I work crazy long hours. The hours aren’t actually crazy, but since my commute is 1.5 hours each way, it feels crazy. I see my children in the morning before they go to school (had to work my way into that flexibility) and then for an hour or so when I get home before they go to bed.
When I came home today, something felt missing. I walked up the stairs from our garage to our first floor, and I heard…nothing. But all of a sudden, I hear the sound of feet and my eight year old yells, “Mommy!” and wraps his big body around mine and holds on for dear life. Soon after I hear the seven year old, and she’s now clinging to me. The two year old has shorter legs, so it takes him longer to reach me.
My husbands says, “Sorry you can’t walk into the house in peace.”
I told him that having them jump for me is the very best part of my day. I’m just so glad they still love me.
When you are a mother and you have bipolar disorder, the number of times you’ve felt like you’ve let down your kids is immeasurable.
The times you couldn’t get out of the bed to make breakfast.
The times you couldn’t read them a bed time story because you were spending all your time out shopping.
The times you said we were going somewhere and having to break those promises.
The times when the family was going on an outing but you just wanted to lay in the bed.
The time you yelled or screamed and scared the shit out of them.
The time they watched you sobbing on the couch.
Or how about that time when your children had to visit you on the psych ward?
My children are really awesome. They have an emotional intelligence, at least the two older ones, that is so mature for their ages. Not that they are personally mature — no, we still have lots of tantrums, whining, and complaining — but that they instinctively “get” other people’s pain. They understand, quite simply, that the world is so much bigger than just them. And they are just so kind.
I like to believe that my illness has contributed to that. I try to model kindness. But more importantly — we make it very clear that while we all matter individually, we function as a unit. Sometimes some of us make sacrifices in order to make the family work. Sometimes some of us need more — like the baby needs more watching, or Mama needs more sleep and alone time. We talk about the family when we do chores, when we think about the money we are going to spend, when Mama has to work or rest. During my dissertation, we talked about how Mama needed to write her book so we could move to a bigger house. We talk about how Daddy needs to be at his job. We even talk about how, when someone wants to act like they are sick and not go to school, how that messes up a lot of things for all of us. We talk about how we all need different things at different times. We are a machine with lots of parts and everyone has to pull their weight.
They get it. They get that life does not revolve around them. It’s so cliche, but there is something about living with a chronic illness — because that’s what bipolar is — that changes how you raise your kids. I feel like I am constantly preparing them for when I might be incapacitated. I’m constantly preparing them — through my daily mid-day naps, my Saturday snoozing, my tearfulness. But I rest somewhat secure in knowing that they get it. I can’t be sure. But I think they get it.
Once, I was physically sick, and my oldest, who is such a sweet boy, decided, on his own, that he was going to take care of me. He came in my room, asked me what I needed, and got it for me. He told me that if I needed anything, he would be back in a few minutes. And at the end, he said, “Mama, are you okay?”
And I knew, because I have them, that I will be okay. And so will they.