A few pearls of wisdom from a mom watching her son move out and far away…
Take care of your body. Eat vegetables. Use sunscreen. Drive defensively. Drink moderately. In other words, please take good care of this person that I have protected for the past 20 years!
Take care of your brain. Eat vegetables. Read books. Keep learning. Drink moderately. In other words, please take good care of this person you have created for the past 20 years!
Don’t let anyone change who you are.
Life is long. You don’t have to get everything done right away, or accomplish everything quickly. What goes around comes around -eventually, the good guys win and the bad guys learn – it just takes time and patience.
Life is short. Don’t waste your time on people or things that drag you down, that hurt you, that stop you from being happy.
Don’t let anyone make up your mind. You don’t have to think like everyone else. The world’s greatest minds have often been independant thinkers with their own ideas, who didn’t allow themselves to be drawn in to a way of thinking just because it was popular. Be careful of small minded people.
The world is huge. Many people have not had the chance to see the world like you, to experience 4 cultures, live on 2 continents, to be immersed in 4 languages, and to travel extensively. It is possible you will encounter people who live in their small corner of the world and think they know everything. They don’t. You don’t.
The world is small. The theory states all people in the world are linked by 6 degrees of separation only. No matter how far you travel, you will never really be away from home, because you are always home.
Avoid intolerant people. It is always easier to judge an entire group than to try to understand. Very few arguments can be won against someone who has made up their mind to be racist, sexist, homophobic or generally prejudiced. You cannot convince someone with words. But you can win by keeping your own heart and mind open and not letting generalizations influence how you see others.
Choose love. This sounds silly but it’s the truth. If you can’t decide betwen two options, choose whatever is kinder, more tolerant, nicer, more fun, or will lead to more happiness.
I know you are probably ok because this is not the first time you do this. In fact, since you finished school a few months ago and make the decision not to go to university, you took a big step toward claiming your independence.
I support this, because I remember.
Yes, I know it’s hard to imagine, but I was once 20 years old. And believe it or not, it’s not that long ago. Photos were not in black and white, we were not using a well to get drinking water, and yes, women did have the right to vote. Life “back then” was not much different than it is now.
So I know what it’s like when you are finally “free”. Free of the daily ritual of waking up early, dragging yourself to school, studying, doing homework, doing chores to keep your parents’ home clean and eating the boring healthy meals your parents make, at the ungodly hours they choose to serve them.
I actually remember that I had less stress in those first months of freedom than I had felt during my adolescence.
So I know you are almost certainly not lying bleeding in a gutter downtown, or locked up in a jail cell after getting innocently caught up in a drug deal gone wrong, or asleep on the train halfway through Italy because you forgot to wake up before your stop.
But I want you to consider something.
Consider the lego game you built, piece by piece, when you were 8 years old. How many hours you spent creating it, fixing it, correcting it, getting it just right. Consider the project you completed in high school that took you months of preparation, research, writing and revising. Consider that time you saved your money for weeks and walked to the store to buy those mini cupcakes for the girl you liked.
Then consider someone takes these things and casually tosses them aside, unthinking, telling you it’s none of your business what happens.
I know you are not lego. But in a way, I have built you. Piece by piece. I held you for hours and paced back and forth and back and forth with you asleep on my chest in the baby carrier, in my small dorm room while I studied for my exams. One false move or sudden noise and you would wake up and the study plan was finished.
I changed my plans for you. I didn’t go out with the girls that night when the babysitter cancelled, I called in sick for work when you threw up on me in the morning before school, I put my book down when you asked me for help with your homework, I turned the tv off and brought you a glass of water in bed when you called out that you were thirsty and wanted to talk.
I could have lived on sandwiches and fast food, I was pretty young then too. But instead I went to the grocery store and bought vegetables that I knew you would hate and found recipes that you could tolerate and made balanced meals and convinced you to eat them, when I would much rather have just had kraft dinner and ice cream. I said no to cartoons when I was dying of fatigue after working the night shift and would have loved to lie down and ignore the world, and I took you outside to play on your new bike instead. We went shopping and we walked by the store with the women’s fashions that I craved, and walked into the hobby shop so I could buy you pokemon cards. I took you to London and instead of going to the Mamma Mia show I got tickets to the Lion King.
I thought about your brain a lot: I read books to you, and evaluated tv shows and movies before you watched them. I took you on trips so you would see the world and we ate a lot of pizza in Italy.
Basically, I feel I have put all my heart and soul into “building” you – even though I know I didn’t create the building blocks, I put them together, I protected them, I nurtured them, I allowed them to grow in a safe and happy environment. And all this at great sacrifice to myself.
And I know it was the right thing to do, so I don’t regret any of it.
But I do feel resentful. Because now some guy has shown up and stolen all this away from me. Everything I have known for the past 20 years has been swept away, out of my control. And the problem is, you are that guy. You are the guy who has taken my son away from me. So I resent you. And apparently you resent me for trying to hold on to you. So we’re both in a tug of war to control you, and of course I know that you have more rights over you than I have, but I still don’t trust you because you haven’t had the years of experience taking care of you that I have. In fact sometimes you even have not been very nice to you. Your track record is sketchy, admit it. Remember when you said you didn’t want to wear a raincoat or boots even though it was pouring out? Or gloves in the -20 degree winter? Remember when you secretly ate almost all your halloween candy and had a really sore stomach? Remember that time you didn’t do your homework? You really want to put your life in that guy’s hands?
So, basically, I am trying to make sense of it, and I want you to be independent, but I’m struggling with trying to figure out how to act. It feels like walking on glass sometimes, because I know at any moment I might accidentally slip into mom-mode and do or say the wrong thing. Like, I might ask how the job hunt is going. Or what you did last night. Or what you ate. I’m generally very interested in knowing what you ate. I sometimes surreptitiously glance at your waist and try to see if you have lost weight.
I know, on a deep, instinctive level, that you want me to let go completely and allow you to figure it all out. But here is what I am worried will happen if I do:
-you will get very hungry
-you will be outside in the freezing cold without warm clothes
-you will be hurt by dangerous people
-you will fall prey to a cult
-you will take drugs or drink too much to numb the fact that you are cold, hungry etc, or just because you think it will be fun
-you will go swimming in the lake and drown
-you will be kidnapped
-you will catch a cold which will turn into bronchitis then pneumonia and you will die
-you will have symptoms of a serious illness that you will ignore and you will die
-you will play video games for hours and forget to eat like that guy in China and then you will die
– you will spend the next year or two aimlessly working odd jobs or wandering around penniless and when you finally decide to go to university it will be too late because you will have a girlfriend or wife and maybe a couple kids by then so you will be stuck in a dead end job.
-you will not have a girlfriend or wife or couple of kids because you will just keep wandering around penniless
-you will turn 50 someday and resent the fact that your mom didn’t force you to eat properly and go to university when you were 20.
So, when you wake up this morning, or afternoon more likely, and you remember how much fun you had last night and consider your options for today, please take a moment to send me a brief message so I know you are at least alive. It tends to put a damper on my day when I have doubts about that.
Your mom who woke up at 4:30 and checked your empty room, the front door, her phone and stood looking out the window for 15 minutes.
Ok so here is my message in a bottle question, I am writing it down on this little scrap of laptop and tossing out into the ocean of internet.
What’s a mom to do?
My teenage son did not want to come on vacation with us. Should I have insisted? The photo above is from a vacation a few years ago, where he is clearly having a ball and we are strengthening our mother-son bond.
I know, right, why in the WORLD would he not want to be with us, his parents, who have loved and taken care of him for years? It makes no sense. We are so incredibly cool and fun to be with, it is practically incomprehensible to me that he would not want to hang around with us. His friends cannot possibly be as interesting as me. Why just the other day I offered to help him study for his next history test! And I admit I was going a little overboard with the repeatedly asking if he has any clue whatsoever about a career path, so I have toned that WAY down, like, less than once per day.
When kids are little, they just want to be with you all the time. You put them in their bed and hug them for over an hour (or so it seems) and then slowly try to disentangle yourself from them and they cling to your hand like their very existence depends on it. When you finally manage to pry yourself loose they call out after you for one more hug, one more kiss, one more song, one more thing I have to tell you, one more anything and one more everything.
And let’s be honest, it’s a bit annoying. We are just about to start the next chapter on our book-that-has-taken-us-four-months-to-finally-start-reading and we already feel the days’ exhaustion nibbling at the edge of our minds, so we want to get into the book before it’s too late. We just want to sit down. We don’t want to talk anymore. We want silence. We don’t want to smile anymore. We want to be left alone.
Well guess what. Before you are done that book, suddenly the child grows three feet taller and his voice changes and he does not want you anywhere NEAR his bed, much less even consider crossing the threshold of the bedroom door.
The Window Of Opportunity for parent-child bonding has snapped shut like steel bars on a jail gate.
I may be over dramatizing a little bit.
So what do you do? You keep hoping. You see all these other families where the kids spend time with their parents and share feelings and have long talks and wonder, why can’t we be like those people on TV?
So you plan family vacations and rent a nice beautiful house the south of France thinking it’s going to be so FUN! We’ll do ACTIVITIES! Like walking in the French countryside and eating in little cafés and exploring the town markets!
And then the rotten child doesn’t want to come.
I mean, it’s not like I was going to make him play road trip games during the drive.
Well, not if he really didn’t want to.
Apparently he would rather stay home in our boring apartment with a big screen tv and wifi, all alone with no parents around to remind him when to go to bed and what to eat and when to get up in the morning.
This morning I woke up early. My living is room is quiet and calm, everyone is still asleep. Elliot got up in the middle of the night and came into our bed, he’s still lying there in the middle, sound asleep, leaving Martin roughly 5 centimeters of bed to sleep on and 2 centimeters of blanket to use.
Jesse and Daniel came home late last night, and won’t be up for a while.
It’s on mornings like these, when the only sound is the wind blowing outside, that I grab a coffee and write.
Today is mother’s day. Later on, I’ll call my mom in Canada.
But for now I’m thinking about this symbolic day, and the three moms I know who lost their children last year to cancer.
Mother’s day… It must be such a difficult day for them.
Which makes me wonder, why do we celebrate this day, actually?
So, since I am after all, an information addict, I turn to the internet to do some research on the history of mother’s day. And what I find is really quite interesting.
The earliest recorded history of celebration of mothers dates back to ancient Greece. But it wasn’t until 1908 in the United States, that mother’s day was officially created and celebrated. Since then, the day has been commemorated internationally every year.
Do you know why the day was created? I didn’t.
So, here’s the story of Ann Marie Jarvis (1832-1905), a mom who had 11 children. Sadly, 7 of her children died from illnesses like measles, typhoid fever and diphtheria.
Losing her kids motivated Ann to take action. She decided to do something to try to reduce childhood mortality rates, to help other families.
So she created the Mother Day Work Clubs, who worked at improving sanitation and living conditions in several local towns. Their goal was to help improve access to health care, share experience and knowledge about proper sanitation and raise funds for medicine for families in need. They helped families with a sick child or an ill mother. They created a program for inspecting milk which was given to kids, long before the government implemented such a program. They were asked to help care for injured soldiers during the civil war, which they did for both sides of the conflict after declaring their neutrality.
After the war, public officials sought a way to alleviate post-war strife, and once more Ann was called upon to help. She planned a “Mothers Friendship Day”, and invited all soldiers from both sides of the conflict and their families, despite criticism and even threats. An immense crowd arrived on the designated day. Ann explained the purpose of Mothers Friendship Day and asked the band to lead them in singing Way Down South in Dixie, followed by The Star Spangled Banner. The tensions dissipated when the band then launched into Auld Lang Syne… According to records, by the time the song was over, it seemed that everyone began to weep and shake hands.
All of this happened because one woman decided to find some meaning in the loss of her children, to try to make a difference for others.
Three years after her death, Ann’s daughter Anna succeeded in convincing the American government to officially declare Mother’s day in honour of her mom. Since then, on that day, mothers are honoured for their hard work in taking care of children and trying to improve the quality of life for kids everywhere. It’s a day when we are meant to remember the children who have left us, and when we remind ourselves that if we work together, we can make a difference.
Lately, a few friends of mine have mentioned that they are feeling down. Life sometimes takes a strange, unexpected turn, and you are thrown off balance, wondering what you did to deserve this.
It doesn’t help that it’s grey and raining out, every day for the last week has been hidden from the sun. All of us are just walking around in the pale grey light like ghosts floating amidst shadows, everything around us is coated in milky cloudy colors.
Days like these blend into each other, if someone asks you later what you did last Tuesday you can’t remember the difference between Tuesday and Wednesday. Maybe there was none.
Do you ever look back at how you were as a teenager, and wish you could warn that person? Or at least, give her a hint? I do. I sometimes think about her and feel like…she has no idea yet! She still thinks she’s going to meet the love of her life next year, get married in a castle and have several perfect kids, have a meaningful career that makes a difference, have a close circle of friends that are funny and cool (probably called Phoebe, Monica and Rachel, or something like that) and live an exciting life of adventure and meaning, leaving a mark on the world when she finally passes away at an old age, her many admirers gathering to have a huge party celebrating her life.
Where and when did that plan start to derail? Was it a slow process, a gradual silent shifting of gears, or a sudden, quick flash of lightning in her face, blinding her with its bright white light, leaving her forced to feel her way with her hands outstretched, guessing at where she was going?
And most importantly, was it meant to be like this?
I found a photo of Elliot recently. It was taken while on holiday in Denmark, about 6 weeks before his diagnosis. He is standing on the beach, his feet under water, a huge smile on his face. We had taken off his wet clothing, so he’s just in his little underwear, no shame of course at age 4, his arms held high as he waves at the sun.
If I look really closely at the photo, I can see the bump on the lower right side of his abdomen. The bump that turned out to be a tumour. The tumour that was cancerous. The cancer that spread to his lungs, making it stage 4.
What if I had noticed it back then? Would six weeks have meant it would not have metastasized yet? Would it have made a difference? But no, there’s no turning back time, I can’t go back and spot the bump earlier.
But what if I hadn’t found it when I did? What if I hadn’t noticed even 6 weeks later?
These questions could haunt me. But strangely enough, I don’t bother with them much. I know it serves no purpose to analyze all the “ what ifs”.
But I do wonder about whether or not this path in our life was meant to be, or whether we have any control over our destinies.
I like to think I have some control. Oh who am I kidding, I’m a total control freak. I secretly semi-consciously believe I am the best at everything important. (Note to the critics: putting gas in the car is not on my “important” list).
So it’s hard to let go, and accept that not everything is within my control…
I suppose that makes me Monica. Hey, which one of my friends right now is SURE she’s Rachel??
So at times like these when some of my friends are feeling a bit down, I feel I should be able to “fix it”. Monica can do anything! She can clean the apartment and bake twelve lasagnas and analyze her friend’s love life and drink coffee and look fabulous all at the same time. And she’s only mildly annoying as she’s doing it all. So why can’t I fix all the world’s problems, or at least all my friends’?
Well, I guess maybe, just maybe, I have to admit… some problems are actually out of my control… For one thing, I can’t stop the rain. Hey that should be a song.
And what about all my other dreams? I did meet Prince Charming eventually; it just took me a few decades longer than expected. We got married at the city hall… a building potentially old enough to qualify as a castle in my books… My kids are truly perfect (ok maybe it would be nice if I didn’t cringe every time I had to enter their bathroom…) My life is certainly exciting and meaningful, although most cancermoms would agree with me that a little less excitement could be nice…Hmmmm. Am I actually the victim of my own wishes? Isn’t there an old Chinese proverb that says “be careful what you wish for, it might come true?”
Is my life a milder version of that old suspense story by W.W. Jacobs, The Monkey’s Paw, where a person’s wishes are granted, but with unexpected consequences? Is life just a series of random acts, or does everything you do and think affect something else?
What’s that thing about the butterfly making enough wind with its wings to cause a cyclone in another part of the world?
A friend’s daughter recently just finished her treatment for leukemia. For those not in the cancer world, or at least not the leukemia world, treatment for the most common leukemia (ALL) takes roughly two and half years for a girl (longer for boys). This is a huge part of your life, not to mention your child’s life! In fact, my friend’s daughter has spent more time in treatment than not. To say that this was a difficult time is not even close to being able to describe what leukemia parents and kids go through. I thought that the 10 months of Elliot’s treatment was interminable, imagine years. And because of the long treatment cycle, immunity is often low for long periods of time, so the kids are often restricted in what activities they can participate in. Many miss out on school, friends, parties, outdoor activities, events, in fact, anywhere there might be a risk of catching something… The family lives in a bubble, in an “alternate reality”.
And that’s when things go well.
Often, despite all these precautions, a leukemia kid will still catch some virus, bacteria or fungus. You know, there are fungi called aspergillosis, I looked this up because I was curious what the risk was to Elliot when he was in treatment… They just float around in the air, everywhere. You can’t escape it, only normal people living outside of the alternate reality of cancer, have immune systems that just deal with those little buggers and destroy them right away. But for leukemia kids, these little beings are just waiting for their chance… In fact, one of the leading causes of serious infection during treatment is called “opportunistic infection”, it means there are creatures out there in the world, little germs, just hovering in the air waiting for an opportunity…
But wait! She made it through the treatment. She made it through a variety of infections and reactions and long term hospitalizations, and the treatment and side effects and got to the last day of chemo. (Actually, she jump-started the last day of chemo by cleverly getting so sick from one of the heavier treatments a couple weeks before the end of chemo date, so that they finally decided to just not even give her that last pill. Clever girl.)
And the parents breathed a huge sigh of relief!! And the family and friends and everyone who had followed her story cheered! They signed her up for school, to start the day after the Easter holidays. Hurray!! Life would get back to “normal” after years, they would be allowed to leave the alternate reality!
Then the family went skiing…
Is it irony? Is it almost tragi-comedy? Is it enough to make you scream out loud?
She broke her leg skiing. Three days before starting school.
The type of thing that when you hear about it, you literally don’t know if you should laugh or cry. Maybe you should do both.
On the one hand, how incredibly incredibly frustrating to go through all that treatment and just before normal life starts you are back in the hospital world.
On the other hand, how normal… How incredibly nice and normal to be at the hospital with a kid who broke her leg skiing… That’s a “normal kid” problem!! People outside the cancer world can maybe not quite understand this but… She was skiing!!!!! The little girl who just a few months ago was battling a fungi attack in her lungs! The little girl who probably knows various chemo regimens by name, who can most likely tell you the exact dose of methotrexate it would take to make her puke!
When I got the news I felt just awful for my friend, who once again had to rush to the hospital with a hurt child. My friend who felt guilt, because moms always feel guilt even if it’s not our fault, because somehow we think we should be able to prevent any bad thing from happening, especially to a child who has endured more than her fair share of bad things.
But at the same time, I also felt a strange feeling of gratitude and pride. Because she was skiing. She was being normal.
And after all, isn’t that what we want most for our child? To be able to live life to the fullest, take risks, fall and get back up again (with a cast maybe), be happy?
Ok guys. (And girls. Oh who am I kidding, mostly girls.). It’s time to talk about something serious for once. Something tragic and heart-wrenching and life-altering and emotionally exhausting and physically overwhelming.
I am talking, of course, about the very sensitive subject of… parenting teenagers. (What?? What did you think I was going to talk about??)
I am almost done with parenting my second child through adolescence. No, no, that sentence should in no way be read to imply that I am almost done parenting. It’s just the adolescence part that ends soon. My second child is turning 18 in a few months. And as we all know, the magical thing that happens after adolescence is that your child has matured into a responsible adult and leaves home the day after he turns 18, shaking your hand on the way out the door and saying “Good job, mother, I’ll be on my way to my Fully Planned Out Well Balanced Life now. Thanks so much for all your hard work, I will of course reward you for all your sacrifices by keeping in touch on a regular basis, having meaningful conversations with you when we meet for coffee every week so that I can tell you everything that’s going on in my Wonderful Successful Life, and thanking you in my acceptance speech when I receive my Nobel Prize or Academy Award.”
But since we are still a few months off before all that happens, I would like to share a few thoughts on the parenting experience as it pertains to the ages of 12 to 18.
For those of you who still have kids younger than this age group, don’t worry, it’s really not that bad. For those of you who have kids past this age group, get up off the floor, it’s not polite to roll around laughing like that. Yeah, yeah, we know it really actually IS that bad, but there’s not much point telling them, is there? It’s not like they can change anything about it, it’s too late now. And besides, they are still in that phase where they think “It won’t happen to me. I have a connection with my kids. I have a plan. I have read parenting books, taken a class, thought it over, talked to the Dalai Lama and well, I just know it will be different for me!”
Come on now, up off that floor! It’s just rude. Let them have their dreams. There’s plenty of time for the “I told you so”s later.
There’s really only one foolproof way to make sure you don’t struggle through the teenage years as a parent… Don’t have kids. But if you are reading this, chances are you have already created a little bundle of joy, maybe even more than one, and he or she is running around right now being cute and cuddly and asking “but why?” a million times and you think the worst of your struggles are the middle of the night nightmares, the stomach flu and the constant interruptions until you get used to repeating the beginnings of sentences several times.
But no. Well, actually, yes. Middle of the night nightmares with teenagers: check. Only it’s you having the nightmare, and you’re wide awake, in the middle of the night, standing next to the window, eyes darting back and forth from your mobile phone to the road outside because your teen isn’t home yet. And isn’t answering his phone. And should have been home 20 minutes ago. Which isn’t so bad in the “real world” because people are often 20 minutes late for appointments without the rest of the world getting furious at them, but when it’s your child, it’s different. You are standing there with that wonderful mix of feelings that is a cross between loving them so much you are literally aching to see them walk around the corner and being so angry you will probably ground them until three weeks after they turn 30.
Stomach flu with a young child compares nicely with that moment when one of your kids’ friends brings him home drunk. ‘Nuff said. And you thank the friend for having the presence of mind and decency to get him home. And the next day you find out it was the friend who brought the booze.
Constant interruptions? Slightly different twist to that one. Conversation with teen:
I walk into his room and say “Is tomorrow the day of your math test?”
Teen, looking at his computer. “Hahahahahaha. “ Looks at me: “What?”
Me: “Have you studied for your math test?”
Teen, looks at me: “Math test?” Looks back at his computer, which has beeped 3 times. Says “Yeah right!” to it and types something very quickly. Looks back at me with a blank expression.
Me: “Don’t you have a math test tomorrow?”
Teen, having picked up his mobile phone and reading something. Holds up one finger and says: “Just one….” And texts quickly while looking serious. Then looks up and stares at me with a blank expression.
Me: “Seriously, are you ready for your math test?”
Teen, puts down his phone and replies to the beeping computer while mumbling.
Me: “I found 50 dollars, would you like it?”
Teen, stand up, faces me, fully focused, at attention, staring directly into my eyes: “Really? Are you serious?”
Me: “No, now what about math??”
Teen: “What math?”
So you see, it’s not really that bad.
On the plus side my son recently made a Spotify list on his account entitled “Songs Mom Might Like”. For those of you who don’t have teens yet, that is an enormous compliment. It means my son thinks I might have taste, or at least i could be influenced to have taste, and especially, he thinks I have enough computer savvy to use Spotify! It doesn’t get much better than that!!
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.
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…
One of the funny things that has come out of my writing so much recently is that my husband has started to see how I see the world. Last Monday we had such a crazy day that he said at least on five separate occasions: “Oh you have to write about THAT!”
And it was a crazy day. We had a few different appointments at the hospital planned, so we knew it was going to be busy. But we hadn’t counted on The King being in a bit of a mood. Elliot is just so completely fed up with hospital visits, and chemo in general. And I can’t blame him. He has been hospitalized twice for a week each time, had minor surgery (implanting the port-a-cath) and major surgery (kidney removal), two weeks of radiotherapy that scared him and made him quite sick, and 23 rounds of chemo so far. Martin and I are totally fed up too! But we have no choice. Three more chemo doses to go, we just need to get him through this.
King Elliot began the day declaring he was unhappy that I had woken up before him and not told him. I had been up since 6, in the hopes of getting some writing done before the Iron Ruler awoke. I managed to make coffee, chat with Daniel (middle child, age 16) who needed to urgently update me on the baseball standings before he left for school, put a load of laundry in, pick up the toys still scattered around the living room floor, pour myself some of the coffee, turn on my laptop, take one sip of the coffee, and that was the end of my “free time”. The King emerged from the bedroom, rubbing his eyes with one hand, holding his polar bear in the other, grumpily stumbling into the kitchen declaring that the sunshine was too bright.
We had to leave for the hospital at 10, and started getting ready at 930. By 10:20 we were in front of our apartment building, standing next to our car with all the car doors open. Elliot was standing halfway down the sidewalk (only just within earshot), staring at a spot on the ground, holding his umbrella. It was a nice sunny day, the umbrella was a result of the fact that no hat had been deemed comfy enough today, but the sunshine was still too bright. He refused to get into the car, on account of the fact that we had not walked to the car along the path he wanted. Then he refused to get into the car on account of the fact that it was the red car and not the black car. Then he refused to get into the car because he couldn’t walk all the way to the car anyway because his feet were too tired. When we approached him to pick him up, his tired feet ran away.
We did finally manage to get him in the car. When we got to the hospital, we did not park in the right spot. The walk from the parking lot to the entrance was too long and the wrong elevator doors opened first which basically ruined the potential fun of the elevator. There was no point in pushing the button himself since all the joy of elevator riding was gone, but when Martin pushed the button that made everything even worse.
Our first appointment went ok mainly because the radiology doctor hardly touched him and she let him sit on a chair that spins around. Martin and I spent the appointment trying to contain the spinning so that nothing in the room was damaged, especially our child or the doctor.
Lunch: Fries too hot. There was a yucky sauce on his burger. He didn’t want a burger anyway. The walk to the restaurant was boring and there was nothing nice to see. The walk back to the hospital was ruined because it was windy so he had to be carried.
Oncology department: We arrived a bit early so had to wait, an already challenging task with all of us starting to lose patience with everything in general, but especially with the imminent chemo treatment looming before us. Finally we get called in for the pre-chemo exam by the oncologist. Elliot pretends the doctor doesn’t exist, and won’t answer any questions. He plays with a toy with increasing loudness as we talk with the doctor. Then he agrees to get on the table, and giggles a bit at the doctor’s jokes, but criticizes his reflex hammer because it’s not the same colour as the last oncologist’s. The physical check up takes longer than usual but finally we’re done and sent to the chemo waiting area… which is when Martin remembers we forgot to put the Emla cream patch on, which anesthetizes the port-a-cath area so a needle can be inserted painlessly. So we put the patch on and have to wait another hour for it to have the desired effect.
Finally heading to the chemo room. Elliot won’t enter. I pick him up, kicking and screaming, and put him on the bed. It takes Martin and I five minutes of struggling to get one arm out of his shirt, and then he gets his hand free and pushes it back in and we start over. Martin and I are physically and emotionally exhausted, and start laughing, slightly hysterically.
Two nurses, Martin and I, are holding him down while they put in the needle and do the chemo, which takes about 10 minutes. Or five years, time is different in the hospital.
Finally done. The nurse says to Elliot: “Well, was that really so bad?” He replies: “No, but next time I’m REALLY not doing it.” She writes something down on his chart.
Next appointment is in roughly 2 weeks, if the bloodwork is good. She writes down the date and time on a little card which I stick in my pocket quickly and we all basically run out of there. We head home. He gets sick in the car. The red car’s seats are not easily washable, like the black car’s. He warned us it was the wrong car.
Once home suddenly everything is great. His polar bear is there waiting and he gets to watch a movie right away and has a popsicle before supper.
Daniel gets home from school and tells me about his day and how difficult his French teacher is being, and that he will need help studying for biology and chemistry so since I’m not doing anything, can I help? And do I have any IDEA how hard high school is?
I quickly do some laundry (mine and Elliot’s clothes, which seem to always need a good wash after a chemo day). Did any of you note my mistake? Yep. The little appointment cards were in my pocket. Here is the photo, post laundry. Anyone care to try to tell me what time we should show up for our next appointment?
Martin and I finally find each other at about 9:30pm, on the sofa, Elliot beautifully asleep, Daniel off to his room, Jesse out for the evening… We are alone, and it is quiet, and we stare at each other for a few minutes, and then both start laughing.
Martin says “What a crazy day!” and I say “Why, what was so different about the day?” and he practically throws his wine glass at me.