Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sometimes the Shadows Cast

"Fear does not burn out, but sometimes the shadows cast by the thing you're afraid of are larger and more frightening than the thing itself." -Elizabeth McCracken

I found that quote in a magazine at a Delta gate in Chicago Friday morning.
I instantly Tweeted it, thus preserving itself forever unto my Internet.
I can't stop thinking about those words. I want to tattoo them onto my hip.
I just might.

Saturday night you lamented all your besties and villagers were out of town camping or at cabins. You were devastatingly lonely with a lot of weekend stretched out before you. After awhile, you asked us if you could set up your purple pup tent and inflatable pool in the backyard. Hey, second best thing, I get it. I was proud of you for suggesting your own adventure. As the sunshine burned into the west, you said you were going to sleep in your tent overnight and we gave you clearance.

You brave girl. You lasted all night until the sun crept back in from the east and baked you out of your purple nylon haven. You went back for a second night, too.

You weren't scared, and I wasn't either for that matter.

Letting you sleep alone in our backyard is safe. It's half-fenced in. Our neighbors are close- we like and trust them. We live in a quiet little town, in close proximity to a quiet girls' college, outside a quiet bigger city, and we're not scared of anything, really.

Yet- there are things to be scared of. Our beloved little town has seen its share of sadness. It bears the unfortunate 'fame' of being home to one of the most infamous (and unsolved) kidnappings in history, spanning over two decades. One of our favorite parks is named after a city police officer who was killed in the line of duty when he was just 25 years old. And, just nine miles from our driveway in another of our favorite tiny towns there was a school shooting where two students were killed ten years ago. So, while we would never say "that type of thing would never happen here," we don't let the knowledge or acceptance of it scare us. We simply can't live that way.

So you went to sleep all alone in the backyard when I went to sleep incredibly proud of myself for not letting fear dictate my parenting decisions. It was a great fortification for me in general- it reminded me there will always be months like this one where life changes in an instant. Where life's best laid plans are scrapped. Where fear of the unknown is completely inevitable. We still have a decision when it happens and are in control of how deeply we allow fear's roots to take hold. And it's never easy. Not one time has it been easy to choose to not be scared. After all, fear does not burn out.

Yet ... this month also brought sunshine. And blooming tulips and blossoming crab apple trees. It brought new babies- several! who are here and healthy and already so loved. This month we celebrated your Grandmas' birthdays and lost teeth and exciting things for Daddy at work. We broke in the Weber grill and sun tea pitcher and new tubes of SPF, pairs of flipflops, and stripey bathing suits. We've lit fires and made wishes and took nothing for granted and looked forward to everything.

And because it bears repeating and repeating and repeating;

"Fear does not burn out, but sometimes the shadows cast by the thing you're afraid of are larger and more frightening than the thing itself." -Elizabeth McCracken

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Being There

I'll let you in on a dirty little secret: I'm no Supermom. Not even close. A lot of people in my life think I am. I got a few Mother's Day greetings this year that alluded to that fact. 

Yesterday was your spring concert. 12:55pm-1:20pm. Seriously. 25 minutes. No siblings, grandparents, or significant other important people were allowed to attend due to space constraints. The date has been circled on our calendar for weeks. I was thrilled to see it fell between two weeks of planned travel I had for work.

And then last week happened. And I kissed you goodbye a few times and left my returns open-ended. Which, while you rolled with it, beat my heart up pretty good. I've written about it before. I have always traveled and worked full-time (plus some!) while being a Mama. You're used to it. Daddy is our hero. And all last week, I kept thinking about your concert. May 13.

I'm no Supermom. But yesterday, when you marched up to those chorale risers in your perfect little maxi skirt and my borrowed dangly earrings and made eye contact with me and beamed, I felt like one. I was there. I kept my promise.

I never turned in my $20 fee to have my background checked to be able to volunteer at your school. There are just 17 days left of you being a kindergartner. 
I missed so much. 
After being so ingrained at your preschool and highly involved for two years straight, I guess I dropped the ball on your foray into elementary school. At times, I wonder if I did it intentionally. To give you that space, the room for you to have something all your own. Sure, I was there for ice cream socials, lunches, family nights. And I swear I never forgot to pick you up- never, not one time!

A note came home yesterday stating the need for parental support for a litany of things these last few weeks. You can bet your ass I still have my background check form from SEPTEMBER filled out so I'll be there. The Dad asked why I am even bothering at this point.

Because of that little face up there. It still doesn't take too much to make her day. A new cardboard box to decorate, a whole cantaloupe. Finding her parents' faces in a sea of them. 

Mama loves.
I'll be there.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Mother's Day

When I was born in 1980, you could smoke in the maternity ward.
You also were assigned a roommate.
My own Mama, knowing she didn't want her newborn baby girl exposed to the secondhand smoke her roommate was emitting, opted to keep me in the nursery. She herself would sit in the windowed lounge down the hall, where infants were not allowed.
That's right.
Not only was she, at age 18, all alone at St. Joseph's Hospital, she didn't even have her baby to spend immediate postpartum days with.

Because it was best for her child.
And because she is selfless.
She always has been.
That was her first decision in motherhood.
She hasn't ever let me down.

She just told me this story as I sat by her bedside all last week. It was the first time I had heard it.
And as she was discharged, she went back to campus to complete the last two months of her freshman year of college. I went home with her own Mama, my Grandma S. 
The House That Built Me.

God I love that story.
I love this story, our story.
My story.

She has taught me everything. By intention or design and even without her knowing she is.
She's a legendary cook. As we drove to their house on Good Friday this year, the Dad and I anticipated what our weekend menu consisted of. Randomly, I said, "how good would salmon be?" And by random, I mean, I eat salmon less than one time a year. It wasn't a staple in our house growing up.
Yes, that evening's meal was grilled salmon. She said she accidently walked by the fish counter that day and thought, how good would salmon be?

I mentioned a few days ago as I was online shopping that I was looking for a traditional pair of Birkenstock sandals- you know, the hippie-brown leather-Jesus style. I have never ever owned a pair even though I went to an extremely granola-y college. My own Mama looked me. I just ordered a pair last week and they were delivered Saturday, she said.

She's in everything I am. 

This Mother's Day, our first post-diagnosis doesn't change how I feel about her. It doesn't make me panic or stream through the what-ifs. It hasn't taken me to dark places. I for one know I have never taken my own Mama for granted. I have never wished I could take back the years where I hated her- or thought I did. I don't wish to apologize for who I was to her. I don't have to use today to make up for a year where she isn't high on my priority list. It didn't take a diagnosis for me to take stock in our relationship. Nothing has changed. 

In comparison, we're starkly different. I am an extrovert and thrive in social settings. I like attention! She abhors sunshine, makeup, hair color. She's practical where I am not. She was a stay at home mom until I was a 6th grader. I have a Village of girlfriends- some I've been friends with since I was that 6th grader, while she prefers my Dad's company nearly exclusively. I like the beach, she prefers the woods. I like reading and music, she likes sewing and flowers. I like fashion, tattoos, technology, and pop culture. She through all of my phases, insecurities, sizes, moods, statements, and announcements has been a resolute supporter and acceptor. I am emotional and nostalgic where she is cognitive and realistic. We fought over nothing. We fight over nothing. She doesn't judge me. She doesn't worry about hurting my feelings with honesty. 

She's taught me to be selfless. To put others especially my daughter, husband, and Village first. It's been easy for me to do that, because it's how I was raised. The greatest gift I can give her is to bloom where she planted me, to pay it forward in her homage. 

One of her favorite, oft-dry, overused cliches is Everything Happens for a Reason.
I guarantee she would accept she even has cancer for a reason.
She's already said she's going to be a beacon for recognizing symptoms and advocating self health. She's willing to be our revolutionary trailblazer to push people to talk about the ickier things in life. Ask uncomfortable questions of your elders. Be the martyr for her baby sister, daughter, nieces, and granddaughter.

Happy Mother's Day.
Mama loves. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Four Little Words

She was calling my cellphone. She never calls my cellphone.
I mean ... we talk all the time.
But we're not talkers. We're communicators.
We swap emails rapid fire.
Me, the techy, from any device. Her, sitting at the antique dining room table, MacBook open, coffee nearby. I send photos of her granddaughter, the dog, my travels. We swap recipes, gossip, Pinterest plans, Pinterest fails. We like words and typography and quotes and Channing Tatum and Ellen and we communicate a lot.

She was calling my cellphone.
After a week of silence from Base Camp Mama, my body got tingly.
Hello? I ventured?
How's my girl today?
Good, I further ventured. How are you?
Not great. I have cancer.

The blood rushed to my ears and I couldn't hear what she was saying.
Who? Who has cancer?
When I finally heard her, I stood up and took four steps before my legs gave out and I slid to the floor. Oh, it sounds dramatic. And it was. But there is a certain grace to handling news like that and having that be the honest to God reaction. In a way, that's what reactions should be. We shouldn't
have to condition ourselves for when it's our turn. We shouldn't alter the way in which we live to accept the inevitability of life. We should always be so fortunate to fall on the goddamn floor when we hear what we don't want to.

My Mom Has Cancer, I said to the Dad as he collapsed with me onto the floor.
I stopped wailing and dried my cheeks.
Okay, what next? I asked her, and we got right down to communicating the way we know how.
I swore a lot- I mean, I don't usually drop eff bombs in front of my own Mama, but there's plenty more where that came from. I already know that.
And she pretended not to hear me.

The first few times I said those four little words out loud, I could hardly enunciate. Each time since, it has gotten better. I won't say easier, because it will never be easier. I can now communicate without
the threat of hot tears or stomach-dropping fear taken over my nervous system.

My immediate concern was my daughter. At that very moment, she was in the shower singing Frozen at the top of her lungs, using nearly my entire bottle of $26 Philosophy Coconut Icing shower gel to
her heart's content. Blissfully unaware of what was happening down the hall. Timing is everything and we caught a break there. There, in that very instant, I was stuck in the middle- Mother, Child. Even Granddaughter as my thoughts stretched to my Grandma. Her baby has cancer.

We're taking it day by day because that's manageable.
Her surgery was successful and her pain is in control.
She's stage 2 and I hate that she has a stage, but that's how cancer rolls.

I am not sure what was worse- talking to my Grandma or Kid Rock.

My Grandma pleaded with The Lord- take her, she said. I am ready to die.
Hold the eff on here people. No one is going to die for eff's sake.
Kid Rock, my mighty kindergartener, just wanted to know what color her guts were they removed, (sic) and if she had staples or stitches. Ummmm, great questions baby girl.

I have read 37 magazines in the past three days. I read an article on TV host Robin Roberts and her new book called 'Everyone Has Something' and I think that's our theme here because it's true. It's a matter of how we respond and soldier.

And in our world that's with lots of hope, even more coffee, and a shocking amount of swear words.