When do children understand an illness or injury?

I got to spend a few hours with my son this week.  He doesn’t drive and needed a lift to the doctor’s, so I played chauffeur.  He and I really don’t hang out much, he’s 23 and into computers.  There are times when he tries to explain some technical thingy about computers, and I can feel my eyes glaze over.  Not that I’m a Luddite, I do enjoy all that technology has given us as a society, it’s just that I am of that generation that simply wants the damn computer to work, and allow me to do what I need to do.  I don’t need to understand all the minutia of computer speak.  I don’t need to know the difference between an Intel or ASUS or MSi motherboard.  I don’t care who really makes the best ram chips, CPUs or what have you.  It doesn’t matter to me if its Windows-based or Linux.  All I want is a computer that works.

There was a time, when he was younger, that we could spend time together and talk about things I understood.  Fishing, camping, how cute the girl running down the street was.  Now it’s not so much.  We talk some politics, he’s pretty libertarian like me.  We talk about our respective physical problems, he has issues with his joints.  We joke about how idiotic the majority of people are, and laugh at how the guy in the BMW was doing 50 in a 35 only to get stopped by the police a few blocks down the road.  But for the most part when we are together we just spend the time in quiet.  Not the brooding type of quiet that teens often give their parents, but the type of quiet that men share with each other.

It is strange to think of my son as a “man” just as it is strange to think of my daughter as a “woman.”  I know in my head that they are grown, and can and do make their own decisions in life.  It’s just that they will always be my “babies” but I guess that is how most parents feel.

When we got back to his place we sat and talked for a few, and I filled him in on what was going on with me medically.  I try not to keep anything hidden from either of my children.  Originally I did not want to tell them anything, but when my daughter found out I was having more and more problems she ripped me a new one, so I tell them what I know when I know it.  While we were talking, I told him to keep working on his medical issues, and to work hard at getting the mobility and strength he needed to live a normal life.  I added that I didn’t want him to end up like me thirty years down the road.

What he said next I didn’t know whether to take as a compliment or insult, but he told me the I was one of the five people he never wanted to be like.  I think I’ll take it as a compliment.  I know he has seen me recover from some serious injuries, and has watched me make a mess out of relationships.  So I’ll take the compliment as being towards not wanting to have to go through physical pain and problems, and that he has learned from watching me about how difficult relationships can be.  I didn’t ask who the other four were on his list.  Truthfully I was afraid of the answer.

Like I’ve said before, being sick does change one’s views on a lot of things.  It especially changes how you interact with your own children.  Do you share the details of your illness and explain what is going on?  Or do you try to maintain an outward appearance of normality?  I think for each person and family it is different, and it especially depends on the age of the children involved.  Mine are older, in their twenties.  They are old enough to understand the difficulties that might lie ahead, and where things may ultimately lead.  But how do you explain to a pre-teen or even a teen?

When my daughter was about eight and my son five I was in a bad car crash, and sustained a serious head injury.  I spent nearly eight months in rehab, and suffered from massive mood swings, memory loss, balance problems among other things.  I tried to explain to them that I was injured, and that the anger, hostility and just plain nastiness was not their fault, but rather from the head injury.  Truthfully, I don’t think either of them understood, and I can remember the hurt looks on their faces when I would go off in some rage for no reason.

Fast forward five years, and again I was in rehab, this time for nearly a year due to having my back crushed by a prisoner at work.  This time my kids were 13 and ten.  Older, but still not completely able to understand why their dad couldn’t do what he was supposed to do.  Since the majority of my injuries had to do with herniated or ruptured disks and dislocated vertebrae I was able, through time, therapy and injections, finally able to regain 90 percent of my previous life.

Now, nearly 14 years later my central nervous system is giving me fits.  Between legs that don’t want to work, tremors and headaches my body is beating the crap out of me from the inside out.  This time though my children are older.  This time they do understand more than they ever have.  I suppose I am fortunate that I am having the problems I am having now, instead of 15-20 years ago.  At least now when I see a look of pain on my children’s face it is not due to some fit of rage or disappointment because I can’t do something.  When I see a look of pain on their faces now, I know that it is due to having to watch their father being in pain, and they understand.  That look also tells me that they do love me.

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About Joseph Ordower

I'm a middle aged, some would say curmudgeon, who is sick, tired and truly frustrated with the way things are going in a country (America) that he loves, honors and respects.
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