In my 20 years of being on this earth, my definition of “normal” has always been much different than my classmates. From the outside looking in, I grew up with a “normal” childhood. I had a great and loving family, awesome friends, and I was happy. I was your typical girl next door with her head in the clouds.
Normal, for me, was waking up at 6 AM to catch the bus for school. It was laughing with friends on the playground at recess. It was coming home and having all my homework done before dinner time. It was having to be inside before the streetlights came on at night. It was watching Full House every night before bed.
But normal for me was also constantly staying quiet because my mother slept 18 hours a day. It was learning how to make lunch for myself when my mom couldn’t get out of bed and my dad had to go to work. It was understanding that my mom couldn’t chaperone field trips like all the other parents, and accepting it. It was never questioning all the times I had a babysitter while my mom had prolonged stays in different hospitals around the country. It was missing the last half of my 5th grade year to stay in a hotel halfway across the country while my mom saw strange doctors who told her things that made no sense to me at the time. Normal for me was being half-sheltered from the fact that I could lose my mother any day. It was adapting to the concept that I had to grow up a little faster than most kids, but I didn’t really know why. I just knew that I was different than a lot of kids my age.
I never really questioned why, because it was just the norm. I didn’t realize how different my family was until my mom was afraid that I would be embarrassed if she showed up to my graduation in a wheelchair. That was the day I realized things for me were different. I was never embarrassed, because that was my normal. It broke my heart that my mom thought I grew up resenting her illnesses. I didn’t even comprehend the term resentment at the time; how in the world could I resent the woman who gave me life and raised me despite all the disadvantages that were thrown at her?
My mom has had several different types of cancers, Breast Cancer and Leukemia being the most common, multiple times. She was diagnosed with severe Multiple Sclerosis and is often wheelchair bound for months at a time during her relapses and exposed to severe pain and fatigue. She had her thyroid removed from previous thyroid disease. As a result of her inability to live the same kind of life she used to, she developed anxiety and clinical depression. Most recently, she was told she’s slowly becoming legally blind. Meanwhile, I grew up realizing none of this fully because my mother still did her best to be the “soccer mom” she always dreamed of being. She did such a good job loving us, that we didn’t even realize that she never could be that typical soccer mom. And we were okay with that. That was our “normal.”
Today, I’m living away from home. I have a house (and soon to be apartment) about an hour away from my parents (though I visit often), I’m a full-time college student, I have amazing friends and a supportive boyfriend, and I am the person I am today solely because I grew up with the mother that I did. Yes, it was (and still is) hard. Yes, my father had to work twice as hard to keep our family together, and he deserves every ounce of respect and love we can give him for doing so. Yes, it was tough and yes, my brother and I matured much faster than our peers. But it taught me to be strong. It taught me that things can ALWAYS be worse. It taught me the value of family, and to appreciate everything life handed me. It taught me that every action has a reaction and that everything happens for a reason.
My mom is sick. Unfortunately, she always will be. To what degree? Well, that changes every so often. She is my best friend. She is my mentor. She is the woman who managed to juggle progressive and fatal illnesses while being a super mom and providing for the family as much as she physically could. I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything. My mom is my hero, and stronger than anyone I’ve ever met. We don’t get to pick and choose most things in our lives. We can’t choose the odds of our health, we can’t choose our fate, and we obviously can’t choose whether we’re thrown into difficult situations. What we CAN choose to do, however, is to accept everything we’re given and learn to work with it. Learn to see the good in every situation, no matter how sh*tty it may seem at the time. We can learn to take an awful day, month, or year and better ourselves from it. I love my mom more than I love to breathe, and I know she wishes each and every day that her cards were dealt differently. But she made our lives extraordinarily special by being the woman she is, and for that, I can’t thank her enough.
Featured Image via Victoria Giansante.