It seems in the past few weeks, there have been some absolutely terrible things happening around me. A local gal in town passed away of an illness, a former student I knew committed suicide, and another guy I knew from school just found out he has a brain tumor. If I'm not careful, I'll catch the blues amidst all of this grief. Ah, the woes of being an incredibly compassionate and empathetic person...
Through all of that news, another thought was lingering in my head: yesterday was my one year cancerversary. I was incredibly excited to knock a year off my calendar, and say that I was indeed alive for one more calendar year. I remembered back to the day I was diagnosed, and my immediate thought was about the future. I thought first about my children, and what would happen if something were to happen to my one day. Beyond the idea of my untimely death, I then thought about what might happen if I spent years of my life ill before I passed. I know it's natural to have those feelings when diagnosed with cancer, but it felt like mine were more intense because I knew I was the only reliable parent to raise these kids. I really couldn't afford a chance of screwing up in my planning.
After I ushered those thoughts of death and being bed-ridden out of my head, I started thinking about how I wouldn't take things for granted. I made a silent promise to myself that I was going to get out there and enjoy the world, and I was going to embrace all of the fantastic moments around me. If you remember back that far, I had just finished the 15 Before 30 project, so I was comforted in the fact that I had already finished a ton of bucket list activities before the surgery and diagnosis. I guess I did have some calm in knowing that I had already gone out and lived in the world. But I did know that I wanted to really savor all of the regular moments. Those moments that you really want to remember when you look back over your life.
Every mom can probably agree with me when she reads this: we often get caught up in following the rules, or maintaining a household, or maintaining our sanity, and we fail to really ENJOY the moments of life with our kids. If you are anything like me, you are thinking about 20 things that are happening next, and it's hard to shut off your brain and enjoy the now. So, knowing this was a challenge for me, I made that my silent goal. I wanted to really stop and enjoy the moments around me. I know this would make me stop and think, and really enjoy and be appreciative of the life around me.
Of course, life happens, I went through drug withdrawal and radiation treatment, I lost my job through a rather tacky and unfortunate separation, I tried my best to maintain normalcy while recovering, and I threw myself into a new job (that was way too stressful, and the work of three people!). Needless to say, I was throwing my goal to the side and charging ahead.
Sometimes I can use a gentle reminder, but sometimes the reminders aren't so gentle. Mine came in the form of a loud "CRACK!" while I was putting away my grocery cart at Kroger. I could feel the pain searing through my leg, but I was still able to walk. I hobbled back to the car, and thought "if I can walk, it can't be THAT bad!"
Well, I should have thought twice, since this is the fourth time I've broken a bone without really knowing it. This proves that I either have a problem with pain perception, or I'm too stubborn to go to the doctor. Either way, this became a rather painful reminder that maybe I needed to take time to slow down and focus on myself.
While lying in bed for a few months, I guess I finally had the chance to appreciate those little moments. Life was terribly boring for a person that runs 100 miles an hour every day. I found myself just waiting for my kids to get home, then grilling them for information about their day. Why couldn't they remember every little detail about what happened at school??? Why doesn't Alex remember all of the side items he chose for lunch?!?!?
This boredom really made me stop and appreciate the encounters I had with my children. When you have a broken leg, your primary duties are: 1) take meds, 2) get to bathroom and back, 3) eat. That's it; I wasn't cooking meals, or carrying loads of laundry upstairs. I wasn't cleaning bathrooms, or picking up toys and vacuuming rooms. Instead, I was coloring holiday pictures, playing card games, and reading stories with the kids.
And that's exactly what needed to happen.
You see, ever since the kids were born, I was the primary provider for them. I worked full-time as a teacher, and often had at least one part-time job on the side. Even after my student attack, I was taking care of medical problems, taking care of the household (what I could do), and taking care of kids. There simply wasn't time for those magical moments, and it made me sad. I knew I had it in me to be a great mom, but I had a really hard time balancing all of my duties.
Guess what happened in the past few months? Amazing things! I knew my kids loved me, and we tell each other "I love you" about ten times a day. It's common to get little hugs here and there through the day, and I still tuck them in with a kiss every night. But on top of that, I was finally able to ENJOY my kids. I was able to sit on the bed and give them my full attention. I was able to hear their giggles while telling jokes, listen to them singing songs, dress paper dolls for every imagined occasion, and talk about bullies and girls while playing Yahtzee with Alex. I felt like I finally had the chance to do all of those things I missed, and that was probably the greatest gift I received after the cancer ordeal. It took a painful way of happening, but a gift nonetheless.
And my great reward was realized on Friday. I got out of a hearing in the morning, and was feeling a bit down. I had been in child support enforcement court, and had to listen to the attorney talk to Chris about why he can't pay child support. I felt like I was listening to a broken record, with the same excuses and the same stories every time I get called back to court. I left that day shaking my head-- some people step up to the plate and do what it takes to take care of their responsibilities, and some people make excuses. Either way, I refused to let it ruin my day. I decided to head over to Alex's school and eat lunch with him. I replaced my blank expression with a big smile and walked in the door.
I waited for him, and thought about the last time I came to eat at his school. It was always hard while teaching, because I was at a different school. When there were school events, I never got the opportunity to slip away and see everything. I had to eat lunch with him when our school breaks were staggered, but Friday I had a free slot open up, and I couldn't think of a better lunch date.
When Alex saw me, you would have thought he saw a celebrity. He was beyond excited I was there to eat with him, and was excited to choose a friend to bring to lunch. We chatted about new movies, math tricks, and classroom happenings. When it was time to head up to take our trays, he walked ahead of me and yelled bye over his shoulder. I was conscious of the changes that happen with kids, and I was careful not to embarrass him.
Anyone that's followed Alex knows that he's an incredibly social kid, but he can be awkward in places. He doesn't like hugs, and sometimes gets confused about social cues. Over the past few months, with our extra time spent together, I could see him warming up. That day, in the lunch line, the most amazing thing happened:
He bolted out of the line of his peers, threw his arms around me waist, and gave me the biggest squeeze. He stayed there for about ten seconds, then told me he loved me and got back in line. I could feel myself tearing up. People around me might have thought I was crazy, but they didn't know what a big deal this was! I had been waiting for the moment of having a big hug from this boy; I knew I'd keep hugging him and wait for the rest of my life if I had to. Something in him was always guarded, and it was almost like he was uncomfortable being that vulnerable. Finally, it was time!
What seemed like a hug in a school cafeteria felt like so much more; over the past five months of being home with the kids, I was able to watch them grow. I finally felt like I was also able to stop, breathe, and enjoy those little moments with them.
So, for today, I took them on a few day adventures. We went to Chik Fil-A for lunch, then the Hands-On Science Center to play. We finished the afternoon by having blizzards at Dairy Queen and selecting a movie for family movie night. Yes, that seems like plain old stuff, but I was really enjoying the day of normal. I listened to their backseat conversations, and didn't mind when Carly needed to belt out the words to "Let it Go" at the top of her lungs. I giggled with them when we swapped blizzards, and munched popcorn while we guessed what would happen in The Pirate Fairy. And I noticed every moment, and marveled and what cool kids I had been blessed with for this journey.
I don't know many people that are thankful for a broken leg, and all of the pain and grief it has brought along with it, but I will say that I am thankful for the clarity it has brought me, and the lesson that it's ok to be less than perfect, and to stop and enjoy my life. It's sad that I had to have permission for such a thing.
On a side note, I do think an update might be helpful to those of you that follow the story: there have been continued problems with my leg, which we knew might happen. A lot was done during surgery, and there were a few different areas that needed to heal. The doctor knows it is frustrating, but also knows that each patient heals at a different rate. My muscle spasms that were occurring before the break aren't helping the recovery, so I'm sure that causes some extra trouble.
I try to keep active, and am still doing my physical therapy at home. I am trying to be patient, and know that things take time to get better. We finally addressed a med change, which helped me get more comfortable at night! Once I was able to sleep again, I felt a bit more sane! :-)
I know everything will work out, even when I have my downs. Pain doesn't last forever, though it seems my body has been trying to prove that theory wrong! The best medicine for any of my ailments has been to pause and listen to the wise words of my little ones.
Carly's latest thoughts:
"Mom, I am sorry I was almost late to school. I was picking these flowers, but I also saw that squirrel right over there. I had to decide if I wanted to keep these flowers, or make that squirrel my pet. I could catch him and name him Butch. Or I can pick more flowers, but I can only do one! Hey, could you pick these flowers, and I'll go get Butch?!?!"
She was sent to me because God knew I needed to loosen up...