By: Elizabeth Paddock
As you sit beside me, happily pouring over your bag of LEGO bricks, I realize that while intelligent beyond your years, you are still just little boys. Little boys we have been able to be protected from mommy’s illness. To the both of you, mommy’s tough days mean baking cupcakes with daddy while I rest in the dark and my out-of-state doctor appointments mean long sleepovers at Grandma’s house. As they should. You are only six.
On one hand, I hope to protect you as long as humanly possible. I don’t want you to know of the fears I face every day. I don’t want you to know that sometimes I give into those fears and that we all miss out on things because I don’t know if my body can handle them. I don’t ever want you to know that I often fear being home alone with you because if I get sick, I don’t know how I’ll take care of you and I don’t want you to see. I don’t want you to know that the other day I held my Epi pen in my hand, wondering who I would call first if I had to use it- 911 or someone to come take care of you. I don’t want you to know that I often feel broken. That I often feel like I don’t have the strength to keep fighting. That sometimes I feel like giving up.
But as you sit beside me, proudly showing me the giant LEGO firetruck you worked so hard to build together, I know I won’t hide my illness from you forever. Because while there is so much I want to protect you from, there is also so much I want you both to know.
I want you to know how to trust yourselves. How to believe in yourselves, even when everyone around you plants doubt deep in your hearts. I want you to know how for six years, doctors told me there was nothing wrong. That it was all in my head.
I want you to know how to fight for yourselves. How to stand up for yourselves. How to push for what you know is right and just. I want you to face someone or something ten times bigger than you, with your feet planted firmly on the ground because you won’t let anyone push you around. I want you to know how mommy fought giant insurance companies and the biggest hospital systems in the country, holding them accountable for doing their jobs- to help people who are sick without causing more harm. I want you to know that mommy won.
I want you to know how to be a man. A man who does the grocery shopping and laundry because they simply need to be done. A man who is proud to scrub toilets or bake gluten-free pumpkin bread. A man who isn’t afraid to cry, because sometimes life gets scary. A man who will fight for his family. A man strong enough to hold everything and everyone up when everything and everyone seem to be falling apart. I want you to be a man who will do anything for love- in sickness and in health- with a smile on his face and a heart full of hope for better days. Watch your father closely boys. He will teach you how.
I want you to be kind. Gentle. Understanding. Compassionate. I want you to know that everyone has a story, a struggle, a battle they may be fighting though you know nothing of it. I want you to smile at the woman who parks in the handicapped parking spot even though she walks out of her car without a cane. At the young man who walks into the museum but then sits down in a wheelchair. I want you to know that their illnesses may be invisible and I want you to show them kindness- like you show me when we have to stop so mommy can rest on the bench.
I want you to be brave and fearless. And I want you to know it’s okay if sometimes you aren’t. It’s okay to lean on someone, even ask them to hold you up for a little while. It’s okay to have moments or days when you feel like you can’t go on. When you want to give up.
But I want you to be fighters. I want you to know that once someone holds you up long enough to regain some semblance of your strength, you’ve got to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Whether you fly or run or walk or crawl or simply sit on the couch knowing you will see the sun rise tomorrow, you’ve got to keep going.
Most of all dear sons, I want you to know why I have never given up. I want you to know why I will never let this illness become bigger than me. Why I will never let this fight get the best of me. I want you to know how much I love you both. And I want you to know that sometimes, love is all we need.
To the moon and back,
ABOUT ELIZABETH | Elizabeth Paddock is a mother, wife, and writer from southeast Michigan. With a master’s degree in clinical social work, Elizabeth has been a stay-at-home mother of identical twin boys for the last six years which has allowed her to focus on her family and her writing. She has written for the medical talk show Ask Dr. Nandi as well as the award winning Hollywood Mom Blog and is currently working on her first book about gifted education. Elizabeth has a primary diagnosis of Mast Cell Activation Disorder along with secondary diagnoses of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome and Joint Hypermobility Syndrome. For more information on mast cell disorders, please visit The Mastocytosis Society at www.tmsforacure.org.