I wish I had some brief, non-whiny-ass way of talking about this, but it’s just going to be what it is. This is a subject many of us avoid because we don’t want others to think we’re weak or talking negatively about our life as parents. But tonight I feel like being honest about it.
Someone once gave me the most appropriate term that I think exists for how I’ve felt the last few days.
I am bone-weary.
It’s a good thing I recently read an absolutely brilliant blog post by Rachel Coleman (aka Rachel of Signing Time!, also aka J-Man’s Secret Crush) called Strong Enough to be Your Mom. I highly recommend you go and read her moving story.
The day after the J-Man’s annual pediatrician’s visit about two weeks ago – where I had to carry him around for an hour and do some awkward holds during the exam – I started to feel a building pain in my low back. And it just got worse and worse. Within hours of when it started, it got to where I couldn’t bend more than a few degrees from vertical in any direction. I couldn’t sit and I certainly couldn’t sleep. I took some ‘real’ pain pills (which I only do when it’s really, really bad), and I might as well have been eating candy.
I went to my chiropractor last week. His diagnosis was that it’s a compression-type of back injury where my lower vertebrae all got jammed together – from that hour carrying the J-Man around and all the stress I put on my back while holding him during the exam. Those vertebrae more or less got shoved together and locked, which not only was as fun as it sounds but caused a whole lot of swelling. End result – it hurts.
I turn 36 in a month. And Mary has had to put my socks on for me a few times since this started. I couldn’t reach my feet no matter what I did. I would have sat there and cried if I wasn’t distracted by a dozen other things.
I’ve had chronic low-back pain for the vast majority of my life. I have structural defects in my spine – primarily in that same low back area, including a special, sort-of-extra vertebrae hardly anyone else has – that will permanently cause stresses in my back that can be addressed only so much. To a certain degree, I’m going to have to live with some level of pain.
The reality is, I had better find some way to live with it better than this.
On top of that, either a cold, seasonal allergies, or both have swept through our part of the world, making everyone but Mary sick these past couple of weeks. The J-Man stayed home from school Friday before last, and with the Labor Day holiday, it ended up as a four-day, locked-up-in-the-house, stir-crazy adventure for all of us.
When the J-Man is sick, everything tends to fall apart in our routine. Even the most minute variation in certain routines can send him off a cliff during most any illness. In average circumstances, he’s got somewhat of a buffer zone in which he can be pretty flexible with things. If he has some difficulty regulating some of his emotions, he can work through it pretty quickly. For several days, it was like someone cranked up his dial to maximum on everything in the world that bothers him.
I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen him like that, even during much worse illnesses. It really caught us off guard. Before, we’ve tried to keep to routines, but haven’t had to worry about every little minute detail of them. For several days, we had to scrutinize – and still do to a noticeable degree – every meltdown situation – and there have been a lot of them – to try to figure out where the train came off the track.
This has meant that he’s needed help getting through just about every part of his day lately. Normally this would be something we can team up on and handle, but the techniques we use during sick time (e.g., lots of deep pressure, lots of carrying him around and holding, even no small amount of restraining to get medicine into him and lotion on his face where all the snot makes his skin raw) can be very physically challenging. This time has just felt like one mountain too big for me to climb.
My body feels ground-down, like a nearly-used-up pencil. As Mary said in her post about the 11-year-old at the doctor’s office who was trying to escape at all costs, the realization that there will come a point where physical approaches to situations simply will cease to be options for us is one that has filled me with foreboding these past several days.
Up till now, it’s worked well enough for me. It can be difficult, but I weigh almost 230 pounds and am about 6′ 3″ tall. Let’s just say I have a lot of leverage. The J-Man hasn’t quite made it to 40 pounds yet, and when in doubt, I’ve always been able to carry my weight and his. I can carry him around for long periods of time if he needs the comfort and hold him in frantic situations when called for. But I’m hitting up on my limits in a very clear way these past two weeks, and the implications of that are disturbing to me.
But this is where Rachel’s post helped me to clue in to what all this means. There are certain things I’ll never be able to change – he’s getting bigger and I’m getting older. There are certain truths about him in this equation – he’s not at all doing this to hurt me and none of this is his fault.
And there’s one very clear truth that’s all about me. I’ve let my body get to this point.
I’ve treated my body badly. I’ve fed it all sorts of unhealthy things. I’ve abused it quite a bit with stress and lack of sleep and overwork. I haven’t exercised or done anything positive to help it be in the shape it needs to be in to be the kind of parent I need to be.
It boils down to this realization – to borrow from Rachel’s blog post title – right now, I’m not ‘strong enough’.
In the past, I’ve trained for vague goals of wanting to lose a bunch of weight or run a marathon or run a fast 5K or something my heart wasn’t as much invested in as I pretended it was. Again, as Rachel says in her post, she realized she wasn’t training for any of those things.
When they ask what we are training for I say, “I’m training for my daughter, Lucy, who’s in a wheelchair. I’m training for our life.”
When I read this, I wept. And I’m weeping again as I write this. Thanks, Rachel. I finally get it now.
I used to run – a lot. In grad school, I was running 35 miles a week at one point. I remember 16-mile runs on Saturday mornings becoming almost effortless. Now, running 2-3 miles is a major effort. But while I was out jogging recently (a couple of days before the peds visit…), struggling along, I let all the old running instincts of tracking time and pace and distance start to fall away. All those mental calculations of training pace vs. race pace went back into ancient history where they belong.
I tried instead to imagine myself standing taller as a father, with a body strong enough to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
Again, Rachel says it beautifully.
We had a great time together and I don’t think my daughter ever knew my fear… my fear that I would let her down. The fear that I might be just one more “No!” in a world full of people, who throughout her life, will simply look at her and tell her, “No.”
Lucy is my motivation. When I don’t want to run, I still run… and I run… because I can run. She may never run, not in her whole life, and I just won’t take my ability to do so for granted. I push myself physically so I can carry her. So I can run with her. I do it, so I can be a “Yes.”
It’s not about getting to put a 26.2 sticker on my car anymore or bragging about how many miles I can run and how fast, and I sure won’t be bragging about that ever again anyway!
I’m looking ahead now at ways to train and treat my body better to achieve just one goal – to be strong enough to always say “Yes” to my kids.
Our kids deserve nothing less than my best. I don’t want to be the dad of “no” or the dad of “I can’t” or the dad of “maybe later” or “not today.” This means some major lifestyle changes for me, something I’ve always been terrible at making. But now I have the greatest motivations in the world. And it’s time to start saying “yes”.