Having cancer has changed just about everything about what it means to me to be a Mom.
There are the more obvious, expected changes of knee dropping gratitude that I get to have these small people in my life. When the definition of 'forever' suddenly changes on you, and you realize you may not have all the time that you thought you'd have, gratitude for what I do have is more powerful, more meaningful, than it ever was.
I find myself watching them play, overcome with awe and their mere existence. How is it possible that they are even here?
Before cancer I would have moments like that, but they were fleeting and they weren't felt all the way deep down in the core of me. And the moments of annoyance, irritation or frustration far outweighed the moments of awe. I mean far outweighed them.
I can only think of one time in the past two months where I got really angry, and it was because Finn had dumped toothpaste all over Greta right before bedtime. Getting angry in that circumstance is good parenting. I used to get frustrated if they didn't move fast enough to get in the car, if they made a mess while they drew, if they bickered over some imaginary game they were playing together. Basically, I was a Mom who was 'short' most of the time, now that I can look back at it objectively. Having to fill a long Sunday with no plans was a chore; I would lie in bed with a pit in my stomach and think, how am I going to get from one end of this day to the other? Now, that same Sunday is a gift. Pure and simple.
I am also more of an absent Mom. Maybe that is why it's easier for me to have patience when we are together, or at least part of why. I was determined that my kids wouldn't have to endure a sick, sleeping Mom more than they absolutely had to. It brought back too many horrible flashbacks of a sick Mom who slept all the time because she was hungover. I didn't want my kids to go through that again.
I'm lucky to have help; my Mom comes almost every day, and we have a fabulous sitter who shows up after school everyday around 3:30pm to get the kids off the bus, get their homework started, play with them when they are done. I am upstairs napping every day from 3:30 to about 5pm. I need a big morning nap, too, from about 9am to 11am. My body is so slow to recover from the ravages of chemotherapy and radiation (although no slower than most, I'm told this fatigue is normal) that I need this much sleep during the day - plus a full ten hours at night - for me to function.
This means I spend a lot of time upstairs listening to my kids play with other people - with my Mom, the sitter, Steve. I lie in bed and hear their giggles as they tickle each other, their shouts of triumph when they figure out a homework problem, their smack talk as they play their favorite game - Stratego - all without me. Nowadays when they need something, they are more apt to call for Dad, or Mimi (my Mom) than me, even if I'm sitting right in front of them.
I try to make sure I sit around the table with them every night for dinner, even though I can't eat, so I can hear about their day; much of which transpired right beneath me as I slept. They babble on about doing things I used to do with them. Every now and then Finn will thoughtfully cock his head to the side and say, "Don't worry, Momma. You can play wif us again when you're done wif the cancer."
The thing that amazes me the most is that I'm not resentful or angry that I can't be with them more. I think it has been good for all of us to have me not be the focal point of everything. A lot of my previous anger and resentment came from having to be in the middle of everything, all the time ... from being the Keeper of All Knowledge, whether it was where the socks and shoes are, to where the dentist's office is - all this information was packed into my head, alone.
Now Steve can do all the things I used to do. And more.
The kids are more autonomous without me running around behind them all the time, pretending to let them do everything on their own but basically leaping in every time they didn't do something fast enough, or to my liking. They are much more independent, and because of this their self-confidence has never been higher.
The old me (or at least my perception of the old me) would have had a hard time letting go, I think. I had a love/hate relationship with being the center of it all. It gave me a sense of being needed, for sure, but that was purely for me, really. It held the kids - and Steve - back, because they could never do anything as well as I could, or at least that is how I made them feel with my constant corrections, or jumping in and doing it myself.
At the end of the day, when the kids plop on my bed and we read stories and exchange back scratches, I am moved almost to tears (and sometimes all the way to tears) at how lucky I am, how blessed we are. I do have moments when I wish I could be more present for them, but I know my job now is to heal. I can't do it all; I never could.
Being sick has taught me to stop trying to be everything to everyone, to do it all. My little family is far more capable than I ever gave them credit for.
In the darker moments I'm glad for this, because - God forbid - what if they have to learn to do it all without me? I expect to fully recover from cancer; I hope and pray everyday that I do. But it's such an odd thing to sit and watch Finn - his little face screwed up with concentration - put his shoe on all by himself and think: good job, kid. There's one less thing you need me for.
I can't help it; that's where my mind goes. I'm able to move past the darker thoughts, eventually, but sometimes when I'm lying up in my bed, trying to nap, all I think is "I have cancer. I have CANCER."
That's part of my reality, too, one that I may never fully adjust to. But I'm trying.