Thursday, November 14, 2013

Along for the Ride

Last night, just after we tucked Teddy into bed, we heard whimpering from his room. Brian ran up first and I trailed.

“What’s wrong, buddy?” we asked.

“I’m so sad vat Disney Wo-wd is ov-o,” he bawled hysterically.

We’ve been there before, following other family vacations or sleepovers at Nana and Papa's house, and we had partly anticipated this meltdown. Still, it was totally heart-breaking.

I usually take the lead on these rounds of kid therapy because when I was younger, I felt the very same way. But last night, Brian graciously took the lead and I listened, half distracted by my efforts to finish unpacking our suitcases.

Brian explained to Teddy that there were so many fun things to look forward to at home and that if we stayed in Disney World, we would miss all of those things—hockey practices, hockey games, hockey team dinners, Thanksgiving, Christmas, playing with his friends. Despite the shameless references to his favorite winter sport, Teddy wasn’t totally buying it.

Thoughtlessly, I chimed in. “Should we plan another trip to Disney World, then?” I asked him while I hugged his teary little face and a pile of clean clothes.

“Yes,” he replied. Then he started crying more. “But I want ev-wee-one to come wiff us!” he wailed. I totally understood and said that we would work to make that happen one day. Then Brian picked back up on the more realistic solutions (back to hockey).

Eventually, Teddy calmed down and fell asleep.

The post-vacation blues are, no doubt, a real thing for me and, so I've heard, for others. Since my last treatment four weeks ago, I had been looking forward to this trip with my whole family. That trip helped me face my first would-have-been-a-treatment day, which, for a few scattered minutes on November 6th, was tough for me. That Wednesday night, I lied in bed wondering what was different in my cells since they hadn't received any Herceptin that day. Of course, I had no idea, and eventually, I gave up and escaped into thoughts about Disney World. 

The trip was everything I had dreamed of (and more) and the only bad thing about it was that it had to end (and that it involved a plane ride). It was the ultimate escape -- the very opposite of cancer treatment, if there is any such thing.

The backs of our t-shirts said, "Go to Disney [check]"

Teddy introducing Big Pluto to Little Pluto

Teddy Ballgame and Tude-alicious

Splash Mountain
Now that our trip is over, I'd have to agree with Teddy that it's sad to realize that it’s all in the past. I'm sure I could cry to my mom about that and I'd bet she would help me like Brian helped Teddy last night but I think I’m a few decades too old for that. So I’ll just have to help myself. How? By writing, of course. 

To be honest, most of the time at Disney, I didn’t reflect. I literally just enjoyed the ride. Sometimes, even for a whole hour or so at a time, cancer felt like a distant relative. We danced in the street below Cinderella's castle when the parade came around and we went up and down the hotel water slide maybe 80 times. I thought about the most basic things, like keeping track of my family in the crowds and what kind of ice cream I wanted for my next snack. And I enjoyed every moment of watching how cute the kids looked as they took it all in. Now, however, sitting on my sofa surrounded by several different Mickey Mice, I find myself reflecting on my favorite parts of the trip. If I had to pick, I'd choose this one.

Whenever the large group of us approached a ride, Teddy would plot who he wanted to sit next to. Brian and I were usually at the bottom of the list and one time that Teddy sat next to me he even said disappointedly, "Oh nooo! Can I sit next to someone on this ride?" Five years in, I guess I still haven't earned my spot as "someone," but I'll keep trying, one game or meal or before-bed story at a time.  

Seriously though, I've accepted that Teddy is a loyal guys’ guy, and that Papa, Granddad, or one of Teddy’s uncles will always come first for him. I know how much he loves me even if he shows it in the most subtle of ways, my most favorite being that when he goes to bed before I get home, he always cuddles up with the two pictures frames of me and him. When I fish those frames out from underneath the covers once he's fast asleep, I'm good to go for at least a few months without an ounce of new affection from him.  

My brother, Teddy and Annabel's Un-coe Sean, is very sweet about encouraging our kids to like us more when he's around. For the first day or so, Sean told Teddy as we approached the boarding dock for a ride, “You should sit with your parents, buddy.” He was almost embarrassed that Teddy always wanted to sit with him. 

For the first day, I repeated, “No, no, don’t worry. Sit wherever you want, Teddy," and Teddy chose to sit next to Sean. Of course Sean loved Teddy's company, but I could tell that he felt like he was stealing time away from us. 

The truth is that Sean wasn't stealing time away at all, nor were any of my relatives whenever the kids chose to sit with them. A day or two into the trip I explained this to them as we all boarded the boat ride in Epcot's Mexico. I told them how much it meant to me that our kids love them as much as they do. And I explained that when my siblings have kids and they choose me and Brian over their parents, I will happily accept all the love they give me. Because aunts and uncles are pretty darn great.  

I can't begin to explain what it means for me to watch how much my kids adore their aunts and uncles and grandparents; how much my heart melted when Teddy drew a picture before we left referencing Brian's parents that said, "I love my Papa and Nana and my house." He tucked it into his bag to remind himself of what he was leaving behind. 

I loved watching Annabel sit across the table from me on Auntie Lauren's lap at dinner, wearing Lauren's fancy jewelry and practicing her "A for Annabel" on the paper placemats. I loved how much Annabel laughed at The Lonely Island's "I'm on a Boat" remake that Rachel invented while we rode the ferry to dinner one night (Annabel obviously had no idea that Rachel was replacing profanity with the words, "Cookie Monster"). 

I love my dad and my brother for trying to encourage Teddy to sit with us but they have no idea how amazing it is to see that Teddy would ride the scariest of roller coasters if it meant that he was more like his granddad or his uncles. 

Finally, I don't know if there is anything that melts my heart more than watching Annabel tell my mom a story. My mom talks to her like a real person and Annabel loves it, so she just keeps talking, and talking, and talking. Kind of like I do to my mom. 

*  *  *

The cancer lens through which I now look at life is getting thinner but it is still very much there. I don't think I've ever escaped more from behind that lens than I did while we were at Disney World. Still, the lens persists. 

The funny thing about the cancer lens is that from behind it, tragedy and sheer joy can be completely intertwined. Because for me, as a young mother just out of cancer treatment, my kids' love of their extended family is more than just a cute photo opportunity. It's proof that my kids can enjoy the ride. Even if they're not sitting next to me. 

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