I have been thinking a lot lately about the idea of trade-offs. It seems like there is this perception that somehow, some way, we can have it all…and, perhaps, not just that we can have it all–that we deserve it all.

Becoming a mom to Esmé made it very clear, very quickly, that I could not have all of what I had planned on having. I just would not have time to be that clever cloth diaper washing do-it herself mom to multiple kids, the student who completes papers well before their due date, the professor who lovingly marks up her student’s papers for hours with thoughtful insights into the English language, the wife who goes on date nights, the daughter who shows up for each and every family gathering, the friend who remembers to call, and the devoted yoga practitioner. At first I thought that I would let some of these slide for a bit to add “become medically-knowledgable, doctor-visit-chauffeur, physical -occupational-speech-and-feeding-therapy maman” to the list. I thought that I could and would return to being on track to doing it all.

But I am so not. I have am finally able to acknowledge that I just cannot.

And I am not unusual in this way. Most of us just cannot do and be all of the things we expect of ourselves (and that others expect of us) all the time.

We all make trade-offs…you start a family and pursue a more reliable steady job, you live in an expensive city and don’t own a car, you move to a less exciting area to avoid a commute, and so on. We just can’t (and probably shouldn’t) have everything we want…as my father would say, having things not go your way “builds character.”

I’ve been focusing on this for myself as I try to decide what is more important for me to focus on–trying to guard my most precious of commodities, my time–and strike a balance for a healthy life. I’ve been writing less here in order to work on the book. I’ve been finding time for the gym, but still can’t seem to get my hair cut. I’m saying no to people.

But I have the right to make these choices for myself…and in focusing on them, I cannot help but think about these trade-offs that Esmé has to make–or those that are made for her. With the holidays and her fourth birthday approaching I am preparing to say “no” for Esmé more and more.

We increasingly see the impact that large crowds have on Esmé. She becomes overstimulated, cranky–especially if there isn’t a way to let her be on the ground independently, if people want to get close to her, or if she feels left out of something–but worst of all she often has a few rough days following a big event–sometimes seeing sleep disturbance, seizures. While she thrives on intimate social interactions designed around her needs, large groups are just way too much for her.

So, this means we have to opt out of a lot of things…she misses opportunities to connect with friends and family because she cannot tolerate them. Esmé doesn’t have birthday parties. She doesn’t get to be shown-off as the beloved daughter and granddaughter she is at what should be fun events.

It isn’t that she can’t do these things. It is that the trade-off is just unfair for her, and we are tired of agreeing the morning after, amidst seizures, that we should have known it would be too much.

It means disappointing others who wish to see her. It means saying no to things I wish we could do with ease. It means that we are painfully reminded time and time again that our lives are not our own, not simple, not average…and that our daughter has to be protected in ways other people are not going to always understand.

It also means saving her discomfort and anxiety.

And I am especially concerned about this considering that Esmé has to take what is, for a child, an unfair end of a lot of trade-offs to begin with. We make these calls for her so much of the time–the uncomfortable procedure to keep her as healthy as possible, the invasive test to rule out a new health problem, monthly trips to Boston to see the very best doctors we could find for her various needs.

I know that I can’t have it all–the last four years have been an exercise in coming to terms with that…. I also recognize that I may need to consider the limitations of Esmé’s life not just limitations on my own–which I happily accept–but also reminders that when I can, how I can, I need to be living more fully–for her as well as for me.

And as I have stolen away these few precious moments for myself to write this–that is exactly what I intend to do.

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