Sunday, May 22, 2011

Day 382: I hope you dance

Do you ever have those times when you just feel like a bad parent? I've been feeling that way for a few days now. First, because I was away for three days for my conference. I don't know why I feel bad about this at all--traveling was always a part of my job, and the only reason I haven't done it in a long time is that I was going through cancer treatment, and right before that, I had a baby. It's strange to think that I haven't traveled at all really in Augie's life, except for an occasional night away with Gabe or the week I spent away from the family when they were all sick and I was going through chemo and couldn't be around them. I was away for my conference last year too, but that was probably for the best. I was so out of it, being just two weeks from my diagnosis, that it actually helped not to be at home and have to pretend to be normal.

No matter how normal it is, I felt guilty being away this time. In some ways, it was a treat, so maybe that's why I feel guilty. I had a hotel room to myself, no house to clean, no dinner to make, no kids to put to bed. After 13 hour days I was exhausted, but also relatively satisfied. It's always nice to go through all of the drama of a big event, especially if it's your event, and you are the main organizer, and have it work well. It's like planning a wedding--things go wrong, you drive yourself nuts, and then all of a sudden hundreds of people are there, and things are happening, and it's great and everyone congratulates you.

Nonetheless, I had my strange cancer moments, even in the midst of this event that was so far removed from cancer. One speaker whom I recruited, who has known me professionally for many years, didn't recognize me at first. You cut off all your hair! he said. I received so many compliments on my hair, and it was very hard to know what to say. How long have you had that haircut? Um, not very long, maybe a few months (how long have I had hair, I was thinking)? Your hair looks great! I love it! I can't believe you cut it all, I've always wanted to do that!

No, no I don't think you do. Not my way, at least.

Of course I just said thank you, and I was fairly self-satisfied with the fact that I guess I successfully "passed" and in a big way in such a public venue. Neither those who have seen me over the years nor those who have never seen me before could tell that this is post-cancer hair. I waited so long to be able to walk down the street without it being obvious that it was a little weird to think that all physical vestiges of the damn thing have disappeared.

Almost, that is. I still have the pain in my breast and my chest, all the time. It wakes me up when I sleep on the left side. I still have those back twinges, and I get paranoid. I wonder what's going on with my cycles after having three normal ones post-chemo. I thought I was getting my fourth period Friday, but it appears to be spotting or something. At one point in my life I would worry that a strange or missing period meant pregnancy, and now I just think, cancer. Or, menopause returning. Pregnancy is almost too disastrous of an outcome to fathom, with the potentially cancer-causing hormones and the proximity to chemo and everything.

These thoughts can distract me and make me feel off-kilter, and I feel so distracted already, especially with the house. Houses, I should say. It's exciting but very overwhelming, with so much to do. I am not going to encourage anyone else recovering from cancer to go buy another house, but it's an excellent distraction to have a huge project to take up some of the space of this "new normal" that is hard to figure out. If your post-cancer life is exactly the same, I think you just get annoyed with it. Certain things remind you of cancer, other things just seem stupid, and in general you wonder how it's possible for life to be so similar when you feel so different.

This isn't specific to cancer. I went through this as a child after my car accident, and I went through it to some extent after Lenny was born. I went through it after I graduated from college--for months. I had spent my youth with a goal so specific I didn't even realize I had it until I achieved it. I wanted to graduate from college at age 21, never having been married or pregnant. I thought I was pregnant a few weeks before I graduated, and it turned out to be a false alarm, but I remember how it felt to think I wouldn't be able to do that simple thing. Once I did it, I was so immensely happy, and yet I thought to myself, what now? What do I do now? Now, I know you're not supposed to move, or switch jobs or have affairs or do huge things to change your life in this type of circumstance, but it's totally understandable why people do.

In a way, this house is like a scar for me. It's a sign that life is different. I've written before about my frustration over the lack of physical scars for different things that happened to me as a child. I wanted something to mark my car accident, my epilepsy even. Now, I didn't literally want to be "marked," I just wanted something I myself could see that would tell me that that thing really happened, because otherwise some of it just seemed like a dream. I think that's what's going on here too. Post-cancer should be different than pre-cancer. In some ways, all you want is for it to be the same. You want to look the same, have the same friends, do the same things with your kids, go back to your old self. That's the goal. But things shift, and rather than dump my friends or family or have some life crisis, I guess I've found some ways to remain the same, with some new in the future.

It's strange to think about the future, really. Every time I did that for a while, it made me almost unbearably sad. I didn't stop doing it, thinking of the future, but I didn't expect to be in the future necessarily either. I would think about the future, and what I would miss. Lately, I've been thinking a lot about how things were a year ago. Last May was the hardest month of my entire life. I think I can even say that it was harder than chemo. The emotional anguish was just that--anguishing. And now I have this guilt that I don't feel some sense of extreme happiness to not be in that place anymore. It's so hard to explain.

Let me try, though. Lenny had her dance recital this weekend. That made for a chaotic week, with me being gone. I guess Gabe did something with her hair (no makeup, I'm sure) for her dress rehearsal. I came home Friday from my conference totally exhausted, only to do about 5 hours of work to get the house ready to put on the market. I was cranky and Gabe and I got in a fight. Then yesterday we were busy trying to get ready after I met a painter at our new house, and we couldn't find our tickets for the show and one of Lenny's gloves got left behind. She was pretty upset on the way over there. I felt terrible about that.

I thought to myself that it was a good thing that Lenny is so cute, because I sure as hell don't know what to do with her hair, and my minimal makeup application seemed to work just fine. It was next to impossible to deal with Augie through the 75 minute show, since it was during his naptime and he just doesn't understand the meaning of "quiet." (I can't believe I ever thought he wouldn't talk.) We got through it though--Augie made it until Lenny's routine (she was 15 out of 17th, so that was something!). After all of that, we hosted our book club--at our new, empty house. I had baked in the morning, so we lugged some food and drinks over there with a bunch of lawn furniture. We got there, and realized we didn't have the keys.

No matter, I set up the porch, feeling like a fairly incompetent person at that point. Gabe went home for keys, and I started giving tours of the house. Kids apparently find empty houses fascinating. Plus, there's a park nearby, so they went there for about an hour. Gabe volunteered to take them (bad parent feeling again--I would never volunteer to take seven kids to the park), and almost immediately called for backup. The evening was a lot of fun, though it ended with us learning that Augie, who had eaten about half of a watermelon by himself, is apparently as allergic to that as he is to other melon. Holy diaper rash, Batman. Now I know that's not my fault directly, because he has eaten many a piece of watermelon with no problems, but I still felt terrible. He was just crying when we got home, yelling "Butt! hurt!" and he was tired and giving me that scowly face and saying, "No, mommy!" when I came near him. Ugh!

Today we had the same dance routine, though we didn't lose anything or leave anything behind and we got there early. Augie only made it through about half the show though. But here's where I want to explain why I feel like a failed parent--and it doesn't have much to do with all the things I've mentioned already. Those were just the more obvious reasons.

Last year, at Lenny's recitals, I cried almost the whole time, start to finish. I couldn't stop crying during her two minute piece. She was so shy, and so unsure of herself, and I was so proud of her. For one of the finales, she was carried out by her teacher because she was too shy. All I could think was, she is so beautiful and so precious. Will I ever get to see her dance again? How many of these performances will she do, and how many will I miss, because I will be dead? This year, I thought back to the previous performance when a little girl in one of the routines just stood there yesterday, arms crossed on her chest, pouting, and never moved. Another girl tried to get her to join in, and she just glared, looking terrified. They had to pull her off of the stage, and she wouldn't come on for the finale. Then today, she was fine, smiling, dancing, waving. I shed a little tear for her, it made me so happy.

But I didn't feel particularly emotional about Lenny herself. I was proud, even though she was unsure of the steps (I guess it would help to practice...she doesn't seem to need to practice gymnastics, so with our limited time after work and school that might be the preferred sport!). I was happy, she was cute. I guess I just expected to feel some huge sense of relief or wonder, since a year ago I didn't know if I would see her dance again. I expected to feel some overwhelming sense of happiness, to want to just grab her and hold her.

But I just felt normal, normal pride, normal love, nothing more or less. This weekend I continued to get on Lenny's case about all the things I normally do (eating, taking forever to do things, cleaning her room) and I continued to hold her and read to her and tell her I love her. I did her hair in a half-assed way and told her the "special word" for her costume was "tuxedo." I laughed to myself as she played tuxedo wedding with her stuffed animals (she also played planet rescue with the next door neighbor boy, which involves Diego-style rescues, only not of animals, but planets). I just didn't do anything differently, which felt somehow wrong.

Maybe I'm just too tired and annoyed with the Bulls to make any sense right now. I had a great weekend--don't get me wrong. I just sometimes feel strange in normal circumstances, like I'm leading some kind of fake life, or living my life but not well enough. I shouldn't have rushed my daughter, I should have cried with happiness for her, not another child, I shouldn't have felt so glad to have Gabe come home after four hours by myself with the kids today. These are the things I wanted to come through cancer for, right?

Maybe not--maybe my life just as it was, messy and overwhelming and imperfect, was what I really wanted. The song tells us that we should wish for something else for those we love. If given the chance to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance. That is supposed to be the lesson I have learned. But it feels more like this--I hope you dance if you want to, and I hope I get to be there. I might still sit it out. But I'll be there. Right?

1 comment:

  1. Which house is the scar? And is that a positive or negative connotation? You didn't see me volunteering even for back-up playground duty. We both just married well. ;)

    Huge annual work conference that you organize seems like ample distraction from too much emotional build-up over Lenny's recital.

    You hear older people say they wish they could have slowed down and enjoyed every moment of parenthood and you think, egad, you're so busy it's not like that's really a choice a person can make. Tony had to work all day Sunday, and so I felt all day like I was just trying to get as much done as possible while still being the parent in charge. (I got most of my garden planted--woohoo!) Then this morning I laughed as I recalled setting Parker onto the oregano plant with his safety scissors. After snipping all the dead dandelions he wanted a new thing to cut, so I said he could hack at the interminable oregano bush. After one snip he was asking what he could cut next. I said you can cut that as much as you want. To which he said, that's how much I want to cut--one. What's my point? Barring a broken limb or major illness that forces us to stop working, we don't really get the choice of slowing down and savoring parenthood, except maybe in retrospect. But it's still pretty awesome, and that's good enough. :) At least you're writing a lot of it down. I ought to be better at that.