In a photo my husband took of me almost sixteen years ago, I am leaning on the double stroller in front of me, my two babies are perched inside, and the slightest hint of a smile plays on my lips.
What that photo does not reveal is that I was in the throes of a flare-up of my ulcerative colitis, weighed 84 pounds, was weeks away from my next hospitalization, and just a couple of years shy of the first of four major surgeries.
This was the reality of parenting while living with chronic illness. On good days—or at the very least, better days—I looked like every other mom, taking my young kids to play dates, driving them to music lessons, shuffling them down chilly supermarket aisles. But then there were other days, bad days, when I was too sick to leave the house. Days when I parented from our worn denim-blue sofa while my young children played nearby. Days when I relied on other people to do the driving, run the errands, prepare the meals. And on those days I worried that it was not enough. That I was not enough. That my kids would suffer as a result of a childhood punctuated by their mom’s hospitalizations, and that my illness had cast an irrevocable dark cloud over their innocent youth.
Now the little boy in that photo has left for college. His baby sister is in high school. And it seems my children have emerged from their unordinary childhood fairly unscathed. Yet the teenage years are not without their own unique challenges. These young adults test my endurance every day in ways my illness never did.
They say there is no rest for the weary. I say there are no sick days for mom.