An Open Letter to the Parents of My Son’s Classmates:
The trip slips have gone home along with the sign-up for parent volunteers. You may be wondering why I don’t join you on the walking field trip to the museum. You may be wondering why, after the first walking field trip in the beginning of the year, I haven’t joined you on any subsequent trips. After all, you see me each morning taking my son to school. You see me each afternoon picking him up. You correctly assume I’m a stay-at-home mom with a fairly flexible schedule. You may begin to judge me — thinking me lazy. You may begin to make assumptions about me — I’m not up to the task of chaperoning a large group of children. You may begin to resent me — what makes me think I’m so special that I don’t have to help out.
So, let me explain.
You’ve heard it many times that often things aren’t what they appear on the surface. That’s the case here.
Yes, I’m a stay-at-home mom. But, truthfully, not by choice. I was a public school teacher for twelve years, so yes, I’m more than capable of chaperoning large groups of children on field trips. In fact, most of my career was spent teaching upper-grade students which means those class sizes were larger than what we see with our second grade children. I even took my fourth graders on a walking field trip to a park when I was eight months pregnant. So believe me, I can handle field trips.
It’s the walking I can’t handle. I left teaching at my doctor’s direction because I suffer from an autoimmune disease. I am retired due to a disability. I know, I look fine on the outside. The pain is on the inside. The pain is in my legs, primarily my left one. Sometimes I feel as if I have shackles around me, making each step a challenge. Sometimes, I feel as if my left calf is being squeezed by some evil giant set of pliers. If I pulled up my pant leg, you may notice that my left calf looks somewhat swollen. When it feels tight and hard, it often does look swollen. And that’s why my legs are usually covered up.
An autoimmune disease means my body is attacking itself. It means I did nothing to bring this on. It’s not a result of any bad habits. And there’s no cure to make it go away. All I can do is try and treat it. Try to handle it the best I can each day. Because each day is different.
I was diagnosed almost six years ago, so this is all Ryan knows. This is “normal” for him. And our family does what it can to accommodate my limitations.
I don’t want you to say you’re sorry. I don’t want your pity. I know that things could be much worse. In fact, before my official diagnosis doctors weren’t sure if this mystery condition of mine was cancer or leukemia or multiple sclerosis. So believe me, I know things could be worse. I am grateful they are not. But it still doesn’t make this easy for me. It’s not easy to admit there are things I can’t do anymore.
I’d like to go with Ryan and his class on the field trip. I know how stressful field trips are. I know how dependent teachers are for extra sets of eyes to help insure the safety of all the participating students. But I have come to the point where I admit I just can’t.
At the beginning of the year, I went with our class on the walking field trip to the library. After the class was safely back at school, I went home in tears. I was in intense pain for the rest of the week. And that was when I finally admitted to myself that I couldn’t volunteer on walking field trips any more.
Please know I appreciate you taking the time to accompany our class on their field trips. Thank you for helping to keep my son, and all the children, safe.
And if I may — it’s not just me. I’ve learned that there are many who suffer “invisible disabilities.” Many of us have stories and reasons why we can or can’t do something. We’re often so quick to judge others; please don’t.
Wendy (Ryan K.’s mom)