Children are so unpredictable. As a mother, you work hard to make sure you learn them as well as you can; your own, anyway. Their moods, their tells, their triggers. You pride yourself on not only knowing them like the back of your hand, but being there for them whenever they need you. You don’t often prepare yourself for the moments when you will fail them; when you can’t be there for them like you want to, like you feel you should.
For me, these moments most often happen when I’ve had a significantly nasty migraine, such as the one that hit me out of nowhere last night. Well, it wasn’t completely out of nowhere; I’ve been having a string of them all week. The cycle is familiar; it starts out with a bad one on a particular day, followed by recurring less-severe ones in the evenings for several consecutive days until I can get the cycle to break. The triggers are varied; they can be hormonal, weather, sleep, stress – the list is long and complicated. I’ve been dealing with them since my daughter was born six years ago. While I very much abhor them, I have settled into somewhat of a respectful truce. I cannot conquer them, so I’ve learned to exist with them as best as I can, while improving my quality of life where possible.
I don’t hide them from my daughter; they are a part of my life, and they very much affect my life. As such they affect my family’s life and, by proxy, affect hers. As a result, she is aware when I have one; she is aware that I take medication for them. She is aware that sometimes, they knock me out completely, like today. This last cycle was rough, but I thought I was on the other side of it; when I went to bed last night, things were feeling fairly clear. Then I woke up at 2:30 am in blinding pain. They rarely present that way but, when they do, they’re merciless and almost impossible to control. The few times they have, I’ve wound up in the ER for pain meds; it’s not pretty. This time, fortunately, I was able to control it at home on my own, but it was difficult. It also meant that I would be completely out of commission for the rest of the day trying to recover; both from the pain, and from the meds.
As I mentioned, I’m very honest with my daughter about my migraines. Mainly because I feel honesty is important, but also because at six, she is keenly observant and can usually tell when something is up anyway; it’s no use trying to hide it from her. So today when she hugged me to say good morning as soon as she woke up (shortly after 6:00, at which point I’d barely relieved the pain and gotten almost no sleep), she looked at me funny and asked if my head hurt. I told her that I was going to need her help today and why, and gave her some suggestions about options for breakfast and activities for the morning while I slept in. She kindly kissed me on the head saying “don’t worry, Momma, I’ll make good choices and come check on you real soon.” It’s an odd mixture of guilt and sweetness to see your 6-year-old take care of you the way you do for her…
When I pulled myself out of bed a few hours later, I started to go through the motions of steeling myself for the rest of the day. It’s odd how your mind will shift into survival mode, especially from a mom-perspective. What food do we have in the house that’s relatively healthy that I don’t have to actually prepare? What can I keep her occupied with for a full day and still move as little as possible? Because regardless of what horrible shape I was in, the reality was that I had a daughter who required watching for the day, and she still needed me. But as I mentioned, children are unpredictable. And today was certainly one of those times. My 6-year-old usually rambunctious daughter was so fluid today, I was amazed. She entertained herself in the morning without complaint. She helped with ideas for lunch for both of us. When she clearly appeared bored this afternoon and needed to blow off a little steam, she willingly compromised with me by sacrificing a trip to the park in lieu of the swing set in the front yard (where I could sit in silence on the porch and watch her), even though it meant she would have to play alone. She ate leftovers for dinner without issue, and helped clean up the living room without complaining. She again compromised afterward by accepting Mom as her badminton partner (far lackluster in comparison to her friends) so that I could keep her near the house and not have to chase her down when it was bedtime. And then, when it was time for bed, she went willingly with a big hug, kiss and smile.
Given my lack of energy today and basic inability to cope, I could not possibly have asked for her to have been any more amazing than she was. Don’t get me wrong; my daughter, for the most part, is a pretty good girl (though she has her moments; she is six, after all). But I felt like today, she sensed that I really did need her help; that by trying extra hard and being extra good, she really was doing something special. It reminds me that we all have such an unlimited capacity for empathy and compassion; even at such a young age. And even though my head can throw me for a loop in its unpredictable capacity for pain, it’s still no match for my daughter’s unpredictable ability to love.