By Valarie Kinney
Just push yourself.
The words I heard so often, so long ago, have stayed with me.
My father was one of eight children raised on a farm, and I’m not sure there was a time in his life he wasn’t up early and up late - working, working, working.
My mother, raised in a tiny house in a tiny village, began working as a young teen and rose each morning of my childhood at 4:30 a.m. to head to a GM factory where she worked the line in cruise control. Mom had a bad back, and some mornings she would crawl down the stairs in the wee morning hours. I’d get up, too, and help her put on socks and shoes, and she’d half-crawl out to the garage and get in the car. Never in her life did she call in sick to work.
Just push yourself.
It’s the way I was raised.
So many mornings, there is a soft knock on my door, and a wavering voice: “Mom. Mommy? I’m sick. I can’t go to school.”
The first words out of my still half-asleep mouth are, “You’ve got to push yourself.”
We negotiate. “Stay home for an hour and sleep. Take your meds. You can go in late, but you can’t miss the whole day. Not again.”
When I was growing up, the rule for missing school was we either had to have a fever or be throwing up. No negotiation. Sore throats? Migraines? General malaise? No dice. These were things that could be pushed through, if only one tried hard enough. Buck up. Push yourself.
This is the playing field I’m familiar with. But since my children were diagnosed with common variable immune deficiency (CVID), I feel as if I’m on a completely different field; the game is different, the equipment is awkward and unfamiliar, and the rules are shouted at me in German.
As a mother of kids with chronic illness, it’s difficult to make these calls. Keep her home? What’s another day after she’s missed 50? Make him go. How will he ever hold a job? What time does the doctor’s office open? I should call in a refill on that Xopenex, just in case. Does she look feverish? What will the school say if we call in again?
These thoughts zing in my brain before 7 a.m.
My husband says I am too soft on them. I need to make them push themselves, he says.
I know it. I know it.
I’ve heard whispers that teachers have been gossiping about my kids, about how many school days they miss. They know there is a 504 in place, but they don’t really understand why. They look at my kids and see typical teens, laughing and learning and getting caught up in high school melodrama. If they looked closer, they might see the overly bright, glassy eyes of a fever. Or bruises from the last tourniquet, blown veins from the last infusion, or hardened lumps of tissue from the daily shots.
When we discuss it, the school staff nod and say they understand, then suck air noisily through their teeth and look away and I know they think my kids are probably just hanging out smoking over at the local fast food joint and I’m a clueless mom trying to cover for them.
But the truth is, I do want them to push. Past their limits. Past the sky. I want them to bust through the glass bubble of CVID and shatter it into crumbled bits.
I want them to be free, without a single thing to hold them down.
Push, push, push.