization, or dedication to taking care of my child.  Most people see me as a liability, though I’ve never missed work, I’ve always managed.

I’m an excellent teacher.  I’m an excellent caregiver.  I can be both.  I have been both.

This time has really damaged my self-esteem, because even though being a parent of a chronically ill kid is hard, to be honest, I really thought I had my shit together.  The college closing was like a slap in the face,  the world I had created was shattered like a false mirror, revealing what the rest of the world really knew, really thought of parents of chronically ill kids.

I wondered if keeping this blog, after my experiences this spring and summer, was just an exercise in vanity.  Maybe, I thought, I should stop writing.  But I realized other people, other parents, must feel the way that I do, working the hardest job in the world, and feeling undervalued by society.  So I’ll keep writing, at least for now, or until no one reads the blog posts anymore.

As a postscript, I have found a job, and I really love it.  The problem is that it’s full time, and I’ve been struggling mightily with the other aspects of care.  My chronically ill daughter and her doctors’ appointments and insurances.  My other daughter who is well but seeing less of her mom.  My husband who is valiantly picking up my slack in those departments and whom I couldn’t do any of this without.  I’m sure that these will be other blog posts in the future.

Moms and Dads of chronically ill kids, know that I value you and I know how hard you are working.  I know from experience.  The world may not value the struggle but other parents recognize the hard work it takes to resemble normal.

Keep going.  Storms make trees take deeper roots.

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Happy Father’s Day to all the Kickass Dads Out there.

Father’s Day is a hard day for my husband, because it was on Father’s Day 2007 that Wendy first announced she had a stomach ache.  That stomach ache turned into a life threatening bacterial infection, that turned into cascading organ failure, sepsis, and an eventual kidney transplant, abdominal surgeries, and a variety of secondary diagnoses.

I can understand why he doesn’t like the holiday. But I wish he would get over it because he’s a kickass dad and we need to celebrate that.

When Wendy was in the hospital, over 200 nights as an inpatient, he spent almost every single night with her.  They had their own routine: They would walk me down to the entryway, come back, set up the beds, brush teeth, get in pajamas, and then read Harry Potter.  While in the hospital they read almost the entire series.  After hours they would sometimes go for walk in the hospital, to the PICU to see the fish tank, or to look in the gift shop window.  When I arrived in the morning with coffee, we would both stay to listen to rounds and then he would head back to our hotel room to take a nap, because honestly how much sleep did he honestly get on a tiny bed in a hospital room?

When Wendy was released, and the family still had to live in Boston to be close to the hospital, my husband looked for an apartment that we could afford and where I would be comfortable being there alone with her.  He found one that not only fit those requirements, but also allowed for a free shuttle back and forth to the hospital. Then he went back to work in Vermont, working three twelve hour days at work, and driving down to Boston for the long weekend, and to relieve me a little bit of the child care.  When he was offered a new job, even though he was worried that he couldn’t commit to it entirely because of Wendy’s health and said so, his boss said, “So you’ll be at 80 percent the first year, and you’ll make it up in the  coming years, I can live with that.”  And so, Michael took a new job as we waited for a new kidney.

When I found out I was pregnant with our second child, also while waiting for the new kidney, I was terrified of telling my husband, because I was scared that it was the one thing that would put him over the edge.  But he was so excited, so happy, that I couldn’t be that worried.  Ok, I was still worried.  New job, new kidney, new baby, in that order.

Now we’re in the present, with two girls who are relatively healthy and stable, and he goes to every sporting event, every recital, every activity.  He arranges the family schedule and sends me and Wendy our invites.  He is his happiest when he is watching his girls perform, especially sporting events, but also for music recitals and art shows.  Everything else comes second to those things.

I am lucky to have a kind and caring partner, who loves being a dad as much as this man does.  Our road has been bumpy with health problems and moves and changes of jobs, but he remains constant.  And so, I really really want to celebrate him on Father’s Day, even if he doesn’t want to be reminded of it, because it’s what started all the trouble, but in its own way, it also started all the grace and greatness of this man.

Happy Father’s Day to all the kickass dads, especially those who are fathers of chronically ill kids, or those who carry an extra burden as a single dad. The world doesn’t give you enough credit, but I certainly do.