Every Tuesday and Friday morning I go to the allergist for my allergy shot. I'm trying to do two per week, even though technically I could go as little as once every two weeks. The sooner I get through the first 20 shots or so, the better off I will be, apparently. I'll be a third of the way there this week. It's a bit of a commitment to get up and out a bit earlier to get to the only two days of morning walk-in shots, but in the end it should be worth it. It means, however, that I've had a randomly itchy arm at any given moment, as the shots alternate arms and the itching is pretty rough for 24-48 hours after the shot. It will only get worse, presumably, as things ramp up further, but for now it's annoying but manageable.
Anyway, being in the allergist's office for about 45 minutes twice a week is definitely interesting people watching. I haven't really spotted any regulars quite like me, but you definitely see all sorts of people--young, old, and in between. Every person you look at looks pretty normal, but clearly they've been through something that's brought them to this point. For me, it's chronic allergies and a lack of smell and taste. For others it might be life-altering reactions. My heart breaks a little every time I see a little kid there, and that's pretty much every time. Some are getting shots, and others are going in for appointments. Last week I saw the cutest little girl, probably no more than two, and when they called her back to the exam room by name, I was crushed to think of what her parents had already dealt with in her short life. What kind of scary reaction might she have had that brought her there? The other day there was a little girl who I overheard is going to Kindergarten in the fall, and her parents were scheduling food challenges to get a handle on what she might be dealing with. That, too, broke my heart. She was such a cute little girl, but what craziness might she have been through that they don't even know what's actually causing her issues?
I have much the same feeling when we go to Jacob's behavioral therapist appointments. You look around the waiting room at the families--some seemingly normal like ours, some clearly dysfunctional, and some with a kid who is visibly affected by something--and you just wonder what kind of journey led them there. Is it a health issue? A tough household environment? Emotional or physical trauma? Are those even their parents, or are they guardians or foster parents? Are they looking at us with the same curiosities?
God knows we've been on our fair share of medical journeys. From Jacob's rough first week of life, to his (and later Carter's) reflux, to Jacob's behavioral issues, Celiac diagnosis, and leg cyst, we have been through the wringer in the past nine years. That's a lot of stuff in a short period of time, and that's only the major stuff. What about Carter's cow's milk protein intolerance, his suspected rice intolerance, and his recent molluscum contagiosum? Or Jacob's mole removal? Recently I saw a picture posted online of a baby in a really odd position, stuffed in a tube with its arms in the air--and I think it was click bait as it was asking what was happening--but I already knew what it was as I instantly flashed back about seven years to the day Jacob had to get a chest x-ray and was placed on a bike seat in a clear plastic tube with his arms in the air, to immobilize him for the procedure. He screamed the whole time, which was super traumatizing to me as a young parent. There was another day around that same time where he had images taken of his stomach emptying, and had to lay still for long periods at a time, which seemed impossible with an infant. And who can forget when I had a breakdown because I realized I had to allow Jacob to have formula when he was a newborn in the hospital, or another one when I had to stop nursing Carter six weeks in. Those were hard moments. This parenthood thing is no joke.
Looking back on it all, it's sort of overwhelming. In the moment it was certainly overwhelming, then over time we found a way to just deal with it and keep moving. But all together in retrospect, I wonder how I'm still sane (or mostly sane, anyway). It's so much. It makes our pre-kid life seem idyllic, actually. How did I ever fill my time back then? How did other stuff even register as stress? It all seems (ironically, no pun intended) like child's play compared to what we've been dealing with since. It's been such a journey, a truly tough one, though ultimately I know that so many have it so much worse. I heard something once that if given the choice to trade problems with someone else, we would rarely ever choose to do so. It appears the known is much safer than the unknown, I guess. But this experience has given me a new appreciation for--and true empathy for--other families who have had their own lengthy, stressful medical journeys. After you've dealt with a challenging kid or sat in the hospital room or otherwise walked in a particular pair of shoes, you never see the world the same way. You know what it feels like to be judged, to feel helpless, to be at rock bottom. You know how it feels to rearrange your life for your child and wonder endlessly about what their future holds. Eventually you understand that we're all just trying to figure this out and there is no clear path. You give everyone a lot of grace...even if they don't actually merit it.
If we could go back in time and change things, I probably would. I mean, I don't like that my kids have had to go through this stuff, either. And maybe I wouldn't be such a high-strung parent sometimes. But I admit that there are elements of this that have proved valuable--be it my empathy and understanding or a little bit more toughness when faced with a difficult situation. Most challenges in my daily life that don't have anything to do with my kids seem pretty small in comparison, honestly. They give you this whole new perspective about what matters. I can definitely appreciate that. But these medical journeys have definitely shaped me as a parent. It's all a part of the process, I guess. And so it continues...