Monthly Archives: March 2017

So I Sit and Watch

My daughter and son both play basketball. Until they started playing, I didn’t understand what a full-on-contact, hard hitting sport it can be. There are times I would rather have them play football. At least they’d have padding.

Yesterday I was watching the last game in my son’s tournament. He plays on two different teams, a school team and a community team. I love watching him. I’ve found as a parent, there are so many aspects to the sports they play, not the least of which is my own enjoyment.

There are moments in life that are overwhelming just by the very nature of being a parent. Those moments where you sit back and just “see” your kid. See them excel or shine in some way, and you stand in awe at what amazing little human beings they are becoming.

And then there are those other moments that stop me in my tracks. The ones where the reality of our lives come rushing back. My son had cancer. My SON had cancer. And not just any cancer. He had a high risk, very rare cancer. The odds were not in his favour.

To see him do these things at this age, the simple act of playing a game of basketball, to see him have this life, it is just sometimes very emotional. I sit and watch him and realize that he is not only living, this kid is flourishing. Physically, emotionally, socially, academically. His attitude, his spirit. He is flourishing. If you were to line him up with his peers you would never pick him out as the one whose odds were against him. The gratitude I have can take my breath away. Watching him do simple things that everyone else around me simply take for granted. 

Yes, it overwhelms me. 

So here I sit. And I watch him play this game he has come to love. I watch him with a heart full of pride and reverence. 

But here’s the thing, there is also a part of me that watches with incredible trepidation.

My mind knows it has been 7 yrs since chemo. And I know it has been 4 years since a positive prognosis.

This is a good thing. We are out of the woods. My mind tells me we are so far out the woods. We are in a grassy field in the middle of the flat prairies of Saskatchewan with not a tree in the distance. But it matters not. Because I realize that I watch with a different set of eyes than these amazing mothers next to me. I just do. It just is.

I sit on the sidelines and smile and laugh and talk and joke. And ALL of this is real. None of this is fake or put on for a show. If you knew me you would know this. I sit and watch with all of these things – joy, eagerness and gratitude – 100% of the time.

But there is still this fear. And that too is there – 100% of the time. There are days it is near the surface, and there are days that it is buried so deep that I barely know it’s there.

But it always is. He is my child. It will always be there. 

A hard hit here. Knocked down there. How long will that bruise last? Will it come quickly and go quickly? Will I have to count the days? Where was he hit? What are his platelets sitting at? What is his ANC? Bruises. I lived and died by bruises for so long. And can I just say – worst sign of relapse to watch for. Ever. He is constantly covered in them. And tiredness and bone pain?  Tell me the difference between that and growing pains and teenage laziness? And what about all those sweet little drugs that affect bone density and heart function and foot drop? What will his next bone density test show? What about his next ECG? Will they be above or below his baselines? Should he be playing as hard as he is? What if the tests come back on the downgrade? Chemo does no favours for your developing bones nor your heart. 

And, and, and, and. There is a list a mile long of latent long term side effects. Some that we are still being followed up for. Some that are standard and some that are unique to his therapy. Is him smashing into walls and floors and boys two feet taller than him doing him any favours? His body has been through so much.  

Yesterday my eyes welled up for a moment when he went down hard on the court. And on the inside of five seconds all of these thoughts came rushing to me. As they always do and probably always will. But then on the inside of “six” seconds I push them back down again and realize that yes – of course this is the life I want for him – a life not one smidgen different on the outside than the rest of his friends. This is what life is supposed to be for him. Living big and bold and running in toward the basket for that “take” with no trepidation at all (at least on his part).

So I sit and I watch. I smile and I laugh and I talk with the other Moms. My friends. And yes, I hold my breath. But even as I do, there still isn’t one moment where I don’t continue to whisper thank you – for all of it. 

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Two Days with Five Boys

 A self indulgent, terribly long, tongue-in-cheek post that waffles between the first and third person. Mainly to serve as a memory so that some day, far into the future, I can remember two days with five boys.

Remember when your kids were young and your childcare provider would give you a run down of their day when you picked them up?

This week I took five boys to the city for two days. Here’s my teenage boy version of that run down.  

Day One of Two

Leave at 9am. Stop at Superstore to let the boys spend $40 of my points on snacks for the weekend. They momentarily consider spending all the points on a large stuffed pink hedgehog to use as a mascot the entire weekend instead of food. Teenage stomachs overrule the brief sidebar and junk food it is. Surprisingly though some fruit and cheese are also part of the equation. Small wonders.

11:30 am we arrive at the Oval and rent skates. The boys request sizes that range from 5 to 13. Seriously. When else in life do you have friends that range so much in physicality? 

I learn that The Oval only carries one pair of size 13 skates. At all. Mental note to reserve them next time, and hope Matt doesn’t keep growing, otherwise we will have to rent a sledge to push him around with.

Put skates on and answer the question “do I have to wear a helmet?” Yes. Sorry. It’s the uncool part of the program, and I have big plans of bringing home all five of you with intact skulls.

Out they go onto freshly zambonied ice. (I know it’s not a word).

I immediately sigh with relief as I realize I’m not the only parent who hasn’t taken my child skating since Grade 5. I stand and watch as they look like a cross between drunk gazelles and baby deer. With the exception of hockey-player Daniel who glides effortlessly around the ice with his hands in his pockets like he is in a 1940s Black and White Film. I expect Audrey Hepburn to jump out of the bushes at any moment to skate hand and hand with him. He’s that smooth. 

Meanwhile some of my other flock have taken to utilizing the child-assist skating devices. I worry for a moment if they should be giving them to the small children, but quickly recognize that is a moot point – as the 8 year olds skate circles around my 13 and 14 year olds.

Time for Chris to return his skates and helmet. When asked what last name it was under he says Ann. My last name is not Ann. I have known Chris for 5 years. This will be the “bit” of the weekend.

Chris apologizes. Karrie-Ann threatens to take Chris’ fruit away if he keeps apologizing for things. Sweetest most respectful kid ever.

Leave the Oval. Justin trips over a stick and falls down. He lays in the ground a long time and looks to be injured. Crap. We are only 3 hours in to this weekend and we already have a man down. Damn it. Wait. Nope. He can’t catch his breath because he is laughing so hard. No harm no foul.

Load in the van. Give them choice of where to eat. Will drive them anywhere. They unanimously and excitedly request the food court at the Halifax Shopping Centre.

Huh?

Mental Note: Start taking kids out to places with more culture than food courts.

They proceed to spend two hours at the mall. This is new. The mall? Shopping? I guess they aren’t 10 anymore Dorothy.  

Watch as some girls watch the boys and the boys watch some girls.

Head to the hotel. We have only rented one suite for six of us. They will break some fire codes and “illegally” cram into the living room side of things to sleep on the floor, pull out sofa and “feel” like they have a room to themselves.

I ask three of them to come with me to check in, leaving two in the van. I have a flashback to when the kids were little and I would have never left them in a car by themselves. 

I wonder for a moment if someone might try to kidnap the 6’2″ children. 

Check in and go dump stuff in room. Try to discreetly go back downstairs and sneak remainder of “the children” through the side door.

Learning of the day: They are all too big and loud to try and sneak anywhere. Graceful and sleuthlike is not their forte.

Arrive in room. They hook up the XBOX to the TV. I never would have agreed to bringing a video game system on our mini vacay if it wasn’t for the pending storm knowing we could be stuck in the hotel room a good part of the day.

I learn later that night that there are screens and then there are screens. These games they play – they never stop talking and laughing. It’s very unlike screens when they are on their social media. 

Head to cineplex to beat the storm. Drop boys off. Go shopping. Worry the entire time if the storm will start early as I have four kids who are not my own with me. (The fact that I am literally less than five minutes to the hotel doesn’t seem to factor into reality for me).

Go to Boston pizza to pre-order pizza. BOGO on pizza. Score. We can eat supper for $10 each.

Return to find boys at the theatre arcade. Matt and Daniel are either incredibly skilled or incredibly lucky at an arcade game and receive an unusual amount of tickets to trade for bouncy balls. Which of course they must have. 

The dichotomy of this age is one of the things I love most. 

Young woman behind the counter becomes confused and somewhat defiant when the tall men-like creatures standing before her insist on acquiring all of said bouncy balls with their dozens of tickets.

Sadly Karrie-Ann (again Ann is not not her last name) must break up the conversation as she insists it’s time to go as a blizzard is forming quickly and we do not want to be stuck in the Cineplex with rude-bouncy-ball-lady for the entire weekend.

Eat the cheap pizza at hotel.

They go to the pool to swim. Return within 5 minutes. Too many little kids. (Be still my heart – they aren’t ‘the little kids’ anymore)

Return to pool after some serious gaming. Apparently have pool all to themselves later in the night.

Karrie-Ann chooses not to supervise them at pool – there is only five of them – letting them grow up and go. 

She instead spends the entire hour in room praying they don’t make stupid decisions to dive head first into the concrete bottom.

They return in one piece. Phew. Dodged that bullet.

Try to sleep.

12:35 am. Karrie-Ann quietly but meaningfully turns on her light and shuffles about her room hoping they can see the light from the crack under my door. She hears “shhhhhhh” and laughter. She makes a mental note in 10 minutes she will be less discreet and go yell at the boys that it’s time to settle down.

12:36 am. Karrie-Ann falls asleep. Who the hell knows what happens between 12:37 and 7:00 am. Bars and strip clubs perhaps.

Day Two of Two

Wake up and give thanks that a) it appears no boy wandered out of the hotel room never to return and b) we did NOT get kicked out of the hotel.

That’s how I’m defining success this weekend.

Inform boys next time there will be a morning curfew – no one out of bed until 8am. Matt and Chris agree. Particularly Matt who got elbowed by Daniel several times asking if he was up yet. No Daniel. He wasn’t up. Truth be told though it was Chris’ alarm and my early morning son and Jackson who started the sunrise fiasco.

Boys head down to eat breakfast and play a tournament of something on the gaming system. 

Karrie-Ann drinks two large cups of coffee. Without Baileys. Give myself pat on the back for not being inebriated around the children.

Somewhere around this time they call me on “a swear”. I called one of them a smart-ass. I love they think that qualifies as swearing. I love even more I never heard one disrespectful word from them all weekend toward me. Not one. And that’s the truth.  

Get ready to leave hotel for Get Air. 

Uh oh. Realization that a bomb exploded in the boys room. We may need a late check out just for them to clean it up. 

The sloth-like creatures do a reasonable job in an unreasonable amount of time. How the hell are they so fast on the court?

Arrive at Get Air. Everyone from Halifax and Dartmouth are there. No really. Everyone. People have quit their jobs to come here today. The line is nearly out the door.  

Finally get through. Boys go jump. I go sit and make small talk with other Moms I’ve never met before. Big mistake. I don’t have the energy for small talk. I should have went and sat in the van by myself. 

All five return after their one hour jumping session with no injuries and have apparently not jumped on nor injured any people shorter than them either. 

Once again – success.

Look for van in parking lot. We are all confused when it won’t unlock. Another mental note – pay better attention when renting a vehicle – memory consisting of “blue van” doesn’t cut it in the city.

Pile back into the correct van only to pile back out again after a vote calls for eating prior to leaving. 

Go eat. Sit away from them to give them space. I’m so tired my head feels heavy. Would it be conspicuous to lay my head down next to my quesadilla and take a little nap?

I realize what a long period of consecutive waking hours they have been together – usually they would have breaks in time when spending two days together. They have done very well. They are good kids and they make me proud – even though only one of them is mine – I’m so proud of them all.

Ok. All done. Time to go home.

The drives are always the best part. They chirp each other and make the stupidest jokes and try to one-up each other. They try and beat each other at some game I can’t pronounce. They fight over the back seats which is where they are most squished but still want to be.

There is one point as I’m dropping Daniel off to his house that I laugh so hard tears literally pour out of my eyes. I’m so so so tired. Why don’t I have a vehicle that drives itself?

Two days with five boys. 

Each of who unfold themselves from the van as I drop them off. Each of whom try and find their bags and pillows from the piled-high-Beverly-Hillbillies-Van. And each of whom holler a big and sincere “Thank You” as they drag themselves to their homes.  

Each of them exhausted, over tired and zombie like. They don’t exactly “look” like a great time was had. They are smelly from Get Air. Come to think of it I’m not sure I saw any toothbrushes out at the sink either. And certainly not a shower was had. Will their mothers ever let me take them anywhere again?

But even smelly and exhausted, I wouldn’t trade these two days or these five boys for the world. 

These are the moments.

Oh – and by the way – the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead. 

It’s an inside joke. Which isn’t so much a joke as a game. And which I wasn’t really on the inside of either.

But how thankful I was … to be on the outside of it looking in.

The Boy and the Girl Next Door

One year ago I stood and watched my childhood home burn to the ground.

It seems like a small thing now doesn’t it?

In the midst of world events. 

I guess. Maybe. But it wasn’t small to me, and it wasn’t small to my parents then either.

It’s the eternal cliche, but time really does help heal and fade so many tragedies.

But today I’m looking back and I’m remembering that day, and it’s hard to believe sometimes that 365 days have since passed.

I could write about a million feelings and stories that spring from that day, but the one memory I always come back to – from the day itself – is the moment I turned around. Once metaphorically and once literally, to see the boy, and the girl, next door.

I was in Liverpool in the middle of a meeting when I got a phone call from my brother telling me the news.

It’s strange news to comprehend really. You’re not sure what to feel. Immediately the only thing that matters is that everyone is safe. So that is your predominant emotion the entire day/week/month. Nothing else matters.

Except. Somehow. It does. Maybe?

Because throughout the entire hour and a half drive from Liverpool to Nicholsville other thoughts start creeping in. What are they? They seem familiar. But wait a minute. All I’m supposed to be feeling is grateful. Everyone is ok. 

But there they come again. Those thoughts. They well up in my chest and start falling out my eyes. And they are coming in the spits and spats. They are coming in between the “what will my parents do now?” question on my head. And they sneak through the logistical “what a nightmare insurance will be” questions. And also they dive right through the sense of loss I immediately feel for both of my parents and selfishly myself.  

These images and feelings and thoughts I can’t seem to name just won’t let go, even among the other 103 things whirling around my head right now. What is going on?? 

And then it hits me. Somewhere around driving through Morristown. 

Oh. I recognize them now. It’s the memories. They are pesky little memories. Particularly memories of my childhood.

And bam. All of a sudden the only thing in my head (wait, no, make that my heart) is the one mile stretch of pavement between the Palmer Road and Victoria Road and a black house that sits on a small hill. 

For the rest of the day that was all my world consisted of. Which funny enough is where the fire trucks blocked off all traffic from entering. That one mile stretch.

When you grow up in the country you have a lot of space around you. Which means that you don’t have as many neighbours as you would in town. But the neighbours you do have take on a different role. The people I grew up with were “in” my life in a way that is difficult to explain. I called their parents “Aunt” and “Uncle” even though there were no blood ties. There was a comfort there that went beyond neighboours or friendship.

But ofcourse life, and people, grow up and move on. I had long ago “moved away”. And these people on this stretch of road become fond memories but no longer really “present” in your life. 

Because that just kind of how life is.

But as my brother and I drove up to Victoria Road and hit that threshold – that one mile stretch – the waves of memories with these people came crashing back.

I drive this road all the time still to come visit my parents. Why were these flooding back so significantly now?

And then we pulled up to the house burning. And there were Mom and Dad. And I became 10 years old again. And suddenly I knew why I was feeling those memories so strongly.

Because my entire childhood was on that road, in that house. It sounds so simple, but is so true.

And so we stood there for quite a long time watching. The four of us. My Mom, Dad, brother and me.

And to anyone watching us that’s exactly what it looked like. Just the four of us.

But it wasn’t.

Not for me.

I was somehow also haunted by all of the people who touched my lives while I grew up in that house.

And as I stood there watching, all of a sudden there was a tap on my shoulder. And there she was. The girl next door. Dawne Boates. Who didn’t really live next door – but in fact a mile down the road, and whose last name is no longer Boates, but there she was, and for a moment nothing else mattered. I can’t imagine wanting to see anyone more.

She hugged me, and that hug seemed to last forever. I can’t ever explain to her what that hug meant – how much was in it.

And then she did EXACTLY what I needed. She gave us a bag of clothes (oh my god those clothes were better than gold – my feet were so cold) told us she was there for anything we needed. Hugged me again. And then she left. Left us to be alone and deal with our emotions and grief. It was one of the most respectful, most needed things that has ever happened to me. Her action in coming. Her hug. Her gift. Her respectful leaving.

In those moments I knew how much she was hurting for us – how much she wanted to help.

And the rest of the day came and went – in loss and uncertainty.

But it did so with a little gentle help from another someone else from beginning to end.

From the boy next door.

Because there he was, Tim Palmer, the entire day. Tim, who had built a home next door to his parents and across from mine. Tim, who may have spent as much of his childhood at my house as his own. There he was. The entire day doing exactly what we needed him to do. Walking that very fine line of being present but not in the forefront. Respecting our family’s time together, and never pushing. But instead ordering an entire feast for us from a local diner, giving us shelter to come and go, warming up his truck for us to sit in, lending us clothes, talking and listening, stepping up and stepping back. His presence and his actions, were everything to me.

And so there it was. Who knew that on this awful day when I morphed back into a 10 year old girl, that my two childhood friends would reappear in my life like magic? 

Ofcourse it makes perfect sense. Who could understand my loss more than these two who spent so much time in those walls with me?

The boy and the girl next door.  

There weren’t two people I wanted to see more.

And I will forever be whispering thank you for them.