Parenting Through Cancer

Here’s  an exact, unedited copy of a text message I received at work from my husband the other morning about how my older kids spent their evening the night before: “Apparently Daniel, Jesse and his friend stayed up really late, playing dare. So Jesse has no longer any eye brows. Daniel took a shower with his clothes on and the other dude ate a banana peel and drank tabasco right from the bottle… Daniel is up and told me…”

I laughed so hard I almost couldn’t talk for a few minutes.

The thing is, at our place, we cut the wifi internet at midnight. The theory is that reasonable people should be going to bed at that time. What really happens is that they generally find other things to do to entertain themselves. This is fine, it’s good clean fun, right? They play board games and cards, talk, sit around the kitchen table eating snacks, and generally have a great time together instead of being in their own separate bedrooms staring at a screen, sending messages to friends saying “whatcha doing?” and getting the reply “not much, you?” from everyone.  So we feel it’s a good rule. Besides, now that school has started, fatigue creeps up on them a bit earlier and they actually do go to bed at a, uh, more or less reasonable time.

But here’s the thing: it’s actually way way WAY harder to parent this way. The kids don’t realize this. They think we are chuckling to ourselves in bed as we turn off the internet, enjoying the torture we put them through by cutting them off from the joys of youtube and facebook.

The truth is that it would be roughly one million times easier to just leave the internet on and let them sit like quiet zombies in their rooms.

They would make less noise while we sleep.

They would eat less food and leave fewer crumbs on the counters.

They would quit complaining that we are the only parents in the world who inflict such cruel and unusual punishment on their innocent kids.

They would still have eyebrows.

But no, we are mean parents, and so they are left with little choice but to drink tabasco.

Parenting is hard enough under normal circumstances (sidebar here, are there actually any “normal” parenting circumstances? It seems to me, in my parenting career, which spans almost 21 years (ack!) that the normal periods have been almost non-existent. But I digress.) So what happens when the circumstances change, when an unwelcome guest named cancer arrives in your home, when life is turned upside down and you struggle to get yourself through the day, let alone try to impart some parenting wisdom on your kids? When life becomes a matter of survival, all the rules go right out the window.

Back when Elliot was going through chemo treatment (love the fact that I can say “back when”… it’s really not so long ago!), we were happy when he ate, never mind any nutrition rules.  Jesse and Daniel never said a word about it, but I am sure they would come out into the living room for lunch and see Elliot sitting in front of the TV eating a popsicle and think “And we were forced to eat broccoli???”

Not only was it difficult to maintain many of my old parenting expectations with Elliot, but also with the older two. I was just so tired.  My kids are expert debaters. Seriously, they should be on some kind of debating team, maybe turn this skill into a future in conflict resolution. I’m pretty sure they would wear down even the worst of the tyrants and bullies out there, if given the chance to have a long conversation with them. The dictator would probably just give up, pack up all his silly guns up in frustration, yell “Fine! Fine!  Have democracy! Just stop talking!” and go home. And Elliot is learning this skill too, although he is still in the phase where he just repeats the same thing over and over five million times hoping we’ll crack. So this tactic combined with parenting fatigue can put me over the edge.

So what’s the solution? I think what worked for us was, we chose a few important rules to maintain while going through the cancer treatment, and let the rest go. Elliot could eat whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, wherever he wanted. But other than popsicles, we didn’t buy junk food.  So his choices were usually more or less healthy, even if they were often at strange times.

My favourite super hero

Finding time together was also an issue, mostly for the older boys. Jesse and Daniel spent way too much time without us, especially when we had overnights at the hospital. But we countered that by planning ahead for weeks when we would all be home, and scheduling movie marathons where we would watch a movie in a series every night after Elliot was in bed, just the four of us together. So we’ve recently had a Harry Potter marathon, a Comedy Night marathon (everyone from Michael Macintyre, Eddy Izzard, Dara O’Briain, to Louis CK and Patton Oswald) and now we’re in the middle of an Avengers series.  I’ve basically seen lots of action or crude humour movies this past year, and I can now tell you lots about superheroes (my favourite seems to be the Hulk, which probably says a lot about my choice in men). I am quite familiar with the funniest moments in each Die Hard movie, and have taken part in a debate about whether the next marathon should involve Lethal Weapon , Tron, or Batman. Strangely enough no one is jumping at my idea of historical dramas or romantic comedies. That’s what you get for living in an all-male household.

The point of the movie marathons was togetherness. A shared moment when you come together, even if it’s just to sit next to each other and laugh. And actually, that’s what good parenting comes down to, isn’t it?

By the way, Elliot’s hair has grown in now and he looks just like any other little boy with a crew cut. Jesse’s eyebrows, on the other hand…

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