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Cancer sucks but you’re beautiful

Monitoring stations divide the functionally open room; chairs and beds strategically positioned in every corner and in every chair and bed a body. I pull her plaid rolling luggage carrier filled with snacks and warm booties and we make light small talk while following the kind, ample bodied nurse, softened even further by the box of chocolates my cousin hands her.

This treatment my cousin has not scored a bed and she reclines in her waiting chair, seeking maximum comfort in a place with minimal comforts. Removing her soft cotton slouchy cap from her newly shorn head, she sighs, relieved to be uncovered, momentarily enjoying the coolness of leather against her scalp.

Not too long ago I watched them buzz it off, or what was left of it. Her once richly luxurious hair fell in dark thin clumps onto the floor in her kitchen while I manically swept, worried the hair would trigger unstoppable tears to fall as well. Amazingly they didn’t. She was already all cried out.

How did we get here? To this chair, in this cool, efficient room where my beautiful, vibrant cousin who manages her life and work with the power and fierceness of a clap of thunder and her 2 ½ year old like a soft cloud filtered by sun sits before me hooked up to drips and portals and an amazingly bright smile.

She looks herself, pretty with sparkly earrings and lipstick. I remember all the times years ago watching her artfully apply a streak of black liner or curl her lashes with an apparatus that resembled a director’s chair. Four years older, she walked all the paths of adolescence first – from makeup to boys to drinking – and her sister and I followed with her as our guide.

It’s been decades since I watched her transform her face in the magnifying mirror; a little girl standing behind her admiring her maturity, confidence and skill. I feel much like that girl now, seeing her here, admiring her beauty, her courage and strength. But unfortunately Cancer is not something lipstick can cover.

No one can truly understand what it’s like to live through the pain and discomfort, the emotional turmoil and sleepless nights, the phone calls telling and retelling a story that makes you sick, the people who disappoint you and the hope and doubt that constantly wage war along with the medications inside you.

While most of my days stream by with carpooling and homework, running to the supermarket or gym, my cousin endures one treatment to the next fueled on pharmaceuticals and kisses from her daughter.

But I see that sunshiney day in the not too distant future when this will all be past. Instead of talking in between fluids and poisonous, life-saving drips, we will laugh between sushi rolls and Chardonnay. She will be well and move on to enjoying the frustrations and difficulties of everyday – the annoying woman in front of her at check out, negotiating with her two year-old to go potty, working her job while managing her household.

There will be nothing new and exciting to discuss beyond what we ate for dinner, where we went on the weekend and our beautiful, wonderful, sometimes pain in the ass children.

Life will be typical, average, ordinary. And we will celebrate.

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Time For My Big Girl Pants

 

From my storm door I fog up the glass watching my middle son race around on the neighbor’s lawn. Our neighbor’s daughter is with him, but of course she’s in long pants and a winter coat and he’s in a pair of shorts, beaming as he crunch, crunch, crunches over the frozen grass.  Last winter of course, we went through the same. It’s a thing, my older sons tell me, but looking around all I notice are appropriately dressed kids. Not that this is something I stress over. They wear their hoodies. And if they’re cold, well, they know the draw to pull.

My youngest boy wearing pants and a jacket (clearly the smart one) lingers in the house with me, timidly watching the cold from the inside and waiting for that strip of yellow to rumble up the block. Usually my middle son screams, “Bus!” and on his signal we bolt through the door, out into the street where the belabored vehicle idles, creaking its doors open, panting exhaust fumes.

They step on and I follow their little faces and wave, almost immediately losing my 5th grader to his posse in the back seats. But my 2nd grader hangs with me, his brave smile pressed up against the tinted or possibly just very dirty windows, barely concealing his anxiety at leaving his home and me before the bus heaves up, heavily turns and makes its way to the next stop.

On a cold day like today, I am back in my house within seconds, relieved, closing the door to the outside, hunkering down in the quiet and sweet comforts of my steaming coffee, a pile of clean laundry to fold and hopefully a warm voice on the other end of my phone. I spend a lot of time hiding myself away. I used to say that I needed the time and space to write and while that’s true, a writer needs to write, life’s injustices have kept me on hiatus for months keeping a steady force field between me and my computer.

I haven’t been happy about it, although my son has. He is now free to play his Minecraft while I am free of his long faced, soulful pleading. It’s been a relief of sorts, to not feel the pressure of myself to perform. In the beginning with all the other stresses going on, I welcomed it. But quickly that free space got gobbled up with new and old problems and people…  cousins with BRACA diagnosis, one fighting cancer and the other going thru a preventative double mastectomy and hysterectomy, friends who needed an ear and of course my unwell father. And just like that, day after day slowly slipped through my fingers and I lost myself as I focused on others.

So I guess that’s where I’ve been all these months, if you’re even wondering, fogging it up on the inside. But lately I feel the crushing weight of my father’s immeasurable needs has lessened because I lessened them, and here and there the inklings of misplaced energy and discontent sparkle through me. It’s time, my dulled senses snap, to say hello again and find my focus; to get invigorated, get out and feel the fresh air.

But I’ll be doing it in pants.

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That’s my boy!

 

And in case you missed, here’s the essay that secured that my middle son will never wear anything but shorts in winter. Read What’s up with Boys and Shorts in Winter.

And also, if interested, here’s the last article I wrote for On Parenting on Washpo. They Grow Up so Fast, so What’s my Rush?

Yay! I wrote something. 🙂

 

Wildcat Down

For years I’d jerk awake, hearing her morning cry and think it was one of my babies. Even with my boys aged 13, 10 and 7, the sound instinctually propelled me from bed in a state of semi consciousness ready for nursing, throw up, a bad dream or whatever. About a ¼ a second later however, too exhausted to even roll my eyes, I’d mutter, “Be quiet, Buzz!” at the feline padding around my room, a small stuffed animal hanging from her mouth and immediately fall back to sleep. FullSizeRender (16)

Back when she was a kitten, the truth is, I didn’t like her much. Even though I cupped her six week old body in my palms, feeding her through a tiny bottle in my New York City apartment, she never really left the bodega where we found her and remained stray and wild at heart.  If she saw skin, she would go for blood. Early on, I recognized the merits of heavy socks and learned to tread lightly, especially if I needed the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Buzz relished the surprise attack, actually causing two of my cleaning women to quit screaming the words ‘gato loco’ as they rushed past. It was true. My gato was loco. But she was also frisky and sharp, and occasionally allowed me the privilege of stroking her smooth charcoal coat.

When I had my son, we immediately purchased a netted crib covered. Either Buzz realized she was on thin ice or instinctually knew that babies were babies and allowed them a free pass to roll around without fear or occasionally rip at her fur with no recourse.

I should have known since all her adult life she carried little Beanie Baby stuffed animals around, often moaning as she did. I am forever guilty of denying her motherhood, so I accepted her stalking attacks as payback.

Nineteen years is a long time to love a cat that I wasn’t even sure I liked. And I know she lived a good, long life, but it’s so odd now to be woken by silence.

A week ago, I found her always agile body unable to eat, drink or hold herself upright. She lay limp, surrounded by the stuffed animals she loved to carry. But I refuse to think of her that way. Instead I will remember the screaming cleaning women, her sleek, royal demeanor, her sleeping in my hair and laying all over my keyboard and know that my dangerous, beautiful wildcat is now stalking loftier pastures ready to pounce.

Three weeks ago, holding her own.

                Love you, my crazy cat. 

Cooperstown

“Heads up!!” We yell, from our fabulous protected viewing area, shielded from both the hot midday sun and fly balls. Immediately, all the siblings dash out to be the one to retrieve it. Within minutes my middle son is back having secured the treasure. “I gave it to Olivia,” he tells me with a shrug. “I got so many.”

“That’s nice,” I smile. With captured balls spilling from his duffle bag he can afford to be generous.

It is day six at the Cooperstown Dream Park, a tournament culminating my oldest son’s little league experience, where his team (and coaches) along with over a hundred others, stay on the compound in barracks for the total baseball ‘experience’ while my younger boys and I, along with the other families and siblings get a slightly different ‘experience’ at a nearby $69 a night hotel charging $250.

I turn my attention back to the game but it’s hard to watch. Our scrappy town team has made an impressive showing this week but this game is sloppy and all signs point down, especially the big one looming over the field showing us in need of five runs.

“We’re losing!” My youngest states matter of fact, in much the same way he announced the game before that we were winning. Either way doesn’t matter to him, he has more important issues to discuss. “Can I have money for a snack?” He asks with a sly grin.

I shush him, intent on my boy up at plate. The count is 3-2, and he has fouled off two balls already. He postures like a threat; his energy palpable. I wonder if he can see with his overgrown hair. “Smash it,” I whisper to myself and him over and over.  And he does; hard, high and to the left. “Heads up!!” We all scream again to any unknowing passersby, and the littles, including my snack seeking son, scamper to retrieve the foul.

At the plate, my son gives the bat a test swing and a little twirl while my stare burns a hole in his helmet. He locks and loads and this time drives the ball hard between second and third, getting on base. I breathe, cheer and toss the stress over to the next mom.

This has been a week of damn good baseball. We watched our boys’ rise to challenges, swell with confidence and leave the field with their feet ten feet off the ground, although compared with many of the other players who dwarfed our boys by length, width and facial hair, it may not be so easily noticed.

There have been homeruns (and near homeruns – mere inches!!) that catapulted us from our seats; catches to the wall that drew our breath, seamless plays that made us grin wildly and nod to each other with pride and a merry go round of pitching that gave every player the opportunity to buy the “I pitched at Cooperstown’ tee shirt.

There have also been hits and bangs, broken fingers and broken spirits, slaps to the head for both the amazing and the devastating, great coaching and mentoring that exceeds the expected; knowing just when a kid needs a pat on the back or a kick in the butt, and allowing each boy the opportunity to feel proud and important and really experience the best in themselves.

Even on days like today, where the negativity buzzed around the dugout like flies and we beat no one but ourselves, when it is over any stray tears will be lost as they run, dive and barrel over each other like puppies in the dirt.

These times, like these boys, are so fleeting and these days are the ones to remember. We will look back on the laundry, the sun and bugs, the wine and the whining, the strategizing for the games and the schlepping to get there. We will remember these families who have become like family of our own and these boys with the balls in their gloves and the glimmer in their eyes, their swagger and innocence and the arms around each other’s shoulders and we will long for it all.

Heads up boys, we win.

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#Go Legends

About Face

They pound into the backseat like an explosion, popping with energy, youth and hormones and the car heaves with the extra weight. I give a small smile in greeting but then concentrate on the road. I am just the driver. My job is to not say a word, suck in as much information as possible and deposit them at their destination without calling any attention to myself.

It’s hard when all I want to do is stare at them, at their maturing faces and expressions, but of course that would be weird so I just stare straight ahead wondering about these almost unrecognizable creatures who I have known for years.

I sneak glimpses through the rear view mirror at the angular lines and skin dotted with the blemishes. They are morphing into new people every day, every second. I want to study them and find the little boys who I remember. Where did the curvy cheeks and smooth skin go?  The sticky smiles? The Hot Wheels and Pokemon cards? But really, where did the years go?

My son sits in the front seat next to me and keeps me in line, changing the radio to a more preferred station, giving me a stern nod when I start singing along. That is not on the list of things moms are allowed to do. I comply, of course. I want to be allowed to chauffer them places. I want to get to know them as they are now, these little boy men.

I arrive at the chosen house of hangout and watch them shoot out like firecrackers. They remember to thank me politely and I know their mothers would be proud. My own boy jerks his head to the left, momentarily tossing his surfer long hair off of his golden eyes to give me a sideways glance and a shy smile. “Bye, mama.”

Oh that face. I wish I could preserve it, set it in stone, hide it away in my heart and in my house and never have anything change. He is so beautiful and I know he will grow and become a handsome young man like they all are, but I have just this moment become desperate to stop time and hold on to this boy. I’ve already lost the baby who nuzzled me, the sweet kid who clung to me, and soon I will lose this face as well.

It’s almost too much but life forces me to accept that. Because I know that while I can capture a moment, I can’t capture my boy. He will grow and change. He will rise and fall. He will love me and leave me. And all I can do is sit back and be grateful that I’m along for the ride.

I love this boy!!!!

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My baby turns 13 this month. Puh Puh Puh. I love this face. I love this boy. Always.

This face has my heart, no matter what it looks like. Always. Happy almost 13 baby.

Striking out (with Dad)

He didn’t hobble toward ball field number two; he shoved his walker with purpose. Even tilted, he looked pretty good; eyes alert, dress casual and passably clean, disposition aloof but present. After three weeks in New York and countless years fantasizing about it, he finally felt well enough to make one of my boys’ baseball games.

“You gotta swing when it’s 3 and 2, kid!” he yelled at some boy I didn’t know, garnering a dirty look from some boy’s father.

I grimaced. “Dad, maybe keep your enthusiasm for the members of our family, please.”

He smiled,” clearly amused by himself. “Yeah, that guy didn’t appreciate my comment.”

This was the best I had seen my father in a long time and I tried without much success to appreciate the moment.

These last weeks have been enormously stressful. Applications for disability, transportation services and a downstairs unit had to be filled out, the right doctors found, Medicaid benefits approved to secure home health aides, visiting nurses and blah blah blah. We stand at the foot of a mountain of paper work, details and calls not returned.

But by far the biggest challenge is him.

He accidentally flooded the woman’s apartment below him by letting his sink overrun. Then he accidentally did it again. He accidentally pulled the emergency cord in the bathroom. He was confrontational with the nurse practitioner who came to help set up his medications. He didn’t go down to let in another NP.

Never ending, exhausting conversations saturate every space between the dramas. Pep him up, talk him down, find reasons for him to live. Be the happy voice, the scolding voice, the voice of reason. Even thinking about it makes my throat constrict.

Yet right now, he seems okay – his glassy eyes light as he watches the game, my other boys shyly stand near him and engage, he abandons his walker to hold on to the fence.

“Nice catch!” He yells to my son then turns to me, “Do you see the way he throws? He’s got confidence.”

I nod, glad that after weeks passed out in his chair, he’s found his voice and it’s not angry or miserable. It’s cheering.

Maybe we’ve turned a corner. Maybe it’ll be alright.

I allow just the smallest, tiniest, most miniscule molecule of hope to slip in, although at this point I don’t know how it’s even possible. Hope is a sneaky bastard.

The next morning social services call. They had just seen my father and found him extremely agitated and hostile with pills scattered everywhere. They regret to inform me that “mobile crisis” has been alerted and are on the way.

Maybe this is where it ends. Maybe it’s for the best.

At least he made it to a game.

My happy cage

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Drive of Shame

I had never been to the girl’s house and crept down the street squinting at addresses. 37… 34… Close. Close… The numbers were partially obscured but I heard youthful noise so I pulled into the driveway then immediately hit the brakes. At least 9 cats lounged on the blacktop. Not one of them even flicked a whisker, and after a moment staring me down, resumed the important business of licking themselves and stretching out in the sun.

Amused, I zigzagged through them toward the back of the house, but found nothing but manicured grass and empty lounges. The voices were coming from next door. I turned to go back to my car and almost ran right into a pissed off woman.

“What were you doing in my yard?” She accused.

“I’m, um, picking up my son but uh wrong house,” I stammered and pointed next door where the sounds of merriment lifted into the air like music notes. “Sorry.”

I received an extremely skeptical look. Jeez. Did people regularly walk into her yard? Did she think I was animal control?

I was still giggling when I walked into the next yard and saw my son, his friends and a bunch of girls in shorts and bikinis running around an empty blue pool, circling each other in a fascinating mix of confidence and insecurity.

They all stopped their pubescent frolicking at my interruption but only briefly, like I was the most uninteresting person in the world. The boys gave me a cursory smile or wave; my own son the most standoffish among them. I think I heard a cat yawn.

“Hey guys,” I said, “I’m picking up you, you and you.” I pointed at three boys who each looked at the guy next to him.

A quick huddle ensued and my son was sent over to break the bad news.

“So um, listen,” he started, giving me his sweetest smile, “Don’t feel bad or anything but we’re going to wait for Sawyer’s mom,”

“What?” I said, “Why? I’m here.”

“Nah, don’t worry about it,” he soothed, putting his arm around me and walking me out while the bikinis and boys who grew up on my lawn watched. “She’s on her way. We’re going back to his house anyway.”

“But I can take you there. No problem!” I pleaded a little desperately as he led me to my minivan.

“Thanks, mom. But it’s okay.” He closed my car door and leaned in the window amused, “Don’t feel bad that you’re not the cool mom.” I was about to protest but didn’t get the chance, “And I need some money. We might see a movie.”

“I’m cool,” I pouted, reaching into my sack and handing him $20.”

“Of course you are,” he smiled, pocketing the cash. Then with a hint of boyish bashfulness, he slouch walked back to the yard, behind the fence, to his friends, the bikinis and beyond my reach.

With no one to carpool, I drove off rejected and smiling but still feeling somewhat astray.

I knew I should have taken the Jeep.

Wish that I could be like the cool cats. Like the cool cats...

What are you looking at? I’m a cool cat too! I am! Fine. Whatever.