Being a mom is the greatest thing I’ve ever done – and I got to do it twice! And then every day for the rest of my life …
I was an older new mom with Erin being born when I was 31 – the most amazing experience of my life! And then 15 months later Chaeli arrived – a totally different amazing experience. The fact that I loved being pregnant (maybe because morning sickness wasn’t a real thing for me?) definitely helped the sense of fulfilment I had in growing our babies. And when their Earth Day arrived my contentment was complete.
I often say that my children have raised me well and I truly believe this. Learning is a two-way street and Erin and Chaeli have taught me so much. About them. About me. About the world. About hopes and dreams. About reality. And about being resilient enough to change your mind, be open to opportunity and reimagine life, because it’s a dynamic process and you have to keep up!
Erin was such a speedster: she took her first steps at 9-and-a-half months, was a hooligan on her little black scooter and on Day One of preschool, aged 3, wrote her name atop the page she was given to draw on. Her teacher moaned at me because she wrote in capital letters …
So it was a bit of a shock when Chaeli was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at 11 months old. I don’t think I fully comprehended what this meant. Obviously the doctor told me but my brain did not equate CP to the list of no-can-do functions that often go with the diagnosis. Having had our perfect child in our lives for 11 months, dreaming our dreams of her amazing future, having her sister as the best role model she could have, I was not prepared to let go of the dream. Even when faced with the reality of her battling to sit by herself, having hands that lacked the strength to grasp the blocks that she needed to stack, struggling to eat hard food, speaking in a gentle way with a bit of a lisp.
Spastic quadriplegic. What a harsh label for a little girl not yet a year old to bear.
At this stage I was teaching six classes of high school English at a school in Gardens which meant that I had to drop our girls at the day mom at 06:45 to be at school on time. Then a full schedule of teaching followed by extra murals (athletics coaching in summer and hockey in winter) which resulted in fetching our wonder girls from Aunty Jenny (the most INCREDIBLE day mom in the universe!) round 5pm. A long day for me and an even longer day for our children. And then I tried to fit all the ‘parenting’ bits into the few hours left in our day.
Chaeli’s needs escalated after her diagnosis. Being good parents of course involved a weekly physiotherapy appointment and a revised focus on all the support we needed to provide. I remember Physio being at 5:30 on a Monday afternoon with Eunice König who not only ‘played’ an exhausted 1-year-old into cajoling her body to stretch and learn in ways that did not come naturally, but she also became my guru – my counsellor – my sounding board – my way of maintaining sanity. And through all this Erin was Chaeli’s constant companion, learning so much about what her sister needed to walk, stand, eat, drink. An absolute star!
What a rollercoaster of activity. Chaeli’s every move needed support and facilitation. Sitting. Dressing. Bathing. Teeth. Hair. Feeding. Standing. Stretching. And I wanted to be at the centre of every action because mom knows best. I could anticipate her every need. I knew how to position things to make it easier for her to pick them up. I knew how to seat her and angle her legs so that she was at her most secure. I knew which muscles to stretch, how to mash her food so that she didn’t choke, which medicines she needed. And the teacher in me also knew which puzzles to prep, the importance of shaving foam, bubbles and play dough for her fine motor development, lip function and dexterity. It was a lot. It was too much.
And then an epiphany. STOP. Stop it.
Chaeli and Erin do not need you to be everything. You don’t need to be a physiotherapist, nurse, OT, speech therapist, teacher. You have so little time with them every day. The most important thing they need in the two or three hours you have with them is to be their mom. The only mom they have. So forget trying to be everything else and be just this one thing. The best way you know how. Everything else is nothing if you can’t sit, play, hug, love, sing, laugh, encourage, be.
And so the first message from mom, one that took me many months and much guilt, to discover: Just be a mom – every other role pales into insignificance – it’s the most important gift you can give your children. Spend the time you have available with your kids by being ‘just’ a mom. It’s enough.
You are enough.