… to make you feel better, Mommy

September 3, 2011

This week was the first I’ve had alone with my second child, my babykins, 4.5 year old Little Bear, since his brother went off to nursery school three years ago and left us aimless, wondering what to do with ourselves during the day.  It was only three hours back then, but what long hours, sitting on the stoop, waiting for brother to come home, trying halfheartedly to entertain ourselves until we got into the groove of pre-preschooler play again.

But this week was different.  This week, when Widget went to school and LB waited for his to start, was snuggles and playdoh and friends popping by for a playdate and me pushing myself to drive to an adjacent neighborhood so that we could have a playdate with LB’s first friend that he made all. by. himself at nursery school two years ago, on HIS first day, and that we’ve had playdates with nearly every Monday since.  She invited us over, and she’s not really aware of this cancer thing, and I want their friendship to continue. . . so I drove us over there, and I sat on her couch instead of mine, and we had preschooler snacks and juice and milk and it was a lovely couple of hours.

I wouldn’t have not done it for the world, for him, for them, for us.  He deserves his own friends, in addition to the kids of Mama’s friends, or the younger siblings of brother’s friends, and I’m so proud of him for making and trying to keep them.  So I pushed myself to drive, and to sit, and to drive home, tired.  He and I came home exhausted, and we slept all afternoon.  He woke four hours later and was upset that “me never go’ed to sleep!” But he had, of course.  We had, and a dear friend stepped in to watch my older child so we could keep sleeping, and it was peaceful as we woke up that afternoon.

Sleep has played a big role in our lives this week, as I skipped chemo (it’s my week off), but felt the pressure of the treatment, the forced sleep, the weakness that makes getting up unimaginable, and all of that regardless on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.  I didn’t know how to explain it, and I raged inside, angry that I couldn’t even feel great on my week off.  And then I realized that it was the effects of last week’s chemo, making themselves known as they peaked 5-7 days after treatment.  Right on schedule.  Whoops.

So apparently the fantastic weekends I’ve been having, paired with the unexpected slowdowns on Wednesday before treatment, are right on for this chemo, although they are backwards from what you’d expect, and from what I expected, from previous treatments.  I’m still getting used to this new normal, and really it has felt anything but.

Moments to remember:

On Wednesday, I was so very tired that when Little Bear brought me a stuffed elephant and asked me to play with him, I agreed, suggesting we play with the elephant in the blankets in Mama’s room.  Despite not having done much yet that day, I was exhausted, and went to lie down in bed.  Bear brought me stuffed animal after stuffed animal, piling them on top of me and tucking them in around me as we played.  The soft lamb, the cow and his daddy, the horse and his mommy, all had adventures with us as I rested my body and talked softly with my little boy.  It was a beautiful moment, and when I fell asleep, surrounded by the stuffed animals he loves, he climbed quietly down from the bed and found his Daddy downstairs.

Thursday, I fell asleep even earlier, at 11:30 after a visit from a friend and her child, and Little Bear fell asleep with me as we read a chapter from Pippi Longstocking.  We slept again all afternoon, and Daddy took Little Bear to pick up brother at school without even waking me.  When they returned, I was rested enough to pull out the milk and cookies, and hear all about Widget’s day at school.  (It was only a “5,” but that may have been because he asked me what the average was, and that’s what I said.)

Later that night, I was in pain as I put the children to bed.  I tried to keep it to myself, but as I turned on my side, I let out a quick cry as the nerves by my spine pinched.  Bear crawled down from his bed, and I started to correct him for getting out when he should be staying in, but he turned around and gave me the biggest bear hug, saying, “I want to make you feel better, Mommy.”

Another time this week, as I lay in bed, waiting for the morphine to take effect to relieve the breakthrough pain, Bear and I played with toy cars.  He stopped, looked up at the afternoon light, and said, “Mommy, we are so lucky.”  What?  I had just been silently berating myself at the lack of educational plan for the day, and how crappy a mom I was to parent horizontally again, as J used to say — and at the exact same time he was thinking he was lucky.  In this case, he said, it was because we have so many toys.  But I heard what he meant loud and clear, and I resolved to cut myself a little more slack for not running races with them outside, or taking them out to great adventures, or even going with my three guys to the grocery store.  I’m using my energy for them.  I’m reserving my energy for what’s important – for my writing, yes.  For my friends, yes.  But most importantly, for my children and family, and I am getting pretty good at making every minute count.

And more than anything else, they know, oh, they know, how I love them.

In light of the new Facebook game this week, I’ve been asked several times for the post I wrote decrying status updates as a form of activism, and teasing about bra color instead of real action fighting cancers of all kinds.  Here’s the link.  Thank you.   In the name of awareness….

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Wishes

April 26, 2011

Dandelion, taken by Louise DockerAs we set off on our early morning walk, Little Bear scooting along on his tricycle and 6 year old Widget on his bike, the sky was blue and clear, the weekend’s rainclouds just a memory.

Four year old Little Bear stopped and plucked a dandelion in full feather, saying, “I wish for a dog!” “Me too,” cried his brother. Me three, I said, and we blew the fluff right off that dandelion so enthusiastically that a seed or two landed in Little Bear’s open mouth. Sputtering, he recovered his dignity and we continued up the hill.

At the top, Widget picked a second dandelion, asking me first what I wished for, if I could have anything in the world. As we had had a little talk about cancer that morning, preparing him for an upcoming class for kids of parents with cancer, I was honest with him, kneeling down and telling him my wish for many more years together.  “Me too!” said Widget, and he asked “What do you wish for, Bear?” “A dog!” said Bear, oblivious to the topic at hand, focused entirely on the Chow we’d passed earlier.

We blew that dandelion out fiercely, taking care to avoid Bear’s face this time, but one must have floated back our direction, because as I heard Widget explain what had just happened to Bear, I had to wipe something from my eye.  Such little bits of children they are, to deal with such big topics, but so strong.

My sadness disappeared quickly as I heard Widget explain, “We wished for many more years together, Bear. Maybe even a whole lifetime!”

The sun was shining as he pedaled away, and the birds sang happily above.


A Grocery Store for Tigers

April 23, 2011

When the kids caught me resting in bed again, I made light of it and invited them to watch a little tv with me.  We clicked through the channels and found nothing that we both wanted to watch, until we saw that Discovery was airing an old-school nature documentary.  Intrigued, we paused, and C joined me as we re-introduced the children to the wild beauty of a nature flick, tigers, gazelles, herons, and all. 

We watched the beauty of the savannah and the tiger leaping majestically through the air in final pursuit of the gazelle, landing with a thud as he broke the weaker animal’s neck and began to feast.  Then my children protested, stunned at the violence of the wild, asking “Why, Mommy?”  Why did that tiger chase the deer, Mommy?  Why that tiger EAT the deer?

Oh, my child.  My sweet, sensitive, sheltered children.  I’ve protected you from the harsh realities of cancer and death for so long that somehow I’ve neglected to teach you about death, and now you are 4 and 6 and shocked that animals must kill other animals for meat.  I remembered to teach you that death exists, as we bought guppy after guppy and talked about fish eating other fish, but your sensitive child minds never made the leap.

So we snuggled in and watched a little more and talked about it, your father at first making light of it, answering, “Because tigers can’t go to the grocery store!”  We laughed and snuggled and broke the hard facts to you gently and at the end you understood that tigers hunt to provide food for their families and for survival, and that we can be sad for the gazelles but happy for the tigers, because they got to feed their baby cubs.

And what you took away from it was fascinating, proclaiming after the movie,

Mama, when I grow up, I open a grocery store for tigers.

I chuckled and hugged you and told you that was a wonderful idea, for it was, and I was so proud of you for thinking of it.  For facing the problem head-on and for answering the violence that you saw with a creative, non-violent solution.  And so we all four agreed that when you boys grew up, we would move to the savannah and open the Niebur Family Grocery Store for Tigers.  Even though we knew full well that you would grow up and understand and lose interest in the meantime, we supported you two, and we took you seriously, and we wanted to help you change the world, to make it just a little better for the gazelles.


Like Mama won over cancer

April 6, 2011

Little Bear, worried about a field trip yesterday, “But Mama, I need you there in case there is something scary.”

You’ll be okay, Little Bear.  Mama can’t go today, but your teacher will be there, and she will keep you safe. 

Cuddled in my arms, he asked, “But what if there is something scary?”

Well, there will be, Little Bear, it’s the story of Passover, and Pharoah gets angry.  He’s the bad guy, remember?  But Moses wins.  It’ll be okay, because Moses wins.

From deep in my arms, came a small, confident voice:

“Like Mama won over cancer.”

That’s right, Little Bear.  And we cuddled and were strong together.

I haven’t talked about my cancer with them in months.  But of course they know, since I’m still gaining strength and taking naps in the late afternoon, when the morning just isn’t enough, or when I’ve pushed myself to get work done.  I’m stronger and stronger, but still not close to 100%.

And we have scans on Friday.  I’m nervous, I’ll admit.  But I want Little Bear’s words to be true, one more time. 

I want to win over cancer.  Again.  And yes, I know that’s a selfish hope, to beat cancer a FOURTH time, but it’s selfish in protecting my children.  They’re not ready for me to leave yet, and I am not ready to leave them to grow up in the world without their Mama.


28 hours

March 30, 2011

Hiking in the woods with Widget, following paths where they lead; never once stopping to catch my breath

Taking Little Bear out for a bike (trike) ride as dusk begins to fall and the streetlights turn on

Writing late into the night, comparing policies, reading papers, churning letters into words

Smiling at my husband as we turn off our computers for the night; jobs well done

Inspiring young minds at preschool, them clutching planetary telescopes with chubby fingers

Two hours of skee ball and air hockey at the children’s arcade

Lunch out and Target, laden with summer shovels, buckets, cars, and noodles for the pool

Squirt guns sans water aiming and firing like high pitched blasters, because my kids don’t know guns

Shovels pressing into dirt that doesn’t yet know it should be springtime

Bikes and trikes; soccer balls and peals of laughter filling the air as the daddies and mommies next door come home from work

Playtime with neighbors and petting the poodle who lives down the block

Cuddles and laughter and cheese and cracker snack that I cut myself, with fingers that no longer peel

Cartoons and Daddy and snuggled and time for bath, my little ones

and how different these days are becoming from February, when I often could only write

bed.

Today, there is hope and love and little boy giggles. Thankfulness and praise. and confidence that I can have a good day again tomorrow.


Planetary telescopes for preschoolers: how to

March 29, 2011

Construction paper, tape, hole punch, pin, stickers or crayonsThis is a fun craft/activity to help little kids learn about planets and the stars.  There are many ways to make a planetary telescope; this is one simple way that’s easy for busy parents to help their kids make their very own telescope and learn about the solar system.

What you’ll make: (nonworking) telescopes that your kids can use to view the planets, stars, and, well, just about anything else.

What you’ll need: Construction paper or cardstock, tape, hole punch, straight or safety pin, and pictures of the solar system or constellations. 

Prep time: 5 minutes, for downloading pictures of the solar system from this NASA web site, or for finding your own pictures in a book, magazine, or newspaper.  Set aside a piece of dark construction paper (blue and green work best) and cut a 4″ square of black construction paper for each child. pinholes in black paper make stars Take the pin and poke holes in the black square.  Punch a single hole in the paper if you have a hole punch handy.  If you’re feeling really brave, punch the pinholes in the design of one of the constellations… but this totally isn’t necessary (I didn’t think of it — thanks to Kim in NY for the idea!).

The words you use and the way you implement the activity is up to you, of course.  The idea is to use the rolled up construction paper to look at the planets, and then tape the black paper with pinholes to the end and look out the window or near a bright light to see the “stars.”  In the rest of this post,  I’ll share with you a bit of how it went when Widget (age 6) and I did this project with Little Bear (age 4)’s preschool class, just because it was such fun and I want to remember.  I’ll spare you the pauses, interruptions, and little kid stories, but just know that there were dozens and it was awesome.

Me: Have you ever been outside late at night and seen the stars? (Most of them had, and they wanted to tell me all about it!  After a bit, I continued.)  They’re beautiful, aren’t they?  Did you know that for a very long time, that’s the best that anyone could see the stars?  But people have always wondered about the night sky, and they wanted to be able to see the stars and planets better.  Once upon a time, a very long time ago, a man named Galileo made a new tool so he could see the stars better.  He called it a telescope. (At this, I rolled a piece of paper into a cylinder, lengthwise, and sealed it with a piece of tape.  A staple at each end works better but may be sharp.) 

This is a tool that scientists use to see the stars and planets better.  Would you like one to use today? (Widget handed a cylinder to each child as I talked.)  A real telescope has mirrors and lenses (touch eyeglasses to show what a lens is), but this one will work fine for today.  Is everybody ready to use their telescopes to see the stars? (chorus of yes)

Does anyone know what our closest star is?

The sun!  That’s right, the sun that you see in the sky every day is actually a star, and while it looks warm and friendly to us, when the mommies and daddies who work at NASA made a big enough telescope, they found out that it really looks like this: (show them the real picture of the sun; for very young kids, fold the picture back so that only the largest image shows).  What does that look like to you?  Do you think it’s cold there, or hot?  That’s right, it’s very hot!  It’s so hot that it warms the planets in our solar system.  Would you like to see some planets now?

Mercury is the planet closest to the sun (show them the picture of Mercury).  It is very, very hot on the side closest to the sun, but it has a secret — it turns around (rotates) very, very slowly, so one side is almost always hot — and the other is very, very cold!  On Mercury, it takes almost a year for the planet to turn enough so that it goes from day to night and night to day again, so one side is really hot, and the other side is really cold.  Does that sound like a fun place to live?  (Kids say no.)  Let’s get a better look, through our telescopes!  (Widget shows the picture to the kids, moving it slowly so that each can get a really good look in turn.)

Venus is the next planet.  (Show picture, kids look at it through telescopes while we talk.)  It’s still pretty close to the sun.  Do you think Venus is hot or cold?  (hot)  Venus is hot, and it is not a great place to live. 

Let’s see.  What colors are on this next planet?  (Show the picture of Earth; it is blue, green, and white).  That’s right.  Does anyone know what this planet is?  That’s right, Earth!  What do you think the blue is? (water) What do you think the green is? (grass, trees, or land) And what do you think these white swirly things are that are way up above the water and the land?  That’s right, clouds!  Isn’t this planet beautiful?  Let’s pretend we’re out in space and we can see it with our telescopes.  Ready, set, go! (Show picture as kids look at it through the telescopes.)

And so on and so forth.  After Mars (red, hot, dusty, with occasional dust devils; feel free to compare the red color to the look of a rusty nail if your kids have ever seen one – it’s actually very much the same kind of thing), stop at the asteroid belt and ask them what an asteroid looks like.  They might be disappointed – and that’s ok – it does really just look like a rock.  That’s because it IS a rock. 

Then the gas giants – Jupiter, with its swirly storms; Saturn, with its beautiful rings; Uranus and Neptune, which I admit I did together because we don’t know a lot about them yet and the kids were getting fidgety; and icy Pluto, which used to be a planet but now has its own special name: dwarf planet, and it hangs out at the edge of the solar system with lots of other dwarf planets that mommies and daddies have found with great big telescopes … and some that haven’t even yet been discovered. 

Encouraging the kids to look at each picture through their very own telescope helped keep even the 3 year olds engaged for this 30 minute activity, and I was very happy with the way this activity came out.  It was a fun way to introduce these little ones to the solar system where we live, and I left the black squares with pinholes with the teacher for a craft later in the morning — just tape the squares to the end of the planetary telescope and hold it up to a window or in a well-lit room so that they can see the stars, even if they’re not allowed to stay up late very often to see the real ones.  I loved doing this activity with my kids and the kids at preschool, and I hope this helps you do this activity or another one with your kids too!

More kids solar system activities can be found at NASA Kids.


Planetary telescopes

March 28, 2011

Construction paper, pins, tape, hole punch, stickersToday we’re going to teach Little Bear’s classroom about space!  The kids are 3 and 4, so we’re going to keep it hands-on and light. . . literally!

We’re going to help each kid make a “telescope” out of construction paper and point it at pictures of the planets, to see how they’re different.  After we talk about the planets a while, we’ll tape a piece of black paper with pinholes to the end of the telescope and look through it at a light — to see “the stars.”  It’s an easy craft to make, and I hope it will be a fun way to introduce these little ones to the planets and put the stars within their reach.  (Even if they’re not allowed to stay up late enough to see the real ones!)

I can post instructions and a debrief afterwards — but now, I’ve got to run — Widget and I have a date to teach Bear’s class about the planets and the stars, and I am SO HAPPY.

The idea for this craft came from Marissa, at Our Daylight Adventures, who did the toilet paper telescope craft with her son for Team WhyMommy’s Virtual Science Fair last April.  The Virtual Science Fair was such an amazing gift — I read through all the projects again last week, and I still can’t believe it.  I wanted to go through and leave comments everywhere, since I was too sick to do it April 7 after my surgery (though I read and loved them all!), but who checks comments on year-old posts?