Monday, August 5, 2013

A Part of Life

I either love driving in the car with my kids or I'm just kind of numb to the madness of the s*#t-storm of complaints and questions and spills coming from the back seat. Fortunately, the majority of the time, it's the former.

Saturday afternoon, on the ride to Teddy's friend's birthday party, my conversation with him (and now, with Annabel, too) turned to some silly talk about babies in bellies. Teddy is fascinated by the idea that he was once in my belly and every now and then he asks me serious questions about it. Annabel, the budding jokester in the family, likes to make us all laugh and so, with a little smirk on, she told me and Teddy things like, Mama was in my beh-wee! We laughed and I reached back to tickle her chubby little thighs. 

Then Teddy asked me when we were going to have another baby (the collective we, like as in all of us). Before I could even answer, he clarified that he knew that the baby would be adopted. I couldn't believe that he even remembered the word adopted. I told him that I didn't know and that it takes a long time to make a baby. Then I asked him if he wanted a little brother or sister even though I obviously knew the answer. 

The natural opportunities to talk about adoption with the kids don't come along often so even though I feel a bit uncomfortable talking about something that I don't know with certainty will happen, I still feel like I shouldn't let those chances pass. So we talked about how much fun it would be to have another baby in the house and how it doesn't matter if the baby doesn't come from my belly. 

As we sat in traffic at a stoplight, Teddy got quiet. A minute or two later, he told me that if we got a new baby, we would have three kids in our family like the family that lives a few doors down from us. Then he reminded me that the youngest child in that family wasn't adopted. I know, but all families are different, I explained. Then, referring to his friends' mother, he asked me, "When will Debbie get her bweast cancer?" 

There aren't too many times in my life that my heart has melted, but that was one of those times. 

I stammered through an explanation that not every woman gets breast cancer. We listed lots of women in his life who have never gotten it, and a few others who have. He asked me why I got it and without any time to prep an answer that might comfort him, I told him, I have the same exact question! And as soon as someone tells me the answer, I promise, I'll tell you! 

Glancing at those two curious little faces in my rearview mirror, I felt such love that my heart physically ached. Soon we arrived at the party, ate cake and ice cream, and went swimming. 

*  *  *

Moving from one phase of cancer recovery to the next is kind of like growing up -- it's not clear when we go from childhood to adulthood and sometimes, we're forced to act 40 when we're 16 or we find ourselves behaving like we're 10 when we're really 32. The path rarely feels all that linear, but every now and then, I realize that I've changed. Of course, there are times when I revert right back, but still, the overall movement seems to be forward. 

I didn't spend a lot of time this weekend reflecting on my one year mark; we were too busy enjoying a few awesome summer days. Still, I couldn't help but let my mind go there every now and then. It happened when I was doing the dishes during Brian's hockey cookout and when I was changing the laundry yesterday morning. It happened when I was putting Annabel's hair in a ponytail and when Teddy and I played catch in the backyard on Saturday. It's funny how much clarity I found in those random moments, especially while Teddy was standing on pitcher's mound (the circle of dead grass upon which the baby pool sat for a few days too long), instructing me as to which pitch signal he wanted me to throw (usually a "1" for the fast ball but sometimes a "2" for a knuckleball or a "3" for a ... I could go on).   

For some reason, I kept coming back to something Mark had said to me earlier this week. He had just returned from the funeral of one of his friends who had died suddenly. I asked him how his friend's long-time partner was doing. Mark explained to me that she was remarkable. She has really taken the perspective that she was so lucky for the time she did get with her loved one and she's not feeling cheated out of the time that she won't get with him. 

In my last post, I wrote about what Vivian said to me; that I will live. Most of the time, I believe her in the simplest of ways -- that my cancer will not return, just like her's didn't. But every now and then -- like when I was holding my sleeping baby girl or catching Teddy's fast ball, I believe her on a whole different level. 

Because in the last year, I have lived more than I have ever lived before. I haven't traveled the world or had a new baby or written a book. But my neighbor held my hand and made me believe in magic. I've watched my body go from strong to dangerously weak to stronger than it was before. I've met new people and reconnected with people I grew up with. I've grown closer to the ones I am the closest to and I've found a voice I never knew I had. I've learned that a family is so much more than blood relation, and that sometimes, adapting to the unexpected is a gift. Thanks to this space, I have seen and heard more in one year than in the 32 years that came before it. Vivian was right -- I have lived -- through paralyzing fear and through joy and relief so profound that I haven't even tried to write about it yet. 

I see now, one year later, that the first phase of my battle with cancer was about survival. About believing what Vivian and so many others had told me -- that I will have a life after cancer. 

But the next phase for me, one that I've only started to dip my toes into, is a bit more complicated. It's about trying to be more like Mark's friend's partner, a woman I've never even met. It's about appreciating that I've been given so much, and that if my time is "cut short" (as others may explain) I, personally, won't feel cheated. It's about me enjoying each August 8th without worrying (too much) about whether or not there will be another one.

I know that it's a lofty goal, but I've tasted it, and it feels good. It's tastes better, at least, than that holy s*&t it's August 8th again!?! feeling that also pops up when I least expect it. 

When will Debbie get her breast cancer? There is so much packed into that simple question. What I find most remarkable about it at this moment, is that deep down, Teddy already realizes that breast cancer is just a part of life. Like playing baseball or going to a birthday party. But maybe just a bit less fun.

Annabel, asleep on the lake during one of my favorite get togethers of the year. 

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