You make me young again.

Like the days after you were born and I was still a student.
And it was just you and me.  Those were some fine days.  Your angelic smiles and giggles existed in a bubble, all for me.  I had dreams for you that I would write on the margins of my heavy law books while I willed myself not to daydream through the classes that I believed would make me smart, get me a job, give us a life someday.  I was thrilled to get your cousin’s hand-me-downs or to find a free activity at the park district.  Life was bliss with you, all new.  

And we stayed in that world for a long time, the four of us.  Mommy, Daddy, little you, little brother.  It is a blissful life that seemed to endure forever, just a few years back.  And now the corners of the vibrant nest I created for you fade, ever so slightly, ever so surely, as they blend into the reality that exists just outside our door.

We used to play in the empty lot across the street.  At one time it was a junkyard, but that had been razed about a decade ago, and in its place, bright yellow dandelions poked through the crumbly, metallic soil.  Every spring, without fail,we would wake up one day to a field of happy yellow flowers underneath the elevated train tracks.  We pretended it was our giant yard in the country and you gathered wilting dandelion bouquets in your sweaty little fists.

I am sure that people look at us a little funny and wonder how I have been so happy.  All of us stuffed into this little house, a jumbled schedule of work and play.  Needs that must be met, a resourceful mom who always finds a way.  A dad who is working all the time.  Is this a life?  My brunching friends feel sorry for me.  Is this a life?  The career I earned with grades and work speeds by as those who earned it less surpass me.  Is this a life?  My husband forgets who I am as I become a mom in her thirties, and not the “younger girl” he married.  My life is here.  It is not tangible, though.  It exists in these blissful moments I couldn’t possibly describe.  Your hug at the end of a day.  The way you looked in that red, white, and blue outfit on the Fourth of July.  My husband’s face when we found out you were a boy. 

My grey hair is tangible.  A few pieces this year, poking through like weeds.  I could ignore the color, as it blends with the few gold highlights that used to make me feel like I was special.  But the texture is aggressive.  And the sounds of hammers, cranes, and excavators, pounding from dawn until dark, every day, even on the coldest days of winter – those sounds are tangible as they shake the earth and pound through our field to build the promise of luxury townhomes.  Eco-friendly.  Half-sold already!

The scar on my gut is tangible.  Sinewy piece of skin that is paler than the rest.  The other day you put a little band-aid on it, covered with cartoons.  “When your tummy is better, I can nurse again.  Yay!”  You said this jokingly, because at nearly four years old you know full well that nursing has long since passed.  But somewhere in that electric toddler brain of yours, there is a vestigial memory of a clingy baby boy whose mom was taken from him for months while the cancer was cut out and repaired. 

It is all too much sometimes.  And when it is, I close my eyes and remember when I had a baby in the middle of law school and thought that would be the wildest, hardest thing I’d ever have to do.  My smiles at the end of that year were hopeful, happy, and real.  They looked forward to today.    

So I picture us, under the elevated train, picking dandelions in the hot sun and thinking about the future.  Happy with what we had.  Stupidly happy.  The future is here and it keeps on coming.  There is a smile on my face because one day I will look back at this and think that the year I had cancer was the wildest, hardest thing I’d ever have to do.  Be grateful, babies.  We have it really, really wonderful.   



Do not give up on yourself.  When the cynic in you says those phrases are just for dummies; that you are too smart, you have learned too much, seen too much, done too much, cried too much, lost too much, to possibly believe in something so trite and easily slapped on the side a mug in the gift aisle of a big box retailer... believe it anyway.  For all those reasons you will defy logic, soar to new heights.  Laugh in spite of it all.  Laugh and smile because life is still funny, so improbable, so magical still.



The following post is a little hard to write without some long background, but I will give it a shot.  The short background is: families are complicated.

When I was diagnosed with cancer last year, the first people I told after my husband, were my mom and dad.  My dad respectfully asked if he could share the news with his family, knowing that in general I have wanted nothing to do with his family for years.  In my panicked state, I answered in the affirmative.  See, weird things happen when you are faced with dying.  Suddenly, the fact that your aunt told you your blouse was too low-cut ten years ago, just doesn't seem like big potatoes.

"I don't know.  They probably hate me."  I knew this was not true, but wanted to test the waters, just to be sure.

"They don't hate you.  They love you and will support you through this hard time."  Ugh, there it was.  The churchspeak.  I am naturally pretty cynical and tend to reject love and care at the outset.  Especially if it is offered "no strings attached."  What is that all about.  Everyone has strings.  Everyone.

So my dad told them, and within minutes, emails and texts were flooding in.  I did not really know how to respond, and so, like a doofus, I didn't.  How could I say at that time, "Your kindness is short-circuiting my cynical wiring.  Stop loving me, it makes my eyes do funny watery things."

It made me incredibly nervous to accept any of this support, so I kept my distance.  However, when I was being wheeled into the operating room, the thought of all that family somewhere in the ether, loving me, was comforting.  I could never have gone under without knowing that, in some small way, I had made amends.

As the story goes, the surgery happened, I lived, and have continued thriving now almost a year out the gate.  The panic cloud of "going to die!" recedes slightly and there are times I feel foolish having asked for help of any kind, especially the emotional kind.  I tell my husband all the time, "Can we just forget it happened?  Can we pretend 2014 did not happen?"  It makes me so much more comfortable to be in control, to not have anything wrong with me.

And then, my uncle was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  My dad sent me the news, adding subtly that there would be a family gathering around the holidays and I am of course invited.

I wish I could say that I was possessed by a divine and miraculous change of heart that made me go to the reunion, but that's not quite how it happened.  It was Elf.  The movie.  I was watching that damn Will Ferrell movie, Elf, and got all sentimental and thought, "F it, I'll go."

I have a big family that spans generations, not to mention, the country.  It is rare that we are all in one place at the same time.  In fact, I haven't seen many of my family members for years - decades, even.  At the family reunion I observed how familiar and comfortable it felt even though it had been years since I'd last seen them.  From the smell of my aunt's chicken pot pie, to the booming sound of my uncle's voice, arranging a singalong (yes, we are one of those types of families), I at once settled easily into the little space that is reserved just for me.  The same space I've occupied since I was nothing more than my mom's pregnancy announcement.  I also noticed how different my life is than the one I left behind.  I can sum it up by saying that I did exactly the opposite of everything they ever told me to do.  I did not go to the prescribed family college.  I did not get married right away.  I traveled the world, I became a lawyer, I have a liberal outlook.  I always lumped my family more in the conservative category.  But are they?  When I was hanging out with them at the reunion and having conversations, I became confused as to what those divisions even mean anymore.  We are all pretty moderate when it comes right down to it.  Have they lightened up and become more liberal, or have I grown more conservative?  I can't pin it down.  What I left with was that politics were never the priority anyway, in this bunch.  Religion either.  It came down to family.  Are you ours?  Then we love you.  Simple as that.

There are gay members of my family, fully out and welcomed, loved and included.  We also have Jewish family members, atheist family members, a Buddhist here or there in the bunch.  Some family members are divorced, or dating, or uncertain, or don't have kids, or don't want kids, or have a shitton of kids.

See, I grew up thinking my family was pretty stuffy and by-the-book.  It frightened me that I would never be "good enough," because my personal inclinations are a lot more relaxed.  And here I was doing what I always feared they were doing to me: judging them.   

It is humbling and life-changing to see your family in a positive light, after you've spent life trying to run from their predestined path.  I realized they never had the power I attributed to them.  I also realized that, they aren't so bad.  In fact, they are the kind of people I'd probably meet and be fast friends with, even if we weren't family.  That is a rare gift.

That is not to say that life in a big family is never problematic - oh, it can be brutal!  For instance, when you have so many family members, it becomes almost necessary to assign roles.  For better or for worse, the women end up in traditional domestic roles and the men go out and shoot buffalo or something.  As a kid, I revolted heavily against this.  I remember being a teenager, seeing my older cousins toting around a gaggle of children, and thinking, I never, ever ever want that.  What I didn't stop to consider was that surely, some of my cousins probably looked at me slogging away in law school and thought, "I never ever ever want that."  Different strokes.  But what happens in large groups is that you start looking for ways to distinguish yourself from the others.  And if you try to break out of the pre-assigned role, there can be some pain, like there is with any growth.  I definitely experienced it.

But, even through all of that.  Even after nearly ten years of awkward trepidation, I found myself joining in the chorus right above my sister's alto, but definitely below my aunt's operatic soprano.  The song came back from memory even though it had been years.  No questions were asked, no judgments were passed, just open arms and "Well, get in line for the food!  The homemade fudge is not going to last long!"

Anyway, that wrapped up tidily, I feel super odd sharing it, can't promise I'll stay in this reflective mood... but it happened.  So, there's that.