Casual Friday + There Is No Manual

This week had some really hard moments. After relative calm for the first half of January, things started to unravel.

Last Friday night, John, Levi, my dad, and a few friends went to a local university hockey game. Everyone had a delightful time right up until the last five minutes of the game when Levi started feeling nauseous and complaining of belly pain. They rushed home and we whisked him to bed.

Unfortunately, we seem to be right back where we started with those nebulous abdominal issues that presented at the beginning of December.

We’re back to night wakings (so. many. night. wakings).

We’re back to staying home from school (at least in part over the anxiety of having a nausea attack while away from home).

That issue aside – helping another child navigate middle school is no joke.

And my period started (hopefully for the last time, but I’ve said that before!).

Oh, and first thing Sunday morning, John flew halfway across the world.


Monday and Tuesday were terrible. I felt sick to my stomach just waiting for the next symptom or interruption (paying attention to work tasks took Herculean efforts, partly from exhaustion and partly from anxiety).

Mostly, there was a sensation of being completely and utterly trapped. I couldn’t leave – couldn’t go on a walk to clear my head, couldn’t lock the door to the office and focus on work. At a certain point, I could/should have called my parents, but I was too tired and having to engage with anyone outside our four walls felt like more than I could handle. (Also, turns out the text I sent my mom providing an update didn’t get through, so they didn’t even know things were going down the proverbial toilet.)

I hate the sensation of having such limited control over fixing an issue.

But by golly, I sure tried. I refilled a prescription (it hadn’t eliminated Levi’s symptoms, but it had seemed to help; he had finished the one-month trial the doctor suggested a few days before his “relapse” but it came with a refill just in case, so I pulled the trigger on that). I grabbed armfuls of hardcover books off the shelf to elevate his bed by 7 inches (maybe it’s GERD). I cut out any last remnants of dairy and gluten. I warmed Magic Bags and chilled ice packs. I prepped apple slices and warmed up bowls of soup. I doled out probiotics and vitamins. I closed curtains and put on white noise. I got the shower temperature set to “just right” many, many times.

I also ugly cried in my bathroom – and at least once at the dining room table in front of the kids.

At one low point on Tuesday, I started telling myself over and over again: This will feel different tomorrow, This will feel different tomorrow, This will feel different tomorrow. Tuesday felt like rock bottom in terms of despair, Wednesday felt a bit better, parts of Thursday were back to rock bottom but, by the end of the day, I was feeling signficantly more optimistic…and here we are at Friday. Life is looking brighter even if I am dead tired.

Fortuitously, I decided to call the local children’s hospital (a multi-step process, so I can see many people electing not to bother) to see if I could get an estimated wait time for our gastroenterologist referral; because I had called in, we were offered a cancellation slot for today. Praise the Lord!!

Other things helped, too. It’s not always easy to make room (or find energy) to do activities that counterbalance the hard, but it’s almost always worth the effort. I made some comfort (but free from wheat and dairy!) foods. We lit our beloved candles. I put on makeup even though I was, essentially, housebound. Once my mom knew what was happening she sent some food and offered sympathy, love, and a listening ear. Friends checked in regularly.

I also thought – a lot – about how I never, ever realized how all-consuming and exhausting parenting can be…

things nobody told me about parentinG*

*To be fair, it wouldn’t matter if someone had told me all these things about parenting because without actually living it, I don’t think I could have comprehended how completely – for me at least – it impacts every aspect of life.

  • Parenting is a rollercoaster. I am not a fan of rollercoasters. I have only been on a handful of rollercoasters in my life (most notably the Behemoth which, until 2012, was the tallest and fastest rollercoaster in Canada); they make my stomach churn and I keep my eyes clamped shut the entire time. Much of parenting consists of gentle kiddie-ride rollercoasters. Regular ups and downs – giggling at the breakfast table over Knock Knock jokes, a tantrum at the grocery store. But sometimes the bottom drops out of the ride and you start plummeting. You look for the panic button – something to stop the freefall – but there isn’t one. Also? No one ever told me that once you hop on the rollercoaster, you can’t get off. Once you’re strapped in, you’re on this ride for LIFE. This reality can feel claustrophobic at times, especially when you’re up every night with a crying infant or, in my case, an unwell 8-year-old.
  • Control is an illusion (at best). As a parent you have to make it look – to your children and those around you – that you are in control. This is a facade. You have no control over when your toddler will vomit (frequently, usually over clean clothes without a bucket handy), or throw a tantrum (frequently, usually when there is an audience), or wake early from a nap (frequently, and always when you are most desperate for them to sleep; the one time you need them to wake early, there is a 100% chance they will be impossible to rouse).
  • Parenting is a 24/7/365 job. A few years ago, I was waiting with a group of parents to collect our kids from a summer tennis lesson when I mother I barely knew leaned in and whispered: No one told me parenting was a 24/7 job – FOREVER. Even when I’m away from the kids, I’m still parenting them.

I knew exactly how she felt. I can’t remember what I envisioned parenthood would look like pre-kids. I do remember babysitting two elementary-school children for a week while their parents were away on a trip when I was about 20; I was shocked at how utterly exhausted I felt at the end of that week. I knew that parenting was a big responsibility. What I didn’t know was how it fills every crack and crevice of your life.

Parenting has changed in the modern era and I suspect our parents spent a lot less time worrying about violin lessons and SAT scores (we don’t actually have to worry about those in Canada; phew!) and screens than we do. But my kids are never not on my mind. They might be minimized on my radar, but I live in a hypervigilant state. 365 days a year there are kids who need breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They need clean clothes. They need to see doctors and dentists. They need to get to school on time, complete their homework, and take in extra boxes of Kleenex for their classroom stash. They need new winter gear and presents at Christmas and milk for their Cheerios.

I’m not saying every interaction is exhausting – most are not – but the sheer amount of time and responsibility associated with parenting does shock me. And while I love my kids with every fiber of my being, sometimes I wish I could turn off the relentless worrying and tending and caring and loving. I get tired of putting on Band-aids and packing lunchboxes and reading bedtime stories. I know I’ll miss this when they’re gone and I don’t want to wish away time. And yet…it’s a lot.

  • There is no user manual. NGS recently asked readers what sort of user manual they’d most like available for adult life and I answered without hesitation that I wish such a thing existed for parenting. Specifically, how to parent my children. Sure there are plenty of books on child rearing, but one of our favourite jokes when Abby was an infant was to say she was the asterisk to every statement in parenting books. For example, experts assured us that babies like long car rides and jaunty walks in the stroller. She HATED these activities and would scream bloody murder for the entirety of every car and stroller ride. I wish I could have flipped to page 42 to learn that Mam brand soothers (and only Mam brand soothers) would be the solution. I wish I could turn to page 311 to get play-by-play instructions for helping a child navigate the challenges of a school bully. I wish page 106 told me how persistent I should be with reminders to clean their rooms and brush their teeth. But that user manual doesn’t exist – I have to create my own manual as I go and, most of the time, I feel like a complete fraud (I’m no parenting expert, except…I HAVE TO BE BECAUSE I AM RESPONSIBLE FOR TWO TINY HUMANS AND THEY DIDN’T POP OUT OF MY UTERUS CLUTCHING A USER MANUAL*). *Wouldn’t that have been convenient
  • Parenting involves a dizzying number of decisions. No one told me I would quite literally be making dozens of decisions before 9 am. [6:30 am] Knock, knock, knock. Can I come in? The kids aren’t supposed to knock before 7 am so should I say Yes (they might be sick), or No (if I say Yes, this sets a bad precedent for tomorrow)? [7:02 am] What’s for breakfast? (Good question, What is for breakfast). [7:18 am] What should I send for lunch? [7:43 am] Should I allow them to go to school without snowpants (and, if I don’t make them wear snowpants, should I sneak a set into the bottom of their bookbags for “just in case”)? [7:44 am] Should I make them wear their rainboots even though they’re begging to wear sneakers but the weather forecast says it’s going to rain? [7:51 am] Should I let a child wear mismatched (expensive) winter gloves to school or turn the car around and get them to put on a matched set (I don’t mind the aesthetic, but what a nuisance if they lose them because the Lost and Found at school will assume there is no match; spoiler alert: I did turn the car around and made the child in question get a matched set). Then there are bigger questions: Should I sleep train? Should I put my child on antibiotics for their inflamed ear, or wait it out a few days to see if things get better? Should I send my child to public school? Consider a language immersion program? Should I take them to see the dentist about their toothache today – and have them miss their band recital – or wait until tomorrow? What if the tooth winds up being abscessed? Should I make them eat the bell peppers they hate, or capitulate and give them carrot sticks instead? Should I let them stay up late on Friday night to watch the movie? If so, will this backfire for me Saturday morning? As a parent I’m always thinking, always advocating, always weighing pros/cons. Plus, not only do I have to do this for two tiny humans – I STILL HAVE TO TAKE CARE OF MYSELF!
  • Parenting involves so much guilt. I feel like I’ve discussed this before, but I second-guess and feel guilt every single day. In little and big decisions, Guilt is my shadow. My kids have great lives but, still, the guilt plagues me. Like somehow I’m messing everything up. (Maybe some parents feel fear or stress or anger as their predominant emotion, but I suspect guilt ranks very high as the go-to emotion for mothers). I feel guilty for saying no to participating in a bedtime routine on a night I’m exhausted. I feel guilty for saying no to organizing a playdate. I feel guilty for forgetting to put money under a pillow from the Tooth Fairy (that neither child believes in, but that they reference every time they lose a tooth because they want some moolah). I feel guilty for sending my child’s reading log back empty after a week because I never carved out time to have them read to me. I feel guilty for raising my voice when I’m upset. Guilt, guilt, guilt.

Is parenting supposed to feel this hard? Or am I just doing it all wrong? [This is a rhetorical question; I know I’m not doing it all wrong. I’m doing my best and my kids are blessed to have two loving, involved – wait a minute, are we too involved? not involved enough? – parents.]

Parenting is also amazing. I’ve been on enough rollercoasters to understand they defy gravity and what goes down…must also come up.

things making me smile this week

  • The kids received a set of belated Christmas gifts from a friend, including a game called Quick Pucks which they have loved!
  • Without a doubt, one of the highlights of my week was listening to Levi read me the story he is writing. The way he annunciates his words melts my heart. (Synopsis: There is an evil sorcerer living in a castle, and four brave siblings – Lilac, Jiny, Bill, and Levi – head out to save the day. Move aside Julia Donaldson.)
  • Abby came home from drama class to announce she got the lead part she was desperately hoping for (Miss Minchin in A Little Princess).
  • One evening, hair soaked from the shower, Levi slapped his cheeks and grinned (can’t remember why?!) and looked so much like Kevin McCallister from the Home Alone aftershave scene that I grabbed a mirror for him to see and we both laughed.
  • Restless and feeling sick, Levi climbed into bed with me every night this week; he didn’t say anything, but always cuddled in and felt around in the dark until he found my hand and then proceeded to hold it with that soft little hand of his. I really wish he was sleeping better, but the hand-holding is sweet.
  • Last Friday we walked through a snowstorm (school was canceled – snow day!) to see Grammie and get one of her famous homemade cookies.
  • After a tough day for one of the kids, we all sat on the bed and brainstormed solutions to a variety of tough problems. While Abby and Levi can fight like cats and dogs, when one of them is hurting emotionally – they show up for the other in remarkable ways. This family meeting lasted over an hour and I was blown away by the tenderness and very practical, insightful sibling support.
  • I’ve always loved this picture John captured of Abby looking through giant binoculars; I finally got around to printing off an engineering print (the cheapest way to create large DIY art!) and framing it (IKEA Ribba).
  • Thursday afternoon, in the middle of a major wind/rainstorm, the power went out. After wallowing in self-pity for a few minutes, I checked my e-mail and a sweet blog reader had sent a message saying my posts were “a little ray of happy” in her days. Sometimes I feel silly for investing time in a writing hobby, so feedback like this means a lot (Thanks Shannon!).
  • When the power was out, Levi and I were trying to find a quiet, relaxed activity to fill the afternoon that didn’t involve electricity. We played some Crokinole, but the big hit? A puzzle recently gifted to us by my aunt. I am not a puzzle person; I find them tedious and frustrating. But 300 large-sized pieces with lots of colour and pattern were perfect. Once Abby got home from school she joined in on the efforts. This was a great family activity.
  • I ordered our 2022 photobook. This is a huge undertaking for me each year and I am so relieved to be done. This is my biggest book – by far – and I’m not going to lie: I really disliked working on this one. It has over 1000 pictures and was very cumbersome. But it’s done and I know how much we love having these visual compilations of our family adventures. Now we just have to wait for it to arrive (Blurb has a 20% off + free shipping offer on until the end of the month!).
  • Okay, this final one actually made me weep, but it also warmed my heart. I sent Levi’s Grade 2 teacher an e-mail early this week about what was going on and never heard back. Since he wasn’t at school, I didn’t realize she was actually out for several days. When she got back and saw my note, she called me right away. Within 10 seconds of picking up the phone, I was sobbing. She was just so loving and supportive and it meant the world to me that she reached out in such a kind and compassionate way.

Onward, upward, and happy weekending.

Your turn. How was your week? If you’re a parent, what most surprised you about the realities of parenting? If you don’t have kids, what has most surprised you about adulthood? Do you like rollercoasters?

Header photo by Matt Bowden on Unsplash

48 thoughts on “Casual Friday + There Is No Manual”

  1. Oh Elisabeth. Oh my goodness. I am so sorry that you are going through this again with Levi’s health. If only there were some definitive answers! There is nothing worse than seeing your child in pain. You must feel so helpless, especially when you thought things were improving. Gosh, I hope they figure this out and soon.

    My friend Allison, years ago, said in passing “there will be a time after this” and I always think of that in hard times. There will be a time after this. There will be a time when Levi will be well and this will be a memory. It feels like forever when you’re in it though.

    Also, wishing you the best of luck navigating those preteen waters. They can be rough at times, that is for sure. Particularly, it seems, for girls.

    I like actual rollercoasters but I don’t like metaphorical ones, to answer your question 🙂

    1. First, thank you Nicole. Your kinds words always give me such a boost.

      Second, I remember you mentioning this quote before and I loved it but didn’t get around to writing it down. I AM WRITING IT DOWN this time because I think this is officially going to be my “quote of the year”. There will be a time after this. Mic drop.

      Looking back I remember my own challenges navigating all the social and academic hurdles of growing up. Honestly? I found it such a relief to get to university which, while lots of pressure in a different way, felt SO much better than the drama of school.

  2. Wow, there is nothing casual about this Friday post! I had to take a deep breath because I feel for you! I do not have kids but I can imagine how much goes into raising one. I have been helping a friend shuttle the kids back and forth sports practices and games and I do not know how she does it. She is a single mom and it seems like they always have practice at the same time, in two different places and that is not even the hardest thing going on! I only help her one day a week but I really hope that I am helping to relieve even a tiny bit of all of the stuff she has to deal with.

    She recently had an episode where there was a mix up on who was picking the 8 year old up from aftercare and although in the end my friend picked her up and she was a little later than expected, the 8 year old was scared that something had happened to grandpa (who was supposed to get her) or that nobody was going to come! My friend was saying how she felt like a bad mom, but really it was grandpa who decided to take a nap that took longer than expected. However, she can’t blame her dad either really, so navigating the guilt (like you said) and the sympathy for the 8 year old, who was frightened, is really hard!

    1. I am always quick to tell people that solo parenting is not the same as single parenting. While it can be very hard, I cannot relate to the pressures of being solely responsible for raising kids. Even when he’s not physically present, John is still able to provide so much emotional support.

      I am so glad you’re able to help relieve some of those logistical pressures for your friend; it might not seem like a lot to you, but having support in this area will free up her mind for making those million decisions that she will face most days. And that can make a world of difference! Even just knowing there is someone in your corner, willing to help can make harder days more tolerable.

  3. I’m going back to read the whole post later but in the parenting 24/7 and guilt parts you captured my thoughts, guilt, exhaustion exactly. I’m also dealing with middle school issues and said child is the one having ongoing health issues. Both kids are so different that what works for one doesn’t for the other but then they complain about fairness (but “you wouldn’t want that anyway” doesn’t register). Your description of morning can feel like how the day goes before work, in moments of break from work and after I get home. I have only had one bad panic attack and it was related to feeling trapped.
    All to say you are not doing it wrong. You are a mom who cares a lot, who also pauses often to see the good and this is a really, really hard time. I see you. I am sending you big hugs. I hope the appointment today can uncover some answers.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear you’re still navigating tricky school and health issues – you’ve had a long haul, Shelly.

      Yes! Another great point: if you write a user manual for your first child, chances are good it will be useless for your second child. While our kids do overlap in some areas, they are SO different in so many respects. So you’re constantly having to adjust parenting techniques to best suit a specific child, but then the other child can notice those subtle – or overt – differences and cry foul about “unfairness.”

      Thanks for your kind words <3

  4. Yes, yes, yes to this whole thing.
    I am also becoming more and more tempted to join the photo book craze. It isn’t really a thing that anyone I know IRL does, so maybe it’s not an English thing?! I have a couple of specific photo books – one for A with photos of all of the animals she knows and loves, and another with photos of mum’s house exactly as it was left when she passed.
    But the annual photo books seem like a FABULOUS idea… they also sure seem like a lot of work!

    1. Re the amount of work. Much of this is my own doing:
      – I don’t use any auto functions. I’ve tried. I want to have autonomy over what goes where and can’t stand how randomly things get done with autofill but the main reason the autofill doesn’t work is…
      – We have SO many pictures. Both John and I love to take photos. I have a hard time whittling them down, so this means over 1000 pictures went into this year’s book, but I probably went through 10,000 pictures. The sheer number of pictures is ridiculous. BUT, it is the main form of memory-keeping I do for our family and taking pictures is a creative outlet.

      Also, some people cherry-pick only the “best” pictures for photobooks; since this is a major record of our lives for that year, I include hundreds of “everyday” pictures. Like us putting a coin into the door to open a bathroom in a Paris McDonalds, or the odometer before we headed off on our family roadtrip this year. Stylistically they aren’t pretty, but a single picture can trigger huge memories.

  5. Oh my heart goes out to you and Levi and the family and I hope for better days ahead! So much of this resonated with my heart (we spent most of my girl’s early years in and out of the Children’s Hospital and awake all the time), especially the points on the constancy of parenting. Finding space to think about anything else with a whole life there to be thought and worried about and cherished has no easy solutions. As for rollercoasters, I cannot do spinning ones (I’d be ruined for days with my vertigo) and tend to do any others with my eyes clamped shut so I just feel the movement haha!

    1. Thanks, Lindsay. The support from people here is…something I’m treasuring right now <3
      There will be better days ahead, of that I'm sure, even if the days have had some pretty majors ups and downs lately.

      I'm so sorry you had such a rough start to parenting - I'm feeling fragile after a few months, and you went through so much for years. I love hearing about all your fun adventures together.

  6. Hi, new follower here (I found you through your guest post on Laura Vanderkam’s blog). I have four kids myself and can relate so well to your words about parenting! What has helped me is trying to pre-think decisons (a la Family Firm by Emily Oster) and working through my guilt (I have loved You are Not a Sh*tty Parent – it’s a fantastic book for that).

    1. Hi, A! Welcome.

      I think SHU also recommended the You Are Not A Sh*tty Parent book at some point; I need to order that one in (I’ve read Family Firm!). Somewhere (my brain is a bit muddled) in the last few days I read someone referring to Emily Oster’s newsletter which talked about when it comes to decisions, we so often want to hold out for some magical Option C. If we don’t love choices A and B, we’ll dither and worry…but really – we’re hoping for a magical “This solves everything” Option C. The takeaway from the article: there is almost never going to be an Option C. I think I fall into this trap in my parenting. I want to be able to keep everyone happy and keep waiting for that elusive Option C!

  7. Parenting is indeed all consuming. I’m sure you’ve questioned Levi’s diet to figure out what might be causing his tummy troubles. Besides the obvious gluten or dairy, I just wanted to throw out there that my oldest went through a phase where he would puke at night. We told the doctor and she did a scan of his head (apparently pressure in the brain or head or whatever can make kids throw up?) and nothing seemed wrong. But then a friend mentioned her friend’s kid had the same thing and they figured out it was the sugar-free gum he was chewing. We removed any “diet” foods from our son’s diet (gum and the occasional diet soda he would have at a party) and it did go away. It could have been coincidence? I hope you guys figure it out soon, poor guy!!

    1. Thanks, Colleen,

      I actually thought of you as I was writing this post; I can sometimes hardly wrap my mind and body around caring for two pint-sized humans and you are so beautifully raising SEVEN!!!

      Thanks for the thought; I wonder if it’s a reaction to aspartame? It always makes me feel icky (especially after I learned in university that aspartame breaks down into FORMALDEHYDE). We have done lots of diet tweaks; at this point, the specialists don’t think it has anything to do with a food sensitivity, but I’m still going to watch things closely. We don’t really have many “diet” products in our lives, but when I occassionally have diet soda it gives me a headache.

  8. Oh Elisabeth. I wish I could give you a huge hug! You are going through a really tough and prolonged phase, and you’re doing a lot it as a solo parent since John has to travel for work. I try to be as honest as possible on my blog about parenting because I never want anyone to think I have it all figured out and that life is just sooo easy for me! The toddler years are so so so challenging for me. Will is so very different from how Paul is. I know you went through this with Levi, too, which is helpful to know. I have wondered if I am missing some gene because I do not LOVE every minute of this stage. I’m not wishing time away, but I look forward to a time when our youngest is 4 as that seems to be the sweet spot for us.

    I am glad you were able to snag a cancelation so you can see a specialist and get to the bottom of what is going on. In the mean time, seek out any source of comfort you can find! Hopefully your parents can help out, too, since they are local and Levi doesn’t appear to be dealing with something that is contagious. I’d also share with your local friends that you are really struggling and could use some extra love and support. I don’t know if they read your blog so they might not know how hard life is right now. I bet they’d love to bring you a cup of tea or a meal or whatever would lift your spirits! I know I would want to know if a friend was struggling!

    I’m glad you had some bright moments, though! Congrats to Abby for getting a lead role! What a brave girl you have!

    1. Awww, Lisa <3 Thanks, friend!

      Toddlerhood is hard. We've had this discussion - I felt like there was something wrong with me for finding it so draining physically and mentally (in particular I remember feeling so "touched" out by the end of the day just constantly having a child literally on/around me). And there are so many huge emotions for kids at that age and they're trying to process them with such limited reasoning capabilities. It does get better!!

      Local friends have been so kind. It's hard to know what to "ask" for at this point. It's more sharing the mental load, and they are doing that brilliantly. The toughest thing is that Levi wants to be home...and wants me (which I 100% understand, I am just an introvert that tends to wilt when I don't get alone time). That said, John arrived home yesterday - we picked him up at the airport right after the appointment - and I'm really looking forward to a restful weekend. Well...the days at least. It's now 2 am, and I've been awake since 10:30 with Levi who is currently "sleeping" in the hallway outside our bedroom door.

  9. Elisabeth. What a difficult, draining, stressful time you are going through right now. I am so sorry for all of you that Levi is struggling with this awful, unknowable issue and I fervently hope that the GI can offer some suggestions and guidance that make a meaningful difference. But in the meantime, you are a good parent. You are doing a good job. The crying and the lack of focus and the lack of control may all feel awful, but they are reasonable and expected and you are getting through this. You are getting your kids through this. I hope John returns soon so you have some help, but you are doing a good job. Your little boy holding your hand in bed every night says so much about the comfort and love and safety he gets from you. There is no parenting manual, and it can be scary and thankless and exhausting, but you are doing it right. Sending you so much love.

    (PS Congratulations to your daughter on her part! That’s a wonderful accomplishment!)

    1. Thanks, Suzanne.
      And John is home! He arrived back yesterday afternoon and it was such a relief for all of us.
      It is a good sign that Levi gets so much comfort from being near me; thanks for the reminder that I shouldn’t see this as a burden, but as a good sign!

      1. Oh, gosh, Elisabeth, I didn’t mean to imply that you were looking at things the “wrong” way — it can be both a gift and burden at the same time.

        So glad John is home. I hope you have some time to breathe. xxoo

        1. Oh I never took your comment in a negative sense, I just hadn’t thought about the fact that Levi coming to me for comfort implies I am a comforting presence. I take for granted that’s a given for kids with their parents, but sadly that’s not the case. So it’s one aspect of this situation that I can reframe as a positive.

          And yes – today (Saturday) has been SUCH a breath of fresh air for everyone.

  10. Oh, I’m so sorry for Levi and your whole family. Not knowing what’s causing his pain must be the most frustrating experience. I hope you give yourself grace that you are doing the best things you can for him and he knows that, too! That period of time when medical practitioners are trying to diagnose issues can be so stressful, so remember that you’re stressed and anxious for a reason and anybody would feel that way. I sometimes think I’m overreacting and it’s helpful for me to know that even though there is no manual of instructions, my body and mind instinctively know when things are a big deal and how to react to that.

    Hugs to all of you! Happy vibes to the budding actor! Give Meatball an extra treat from me.

    1. Thanks, NGS. Yes! Frustration is one of my biggest emotions lately (and helplessness…which go hand-in-hand).
      I am trying to give everyone grace and failing at that plenty, but managing to find the right balance at least some of the time.

      Also – I really needed to hear this: remember that you’re stressed and anxious for a reason and anybody would feel that way. I sometimes think I’m overreacting and it’s helpful for me to know that even though there is no manual of instructions, my body and mind instinctively know when things are a big deal and how to react to that.

      My body has been so keyed up, especially at night when things seem to get so much worse. My body is RIGID whenever I do manage to get to sleep and when I hear a noise or he comes in to wake me I literally get a huge jolt of adrenaline (disproportionate to the trigger) and break out in a cold sweat. But this is my body reacting to a prolonged stressor (in combo with not much sleep). That said, I’m trying to actually use some relaxation techniques to help tamper down my adrenaline levels.

      Meatball is living his best life, completely oblivious to the slight chaos raging outside his wee microcosm in our household <3

  11. I can 10000% relate to so much of this post but especially feeling overwhelmed with not having a manual for my kids and the exhausting amount of decisions. These feelings are REAL and take up a lot of space. You are NOT alone mama! Thank you so much for being open and honest and real. And all of your sweet moments at the end totally melted my heart.

  12. Oh hugs. I hope the appointment for Levi proves helpful. Living with the unknown is so so stressful.
    I have this theory that that having kids will always make one feel like they have the wrong kind of personality for having kids. My Husband and I are *not* planners, we are not organized, we don’t make good decisions. (I know… a stage manager who does not plan, organize or decide… I joke that I only do these things when someone pays me.) But we’ve discovered that having kids forces us to do all those things. Likewise I have friends who are planners and organizers and have everything laid out, and having kids made them realize that often, kids don’t follow those plans and you have to let the plan go. It’s like the juxtaposition of two of your points – Control is an illusion, but at the same time you have to make a billion decisions. It just seems endless. The scenarios of parenting are infinite because there are an infinite number of parent/child combinations … you just can’t *know* what will work until you get there and try it, and potentially fail and try again.

    1. Thanks, Diane <3

      I have said this to John so many times: I don't have the right personality for this (I am a planner and love to feel like everything is structured and under control).

      And I really appreciate how you articulated the math of parenting: there are an infinite number of scenarios because each child/parent/interaction is so unique!

  13. Sometimes I read about or hear of expectant parents who plan to just “fold kids into my existing life’ and then I immediately roll around on the floor laughing. Nothing prepares you for it. You are no longer in control of your own life. I’m so sorry you had such a difficult week, especially handling that solo. There will be good times again! I remember when the kids were babies and we’d have one of those days, I’d say to myself “just survive this day.” So for now, all you need to do is survive. Don’t worry about cleaning and exercise and all that stuff, just continue living until the day is over, then do it again tomorrow.

    1. Ha! I know of a handful of parents for whom this worked – notably close friends of ours who had a child who just napped anywhere, never cried and was just a fun extension of their previous lives. Then they had a second child…who HAD to be home in HIS bed at 7:30 or his world collapsed.

      There WILL be good times again, indeed. And I have put myself into a survival mentality many times before and it really does help. I shut down all non-essentials and concentrate on the most important (and sometimes what is most important is binge-watching a show past my bedtime because I need to unwind, sometimes important is triaging work tasks and setting the kids up on screens, sometimes important is going on a long, solo walk).

      Tomorrow is a new day and there will surely be bright moments in it!

  14. Elisabeth, it really is SO HARD. You’re right, no one can ever prepare you for how hard it’s going to be. It’s almost shocking how much of yourself gets swallowed up in being a parent. For you, it’s extra hard because this illness of Levi’s must be so frustrating. Something like this really does bring you to the low point of the roller coaster. But the thing is, it never ends. This will pass, and things will feel easier for a moment or two and then it all begins again. I don’t know the answer, other than- we’re all in it together? Also (and I know you know this, deep down inside) you are doing an amazing job. Your kids are so loved, and I can tell they’re having a woderful childhood. We all have things we feel guilty about, and look back and wish we had done differently (a certain Christmas still haunts me to this day) but your kids don’t remember these things like we do. They’ll just look back and say they had a GREAT childhood.
    Good luck with Levi. I hope you get some solutions SOON.

    1. Thanks, Jenny. I have to be careful when I’m on the upward climb of a rollercoaster not to start projecting my anxiety about the inevitable “downs” that will come. This is just life…but I prefer the kiddie rollercoaster where the ups and the downs are more moderate!

      You’ve raised an important point: as humans…as parents…we’re better together. That old saying about it takes a village to raise a child? I think it takes a village to sustain a parent, too. And maybe that’s another reason why parenting seems like it may be getting harder. Overall (at least in Western society), we’ve distanced ourselves from a community attitude. We live in detached homes, commute to school, have smaller friend groups etc. So it’s less common to have a group with which to share our burdens AND our joys/delights. On that point, I think there is the facade of doing this sometime on social media, but so often only the good gets displayed. We need real friendships when we can talk about the good and the bad and the ugly (like in our great blogging community and in real-life friendships too where we can be vulnerable about what’s hard and not just say “Good” in response to “How are things going.”)

  15. I so agree with Sarah about parenting, I too thought I could fold my newborn baby into my life, how wrong I was with that. It is really hard to prepare ourselves for becoming a parent, I am sure that our small family units plays hugely into that. We are not meant, as humans, to be living such isolated lives, if we grew up in multi generational family units with aunt, uncles, cousins included in that we would get so much more experience of parenting. Instead we welcome our newborn into our lives and then have to feel around in the dark to work out what to do. If we question our instincts all the time or ignore them completely because there is too much noise to be able to hear them and feel into them, it makes it all the more harder. Parenting solo is incredibly hard especially when our children are little and even more so when they are ill. There is absolutely no time for us, and we cannot fill up our cup we don’t have anything to give. Sarah’s advice to ignore the stuff that doesn’t need to be done and focus on the things that do is wise, it is so hard when we are living in it. I do hope you get some answers soon and you are able to find a sliver of something that refills your cup just a little.

    1. I just responded to Jenny’s comment and read yours next and you echo so many things I wrote! Yes!!!! The social structure of society – especially for parents – has changed DRAMATICALLY and I think with huge impacts. I am so fortunate to have a relatively large support network, and even still parenting feels overwhelming. We are designed to do this “together” and it’s very hard and isolating when those relationships aren’t available.

      And I love the imagery of refilling my cup. I’ve tried to do that this week in little ways. It hasn’t magically made me feel 100% better, but it helps me maintain optimism that things will get better soon. I have hard moments – several involving tears which are a helpful emotional release for me – but taking time to do the puzzle or read a good book or even brew a cup of tea and enjoy that DO have a tangible impact on my overall outlook on life and ability to “bounce back”.

  16. Ugh, I wish we lived near each other. Harry could babysit all of the children and we could just go read somewhere quiet for a couple of hours. Solo parenting is my least favorite part of parenting and then to have a sick kid and all the anxiety that comes with not knowing what exactly is wrong plus all of the inconvenience of parenting a sick kid (because it’s NO FUN)AND ALSO be doing it by yourself? Ugh. Whatever you’re feeling is the right thing to be feeling, and I hope you are recharging right now.

    1. Wouldn’t that be fun! 7 kids under one roof (and you’d bring your dog and then we have Meatball of course).

      Solo parenting – when life is functioning 100% – feels doable. Solo parenting when life is functioning at…12%…can be a pretty tough slog.

      Also: I think this is yet another quote from this comment section I need to write down as a motto for my year: Whatever you’re feeling is the right thing to be feeling. I beat myself up for getting frustrated or tired or sad. But my body is telling me what I need to be feeling. Thanks for the reminder that this is okay and even beneficial <3

  17. Im so sorry to hear how hard it has been for you last week. Caring for a sick child is really the worst parenting moments! Is it a Canadian health system issue? Having to wait for long for a referral? At least here in Asia we get to see the doctor rather quickly. It will drive crazy during that wait time.
    Parenting is great 90% of the time but when a kid is sick, it’s really the worst as we feel we are responsible for what’s happening to the kids. Hang in there, hopefully it gets better soon.

    1. Thanks, Coco.
      Wait times in Canada are quite long – one of the negatives of a publically funded healthcare system (but I’m still a huge advocate for equal access!). To be fair, we were also triaged low on the priority list because he had a series of tests that came back negative (as in: nothing was found). If there was an acute issue, we would have been seen much, much faster.

      I hadn’t thought about it in quite those terms, but you’re absolutely right: I DO feel responsible for Levi feeling sick. Did I miss something? Should I have picked up on some small symptom months ago that would have prevented all this? What am I missing? Even though doctors can’t figure it out, I as his mother should have this whole thing sorted by now.

      I think these things subconsciously, but they are there in my mind. So unhelpful, of course, as I should be putting all my energies into caring for him and recharging my own energy reserves!

  18. I wish I could wave a magic wand and make this all go away and give you button to turn off your guilt! While I know that saying it won’t change anything I’ll say it anyway: you’re a good mom, a really good mom.

  19. This is so relatable. Parenting is just unrelenting isn’t it? I wonder if my parents feel the same way too, even though their kids are all grown? I just feel like the kids and their needs are constantly on my mind. I am so sorry for the health issues you are having as well. I am a doctor but every time one of my kids has a headache I am catastrophizing it in my head to a brain tumor or meningitis. The fear of your child being seriously ill is a fear like no other.

    1. It has been interesting to hear my mom talk about mothering now; for example, she has said multiple times that she felt all she ever said to us as kids was “No.” I don’t remember that at all?! We had quite a bit of freedom and flexibility in our childhoods – especially mine since I was the “baby.” So I assume she felt guilt about it at the time, and I’m sure we complained when she did say “No” to a request, but not once have I thought of that as a defining characteristic of my childhood.

      High fevers and rashes always make me jump right to meningitis. I think, too, the longer we live (and for you given your profession) we see more and more examples of hard things happening. I know someone who lost a child to a brain tumour, for example. So it makes those possibilities seem all the more real and it is…terrifying.

  20. I haven’t read all of the comments, so not sure if you have mentioned results from the doctor’s appointment. My mind keeps going to appendicitis, though I know they have ruled that out already.

    My heart is with you, this is SUCH a difficult thing you are going through, and to have to go through it without your husband there is horrible. I am kind of glad that some of the crying happened with your kids, though. They can comfort you, and understand how difficult it is for you to go through this, and know that after the tears, all is OK again. Those are good lessons in dealing with their own challenges.

    Aside from all of the crummy drama right now, your points about user manuals and guilt are so very true. All we can do is our best, and understand that sometimes our best isn’t the right thing for whatever reason. We will get some things wrong, no matter how much we want to believe that we won’t. We have to give ourselves grace around that. And know that our kids forgive us our mistakes, just as we forgive them theirs.

    Above all, I hope you find an answer to this SOON, and that your husband is able to come home SOON. Hang in there!

    1. It’s a bit of a complicated diagnosis, so I didn’t go into details but, once again, we’re more and more reassured it isn’t a major chronic condition. We have an action plan from the specialist and I’m really, really hoping we see marked improvement soon. It has been a rough road (especially since it’s impacting sleep so drastically which throws everything/everybody off.

      My kids have seen plenty of tears. Both kids were understandably upset Daddy was away this particular week and one child mentioned how they feel like a crybaby that they cry each time he travels for work. I reassured them I feel the same way and it’s normal and natural and GOOD to express those feelings. John arrived home yesterday and it was like the whole family heaved a giant sigh of relief. Most weeks he’s away things go smoothly, but occassionally the weeks are just such a complete poopshow when he’s gone. This was one of those weeks!

      Sigh. You’re so right. The trouble is I DO want to get it right all the time, but that’s impossible, so I’m setting myself up to fail if I expect to always know the correct decision (not just for parenting but it all relationships, work, etc).

  21. Oh my, Elisabeth, I am so sorry that Levi’s GI issues persist. As you know, I’ve had my fair share myself and while it’s reassuring when the doctors can rule out major issues, it’s still frustrating if you cannot figure out what is causing the symptoms and how to address them. I do hope that you got some more answers from your gastroenterologist. So glad you called and got an appointment earlier than you thought.

    You know, I’ve been through some health-related rollercoaster stuff with Jon, so I know what that feels like and sometimes I am glad we didn’t have children. I would be a mess. I never liked rollercoasters and I cannot fathom being on one for the rest of my life – figuratively speaking. I have no first-hand experience, but I believe in a second that parenting is A LOT. From what I can tell, you’re doing a phenomenal job (even if it doesn’t always feel like it) and I do hope you can keep your guilty feelings in check because while I understand them, I also think they’re not warranted.

    P.S. The picture of Abby that you framed is lovely. Also hooray for being done and ordering the photobooks!

    1. Thanks, San <3

      And yes, having the annual photobook done is SUCH a relief. And now I get to anticipate having it arrive in the mail which is such a fun moment every year.

  22. Oh Elisabeth, this sounds so exhausting and I am hoping things will get better. That you figure out what is going on with Levi… The not knowing must be terrible. I do hope that you will soon not needing to handle your period on top of it or at least with less symptoms. Also so exhausting – speaking from experience here. And I do hope that you will find sleep again. All the best through these struggles.

    1. Thanks! Sleep is so, so much better and…barring any catastrophe…my ablation is scheduled for this week, so hopefully I’ll get some long-term relief from periods.

  23. Gosh, Elisabeth, this sounds so tough. And I hope you found comfort in all of these comments. I am sorry that Levi has been dealing with stomach issues STILL, but it appears that you may have found a diagnosis so I hope that provides relief for his symptoms so he can go back to living his life as normal (or in this new normal!) and you can get back to yours. It must be so hard to be a solo caretaker while John is away and even harder dealing with a sick kiddo on top of all of that. <3 Parenting isn't for the weak, that's for sure!

    1. Thanks, Stephany. It is hard, but it’s also worth it. I never want to come across like I hate motherhood, but sometimes it is just exhausting in ways I didn’t understand (and couldn’t have).

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