Monday, August 31, 2015

Laundry, Lady Bugs, and Lint

I am really good about making sure clean laundry is available to my family but I kind of suck at folding the clean clothes and putting them away. For the last few days, three baskets of clean laundry has lingered around our kitchen table as the kids fetched their favorite clothes and faded bathing suits out of them.

Last night before the kids went to bed, in an effort to ease them back into the reality that summer is ending and structure and responsibility are on the horizon, I decided that we would all fold the laundry together and finally put it away. Teddy and Annabel saw it as a way to stay up later so they agreed to help. It went swimmingly. For the first 90 seconds.

Then I found a lady bug.

It was odd, I admit. The lady bug looked perfectly fine, stuck to the inside of a new black t-shirt that I had just purchased on sale (apparently I missed the "dry flat" instruction so what was once a medium is now an extra small...oops).

Anyways, I remarked about the lady bug to Teddy and Annabel and, perhaps seeing a chance for an even further delay to bedtime, they appeared interested. I tried to pick the lady bug off the shirt to bring it outside but the little shiny bug fell to the floor. Clearly the thing was dead. D-e-a-d. Dead.

All of the sudden, Annabel lost it. She started to wail, "Is he ever going to be not dead? But once he's dead he won't ever be alive again!!! Fings that die don't ever be alive again." Her tears looked so enormous on her tan little face.

At first, I pretty much ignored her. I had a goal: finish the damn laundry before bed. So I told her something about heaven and figured she'd move on with me. She didn't.

She kept crying and I could almost see the thoughts in her head. Thoughts about permanence. About something or someone being gone. Forever. As I let her emotions seep into mine, I could feel my heart start to feel heavy. Sad and scared and heavy.

Annabel kept on asking me whether someone who dies will ever "get not dead again." I had no freaking idea what to say. Still folding and trying not to make a big deal about it, I tried to tell her something about a person's spirit remaining alive. But she didn't understand, probably because I didn't make much 4-year-old sense. I stopped folding.

I picked up my daughter and sat down with her on a big chair in our living room. I hugged her. I told her that sometimes I have thoughts like she was having and those thoughts are so hard. I agreed that it is really yucky to think about someone you love being gone. She settled down a bit.

Still stumped as to how to deal with the sobbing, I went back to fundamentals. My own adult fundamentals, I admit, but it was all I could think of. I told her, "Oh, my Boo," (that's our nickname for her) "Let's not think about years from now. Let's just think about this moment. And at this moment I'm here and you're here and Daddy is here and Teddy is here." She immediately retorted with something about one day us "getting dead" and how sad that would be. She's so darn persistent. And so darn right.

The heaviness in my heart grew heavier.

I held her tight and said I understood her but that sometimes when it's scary to look ahead, we just need to think about what we have at this very moment. I repeated to her that I understood and that I get sad when I think about those things too. I told her that she was brave to talk about it with us because that's hard to do. She cried a little more and may have even started to recognize this conversation as a tactic to further delay bedtime (I don't think it started out that way, but still...). So I shut that door, thank you very much, and carried her upstairs to brush her teeth. A few jokes about Daddy's belly button lint and she was giggling again. Thank goodness for Daddy's belly button lint.

In the end, I have no idea if I made things better or worse for my Boo last night. I just know that as I sang George Michael's "Faith" to her at bedtime, she was smiling. Thank goodness for George Michael too, I guess.

Now if only someone would put away that folded laundry at the top of my stairs. Nah. I'd rather just write about it.

(To be continued...Because Teddy's mind is always going, too...)

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For those looking for more information about speaking to children about cancer and death, check out these recent pieces that I really appreciated. 

Boston Globe Article by Kristi Palma, "Talking to young children about death" (I hesitate to include this one because upon re-reading it, I realize that I failed on several pieces of the advice!)

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Zone Three

Apparently lightening struck the Providence line commuter rail track this morning which means big delays. So I sit on a bench at the station waiting for a train to work and reflecting on the 11 years I have commuted into Boston...

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Before I went in to have both of my breasts removed, a weird sort of nesting thing came over me. I wanted to make sure that our house was in order while I was away, which made sense I suppose. But there were a few twigs in my nest with which I became obsessed and those small pieces didn't make much sense at all. One involved my family's coins. In our kitchen junk drawer, we had accumulated a sandwich-bag full of coins and I was set on cashing them in. Granted, this was at a time when doctor appointments and surgery-related preparations took up the bulk of most days, so I have no idea why this mattered to me so much, but it did. 

I had long since given up the exercise of rolling coins so the solution was a simple one. I just had to get to the Coin Star machine at my local supermarket. The machine would take 10% off the top but I didn't mind. I just wanted those coins gone. 

The problem was that every time I tried to get to the Coin Star machine during the week before my surgery, something got in my way. So my bag of coins sat in my car, waiting as impatiently to be cashed in as I waited for my breasts to be removed.

I will never forget a day or two before my surgery when we were out and I told my mom about my coins. I presented it jokingly but she knows me enough to know that deep down, I was serious. 

Of course, she drove me straight to the Coin Star machine and I felt an odd sense of relief as I walked away with a ticket worth about $50. It was probably 0.03% the cost of my surgery. 

I don't know if it's true for others who have gone through a traumatic time, but I have arrived at a few other fixations throughout my cancer experience, most as seemingly insignificant as the bag of coins. I feel the need to write about one more of those now, as I sit still waiting for a train to work. I want to write about my monthly commuter rail passes. 

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I have commuted into Boston since 2004. For the first four of those years, I made the trek for law school, driving in on the expressway three or sometimes four nights a week after work for my classes. The traffic was atrocious if I left any later than 4:45 PM but if I left before then I could make my first class that started at six (and maybe even down a grilled cheese from the cafeteria beforehand).

Once I got my first lawyer job, I switched to riding the commuter rail into the city. It always seemed to be an eventful journey, mostly since I had to get Teddy to day care by 7:45 and he has never been easy at getting ready to go anywhere. 

When everything goes smoothly, the commute to and from my office is one hour door-to-door each way. I hated that hour so much at first, as anxiety plagued me. But life experience (plus Effexor) has helped me a lot and I have come to not only accept the reality of a commute but even enjoy it some of the time (not including last winter!). 

After I arrived at my new firm four years ago, I started to get my Zone Three train passes every month. It was my ticket into the city. When a new month rolled around, the previous month's pass was rendered useless and while I like to throw away anything unpurposeful, for some reason I let these train passes pile up. I couldn't let them go.

Every month when I put the new pass into my bag, I had a flash of overwhelming gratefulness and anxiety. I would think things like, I'm still here. Another month cancer free. But will I get a pass next month? Or will something crazy happen, related to cancer or not, that will make this month's pass the last one? It was such a strange obsession and I still don't fully understand the root of it.

What I do know is that my July 2015 pass is the last monthly pass I will buy for a while, or maybe even forever. While I still have to work these first two weeks of August before I begin teaching after that, I decided to forgo the August pass and buy a 10-ride pass on my phone. In fact, since I began this post, I boarded the late train and just flashed the conductor the mTicket app. Activate ticket.

I had no idea where I was going with this post when I started. But as the train pulls into Hyde Park station, just a few stops away from South Station where I will depart, I have found a bit of clarity. 

The truth is that cancer or no cancer, none of us know what the next month will bring, or even the next moment. In fact, in the minute before I sat down on the bench at the train station this morning, I heard about a young mother who lost her husband unexpectedly just weeks after she underwent a double mastectomy for breast cancer. I can't even comprehend it. Or maybe, a tiny, tiny part of me can. And my heart breaks. 

The last three years have taught me so much, including that anything can happen to any of us no matter how good we are or how hard we work. Next month's train pass is never a given. For so long, that thought has terrified me. But in a crazy twist, that thought brings me an odd sense of hope this morning. Because tragedy hits all of us at one time or another. But in the last three years, I have seen countless stories of people who have continued on in the face of those tragedies. They have lived strong when doing so seemed absolutely impossible. 

The hope that churns in me now is supported by the fact that I sit wedged in the corner of a crowded train with hundreds of commuters who are likely late and frustrated, but who neverthless appear calm and patient. It is supported by the fact that I don't have an August train pass, but not because my cancer came back. I don't have an August train pass because I chose not to have one. I chose, instead, to have my own classroom again -- an honest-to-goodness dream-come-true. And believe it or not, that classroom, and that dream, is walking-distance from my house. 

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Last stop. South Station. Have a great day, everyone.