Parents often talk about being proud of their children. It's a natural way to feel; we are proud of their accomplishments, happy for them as they learn new things, wistful about how quickly they change. I am no different than other parents in feeling this pride. And yet, I doubt I will ever be prouder of my kids than I am at this point in their lives.
Today was awards day at my daughter's school. She received a variety of awards, and I was proud of her. Her last day of second grade is on Friday. My son will "graduate" from the Montessori school he has attended since age two on the same day. I will miss both of these events, as I will be traveling for work. However, I will be here for my son's graduation ceremony on Saturday. That day is also my husband's birthday. There will be talk about what they have learned, how they have grown, and what they will hopefully do in the future. These things are important.
But this is what I want my kids to know:
You are strong and impressive children. For the first half of the school year, your mother was going through chemotherapy for the second time. She had just recovered from cancer surgery when the school year started. She started a new job based in another state right after her diagnosis, and she was busy and stressed and could not take time off of work to spend special days with you. She was sick and forgetful and sometimes even depressed, she did most things the same but not everything. But more than anything, the thing is, she wasn't supposed to do this again. She was supposed to do it once, and be done. You were only supposed to have a mother like this once, back when you were one and four years old.
In some sense, neither of you knows any different. In another sense, you do. This time, you knew enough to know what might happen. You knew that when cancer comes back, that's bad. You knew she could die. You knew it could happen again, and be worse. You thought about death and you shrugged off the possibility of baldness and you asked to kiss a breast that was no longer there and you brought her stuffed animals when she took to bed after chemo. And all the while, you did these things:
Lenny, in the midst of all of this, you didn't miss a single day of school. You got straight As all year (except that one time when you forgot to fill in your journal for gym). You ran the mile faster than any other kid in your class, and faster than a hell of a lot of adults I know. You made new friends. You stuck with chess even though most of the other girls dropped out and you didn't really like it. You went with two boys from your class to the next level of math. You continued with gymnastics and swimming and you can still do as many pull-ups as your dad. You only had one meltdown at school that I know of, and you dealt with everything so stoically that the teacher didn't even realize why you were having it (it was a chemo day, remember?). You didn't talk to a therapist or the school counselor even though we offered, and that was your choice, and while we knew it would have helped you we also knew that sometimes, kids need to do what they need to do. We didn't want to proscribe problems for you. And yet, to whom could you talk about all of this? What friends, what adults, outside of your parents, could or would talk to you about the things you feared the most?
Augie, in the midst of all of this, you overcame some of the issues you had had before cancer reared its ugly head again. You caused a lot of trouble at school, and then, just like that, you stopped. You started to listen. You concentrated on your work, even when you had night terrors the night before and must have been completely exhausted, physically and emotionally. You learned how to read, and BOY did you learn how to read. You can read many of your sister's books today. You played your first team sport and we had the joy of watching you dance and wiggle with happiness the entire time you played baseball. You did go to a therapist, and talked about other things. You got unbelievably angry, at yourself, at your parents, at cancer, at the world, and you learned to let it go. You fought demons with a fierceness I have never seen before in a real live human being, and as soon as cancer was "gone," those demons were gone too. You don't kick and claw your way through your sleep anymore. You began to draw, to really sit and concentrate and utilize beautiful colors and let the rest of us into that fascinating place that is your mind's view of the world. And you carried this weight around, like it was almost nothing--this weight you only recently voiced, that you believed I had cancer because I had you.
I am not sure I can take credit for anything, for either of you, for any of this. If I can, it is because I didn't know what else to do but be myself. I could have been more nurturing with you, I could have hidden the reality from you, but I didn't know how to do those things, so I didn't. I am sorry and yet so proud of how well you handled childhood and how you stuck together in the midst of all of these adult problems.
You have taught me things. One of the things you have taught me is that you do understand what the important lessons are. Way back at the beginning of this, almost a year ago, Lenny, you told me that I had taught you something, and it was something I guess I had taught you all along, all your lives. You looked me right in the eye and shrugged your shoulders as you said it: "What? Mom, you taught me that."
That--that thing you told your brother, that made him nod his head like it was the most natural thing in the world:
"She will always be our mom. Even when she's dead."
And if I believed in a different type of existence, I'll tell you what. I'd be damn proud of you both, even then. Even when.