Maybe one day, I, and the people who love me, will look back on my life and feel it is defined more by what I didn't do when I was expected to do it than by what I did do.
Like all those times I didn't cry.
My kids had their last day of summer camp/school on Friday. For the last six and a half years, we have walked one or both of them to that Montessori school every single day. Gabe cried in the morning on the way over. The teachers cried when we picked them up, joining right along with Gabe and his crying. I didn't cry at all, and not because I didn't love the school, and not because I wasn't thinking about how my kids are getting older. I didn't cry in part because I just don't cry. It's not a thing that comes naturally to me. But that oversimplifies things. I didn't cry because I wasn't sad, I wasn't heartbroken, and I wasn't even sentimental.
I was happy.
I'm excited for my kids as they move on to new things. I've lived my life as if there is always something else to do, another step to take, another phase to move into, and I don't look at parenthood any differently. I don't cry thinking about their baby years; in fact, I don't even MISS the baby years. I don't wish I could hold them again when they were that small. I think instead about how they learned 98% of all the things they would ever need to know in their lives in those first few years, and how amazing that is, considering how helpless they were at the time. I didn't cry last weekend when Augie lost his first tooth, so much earlier than Lenny did, and we were all excited for him. Gabe cried, of course. And luckily it was me, not him, who put Lenny to bed that night. She looked at me and asked me if I had any dollar coins. I looked hard at her and said no, and why would I have them? Oh, no reason, she said. I was just wondering. I mean, mom, what if the tooth fairy forgets or something?
I could've cried to learn that my 8 year old no longer believes in that magic. I could've cried over how she tried to play it off like she still did in order to shield me from the truth. I could've cried over how she was trying to look out for her little brother, however imperfectly. But I didn't. I smiled. I told my mom about it the next day and she sniffed, clearly tearing up; I could tell even over the phone. And I said "Well. She's eight and a half." And what I meant was, now she can play the game with us.
I didn't cry when they were born. I didn't cry when I found out I was pregnant with either of them, even Augie--and I never expected that it was possible for me to get pregnant again. I haven't cried for any of their transitions with schools and child care centers. I can't think of any milestones that made me cry. Of course, this doesn't mean I haven't cried over my kids. I cried a whole hell of a lot when I was first diagnosed with cancer. I cried just from looking at them. The whole thing just broke my heart, to think what I had to give up, what I had to stop doing, what I might miss. I cried when I saw other people's children and teenagers. I just cried and cried and I felt like someone else.
I cried then because I didn't know how it would be, but I knew it would be bad; I cried because the change that was coming was complete bullshit. I cried because it's hard to think about dying for more than a few minutes without crying, taking drugs, or doing something really drastic, and crying was drastic for me. I cried at other points in their childhoods too, but sparingly.
Cancer brought out the crier in me. Lost loves have done the same, but only one of those even compared from a heartbreak perspective. Nothing much else has led me to cry. I have distinct memories of other people crying and realizing it would be normal for me to do so too. When I graduated from high school, my best friend cried and cried. I'm sure it was sadness and happiness all mixed together. I didn't cry. I smiled and laughed and thought about how long I had known her and yet I couldn't wait to get the hell out of there and I talked to people about how we would always write and call and attend each other's weddings even though I knew it was a lie. I only ever saw my best friend from college cry one time, and that was when she walked away from me when we graduated. I looked at her and knew I would miss her--but I didn't cry. I didn't cry at my wedding. Well, a single tear fell when my brother read the poem he had written for us, but everyone else was pretty much bawling in the aisles. I didn't cry over epilepsy, or my car accident, or over losing my breast. I didn't cry when I left for college or when my mother said goodbye to me. I didn't cry when that kid put a gun to my head--I didn't cry then, and I never cried about it later. I didn't cry when I was assaulted--I never cried over any of that, not ever. I cried when I had my head shaved back in July of 2010, but only briefly. I was exhausted from chemo and I weighed 111 pounds and I was convinced I looked like a boy, but this expression of resignation is the one I've always worn, and by always, I mean...pretty much always.
Sometimes, I wonder if there is something in me that is missing. Sometimes, I envy those who can cry so freely, like my husband. For a while there, I thought cancer had changed me, but the idea that cancer changes people is more convenient than it is true. Cancer made me cry for a while, but then I found myself still alive, and I found that I was still the same dry-eyed person. Cancer did not make me sentimental. It gave me reverse nostalgia, or...did it?
I've always thought--always, for as long as I can remember--that it would be wonderful to be old. Not just because I could just finally be the stubborn cantankerous person I really am deep inside and that would be a wonderful way to cap off a life well lived, but because of something my mother once said to me that I secretly agreed with, that I realize makes us different than some other people. She is probably a social loner like me. If you don't know what that means, well, you might not know us. My mother once said she always wanted to be old, living alone on a mountain somewhere, looking at the sky and knowing that everyone was all right. They didn't have to be there. Just knowing it was enough.
I was about 8 years old when I heard this. And I thought, me too.
I still think that. I can't cry as things change and move on because that's all I've ever wanted--to witness that happening, or even just to know about it. I never thought I would live to see my son reach kindergarten, and yet, he's going to start kindergarten in just a few weeks and I don't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. Maybe when I drop him off at the door, I will cry. But it won't be because my little boy is getting so much bigger. It will be because we made it, both of us, and that means there is the possibility that we will keep on making it, to the next thing, and the next, and the next. These days, if I cry, it's not over what I've lost, but rather over how glad I am to be one step closer to the summit of the mountain, scared and breathless but not looking back.