We lost our sweet little buddy Victor this morning. His mom was holding him and he was looking into his dad’s eyes. We hold his family in our hearts and ask for your thoughts and prayers for them. No more words.
I could start this article with 1,000 platitudes. Life is short. You never know what tomorrow holds. Hug your kids. A disease is only rare until it hits your family. And so many more.
But I won’t. I will start this article with the truth. Victor is our buddy. We hung out with him at birthday parties. Met up with him at the park to ride bikes, play chase and slide down the slide. Played with him at our house. Cheered with him watching a football game at a friend’s house. Goofed in the sunshine in his backyard. We said hi to him as he raced, shivering, to the showers at swim lessons. We made snow forts at the park down the street. I spoke to him in French and English because he is completely bilingual, and he enjoyed responding to me in a jumble of the two.
Now, we go to fundraisers for the cancer that has robbed him of motion, speech and the ability to eat. I comment on a status update his mom posts on the Facebook page that chronicles his battle. I help arrange a run in a sled on a ski hill for him just to see some joy on his and his family members’ faces. I help his mom reposition his stiffened legs so that they cause him the least discomfort possible. I watch her put the stuffed animal that fell down back into his locked arms for the tenth time so that he can snuggle it. When I ask him a question, I try to understand his answers that are no longer words, no longer head nods but now only the rolling of his eyeballs up and down for yes.
That is the truth of our friend Victor. That is the truth of his disease. There are no platitudes for that.
Victor has a cancerous tumor inside his brain stem. It is called DIPG. Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma. These tumors invade throughout the brain stem, growing between normal nerve cells, making them inoperable. The oncologist explained to his mom, Julie, that if you imagine that Victor’s brain stem is a Ziploc bag filled with grains of rice, the tumor is like a teaspoon of salt poured in. It is impossible to pick each portion out.
DIPG primarily affects children between 5 and 10 years old. It is estimated that 200–300 patients are diagnosed each year in this country. Fewer than 10 percent of patients will live longer than 18 months from diagnosis. Survival is rarer still.
It is a horrible tragedy when a loved one has a life-threatening illness. Especially when that loved one is a child. This one though … it seems especially cruel.
His symptoms began with night terrors and progressed to stumbling and slurred speech. When his mother saw him drooling as he tried to speak on Father’s Day last year, she took him to the ER. He walked in a laughing, running kid and he came out in a wheelchair two weeks later. He was unable to walk and move one of his arms and was already losing his speech. The truth of his disease is that his condition has worsened each day since that time.
A year ago, Victor’s family had never heard of this form of cancer that has since torn its way through their lives. They had been a very typical Seattle family before his diagnosis. Victor and his mom, his dad, Josh, and his sister, Celestine, filled their weekends with hiking, camping and spending time at their cabin near Concrete. Victor loves anything with wheels and biking was a favorite activity. Sadly, the wheels he uses today are on a chair, not on a bike. The truth of his disease is that maneuvering him and getting him outside where he is happiest has become more and more difficult.
Our buddy Victor is a really smart kid and his mind buzzes with curiosity. Strangers and friends were met with hugs and an endless chain of questions. His brain still buzzes but his mouth can no longer form any words and he can no longer even point to things in front of him. His family now struggles to understand as they work through words, letter by letter, for him to communicate his emotions, tell them if he’s in pain or ask to hold his pet bunny, Floppy. The truth of his disease is even that small amount of communication has become extremely difficult.
Julie struggles to cope with others’ well-intentioned platitudes. Hearing that everything happens for a reason is now a cruel stab. Someone telling Josh that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle doesn’t help him during these heartbreaking days of caring for his beautiful little boy.
Thirteen children in the U.S. are diagnosed with a brain tumor each day. — Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation
Josh and Julie want to make sure that no family ever has to face their truth again. They want the amount of funding for brain cancer research to increase. They want better treatments because so little progress has been made to date. They want doctors to research causes and cures so that brain cancers can have better outcomes. They hope that understanding this type of cancer could lead to advancements in the treatment of other types of cancer as well.
They never want another child to have to suffer the way their son is suffering. They desperately hope that other kids might one day be helped because people learned about this awful disease through Victor.
Victor’s mom and dad don’t want platitudes; they want change. They want this diagnosis to have more hope in the future. They want people to open their hearts and give generously. As Julie told me, “When people say to me, ‘We’re praying for you,’ I want to say pray for money for research.”
With that in mind, they have created a tribute fund in honor of Victor through The Cure Starts Now. 100 percent of the money raised will go toward DIPG and brain cancer research. The Cure Starts Now believes that understanding this type of cancer has the key to unlock all other cancers. Here is the link:
Last week, when Victor’s nurse was visiting, he indicated ‘H E L’ on his letter pad. Heal. Please help other kids get to our buddy Victor’s goal.
You can find out more about Victor on his Victor’s Victory Facebook page
These past few months have not been my favorites. I’ll be honest; it has been a bit of a rough ride. Suddenly, the entrance of my youngest into kindergarten has hit me like a brick. The days that used to feel like gifts are beginning to feel lonely. It is a new phase, and the change is harder than I thought it would be.
My head has become my enemy. Not just because I have been down, but also because my migraines have returned with a vengeance. They visit me frequently and set up shop up in my head for longer and longer periods. I have been afraid of my own brain for the last couple of months.
There are days when I do not want to let the outside world in. The news has been my best buddy since I was a kid. Now, however, I find myself shying away from it. I try to avoid turning on the computer, the TV or the radio. The daily dose of news feels like an onslaught to me lately. News of planes disappearing and mudslides and global warming and why everyone who doesn’t share your opinion is awful are sometimes just too much. I hear others talk of their pain all day and it begins to seep into my bones as well. A sense of foreboding is not a good friend to spend the day with. Trust me there.
And so, it has been hard.
But I dropped off my older guy at school today. It is a sunny morning. He’s nearly 10 years old now. He has braces. He learned how to spell HELL on his calculator yesterday. He wears homemade football jerseys to school almost everyday and spends most of his free time playing ball in our front yard.
And this big kid with a new haircut and a smile full of silver stood and waited until I was all the way gone before walking onto the playground. He watched me drive away and blew me kisses the whole time. Waves and kisses blown without concern about how he looked or who might be watching.
The beauty of that moment almost took my breath away.
I felt, in that instant, that he was blowing me lifelines. Bridges that I need to span the vast canyons of hurt that can fill our lives. These are what my family gives me. They give me tiny perfect moments, and those moments build bridges for me. The hurt of illness and mudslides and relationships and pain can be crossed over.
I am so goddamned lucky to get them.
It’s a kiss blown or a kid calling me to snuggle when he’s scared or can’t sleep. It’s my husband reaching over when we’re watching a movie and grabbing my hand just like he did when we saw our first movie together so many years ago. Wordlessly rubbing my crinkly hand back and forth with his thumb and giving me a slight smile. It’s watching my younger guy’s joy at getting his first T-ball uniform and insisting he wear it all night. It’s a phone call from a loved one far away.
These tiny moments allow me to move forward. There are worlds of hurt all around but, for me, I use these slivers of light to ease my path. This is all I know.
I am not good at handling four million tasks at once and organizing fantastic parties and having a brilliant career and solving every crisis. But, this is the part of mothering that I’m good at.
I find the tiny things that ease my way. I hope that my boys will learn this from me.
I have the ability to see these moments. In my mind, I spread them before me. I imagine them like delicate pieces of lace, and I shake them open. I pull the edges and glide my hand over them, feeling the tiny bumps. As I do this, my heart calms and my insides fill with warmth. I can take that moment and I can live in it a little bit. It can sustain me.
My headache eases, the news fades, the hurt of friends or strangers eases for a moment, the pain that might live in me on that day sits down and obeys. It admits defeat for a while. We live in the joy. We live in the light.
We take in these moments together — all of the pieces of me. The pieces that are sad, the pieces that are scared, the pieces that hurt, that wish they could do more to fix problems. We all just stop and rest. And we enjoy those moments of love.
There are days when that is enough.
It is Saturday morning. I am sitting here with a mug of coffee. I woke up this morning the old fashioned way: on my own. No one yelled for me, cried, came and crawled in next to me or kicked me. No alarm clocked yanked me out of my reverie. I just opened my eyes when I felt like it. I am still in my pj’s and it’s nearly 10:00am. The only breakfast I made was for me. I haven’t had to dress anyone, do dishes or tell anyone 10 times to brush their teeth.
Just me sitting here lazily surfing the web, chatting on the phone without interruption and having the time to write.
How did I manage to achieve these heights of parental slacking? In the infamous words of British legends Queen, “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” Well, my friends, this is my real life in winter these days.
Each Saturday, my husband takes our 2 boys up to ski lessons and I am able to do whatever I want down here in the lowlands of Seattle. Usually, that means going to a movie. Last year, I managed to see nearly every single Oscar Best Picture nominee, a feat that I hadn’t accomplished since about 2003. I can take the dog for a run. I can write. I can slack. I can see friends. I can do whatever I want. It is an amazing new/old feeling, which I had nearly forgotten. It’s a concept called free time. It is, to paraphrase Seattle legend Macklemore, freaking awesome.
But it wasn’t always this way.
We moved here from the Midwest when our oldest son was not quite two. Very soon after we arrived, I realized that when my husband said he wanted to ski “a lot,” he meant every weekend. You see, I thought that wanting to ski “a lot” meant probably once a month or so. That’s a pretty big disconnect, no? Yup.
Also, he meant that he wanted to ski alone or with other adults. He wanted to enjoy it and challenge himself on the hardest hills. He did not want to spend his time on the bunny hill trying to coax our kid around with M&Ms.
As one might imagine, we quickly began to fight over this disconnect. He needed to ski to release tension and enjoy his life. As much as I understood that and wanted that for him, it meant that I was at home watching a kid. As a stay-at-home-mom, it was just an extra day at work. So, he would be off having fun while I was working 6 days a week with no break. First, it was our oldest and then the youngest arrived and I had a whole other round of it to endure. I spent years watching them while he was off on the slopes. It wasn’t pretty and I was resentful for many years.
But, he consistently promised me that it would pay off. “Someday,” he assured me, “…when they’re bigger, I’ll take them both out to ski and you’ll have the whole day to yourself.”
That was a tough sell when I had just spent an entire day entertaining and caring for a 2 year-old. I could hear his promises and I believed that he meant it, but I could barely see past tomorrow much less some magical day when they were both potty trained, speaking in complete sentences and old enough to speed down hills on two sticks!
When you are in the thick of diapers and the same tedious books over & over and playing trains for the 5,000th time and tantrums and getting the crumbs out of the high chair cracks and giving them an hour long bath because you have run out of ideas of how to fill the day, “someday” feels like a lifetime from now.
But, here I sit, several years later and he really is paying me back. I am getting these huge, gaping days to myself each week and I really can do whatever I want. I just had to hang in there and wait it out. I put in my time and now it’s my turn to enjoy myself.
It really wasn’t easy to get here. But time is a consistent mistress and “someday” is now. Our marriage is much calmer. He is happier and so am I. It was rocky but we made it.
That day that once seemed so magical and far away has arrived. Now, my friends, I am off to enjoy this someday!
I walked into the toy store with my chest puffed and a proud smile on my face. I was there to buy a mermaid for my son.
Yes, my 5-year-old son wanted a mermaid for Christmas.
I found a worker and crowed to her about what I needed the way that other moms brag about their kid being on an elite soccer league or starring in the school play.
“My son wants a mermaid for Christmas,” I boasted. “One that can go in the bathtub, because he already has a cloth one.” I wanted to make sure that she knew he was already the proud owner of one mermaid doll. This was merely an addition to his collection. “Can you please show me where they are?”
“Oh! That’s great,” she exclaimed.
I nodded conspiratorially. “I know, right?”
She led me to the Barbie section so I could choose the best one for my needs, and I began to tell the other moms browsing nearby.
“It’s for my 5-year-old son,” I said, beaming. “It’s the only thing he really wants this year!”
A little crowd formed with all moms nodding in consent. “That is great,” they agreed. I nodded right along with them. “I know, right?”
I was lapping it up. I was proud that my son was sensitive enough to want a mermaid. As a feminist, I felt a little victory that he still wanted to play with dolls and hadn’t been completely taken over by weaponry and superheroes. Plus, as a mom of two boys, I never even visit the pink aisles — much less make a purchase in one!
I loved it.
But then I made a mistake that showed the real truth.
On Christmas morning, the extended family sat down to open gifts. Nate, being the youngest, went first. Eleven smiling and eager faces all focused on him. I was supposed to choose a gift for him to open.
By this time, I had completely forgotten what was what. Every package was as much a mystery to me as it was to everyone else even though I was the one who had wrapped them all a mere three days ago. As many of you know, the few weeks around the holidays are kind of a blur. So, I just grabbed one nearby and handed it to him with a smile on my face and no idea what it contained.
After the first rip gave him a tiny peek at what was inside, he ran off with his gift and began to descend the steps into the basement.
“Some gifts are ones you’re supposed to open in private!” He yelled up to us as he disappeared.
I realized quickly what had happened. It was the mermaid. And he was too embarrassed to open it in front of everyone. Then his brother went to try and coax him back upstairs and we heard yelling and crying.
So, that went well. Merry Christmas, everyone!
I felt like a big, fat failure. It made me so sad to see him ashamed of this part of himself. How did I let this happen? How did I let my son have this gaping hole in his perception of what he should and shouldn’t want to play with? What had I done wrong?
Obviously, a lot of it is the bigger culture at play. We all know that the gender stereotypes start early. But, I know the situation in our house makes it more difficult as well.
We are up to our knees in boy toys around here. We have a few token dolls, but they mostly get carted around in trains or ignored. My mermaid-loving son is also the younger brother, and he is always trying to prove to the bigger kids that he is as tough, or tougher, than they are. From the get-go, he was more of a wrestler than his brother. His potty humor is a near constant attempt to get the big boys in his brother’s room to pay attention to him.
My little guy feels like he has a lot to prove.
I also think that, as a feminist, I would have tried harder to introduce “boy” (for lack of a better term) toys and values to a daughter if I had one. Somewhere along the way, I didn’t push the other side of that coin enough with my boys. I am the first one to remind my sons that girls can do anything they want. Now, I am trying harder to tell them that the same is true for boys.
I think any reminder is a good one, and it is never too late to switch things up and patch up some holes in our parenting framework. I will tell you that my chest is no longer puffed, and some of my feminist swagger has been zapped.
Instead, I will opt for a big breath in and a resolution to try harder to make sure that my sons feel proud of all of the pieces that make them who they are.
Maybe the next time I visit the pink aisle, I’ll bring him with me, and maybe we’ll see another boy there with his mom. They can fist bump each other and that mom and I will puff up our chests and nod conspiratorially at each other.
“It’s so great!” She’ll whisper.
“I know, right?” I’ll reply.
I sat at the dinner table the other night, looking at my wonderful husband and my two smiling, chatty boys, and I realized something very important: I didn’t care at all about what anyone at that table was talking about.
Truly. I could not care less.
But I smiled and nodded as I slowly shut down and mentally walked away.
You see, my older guy has always been a very focused kid. When he went through his Thomas the Tank Engine phase, he was all in. He awoke bright and early each day and spent the majority of his time following me around the house repeating the question, “Play trains mom? Play trains mom?”
Then he loved classical music. He immersed himself in it and insisted he was going to grow up to play the celesta. (No, I had never heard of it, either.) Then it was Legos. Then, Harry Potter. When he likes something, he really likes something.
I found parts to enjoy about each of these stages. We shared his passions, and I was a very willing participant. To be honest, I did get a bit sick of Thomas trains, but I always found some way to make it interesting for myself. I never had to fake it, because I was having fun right along with him.
But now, it’s different. Now, it’s football.
He could watch games by himself all weekend. He wants to look up stats on the Internet constantly. He gets books from the library and follows both NFL and college games.
Mostly, though, he wants to talk about it. He wants to talk to me about the players and what teams are playing each other next and who do I think will win and do I really think the Seahawks will make it to the Superbowl and can we go and how much do tickets cost and on and on and on.
Frankly, I don’t share any of this with him. In fact, I am a feminist and I have a long history of raging against football. When I was younger and worked for a feminist newspaper, I even avoided going to friends’ houses for their football parties because I didn’t want to help perpetuate the popularity of a sport that glorified macho, aggressive behavior and relegated women to stand on the sidelines in skimpy outfits to cheer the men on. (In case you’re wondering, it’s pretty pointless to give a speech about cheerleaders being tools of the patriarchy to your 9-year-old. I think I officially lost him at ‘cultural hegemony’.)
But, apart from that brief speech, I am trying. I throw the football with him in the front yard. I bought him a Seahawks sweatshirt. I invite friends over to watch a game with us. And, most of all, I try to listen and engage.
Meanwhile, my younger son is currently in the middle of a torrid love affair with anything and everything violent. Right now,guns, swords, ninjas, scythes and any other manner of weapon he can imagine rule his world. When a recent school assignment required him to draw a pretend store that he owned, he drew a “Weapons Store” full of guns.
My first thought was, He spelled the word weapon right!
My next thought was, Great. On the rare occasions that he agrees to do a craft at home, he inevitably draws, cuts or papier-machés soldiers engaged in heated battle. Every. Single. Time.
Again, this is a bit rough for me, but I am trying. I got him a kids’ library book about Lincoln and Gettysburg. I read ninja books with him. We sword fight. We play predator and prey with his animals. I really do try to listen and engage.
So, this brings me back to dinner the other night. We were sitting around the table. My husband and Emmett were excitedly and animatedly discussing the great Seahawks season. Nate (who is a talker) was chatting me up about a game he and his school friends invented that involves earning points for the goriest way of pretending to kill each other. Pretend punches earn you the fewest points; cannon fire, naturally, earns you the most points. (Pirates, take note.)
That was when I mentally shut down. In my head, I was out of there. I nodded and smiled and sprinkled in a “wow,” a “cannons, huh?” and an “uh hmm” here and there. But I was gone.
Suddenly, though, I thought back to my dad. I remembered the great surprise on his face when I showed him all of the different stuffed animals I had dressed up and carefully laid out on my bed. He would nod and smile as I showed him each outfit and explained the intricate back story for every animal. I remember him coming down to the basement to watch me practice my dance routine..s over and over. “Great,” he’d announce, as he was halfway up the stairs on his way back to what he was actually interested in. I can only imagine the number of times he sat in the front seat of the car nodding as I sat in the back going on and on about friend drama.
But back then, it felt real. I needed that attention, and I needed to talk about what was important to me. And he was there. He was there to listen, nod and smile, even if he couldn’t have cared less what I was talking about.
So I guess I am a part of a long tradition in parenting. I guess it’s called love.
And sometimes, that means pretending.
This is a story I wrote many years ago. It happened to me when the war in Iraq was in full force and so many of our service men and women were serving multiple tours there. At the time, I didn’t have a blog or a way to publish it. I just wrote it quietly for her because I felt so guilty. Now, on this Veteran’s Day, I post it here.
All I could do was smile. I was uncomfortable, caught off guard, and all I could do was flash a weak smile and then slowly turn my head. What a shame. I had an opportunity and I missed it. I’m sorry.
I was on a flight from Minnesota back to my home in Seattle after the holidays. I was alone with my two young boys. It was the first time that I had flown by myself with both boys, and I had been nervous about the trip all day. We were prepped to the hilt. I had various toys for my 8 month-old. My 4 year-old was geared with a brand new iPod loaded with videos and songs. I had toys, books, crafts, and snacks at the ready. We pre-boarded and took our seats, and I began to set us up for the next three hours with a precision usually reserved for state visits. Once I looked over and saw our neighbors, however, I felt both silly and humbled at the same time.
It was another mom by herself but she had three young boys – ages 8, 5 and 1. She was very sweet and calm, and we chatted as much as we could between feedings, entertaining, and calming. We shared toys, books, and knowing glances that only other moms understand. Her bravery and grace awed me. She told me that her husband was in the military and on his fourth deployment overseas. He was serving his second tour in Iraq.
Because she and the boys were going to be alone over the holidays, she had decided to go and visit her family for Christmas. That night, they were on their way from her parents’ home in Buffalo, New York to their current home in Fairbanks, Alaska. I caught up with them on their third flight of the day. They had one more left after we landed at 7:30pm in Seattle.
Her boys were doing a good job and so was she but, let’s be honest, it was a tough flight for all of them. Their books, toys, gadgets, crafts, and games were all a bore by now. The baby was overtired and fussing. She was doing her best to keep it together, but it was not easy. The woman in front of them was clearly frustrated and did little to hide it. She eventually turned to me and, in a voice loud enough for the military mom to hear, said, “I see that YOU’VE read up about what to do with your kids on an airplane.” Again, my response was a deer in headlights smile.
I should have stopped and told this woman what a brave mother she was sitting near. It is so common to forget about the sacrifices that military spouses make and this mother was a perfect example of it. There is no glory for her. She was not wearing a uniform, and no one was stopping her in the airport to thank her for her service. Instead, she endured an insult from the person in front of her.
I should have taken this chance to thank her for her service. I should have told the complaining woman that I had only one flight and a husband waiting for me at home. She had 4 flights and a husband who was away at war.
It was an opportunity that I missed. I will take it now. To my fellow mom and all of the other moms and dads out there in homes that are too quiet; you, too, are heroes, and I thank you for your service.
Ahhh…it’s fall. Leaves are crunchy. Rain is tapping on my roof and apple crisp is baking in my oven. As a human being with a pulse, I notice the onslaught of pumpkin themed products. As a mother, I notice the annual barrage of articles about how to give away your kid’s Halloween candy.
You can give it to a dentist who will weigh it, divide that by a third and give your kid an equal number of toothbrushes. You can send it to the troops. You can puree it with kale and make smoothies. You can ship it to a third world country if you want but I am here to push back.
Call me old fashioned, but I am going to let my kids eat it. Look, they worked hard for that haul! They freeze as they slog around in the dark and the rain. They constantly readjust their masks so they can talk and breathe. They have to juggle light sabers while balancing a candy bucket. This isn’t exactly child’s play! Well, I guess it actually is child’s play. But still…
I feel like our generation of parents is sucking the fun out of a lot of our kids’ lives. It’s not just a collective sugar terror. We throw birthday parties with no presents. We won’t let them walk more than a block unattended. Sadly, I recently learned there is a new danger to my kids’ lives and I was shocked!
Many of my friends attended a seminar about safety and came back with tons of helpful information about how we can shield our kids from potential dangers. But they also came back saying that this seminar advises against sleepovers.
What!?!?! First of all, I think that parents deserve the privilege of schluffing their kids off on other people for the night. Second, how else are my kids going to learn the fine art of smiling as they swallow some disgusting mouthful of food that they would normally avoid at all costs?
Sure, trouble happens at sleepovers. Kids learn about sex. New and exotic swear words are added to their vocabulary. Scary and/or inappropriate movies may be watched. I remember the illicit glory of waiting up to watch Saturday Night Live. I tried to understand the dirty jokes and innuendos that Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy were smiling about. How on earth can I deprive my kids of those same joys?
Keeping these things away from our children is very well intentioned, I know. We are all trying to raise safe, healthy and well-behaved kids. But where is the fun?
Nuts to that! I say let ‘em eat candy corn!
So don’t bother to forward me a link to your dentist office candy exchange this year. It will go in my delete box faster than you can say tooth decay.
My kids are going to eat every last piece. Well, every piece except the ones that I eat. Maybe they will be a candy hoarder like my brother. He would save his every year and wait until the post-Christmas/pre-Easter candy drought and pull it back out to taunt me since mine was long gone. Maybe they’ll go old school and blow through it like I did. Maybe they’ll bring some to their next sleepover. I’m not sure.
But I am sure that I will let them have this joy. I will allow these glories of childhood that I remember so fondly to continue for my kids.
Later on, when cavities have ravaged their teeth, they can tell their little ones about it. They will smile and display their brown, ragged stumps while their beautiful children (who were conceived, no doubt, using some method they learned about at a sleepover) smile.
But…that’s a worry for another post. Until then, eat away boys! Enjoy.
When you are young and you begin a life with someone, you have absolutely no idea what you are really doing. I remember people with wrinkles and gray hair talk about “love” and “commitment” and “lifetimes” at my wedding but to me it was mostly a low buzz compared to the joyous shouting my young friends and I were doing. The pastor was talking about our marriage involving 3 people –my husband, God and me. Obviously, I thought it was important because I remembered it but, again, I really had no idea what he meant. He was just a pit stop on my way to the big party afterward.
But children enter our lives and we begin to feel the immense power of nature and this life. We suddenly realize that…at the end of the day…we are pretty damn powerless. We move under the same forces that our parents and our grandparents moved under and they shape our lives whether we want them to or not. We feel the weight of history more. We know that there is a circle and we will move through glorious and horrible times just as they did.
We have babies, we have families, we work, we fight, we make up, we check temperatures, we learn nursery rhymes, we play ball, we teach them values, we tell them no, we instill curiosity. We love. Just like they did.
Now that I have wrinkles and more than a bit of gray hair myself, I am beginning to feel it. I am only now starting to truly understand what any of these things really mean. What it means to grow up, get married and have a family. Now, I can feel the years between a couple as they smile at each other in church. I watch a mother quietly stand to the side and nod as her adult son chats with people and I have a tiny burst of the pride and ache that might be behind that nod.
What a life really means is beginning to dawn on me now.
For me, getting older isn’t gaining some amazing new insights on life. It feels more like parts of my heart have opened in new ways and parts ache in ways that could only be hinted at in youth. For me, getting older is feeling tiny truths deep in your bones.
Tonight, I felt a tiny truth. I felt what love really looks like.
I saw it in a friend and her husband. They have 2 great kids: a kind, funny, whip smart 9 year-old daughter and an equally bright, sweet and silly 6 year-old son. In June, they learned that their son is battling brain cancer. Today, he endured yet another operation and I was there when they brought him home from the hospital.
I saw tonight what those people with wrinkles and gray hair might have been hinting at in their speeches at my wedding so many years ago. My friend and her husband stood together and carried their beautiful boy from the car to his bed after another surgery. He was in pain and whimpered as his dad cradled him.
This is what real love looks like: A man and a woman on a Wednesday night. Together. Hurting. Exhausted. Overwhelmed. Taking their son in their arms and carrying him home to his bed. That is the bravest kind of love I have ever seen.
Being a good parent sometimes requires a bit of trickery. I’m not just talking about Santa or the Tooth Fairy. I’m talking about strategizing. I have learned that scheming is a helpful skill to add to my bag of tricks. Sometimes, you need to outsmart these little whippersnappers by any means necessary. This past week, I used a ploy that was born out of a conversation with a friend this past winter.
I had been complaining talking about how my husband wants to go skiing every damn single weekend. My poor victim friend was nodding along and patiently waiting for me to finish my rant thought. She paused for a minute and then told me that as a teenager, some of the best conversations she ever had with her parents were in the back of the car to and from the ski hill. It was a long drive, she remembered, and you were trapped with nothing to do but talk.
I tucked that conversation away in the back of my mind.
Now onto the scheming part…
My older son has been having a bit of a rough time for the past few months but wouldn’t admit to me that anything was bothering him. My carefully crafted questions were met with a grunt & a shrug of the shoulders. “Everything is fine,” he repeated over and over.
Ok, you want to lock it up like a vault…fine. I’ll do the work around. I asked his friends’ mothers if they knew of anything. They assured me that they hadn’t heard anything and told me that everything was probably fine. No luck there.
But something was still bothering him and I knew it. Month after month went by with nothing from him about what had happened or why he was upset.
And then, we were in the car together the other day. I had just dropped my younger son off at camp and he would be there for the next 3 hours. Emmett and I were heading off to the vet for our dog and had no other specific plans.
That’s when it hit me…trapped. My friend’s comment about being trapped in the car with her parents came floating up through the mists and I knew that this was my chance. I had him! I finally knew how to unlock the vault
I brought it up again. He said everything was fine. There were no problems. This time, I really persisted. “Something is bothering you, buddy, and it has been for a while. Please just tell me what’s up.”
He looked out the window and even through the rear view mirror I could see he was upset.
I knew it!!
Still, it took a long time for him to spill.
First, I used my Bluetooth to call the vet so he could hear me cancel our appointment. Now he knew I meant business.
Then, I told him my plan. “Here’s the deal…I’ve got an empty bladder and a full tank of gas. You’re trapped and I’m not stopping this car until you tell me what is going on.”
It took nearly half an hour but he eventually began to tell me. All of the things that had been bothering him for months finally came out. I drove to the park and we found a quiet bench. We sat in the sun and talked for a long time and I hugged him and thanked him for telling me. We tried to come up with some ideas about how to help him figure things out.
I think he felt better. I hope so. I am certain that I did.
It was a tiny triumph! It was a real moment of success on this long road of parenting.
I share it with you in case you ever need it. Add it to your bag of parenting tricks. I hope that it works for you as well as it worked for me. Just remember that unlocking that vault can sometimes take a while so make sure you use the bathroom first!