A Mother's Guilt

IMG_7387 For the past few months, I have been in a funk in the afternoons. Really ever since Virginia and Wills started back to school. It has taken a little while to put my finger on what's going on, but I think I finally have.

I am overwhelmed by my inability to take care of my children on my own.

Let me clarify. There are plenty of times when I am alone with my kids and we do fine. Their basic needs are met and sometimes we even have a little fun, too. The problem is that I can't hold Virginia and Eliza simultaneously. If I get Sissy out of her chair, immediately Eliza starts crawling up the stairs or trying to swallow a penny. Virginia needs a certain level of quiet so she can concentrate to eat or do school work. She doesn't get that if I am chasing Eliza at the same time.

Wills deserves my full attention sometimes, too. He needs to be able to rough house without being told, "Be careful. I'm holding Virginia," one hundred times. He needs me to help him learn how to ride his bike and throw a football. Occasionally, he needs to be free to be four.

Leaving the house with all three also poses a serious challenge. I can't push a wheelchair and a stroller, so if I have all three, I have to carry Eliza and push Virginia. It is not so simple to push a heavy wheelchair and hold a very heavy fourteen-month-old. Now try carrying a bag of groceries or retrieving your credit card from your back pocket while holding Eliza and keeping one hand on Sissy. Not simple at all.

Ever since Wills was twelve weeks old, I have had help with my kids. Right now, that help looks like 12:15 to 6:15, Monday- Friday and a date night once a week. I love Amy, Virginia's current helper, very much. I am very aware that my life, all of our lives, depend on her service to our family. And yet having her here causes me to face the reality that I can't do it on my own.

At twelve-thirty, Eliza and I walk to school to pick up Virginia and Wills. When we get back, Amy has Virginia's lunch ready and she sits down to feed her. Two days a week, Virginia has some type of therapy. On the other three days, Amy (a veteran teacher) works with Virginia on her homework, academic goals, speech device usage, and wheelchair driving. After that, we have a snack and all of us find something to do together- we go to the zoo, jump on the trampoline, or read books on the gymnastics mat.

Sounds simple, right? It should be, but of course for me, it's not. The problem is I want to be in two places at the same time. If Wills and I are drawing with chalk on the patio as Virginia and Amy leave for therapy, I have a pit in my stomach. I should be going with her, I think. She just got home from school and she's already leaving. The reverse is true as well. On days when I take Sissy to therapy, I feel sad about leaving Eliza, my baby, with someone else to be put down for her nap or about not being the one to make turkey pinecones with Wills.

I used to try to make myself feel better by comparing our situation to other families with three children about the same ages as mine. How much one on one time does Laura actually get with Miller, I wondered? For a typical mother of a first grader, probably not much. Virginia's first grade friends are at school until 3, and then most days they have ballet, tap, tennis, piano, art... and we don't have any of those things.

I am sure that Laura has a certain level of sadness about the fact that Miller isn't a baby anymore and that they don't spend as much time together reading books or taking walks. There is a real sadness in watching children grow up, even healthy ones. But Miller has moved on to be able to make friends and entertain herself. To read a book on her own or play a game with her brother. Virginia still needs me just as much as she ever did.

Several months ago, friends and family started encouraging me to let my helper actually help. Let Amy do most of the feeding while she is there, I heard from more than a few wise friends. (who were probably just tired of hearing how overwhelmed I feel). You have to give up control a little, Abby. Let go of the reins.

So for a while, I let Amy do most of the feedings that occurred while she was here. Feeding Virginia isn't my favorite thing anyway- it is slow, tedious, and frustrating. It is certainly not the most fun time with her, and so I decided it was ok to save my energy for more special moments and let Amy feed her.

But then this previously mentioned sadness began to creep into my soul in the afternoons and I have been struggling to identify its point of origin.

In the last few weeks I have had an epiphany of sorts. I think a lot of my sadness is due to the fact that I miss Virginia.

I have realized that physically taking care of Virginia is one of the biggest ways I show her my love and one of the biggest ways we communicate. Wills and I communicate even when we are working on different tasks because he can talk. He tells me about his day, and I listen and respond. It is different with Virginia. Opening her hand to keep her thumb from digging into her other fingers, brushing her hair out of her face, feeding her dinner, holding her, and even getting up to reposition her ten times every night are all ways that we connect. As hard as some of these tasks are, giving them up robs me of great joy. I am her mother. I want to be the one who takes care of her. I miss her when I'm not.

The natural order of life has been gravely impacted by Virginia's injury. My seven-year-old needs me more than my one-year-old, and that hurts. It creates an unnatural, extremely difficult situation that I am blindly struggling through. I feel pulled in many different directions. I know that I am not the only mother who struggles with balance, but as with almost everything else, Virginia's suffering raises the issue to new levels.

And so here I am. Wishing Virginia could help entertain Eliza. Wishing I could watch my oldest two run around the park while pushing my baby in the swing. But accepting that I can't change what happened and seeking to find some level of balance.

Learning selflessness is one of the best parts of being a family and I don't mind that my kids have to suffer on account of each other. I just have to make sure that no one suffers too much or gets lost in the shuffle. Even me.

(I realize that this post is way too long. I am too tired to edit and sometimes work through things as I write about them. Also, I thought some of the detail might be helpful to my special-needs mom readers.)