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My son is already becoming my caretaker—and it’s both heartbreaking and inspiring

I once admitted to a physical therapist that when my pain was really bad, I didn’t do my stretches. I just couldn’t make myself get down on the floor and stretch, because when the pain was intense, I knew I would have a hard time getting back up off the floor.


“Just as long as you do something. Don’t give into it completely and stay in bed all day,” he said.

“I have a young son at home. It’s not even an option,” I told him.

I was lucky. The process of becoming a parent was easy for me. I got pregnant soon after we started trying. I felt healthy and strong, never hindered by morning sickness. I didn’t alter my activities at all, and in fact, continued to teach my fourth grade class until two days before my son was born. We got to the hospital at about 3:30 p.m., and at 9:48 p.m., our son, Ryan, made his entrance into this world.

My body was a wonder. A literal powerhouse that had successfully sheltered and grown a new life. My body had done everything it was supposed to do. But that was then.

Now, this same body is betraying me and attacking itself. When my son was 3 years old, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease.

Now I deal with daily pain and fatigue in my legs. There is no cure. There are only medications to try and manage the symptoms.

Like most autoimmune diseases, mine is unpredictable. Pain one day doesn’t necessarily translate into pain the next day. Likewise, a day that starts off well can change in a moment. I never really know when it will feel as if a vice is squeezing my left leg, or when it will feel as if an elephant has sat down on my legs or when it will feel as if I am being slowed down by invisible shackles that are wrapped around my legs. I just know that, at some point, it will happen.

But this also means that my greatest blessing, my 9-year-old son, is also my biggest complication. I don’t rest like I should in my attempt to be an actively engaged mother. Almost daily, we play together outside—handball, hide-and-seek and two-player versions of kickball and basketball. I sit on our living room floor to help my son with large puzzles. We go on “dates” to the Natural History Museum, the Aquarium of the Pacific the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

I do these things even though I hurt. Even though these activities intensify my pain. I do these things while I can, because no one really knows the course this disease will take over time.

The other day at the playground, I watched my son run over to the swings and climb on. I sat on a bench and watched as he pumped his legs back and forth, getting higher and higher. When he tired, I watched his legs stop pumping, I watched his swinging slow down, I watched him stretch his legs out and jump off. All without any help from me.

He moved onto the jungle gym, but I continued staring at the swings. I looked back and forth between the baby swing and the swing my son had just used. And it was those swings that really brought home for me the ways in which my support of Ryan has changed. Ryan used to swing on those same baby swings, gently being pushed back and forth. He got older, and loved to go higher, to be pushed “to the moon,” but still within the confines and relative security of that baby swing. When he got too big for those swings, we transitioned to the “big kid” swings, but even then he still needed me to lift him up and sit him down, to push him, to teach him how to pump his legs so he could soar higher.

Now, I support my son in different ways. I support his personality, his likes, his curiosities. I sit and watch YouTube videos of Blake Griffin’s top 10 dunks because my son likes basketball, especially the Los Angeles Clippers. My son and I read books about sharks because he’s interested in these creatures that lived during the time of dinosaurs.

I do these things not because I necessarily want to, but because he does. And I support him.

I know that my son’s increasing independence is a good thing; it’s age-appropriate. But, what does it mean that at the same time, I’m increasingly becoming dependent on him and his support of me?

The older Ryan gets, the more he understands that I have physical limitations. He knows that my legs are often hurting, that my legs aren’t as strong as they used to be and that there are certain things I cannot do—like take the 15-minute walk to the nearby basketball court.

Each week, my son and I go grocery shopping. He doesn’t fit in the top spot of the cart anymore. Now, he’s often pushing the cart for me. Putting the avocados in the plastic bag. Reaching for the can of soup that is on a bottom shelf. He might not know it, but he’s supporting me as I once supported him. He’s doing things for me, making things easier for me.

No matter how I feel, no matter what I can or cannot do, I will always be Ryan’s mother. That doesn’t change. The way I mother, the activities in which I participate, may change though.

And I have to give myself permission to know that it’s okay. Taking care of myself is sometimes in conflict with taking care of my son. Like most mothers, I put my child first. And so I push, do too much and play when I should rest.

Because I want to. Because I feel I should be able to. Because I feel my son deserves it.

And he does. But he also deserves a mother who doesn’t push herself to tears. A mother who knows that there are many ways to show her son her love. By letting my son see my vulnerability and weakness, I’m hoping that he’s learning life skills involving patience and understanding. I’m hoping that my son will grow up truly understanding that things are not always what they appear to be on the outside. Just because I may look OK on the outside, doesn’t mean I’m feeling OK on the inside.

It’s somewhat funny how watching my son play at the playground can really bring home certain lessons for me. For instance, I’m recognizing that a seesaw doesn’t need to operate in the same way that the scales of justice do. With a seesaw, both sides don’t need to be equal. In fact, when they are, the seesaw isn’t really as much fun. To truly experience a seesaw, one side does get higher than the other, but this allows both parties to participate. You need both people to make the seesaw work.

Earlier in my son’s life, our seesaw was tipped. I was supporting him. Our seesaw is now moving a lot more now; some days he may be supporting me more than others. But all days, we’re riding it together, making it work together, supporting each other so we don’t fall off.

In This Article

    These are only the vitamins I give my children and here's why

    It's hard to say who loves these more—my kids or me.

    When I became a mama five years ago, I didn't put too much thought into whether my son was getting the right vitamins and minerals. From breastfeeding to steaming and pureeing his first bites of solid food, I was confident I was giving him everything to support his growth and development.

    But then the toddler years—and the suddenly picky palate that accompanied them—came along. Between that challenge and two additional children in the mix… well, I knew my oldest son's eating plan was falling short in some vitamin and mineral categories.

    I also knew how quickly he was growing, so I wanted to make sure he was getting the nutrients he needed (even on those days when he said "no, thank you" to any veggie I offered).

    So when I discovered the new line of children's supplements from Nature's Way®, it felt like a serious weight off my chest. Thanks to supplements that support my children's musculoskeletal growth, their brain function, their immune systems, their eyes and more, I'm taken back to that simpler time when I was so confident my kids' vitamin needs were met.*

    It wasn't just the variety of supplements offered by Nature's Way that won me over: As a vegetarian mama, I'm the picky one in the family when it comes to scanning labels and making sure they meet our standards. The trick is that most gummy vitamins are made with gelatin, which is not vegetarian friendly.

    But just like the other offerings from Nature's Way that I've already come to know and love, the children's supplement line is held to a high standard. That means there's no high-fructose corn syrup, gelatin or common allergens to be found in the supplements. The best part? My two oldest kids ensure we never miss their daily vitamins—they are so in love with the gummy flavors, which include tropical fruit punch, lemonade and wild berry.


    Nature's Way Kids Mulitvitamin


    Meanwhile, my pharmacist husband has different criteria when evaluating supplements, especially when it comes to those for our kids. He appreciates the variety of options from Nature's Way, which gives us the ability to rotate the vitamins based on our kids' daily needs. By keeping various children's supplements from Nature's Way on hand, I can customize a regimen to suit my kids' individual requirements.

    Of course, high-quality products often come at a higher price point. But (to my immense gratitude!) that isn't the case with Nature's Way, which retails for a competitive value when compared to the other items on the shelf.

    Like all mamas, my chief concern is supporting my children's health in any way I can. While I see evidence of their growth every time I pack away clothes they've outgrown, I know there is much more growth that doesn't meet the eye. That's why, for my oldest son, I like stacking the Brain Builder gummy with the Growing Bones & Muscles gummy and the Happy & Healthy Multi. My 3-year-old also enjoys getting her own mix to include the Healthy Eyes gummy. And both of my older kids are quick to request the Tummy Soothe tablet when something isn't sitting right in their stomachs.* And I'll admit it: I've tried it myself and the berry blast flavor really is tasty!

    Although my current phase of motherhood may not be as "simple" as it once was, there is so much to appreciate about it—like watching my kids play and sing and create with their incredible imaginations. Along the way, I've eased up on some of my need for control, but it does help to have this range of supplements in my motherhood tool kit. So while I may not be able to convince my son to try kale, having the Nature's Way supplements on hand means I do know he's right on track.*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.


    This article was sponsored by Nature's Way. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

    Our Partners

    This post is brought to you by Staples. While this was a sponsored opportunity, all content and opinions expressed here are my own.

    One of the biggest changes in my household once my daughter started homeschooling was that, suddenly, everything and everyone in our home had to start pulling double duty. While I was used to wearing a lot of hats (mom, wife and WFH employee, to name a few), suddenly our dining room was also pulling shifts as a classroom. My laptop was also a virtual teacher. Our living room hutch was also a school supply closet.

    If I didn't want my home to be overrun with an abundance of clutter, I had to find products that could multitask. Here are 10 products that are saving this WFH + homeschooling mama right now.

    Stylish storage cabinet

    Whether I need a place to keep the printer or just want to keep crayons and colored pencils organized, this pretty cabinet provides a mixture of exposed and hidden storage without clashing with my living room decor.

    White board calendar + bulletin board

    With so much on our plates these days, I need a visual reminder of our daily schedule or I'll forget everything. This dry erase version makes it easy to keep track of Zoom meetings and virtual classes—and I also love using the corkboard to display my daughter's latest work from art class.

    Natural Recycled 3-Ring Binder

    From tracking our curriculum progress to organizing my family's paperwork, I can never have enough binders. Even better, this neutral version is pretty enough that I can display them on the bookshelf.

    Bamboo storage drawers

    The instant you start homeschooling, it can feel like you're suddenly drowning in papers, craft supplies and more. Fortunately, these simple bamboo drawers can be tucked into the cabinet or even displayed on top (seriously, they're that cute!) to keep what we need organized and close at hand.

    Laminated world map

    I love this dry-erase map for our geography lessons, but the real secret? It also makes a cute piece of wall decor for my work space.

    Rolling 7-drawer cabinet

    When you're doing it all from home, you sometimes have to roll with the punches—I strongly recommend getting an organizational system that rolls with you. On days when both my husband and I are working from home and I need to move my daughter's classes to another room, this 7-drawer cabinet makes it easy to bring the classroom with us.

    Letterboard

    From our first day of school photo to displaying favorite quotes to keep myself motivated, this 12"x18" letterboard is my favorite thing to display in our home.

    Expandable tablet stand

    Word to the wise: Get a pretty tablet stand you won't mind seeing out every day. (Because between virtual playdates, my daughter's screen time and my own personal use, this thing never gets put away.)

    Neutral pocket chart

    Between organizing my daughter's chore chart, displaying our weekly sight words and providing a fits-anywhere place to keep supplies on hand, this handy little pocket chart is a must-have for homeschooling families.

    Totable fabric bins

    My ultimate hack for getting my family to clean up after themselves? These fabric bins. I can use them to organize my desk, store my oldest's books and even keep a bin of toys on hand for the baby to play with while we do school. And when playtime is over, it's easy for everyone to simply put everything back in the bin and pop it in the cabinet.

    Looking for study solutions for older children? Hop over to Grown & Flown for their top picks for Back to School.

    Work + Money

    Cameron Diaz on having a baby at 47: 'You really have to work hard for it'

    "The only pressure for me now is I have to live to be, like, 107, you know? No pressure!"

    This is the decade that saw the face of first-time motherhood change. The number of first-time mamas under 30 is shrinking, while more and more women are becoming moms after 40.

    Cameron Diaz is one of them. The actress and businesswoman, now 48, became a mom in January at the age of 47. In a new episode of Naomi Campbell's YouTube series, No Filter, Diaz opens up about what it's like to become a mom in your fourth decade.

    "A lot of people do it the other way around ... they get married [and] have a family in their youth," says Diaz."I'm kind of doing it in the second half of my life."

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