On a frigid Saturday this past December, my husband, kids and I drove for hours on icy roads back to Connecticut after a holiday visit with family. We made it home safely but completely exhausted. Less than an hour later, one of my 8-year-olds sliced his finger with a pair of scissors. I could tell by the sound of his cry that this called for more than just a Star Wars band aid. I wearily put my shoes back on and packed a bag while my husband wrapped the finger in question. My weepy son and I maneuvered through slick backstreets to the children’s hospital while I pondered the irony of getting into a car accident on the way to the emergency room. When we finally arrived, the intake nurse said she recognized me, but didn’t know how. I knew how. I’d been there just a month earlier via ambulance with my 15-year-old daughter for a dislocated kneecap. Earlier in the year my daughter and I had also visited the ER with scary case of post-flu pneumonia. And that was just 2017.
If you’ve never heard of “Murphy’s Medical Law,” that’s because it doesn’t exist, except in my family. If it can bleed, burst, or break, it’ll happen to one of us. My daughter was born with a rare eye condition that ultimately ended in surgery. (Her vision is now perfect) More recently, she required two blood transfusions for a menstrual cycle gone wrong. One of our boys jumped off a bed when he was 2 and broke a bone in his foot. (He was soon dragging the casted leg down the driveway on his Big Wheel). And then there was the time that one twin playfully sat on the other, resulting in an abdominal contusion and an overnight in the hospital. When my middle son was 9, he complained of a belly ache for 2 days before ending up in surgery for a burst appendix. That time I spent 10 days sleeping on one of those amazing hospital room couches, beating myself up for assuming that it was just constipation.
There’s more. One of our twins required craniofacial surgery for a birth defect at 5 months, resulting in a week-long stay in Yale’s pediatric intensive care unit. (He’s absolutely perfect now). Then, when they were 2, the other one ended up in the ER with a concussion. And remember the middle son with the burst appendix? Five months later he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, right in the same ER that I know so well. He now wears an insulin pump. And let’s not forget my daughter’s first kneecap dislocation, which happened in the middle of a martial arts class. This same little darling once experienced a rare neurological reaction to the flu vaccine, resulting in, well, no more flu vaccines. And, of course, last winter, all four kids got the flu. I could go on about anaphylactic allergies, broken toes, and botched knee surgeries, but you get the idea.
If anything, my husband and I have grown to be quite an effective crisis management team. We’ve learned that he’s better at addressing the initial emergency, while I’m like a deer in headlights. I run to pack a bag, knowing exactly what we’ll need, and once we hit the emergency room, I’m on fire. I know the triage process, the payment process, my ER co-pay, and which patient rooms are designated for various traumas and illnesses. (I think we’ve been in every single one of them.) My husband stays home managing the rest of the kids, on call for much needed words of support and shift change if necessary.
But I’m not Super Mom, and after nearly 9 years of emergency management, my tolerance has finally weakened. I still direct my family through each event, ensuring everyone’s health and safety, but lately, after solving a crisis, I often lapse into one of my own. I feel sad, frustrated, and hopeless about the unending craziness. I’m convinced that this is not just a bad run; this is my life, and I feel victimized by the utter unpredictability of every single day.
So what do you do when you’ve determined that your life is one enormous, never ending crisis? Well, I could take the optimistic approach, tell myself that things are bound to improve, and keep moving forward with a positive attitude. After all, life is what we perceive it to be, and positive energy sent out into the world is supposed to come back, right? Or, I could be a staunch realist, assume that my life will be sabotaged at every turn, and learn to carry on, despite it all. Jaded and cynical, or simply the truth?
There aren’t any right answers to these questions; there’s only what’s right for me. And, as honesty has always been my leading personality trait, I think I’ll go with being a staunch realist. Call me a cynic, glass half empty, whatever you want, but I know I’m better off making plans for the worst and being happily surprised when I don’t need them. And, even though I choose to follow the more realistic path, I can try to focus more on what’s great about my family, because we are so much more than our crises. I’m certain that we laugh harder and longer than any other family, and there’s always a buzz of energy and activity in the house. At any given moment, there are guitars being played, songs being sung, kids giggling, and basketballs bouncing.
So I’ll keep working as hard as I can to provide the best childhoods possible for these kids, and do my best to handle whatever comes at us. Sure, I’ll have occasional melt downs, but I’ll now consider those to be teachable moments. They need to know that I’m not superhuman, right? And, after growing up with emergencies being constantly assessed, addressed, and solved, I hope my kids will be extra-prepared for those unavoidable bumps in the road, continuing to support and rely on each other during the tough times, as they do now.
As for me, I’ll just keep expecting and preparing for disaster. I’ll also work on better appreciating our short spurts of trouble-free time, hoping that they’ll become more frequent…even though I know they won’t.
Abby Helman Kelly owns and operates www.glutenfreeconnecticut.com and holds a master’s degree in counseling psychology from Loyola University Maryland. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org