“Me happy.”

January 16, 2011

… and then, on the morning of his fourth birthday, before any of the presents, the cake, the party, and the friends, my littlest looked up at me in a quiet moment, gave me a snuggly hug, and said, “Me happy.”

And suddenly, all of it — the chemo, the pain, the lonliness, the aches, the despair, the struggling, the treatment, the side effects, all of it — was worth it.  Because my children, my very dear and sweet and kind but most of all MY children, the only ones I’m really responsible for when it comes right down to it, are happy.

They aren’t scarred.  They aren’t afraid.  When we spent some time playing in the hotel pool on Friday after my work concluded, they laughed and giggled and bounced up and down in the water in my arms or with the kickboard as we learned to swim (having missed those lessons I looked forward to taking them to so long ago, when I was first ill), and they we had so much fun together.  When they saw the kinesio tape holding my shoulder in place, they simply asked, 6 yo Widget asked, “Mama, is that tape from chemotherapy?” and I swooped him into my arms and said, “Nope, that tape is just to help my bones feel better.  It doesn’t hurt.  And Mama’s on a break from chemotherapy. Do you know why?”  He said, very earnestly, “Because you’re working this week?” And I was so glad he asked it out loud, because I could say again, “Nope, because Mama’s got a new medicine to take that will work even better and not make me so tired this Spring.”  And he said, “Good,” and we paddled to the other end of the pool.

We try not to talk about it so much, to not make their childhood soundtrack hushed whispers and talk of chemo, but we do talk about it matter-of-factly, like others would talk about things that are normal and everyday in their lives, and I think that’s how the kids are responding.  That it’s normal. And everyday.  And not to be feared, but to be dealt with. 

That’s our approach to resiliancy, and I hope it works.  It seems to be.

We just got back from church, where I hope and pray my kids will find solace and not anger when the day eventually comes that they’ll be there alone.  I want them so badly to understand how much the body of believers strengthens me, and how beautiful I find faith.  How much I love singing the old hymns, next to people I don’t even know sometimes, but who unite with me in our belief that there is a God, and that he hears us, and that he gives us peace.

Widget and I were admiring the stained glass windows quietly at one point (let’s pretend it was before Mass), and we agreed that they are beautiful.  Then I asked him in a whisper, “What is the most beautiful thing in this church?”  I heard an answer I did not expect from a six year old boy, but had planned to teach him as he grows.  He said, unprompted, taking his hand from his hair where he’d been twisting it, “The people.”

As it turns out, he already knows.  He knows that there is good in the world, and that beauty is found in the community of people who gather to praise, to lift up, and to help each other.  Whether that community is the stay-at-home Moms Club that we poured our hearts and lives into when the boys were babies, the Jewish community that we gathered together with for nursery school, the Catholic community that we have now joined and put our energies toward, the blogging community that you know I love and treasure and my family knows helps me as only words can say, the Blogalicious community that moved me almost to tears Friday night as we screened the new Blogalicious movie and cheered women speaking on screen or afterwards, our neighborhoods … community is community, whereever you find it, and, at the end of the day, the most beautiful thing is always the people.

Thank you for being my people, and for supporting me and each other as we go through difficult — and joyous — times.

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Moments of Joy

December 14, 2010

On the wall in our family room there is a saying: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”  Now, I’m not one to fall for sappy sentiments (really!), but this one is special to me, and it’s kind of become my motto.  A challenge, if you will, to stuff the goodness of living into every day, to make it a habit, which is actually a pretty cool way to walk through life.

Every day we have the opportunity to make a memory, with our children, with our spouse, and with our friends.  Every day, there is beauty, if only we stop to look for it.

TV with the boys

There is beauty in children – and friends’ children – doing the most mundane activities together, like setting up battles with playmobil castles or watching a little Super Why while their mamas rest.  (Look at that little hand!  Instant friends, I tell you!)

There is beauty in teaching children about caring for pets, even if their pets are only guppies that swim to and fro in their tank, among the plants and their own little castle or Eiffel Tower.  When my three-year-old woke me up yesterday with the news that his blue guppy was sick, the concern in his voice melted my heart, and we went to check him out (okay, after just ten more minutes.  It was still dark outside, people!).  As it turned out, the fish wasn’t sick, but injured, and that prompted a trip to the fish store after preschool, our first venture outside in a week, and the purchase of four more girl guppies so the boys wouldn’t fight over the girls so much.  (That will totally be an object lesson when they’re older.)

Meeting @Stimey's mouseThere is beauty in introducing little ones to new ideas, new activities, and new creatures – in seizing opportunities as they arise.  I was blessed to be able to do this last week, when @Canape visited me and we went over to @Stimey’s for a little while, to see friends and to play Wii.  Baby Colin and I were admiring the mice, and Stimey asked if we wanted to hold one.  Did we ever!  And from that moment, a memory was born, of brave Baby Colin reaching out to pet his first little bitty creature (check out the concentration on his face, and the determination in that little bitty pointer finger!), of a friend encouraging us in exploration, and of me holding Canape’s baby boy, introducing him to something new in his world.  Oh, the memory that we made that day is precious indeed.

And one more memory that I treasure today – the friends who have come by to visit me during my illness, grabbing an easy chair and sharing their latest, talking and quietly keeping me company, which is quickly becoming a highlight of my week.  How often do we get to sit and talk – really talk – with a friend for a half hour?  Not nearly often enough.  The friends who have come to visit me while I’m down are friends indeed, and as I move forward through this battle and the rest of my life (link goes to a survivor story I liked today), I will keep those memories in my heart, and remember how friends gave of their time, their precious, oversubscribed mommy time, to help a friend who was ill and tired of being alone in the house.


Bits and Pieces

November 3, 2010

… kinda like legos, but they don’t fit together as well.

It’s been an incredible week over at the WhyMommy house.  Last week, I became Catholic.  No, really!  I followed my heart and joined the church of over a billion people throughout the world.  Am I going right-wing crazy and joining marches for this and that?  No.  I’m still me.  I’m still the me I’ve always been, but I’m now joined together with a billion people who also believe and who are trying to be better each day.  And it brings me peace.

Confirmation was more moving than I ever expected.  Since religion to me has always been first and foremost about my personal relationship with God, I typically keep it — well, personal — but fellowship is also very important to me, and as I wrote about last week, the fellowship I’ve found at this church is amazing.  So receiving the sacraments this week (Reconciliation (known as Confession), Confirmation, Communion, and the Anointing of the Sick) in the presence of my pastor and my new church family was nothing short of amazing.  I wish I could convey how very beautiful it was to be confirmed in the sanctuary in the middle of the church, and then turn around and see my beautiful church family clapping for me and welcoming me in, but words alone fall short of the magic.  They even threw a party downstairs, and we celebrated together.  It felt good to get out of the house and celebrate, and to take this big and scary step of joining a church — a church that for so long I found tradition-bound with beliefs I just could not understand.  Now I understand some, I realize that others were mixed up with interpretations of tradition, and some I am still seeking to understand, but I’ve been told that that’s okay.  That there is a lot to learn, and it can take time and prayer to understand it all.  So I continue on my journey.

Speaking of friendship, I had a lovely visit from Kristen yesterday (did you see this post? sigh.), and it felt like old times, just sitting and chatting and having a good girl talk.  I haven’t gotten out much at all since I’ve been in treatment, and it was so fun! to have a friend visit me.  I’m feeling a million times better than I did last week (which wouldn’t be hard), so it was particularly great that we could sit and talk and have fun.  She reminded me that I haven’t updated you all on my feet lately — I’m happy to report that they’re just dry and peeling now; the redness is subsiding, and it DOES NOT HURT TO WALK.  I’ve been on a lower dose for the last two cycles (6 weeks) and it is working perfectly.  As it turns out, the condition of one’s feet is the marker for how the body metabolizes Xeloda; when the feet get tender, you’ve got about the right dose, so if it hurts to walk (my oncologist explained) it’s time to dial back.  So I’m getting the right dose AND I’m able to walk and get around again, and the bedroom slippers are back in the closet where they belong.

The kids had a wonderful Halloween.  They dressed up as a spotted dalmation and a tiger, and they stole my heart and the hearts of nearly everyone who saw them!  We celebrated at their school parties (Thursday and Friday), at the Downtown OurTown Trick-Or-Treat, where we saw Mom-In-A-Million and kidlet, as well as our friend Colleen and her girls, and had a grand old time in an old-fashioned hay maze, new-fashioned music, and of course Ye Olde Bouncy Castle.  We even took pictures, and they came out adorable.

By the time we got home, though, Widget was tired and quiet, and we didn’t know it, but by Sunday afternoon he would be nursing a 103′ fever.  So we said goodbye to one set of grandparents, prepared for the next, and cuddled him throughout the weekend and early days of the week.

Now I’m back to the computer working, Little Bear is back in school, Widget is all better (but still at home while we wait out the 24 hours post-fever), Daddy is making great progress on a big project, and we’re all just keeping our heads above water.  I’m finishing up one NASA contract and waiting to hear on the next, hoping with all my might that we’re not turned down because I’ve been sick this fall and they’re worried about me getting the work done next year.  After all, I finish chemo next month and will be ready to work more full-time again in January — and I really hope we get this grant.  It’s a joint project with some members of the DC social media crowd that you probably know very well — always-patient educator Amy (@TeachMama), technology guru Leticia (@TechSavvyMama), Virtual Science Fair organizer and awesomesauce Jean (@Stimey), journalist and Junior League President J.J. (@caffandaprayer), and engineer Lisa, who is a wizard with children, engineering, and making the conections between them. 

And speaking of new projects, head on over and check out the story behind @BananaBlueberry (and other good stuff for you) — Nicole has an amazing backstory that blew me away this morning.  She’ll be posting bits (The BananaBlueberry Bits Book!) each Wednesday, and I’m tuning in to hear more each week — won’t you?


Things I don’t understand

September 29, 2010

Today, a list of things I don’t understand (but I’m trying to):

  • Hand-foot syndrome.  Why on earth is the chemo leaking out the capillaries in my feet and hands?  And are the burst capillaries all over my chest a symptom of the same thing?  (My feet are so tender these days that by mid-morning, walking or driving hurts, and I’ve had to buy shoes with extra cushioning so that I can stand to pick up the kids from school.  They’re comfy as all-get-out, but yeah, not really my style.)
  • Catholicism.  I found a church this spring that has everything we wanted — a close-knit community, a school, scripture-based service, prayer groups, moms and dads who volunteer — and my husband and I can go to church with the kids and not have to worry if they happen to ask a question too loudly or have to leave to go potty.  There’s a down-to-earth priest, an honest-to-goodness community of nuns, and I love it.  I’m just working through the catechism to make sure that I can get on board, as some of the more extremist interpretations are not something that I’m just willing to sign on to. (We could talk about this a long time.  I’m not going to do it here.  Oh, and comments will be moderated.)
  • What to do about my NASA book.  It’s sitting here beside me, 560 pages of text detailing the history of an 18-year-old program and all its missions.  The trouble is, who wants to read 560 pages?  No one, that’s who.  Including me.  I wanted to write a popular-type book, not a tome.   But I don’t want to scrap what I’ve spent the last 2.5 years doing. 
  • The resistance to flexible work.  The more that I interview women in planetary science for our web series, the less I understand why employers value desk-sitting so highly.  If researchers don’t have to use equipment in a laboratory or sit in meetings every day, why can’t they (and we) do the work at another location?  Why does my suburb commute downtown every day, clogging the roads, getting in accidents, and generally wasting time in traffic instead of working?
  • Cancer.  I’ve tried for years now, and I still don’t understand a) Why I got cancer, and b) Why there is not yet a cure.

Things I do understand:

  • Love and friendship can help you overcome almost anything. 

And today, for me, that’s enough.