I love my kids. I love my kids more than life itself. I know this beyond a shadow of a doubt, because chemotherapy is so very difficult and the side effects (nausea, weakness, sleepiness, constant fatigue) so very debilitating that (speaking only for me) I just can’t see doing it every week for the rest of my life if I didn’t get to spend the other six days with them.
The kids (Little Bear, 4.5, and Widget, almost 7) have been real troopers this summer. They’ve stayed home with me for weeks at a time, emerging only for church and when a friend comes to pick them up for playdate. They’ve had playdates with the children of Mommy’s friends more times than I can count. They greet them with a shy hello or a boisterous “SURPRISE!” as they bounce down the stairs and then start talking to our visitors shyly, quickly heading out to the back yard to be pirates on the playset, work in the gravel pit, or just sit and tell each other stories for hours, as they did with teachmama‘s littlest. They accept dinners that appear out of nowhere gracefully, and they’re learning to eat more and different things, as they’re exposed to that kind of turkey or this kind of cheese that somehow we’ve forgotten to introduce to them yet. The three of us play play-doh or legos, play board games, or read books together whenever I’m able to sit up and Daddy’s at work. When I’m too tired, well, there’s always tv on demand, and sometimes we read books in bed together and we all slip into a nap. When I’m just resting, they’re often in the playroom or the basement, building forts, setting up the army men, or making up elaborate adventures with their toy cars or action figures. Widget and Little Bear play with each other very well, and only occasionally do they need to be separated or corrected because they can’t get along. Very occasionally. Like every third day. They’re wonderful kids.
The boys spend day after day with their Grandparents when they visit, for a couple weeks at a time in one case and two days every week or two in the other case. Between the two sets of grandparents, there is always someone there to help when my husband takes me to chemo, and for part of the day before which is so difficult. We are all so lucky to have such wonderful grandparents and friends — for the side effects of this cancer and its treatment are truly horrible, keeping me in bed for most of the day three days a week, emerging just in time for treatment on the fourth day, and yet the children take it all in stride, for they are loved so much — and they know now that so very many people love them too.
Widget does chores with me when I’m feeling good enough. He and Little Bear take the laundry from the hampers to the laundry room, sort, and help me shoot baskets with the socks into the washer. We take the clothes out together when they’re dry, and the kids sort the socks or fold the shorts and each kid always puts away his own clothes in his drawers, and helps Mommy carry the towels and sheets upstairs as well. They get out their own silverware at mealtime, set the table, and clear it when they’re done. They’re just now big enough to load the dishwasher with me and empty it when it’s clean, and they’ve accepted that chore too. We do these chores first thing in the morning and on the weekend, when I’m feeling best. They don’t realize how much they really are helping me, as taking clothes up and down stairs tires me out.
On Sunday mornings, we go to church, as long as the air conditioning there is working. Several times this summer it wasn’t working, and it was so hot for me that my arm swelled and my belly swelled and I went straight to bed afterwards. That was the end of the day. So some days, I admit, we miss church, and I feel bad about it. But we usually go, and it’s nice to sit together as a family. The children lean sleepily on us while we listen to the homily, and we all pray the Lord’s Prayer out loud together. The kids know how to make the sign of the cross and to walk nicely up for communion with their Daddy and me. Little Bear sometimes sprawls out on the pew and tries to sleep, but Widget sings the hymns with me and he listens. Oh, does he listen. On Sunday, all was well and we were doing fine, when all of a sudden, during the pastoral prayer, he leaned over to me and whispered, “You’re back on the list. Why are you back on the list, Mommy?”
and my heart sank as I realized that he had heard the prayers for the sick and there was my name, front and center.
He looked at me with real surprise, and I put my arm around him and hugged him, as I watched a bit of his world come crashing down. He looked at me innocently and waited, and I hoped that he wasn’t putting together the pieces of how he had been helping me more, and I had been napping more, and so many people had come by to sit with me recently, bringing along lunch or dropping off dinner. My world started to spin a bit, and I had to catch my breath before I told him the truth, as I always have:
You know how Mommy’s been so tired lately? They’re praying that I get better soon. Okay?
and he nodded, and we kneeled with the congregation, but my heart beat so fast. The child that I prayed would be bright and curious and ask questions, asking “Why, Mommy?” about the birds and the trees and the color of the sky had finally asked the one I didn’t want to hear. But I answered it, and kept my arm around him, and we left church a little early that day, all four of us squinting in the bright sun.