Friday, November 28, 2014

Day 1,539: Giving Thanks

Thank goodness for all of the things you are not!
Thank goodness you're not something someone forgot,
and left all alone in some punkerish place
like a rusty tin coat hanger hanging in space.

--Dr. Seuss, from "Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?"

That is the Dr. Seuss book I grew up with more than any other--that and the Sleep Book. No Red Fish Blue Fish. No Green Eggs and Ham. No Cat in the Hat. Not that one that everyone reads at graduations. One Dr. Seuss book about not feeling sorry for yourself, one about learning to go to sleep, and one called Hooper Humperdink, which was about the kid no one wanted to invite to the party. My parents chose wisely with books--I can see that now.

For the past five years, I have dreaded the notion of writing Thanksgiving posts. I've dreaded it because of the societal expectation that I am now gracious and thankful because I have had cancer (twice) and I'm not dead. I've dreaded feeling like I have to explain that I was always a thankful person who had a pretty damn good perspective of the world; I've dreaded feeling the need to explain that I've understood mortality in a very real way for 30 years; I've dreaded having to say that I didn't need the lesson cancer was supposedly teaching me.

But this year, I feel differently. I feel differently not because I am thankful to not be in the middle of chemo during this holiday season--I mean, of course I'm happy about that. Last year at this time, I looked and felt like a ghost--a true ghost, a cold, pale, tired wisp of a person. It's wonderful not to feel like that. But this year I feel differently because I think that the problem with writing Thanksgiving missives is not that some of us don't know what to say, but that we have framed the whole thing wrong. After all, is it productive to count your many blessings? Is it useful to recognize how lucky you are if you don't do anything with that knowledge?

I don't think it is so useful to realize you are lucky, if you do not do some real and meaningful work to think not only about others who aren't so lucky, but about the very real fact that luck might not always work in your favor. This is the time of year to give up on our false idea of meritocracy and realize not only that most people do not deserve their misfortune, but most, if not all, people do not deserve their fortune either. This is the time of year to realize that when you stop to reflect, maybe you should just stop.

Maybe it isn't about you.

That is all my long way of saying that I have decided to write my annual Thanksgiving post about suffering.

Suffering is real. In the United States, we like to pretend that it is not. We pretend that suffering is something that you can choose not to experience, that you can will away, that you can hide under positive thoughts or a fist pump and a smile.

I really do think that we pretend this with the worst of intentions.

We do this because when others suffer, we stop seeing them, and we start seeing nothing but ourselves.

How often do you hear people say, "I hate going to funerals." "Hospitals are depressing." Sometimes people are less charitable in explaining what makes them queasy. Those who are old, or sick, or dying are off limits. Folks even go so far as to say that they will hate THEMSELVES if they are less than the young and vigorous people they are today. In our recent collective discussion about the right to die, I felt so often that the conversation drifted off point. It no longer became a discussion about whether people should have control over end of life care. It turned into this discussion of "but she had SEIZURES. can you imagine?" Or, "I remember how my mom suffered and I wouldn't want to do that to anyone," or "it's so hard to watch someone you love deteriorate."

Yes, yes it is. And you owe them that, at least. You owe those you love the duty of witnessing their suffering and not turning away. You owe them that--the acknowledgment that the suffering belongs to them, and the promise that you will not deny their reality because it is hard. Those who are able should be able to decide how they want to go in a terminal illness situation. But let's not assume that they would all choose the same path. Let's not assume that they OWE us ANYTHING. You are not owed the opportunity to NOT witness suffering. You are not owed painless memories. There are people--in my own family--who have scores of disastrous seizures every single day of their lives and have for decades. There are people who cannot do many of the things that most of us think of as essential who are living full and meaningful lives--even if those lives involve suffering.

When did we learn to turn away from suffering? Have we forgotten about Mother Theresa, holding the lepers' hands? I just don't understand.

This happens all too often within the cancer community--especially with breast cancer, when everyone on the outside seems to have decided that suffering is optional or just plain fictional. The societal pressure to act as if breast cancer is simply a rite of passage or a fashion show leads to some truly sad things for those who have or have had the disease. We get separated from one another. Not always, not everyone, but sometimes. Early stage women fear women with mets. Women who have not had recurrences do not want to hear from those who have. Women who are long-term survivors long to take credit for it, leaving those who died early on to suffer after death in the wake of a "lost battle." Women yearn for stories of hope and wish that those stories transferred onto them.

But I just want to say this.

If a woman is suffering through metastatic breast cancer, that is not about me. If a woman dies from breast cancer, that is not about me. If a woman has an early, estrogen-positive breast cancer and all she has to do is have surgery and go home, that is not about me. The existence of targeted treatments for non-TNBC cancers is not about me. Hormone markers are not about me. Nothing except my experience is about me. So, I can be happy for those who have survived a long time or who have access to treatments that don't apply to me or who avoided other treatments I had to take. I can sympathize and empathize with women who will have cancer the rest of their too-short lives. I can see that their suffering and sadness and fear is real and individual and tragic and I can feel a real human case of oh shit, I'm so sorry, for them. I do not fear them. I do not turn away. I do not refuse to read their stories. I do not look to others for reassurance that I will be ok--they don't know that, and neither do I. I can look to others for reassurance that the things I am experiencing are NORMAL, because sometimes it is hard to tell in the land of the truly abnormal. But I know that the only thing separating me from a woman who is dying of breast cancer is luck, and maybe, just maybe--time.

Those women who sit on the other side of the cancer-luck stick are me. Not now, but someday. Maybe not because of cancer, but because of something. We will all suffer and die, and many of us will know we are dying and be unable to stop it.

I've experienced some of the fallout of obvious suffering myself. Sometimes, it's painfully obvious. Your friends disappear during chemo and show up again when you're "done." Or, it can be very subtle. People only want to hear about the ass-kicking part of things, not about the things that are hard. Women ask me about my diet, my genetic history, my stress level and all kinds of other things that are nowhere near their business out of some misplaced desire to understand how I am in this place--what did I do to deserve it?--so that they can feel assured that they will never, in fact, be me. Sometimes, the fear of suffering comes out in the seemingly positive: "You can beat this!" Oh hell, I'd love to, but no, I have no idea if I can.

Any time someone brings forth some horrible anecdote about something that has happened to them due to cancer I say the same thing, or something akin to it:

I am so sorry. Cancer is bullshit.

And those little victories?

So happy for you. Enjoy yourself.

We live in our bodies alone and we die alone but there is no reason we need to experience the in between alone, or in hiding. And some of that in between is almost indescribably hard. And that, too, is real.

So on Thanksgiving, maybe that is what we should give Thanks for--the opportunity to experience life in fellowship with others. We should give thanks not just for being lucky or blessed but for knowing what luck and blessings are and how easily they can be stripped away. We should reflect on the temporary nature of our luck, and the permanent nature of our temporary-ness.

Every year on Thanksgiving, Gabe and I split the wishbone from the turkey after the kids go to sleep. For the past four years, I am fairly sure that we both wished for the same thing, regardless of who got the lucky long end. This year, I "won." I asked him what he wished for and he wiped away his tears and glared at me. I know that he assumed our wish was the same, but he was wrong.

I didn't make a wish. I just smiled at him, and asked him to throw the bones away and lay with me on the couch.

I hope you all have many more Thanksgivings. Take care of yourselves.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Day 1,520: I'm Not the Default Parent

Now don't get me wrong, I don't think he is either. But I just had to write about this one.

This blog post about The Default Parent has been all over my social media feeds recently. It's one of those things that as a mother I am instinctively supposed to relate to, to understand. But I just don't get it. What, exactly, does it mean to be a default parent? Neither Gabe nor I feels that either of us is more default than the other. Now, he is a softie, and I am a hard-ass. But that doesn't make one of us more maternal than the other.

I am as default as my husband and vice versa. I find this article to be both troubling and enlightening. I didn't know there were parents who did not know their children's teachers' names. I did not know that as a parent, it was optional to be on the hook for the physical and emotional needs of your children. I did not know that as the one "with a uterus," all of the "crap jobs" would be mine and mine alone.

I was going to address the specifics of how we do things around here, but that seemed too much like trying to justify myself for not being the right kind of woman or mother or cancer patient or whatever. I have had women tell me they are surprised I still worked after cancer. Don't I feel guilty? Um, about what? Potentially dying? Well, um, So, I'm not going to get into too many specifics. I will say that from the first paragraph of this article, I was baffled. She thought it was bullshit that her husband didn't move to deal with the crying baby when they were both engaged in the same task. What about asking "hey, who's going to get the baby?" I mean, if you are the one who takes care of business, you don't get to complain about it later. You got up to get the baby--fine. If you didn't want to do it the next time, you should just say, "hey buddy. baby's crying. what are you going to do about it?"

Now, we all do this to some extent--we do things and then carry resentment about it, as if it's the fault of the world that we did something. Sometimes I wish that there was such a thing as truly reversed gender roles. I am the one who travels for work. This means that my husband has to figure it all out when I'm gone. That means all of it--getting them to and from school, homework, music lessons, sports, meals. I know when I am out of town that the kids eat spaghetti and sloppy joes. I know the laundry won't get done. I know we are both kind of envious of each other--he is envious of me and the time I get to spend in a hotel room by myself and I am envious of him getting to put the kids to bed. I know that the kids will start to miss me on the second day and will start to have attitude on the third. I get annoyed when I come home and the house is kind of a mess, because I would really like to come home to a clean house one of these days and oh if only I had a WIFE! For those who think traveling is glamorous, maybe you all get to go to some warm and exotic locale but I am usually stuck in small midwestern airports and trying to decompress at the hotel bar at happy hour while married men who have removed their rings try to get me to meet up with them later. It's not appealing. So when I get home, I might get really annoyed at the piles of paper everywhere, but you know what?

My husband will be waiting for me, with a glass of bourbon in his hand. He will say "hey honey I missed you!" and offer to rub my back. Oh, how emasculated he must feel!


I told him about this article and he said "I think the idea of a default parent is a copout for women who let the guys off the hook and just take all the burdens on themselves. Plus, there's the idea that all this stuff is a burden, and it's not. There are rewards. It's rewarding." He also says this: "I think our parenting is pretty equal. I mean, there are things we are better at, or worse. The kids come to me for things a lot of the time, but when they really need to calm down, they go to you. Because you're better at distracting them."

Gabe is the one who plays with the kids more, who takes them to birthday parties and sports practice, who is in charge when I'm away, who is nurturing and cuddly and who lets them eat Lucky Charms for breakfast. He does the yardwork. I'm the one who cooks and does laundry and goes grocery shopping and buys their clothes and lays out Augie's clothes in the morning. He helps with showers and I address wounds. But here's the thing. No one expects him to feel guilty or inadequate because there are things I do well that he does not do. However, it is assumed that if I am not doing most of the stuff with the kids, I am not a REAL mother. I am just...secondary.

No matter that we both work full time, that my job is more specialized, or that I make more money. From a practical perspective, Gabe has always said that my job comes first, and he would need to make his work around mine. No resentment, no weird gender role thing happening, just reality. He began claiming flexibility at work when I was going through cancer treatment. He just told his office that when I had chemo, he was going with me. He stayed home with Lenny two days a week when she was three months old, as did I. He was in charge of Augie by himself for a month when I went back to work when Augie was six months old. They were shocked that he actually claimed paternity leave, but whatever. He leaves work early every Tuesday to deal with the kids' after school activities. Now, I pick them up every other day of the week, so, why should we assume that his Tuesday is more relevant? No one is getting a cookie for taking care of their own kids. Not him, and not me.

And let me tell you, we have BOTH asked the other what is going on when we find ourselves in charge of doing something the other one normally does. Gabe has thrown up his hands at me when I didn't feed Augie dinner BEFORE basketball. Was I out of my mind? I have had to roll my eyes at him when he has called me from the grocery store totally flummoxed as to what we might need. Um, has he looked in the refrigerator lately?

Here's the deal. If you are normally the one who takes Lucy to jazz class, it is not out of the question for someone else to ask you what time said class ends. Why should another person keep that information in their minds, if they don't normally have to use it? This is where women are making things too hard.

This is where sometimes motherhood becomes a contest in martyrdom. The Default Parent author claims that the Default Parent/mother does not have her own calendar, but rather keeps everyone else's calendar. But I have to ask, why is that? When did the kids or the husband ask you to stop planning things for yourself? We have this argument in my house all the time, but in reverse. I am the one who goes to the gym, who takes walks by myself, who announces my plans: "I am going to go do XYZ." I do not ask permission. I am almost 40 years old, and I don't have to ask permission. My husband is TERRIBLE about making his own plans. The truth is, he was terrible at it before we had kids. When we were dating, he was bad at it. Sometimes he gets sullen and resentful and is all "I don't get to do anything on my own without the kids." Well, honey, why is that? Are you waiting for your scheduler to do that for you? I am happy for him to do whatever he wants, but I am not going to be the one to schedule it for him. And the funny thing is, I've tried.

Let me give you an example. One day last fall I was a day out of chemo. I put on my pjs and so did the kids and we got ready for a cozy night of watching Monsters U. I told Gabe sure, he should go to this wine tasting event that was happening across the street. He could go hang out with other adults, get drunk, walk home. The kids and I would just stay in and go to bed early. He got ready to go. He went upstairs. Then he came down in his pjs and said he wanted to hang out with us instead. and I said: "OK, but then you can't complain later that you didn't get to go out."

And you know what? HE DIDN'T. He admitted that he was lame and he liked being with us more. He was choosing to have less of a social life. So husbands of the world who go hang out with the guys and then deal with wives who are angry with you, I'm WITH YOU. I know you are not lying when you say you don't care if she hangs out with the girls. You just legit don't understand why she doesn't do it.

I don't think anyone is asking us to do everything. At some point, the people who feel overwhelmed need to take responsibility for that feeling. If you don't cook, someone else will. Or they will eat spaghetti. Folks won't starve. I have to acknowledge that my annoyance with the messy house is my annoyance only. My husband and kids legit don't care. They don't see it. They don't think it's important. That hangup is mine, not theirs. So I pick up after people and then I yell about WHO DO YOU THINK IS GOING TO PICK THIS UP, THE MAGICAL CLEANING FAIRY? And the whole family looks at me like, who cares? The answer is that I do.

Also, I have always felt completely clueless as to how parenting leads people to stop taking care of themselves. So many women say that if you are a mother, you don't have time to shower, to go to the bathroom by yourself, to wear decent clothes, to get a haircut. If life was like the Internet, parenting would just be one long string of puke in your hair and dragging kids to the grocery store and taking a shit in the presence of others.

Nope, no, nein. My husband and I have always showered by ourselves, gone to the bathroom by ourselves, and left the kids with the other one while going to the store because it's hella annoying to take kids to the store. We claim every single evening as "Katy and Gabe time" after the kids go to bed. If I need a haircut, I walk to the fricking salon. If he needs a haircut, he buzzes it himself, because he's cheap and doesn't want to pay a barber.

When I was growing up, my mom stayed home. If we even thought of bothering her while she took her bath (every single day of our lives my mom took a long leisurely bath) or read the paper, there was hell to pay. She never sacrificed her own personhood or boundaries just because she stayed home with her kids. She hated the park, so she didn't go. She was the only one with a drivers license, so we could each pick one sport at a time, because she didn't like playing chauffeur.

I also don't see parenting as this inherently gross, unglamorous JOB. It's not just drudgery. And truth be told, I have never had puke in my hair that wasn't my own puke. That's not because I didn't take care of my sick kids, but because I figured out how to get them to puke elsewhere. I've never had conversations about disgusting diapers. Diapers are what they are. We all had to use them and we all probably will again. There's no martyrdom there. And when my kids have been disgustingly sick, and I've written about this before in what still stands as one of my favorite posts ever--I didn't feel disgusted, I felt bad for them. Their projectile vomiting was not about what parenting is like for me, but what illness was like for them. If there was vomit on the car upholstery, I'm not sure I cared. I was too busy being terrified my baby might aspirate.

I just don't understand the appeal of talking about how much parenting sucks, and then reiterating that you are the only one actually doing it. Now, if you are a single parent, you HAVE to do all of these things yourself. There is not one to take up the slack for you. That would be hard. Your life's calendar would have to take a backseat. I get that--it would be hard. But if you have another parent in the house with you, and you do everything, I just can't relate--sorry. I think it's time to either stop being resentful, or stop doing the stuff you resent.

This is what men do.

Just last night, I was reminded of this difference between men and women. I was lamenting to Gabe my current body. I've gained about 7 pounds since my second bout of cancer and I can't lose it. I was blaming hormones for a while and I think that's true to some extent, but last night I admitted to him that it's because I don't do all that strength training anymore. That training changed my metabolism. I still spin 5 days a week, take hour long walks every day, and do 20 minutes of abs. I exercise more than most people. I have strong arms and legs, but I am not as toned as I was even pre-chemo in the summer of 2013. At some point, I think it was because I worked out so much and then, well, it didn't matter. My cancer came back anyway. I had no other risk factors outside of being female, having breasts, and getting my period at age 11, but most of the risk factors related to weight and alcohol and everything didn't matter anyway because I am triple negative and the estrogen inducers aren't relevant for me. But then I thought, God, I did all that, and it was so hard to find the time, and then, well...for what? Maybe it's time to kick back and eat a damn sandwich. But it bothers me when my clothes fit differently or when I see pictures of myself in bathing suits a few years ago. And Gabe said this:

"You don't look any different to me than you did when we met. I think you look great. But the thing is, you can't complain about how you look and then say you no longer want to do the thing that led you to look like that, whatever that was. Either you have to be comfortable with yourself, or you need to go back to doing what you did before. I think you should be comfortable with yourself, and just let it go."

And there it is--just let it go. If you want to schedule and plan everything, do it. If you don't, stop doing it. If you find it mentally exhausting, clear your mind for something else. Recognize that your kids and your spouse are real, corporeal human beings who are separate and can do things for themselves. Go away for your weekend and don't leave instructions. I don't do that. I just leave. My husband does the same. We figure the other one has their shit together and can figure it out. Now, I did pick out Augie's clothes for picture day before leaving for a business trip, but Gabe got him in them and took the picture to send to me before walking him to school. The only reason I picked out the clothes is that Gabe has terrible fashion sense and I didn't want to look at a picture of my kid wearing something ridiculous.

But let me end with this. I hate the idea of a default parent for a reason that has nothing to do with gender, or the mommy wars, or working or staying at home or whether my husband has feminine qualities and I have masculine qualities or philosophical arguments about what any of that actually means. I hate it because if I am being honest, I wish that he WAS the default parent. I wish the kids didn't rely on me for anything. I wish he was the default parent because I am the parent who might not make it to their adulthoods. Back when I was first diagnosed with cancer, Gabe showed me an email that included well wishes for me. I scrolled down and read the whole chain, which I suppose he wasn't expecting. The email was from his ex-girlfriend, the only real significant "other" he has ever had. In the beginning, he was telling her about my cancer and his grief, and he said "I don't know what I will do if I have to raise the kids by myself." And the thing is, men feel that way. Women who have husbands with cancer feel grief and despair but they are rarely expected to wonder how they will manage if things go badly, because everyone assumes they will manage. My husband was terrified not only of losing me but of being left alone to raise our family. I could have been mad. I could have been jealous that he wrote to his ex. I could have gotten all wrapped up in gender roles and the high rate of divorce for women who have cancer. But...I didn't. He had the right to those feelings. The whole thing was shitty. I know he feels guilty to this day that he wrote that email. But all I can think is, why are we in this place?

Every time they get a crappy meal because I am on a trip I get pissed because I wonder what would happen if I never came home. I'm glad every time they go to him when they are scared because I know they would have someone to go to if I was dead. I carry that martyrdom with me, and I did not CHOOSE it, and I do not revel in it. I am jealous of his security in the idea that he will see them grow up. I am jealous that he says things like "when they go to prom, we will have to break this picture out!" and I say things like "If I'm still around when they go to prom..." or "you have to promise me that when they go to prom..." I was the parent who couldn't cook or even eat, who was skinny and tired and bald and maybe even dying, who couldn't hug my kids right after the mastectomy. They had to learn to be on the giving end of comfort. Gabe had to be a caretaker for me, even as I was doing so many things with the kids and work and everything else all in the middle of cancer. I am the one who has had chemo brain and actually couldn't keep track of everything even if I wanted to; I have felt frustrated and angry at my sudden forgetfulness. If there are mothers who feel overwhelmed at having to keep track of everything, there are some of us who are overwhelmed at losing the ability to be able to do so right smack in the prime of our lives. If there are mothers who feel responsible for their kids' emotional security, there are others who feel responsible for their kids' emotional troubles, and the latter is worse than the former--by a long shot. I was the parent who had the crushing job of telling both kids when my cancer came back. He didn't do it. He said he couldn't do it. I told him that I would do it, but that he needed to figure out how to have those conversations. He had to have his shit together this time. This cancer was not messing around. Just because we had a beautiful, interesting and eccentric little family did not mean that tragedy would not befall us. We might not deserve it, but we had to deal with it all the same.

At the end of the day, I don't think kids care who is a default parent and who is a back-up parent. I don't think kids think about their parents like that at all. Kids love their parents for being their parents. For all the kids out there who have an actual default parent, because the other one is dead, the only thing they wish is that the other parent was still there, being imperfect, watching basketball and yelling at them about shoes, going out to work or the gym or for a walk, but at least, miraculously, coming home again.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Day 1,513: Adulthood

I've had an interesting writing conundrum recently. I'll think of something that I really want to talk about, related to cancer, or gender, or the intersection of the two, and then it will seem defensive or like I'm justifying myself, and I will decide that I don't need to say that thing at all, because I don't owe anyone any explanations.

So instead I decided to write about that.

That feeling of comfort within myself--that feeling of not having anything to prove, is one that I have had for much of my life, even in my youth, but it was never really something I felt comfortable with until recently--in the last five years or so. It seems ironic to say that I felt like I needed to justify not feeling like I needed to justify my feelings or actions, but it's true. If you are always kind of on the outside of how people think you are SUPPOSED to behave--whatever that means--this can be a big part of your life, especially if you are a woman. You might think, why don't I feel guilty? Why didn't I cry? Why is he more affectionate than me? Why do I like to spend so much time alone? Why would I rather talk to my kids than play with them? Why would I rather sit quietly in a room with my kids doing different things than talk to them? Why do I hate shopping with other people? Why am I loud? Why am I first in the line to eat? Why did I never think to turn off the lights? Why don't I feel fat, or skinny, or ugly, or wrong? Why is that woman mad at me? Wait, now I now why she's mad at me, but I still don't get it--I still don't think that should've made her mad? Why is my first instinct after getting robbed at gunpoint to call my ex-boyfriend and watch an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie?

And finally, why have I never actually asked myself any of these questions?

The Internet is filled with blogs and stories about women second-guessing themselves and feeling negative, inadequate, guilty, overwhelmed and then triumphing over those things. The Internet is also filled with stories of women who are proud to flaunt stereotypes, who swear too much or are terrible at crafts or who love to golf or whatever. Or maybe it's not, but it just feels that way. The thing is, what I find myself craving is more about women, and yes, I do mean WOMEN, even though I'd love to see it more from men too, but I want to see stories of women who just don't care because they're way past caring.

Stories of women who are happy to be grown-up. And no, I don't mean aging gracefully or proud of their curves and laughlines or still into fashion or pantsuits vs. mini-skirts. I mean actual adulthood where you have earned the right to not care what anyone thinks about what you're doing or not doing.

I've been an old lady since at least 17. It was almost impossible to embarrass me as a teenager--the time when life is ruled by embarrassment. Just ask my friends and boyfriends. My mother did not give one shit about what people thought of her and seemed to not understand the concept of feeling embarrassed and even THAT didn't embarrass me. But the truth is, I had to be taught that lack of embarrassment. I had to see it to believe in it and to emulate it. I want more of that.

I want to hear more stories about women who don't know what stories to tell anymore. I want to think that there are other women who write blogs about cancer and have a lot of things to say about how isolated women feel when they don't react to cancer the way they are supposed to, and the way people's reactions towards women with breast cancer are so similar to reactions towards women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted (and no I am not speaking on behalf of others--just from my own experience, where the comparison runs true), but then they don't write those blogs because you know what? Mama don't have time to explain that to you. Think what you want, believe what you want, I am just going to keep on trucking because I. do. not. care.

I want to read something that makes me believe I am not the only one who didn't feel any epiphanies from cancer, because I had those already at least 30 years ago, from people who are not better parents or lovers or friends because they have suffered, from people who are just doing their best.

I want to hear about the people who remember with fondness and some kind of absurd longing and expectation their mother telling them "I like to pay the taxes and the bills and balance the checkbook. I like being a grownup. I like being in charge."

I want life the way it really is when you've forgotten what it means to be cool or popular or smart or athletic or whatever it is you thought meant something at some point. I want the story about the people who aren't trying to tell other people how to be better or less toxic or more grateful or more or less than the thing that they are. The story of the adults who accept the other adults and love them for being in their lives because life is short and, well, here we are. The story of a mother who is upset that her shy daughter told another little girl at a Halloween party that no, she didn't want to play with her. That mother told the daughter that she should've played anyway, even if she didn't want to, because the other girl was bored and lonely too, and for that moment, she should have cared more about the other person's feelings than her own. That mother knew she was asking her loner of a daughter to understand something that was beyond her years to understand but she didn't care, because she was the adult, and it was her job to teach her daughter that it's not about you. It's not--it almost never is. And then, that mother told her friend about this exchange and they both laughed and shook their heads, and the friend said, well, what can you do? Look at her dad. And pointed to the woman's husband, who was wearing Superman footie pajamas and sitting amongst a bunch of adults just looking down at his hands and not talking at all because he had had enough.

And no one cared. Because when you're grown, you can sit in the damn corner and do what the hell you want and pretty much no one is judging you and most likely someone is envying you.

I really don't know why I'm writing this. Maybe it was all precipitated by Renee Zellweger's face. All the drama and angst, the trying to figure out is it plastic surgery or just the fact that the comparison pictures were from 20 years ago? The women saying who cares, the women saying I care, the actress herself saying I'm happy. Me thinking, God is that what happens when we age? People keep asking us about our damn faces? About our happiness?

At some point, your face is just your face. It is the thing that helps you talk and see and interact with people. At some point, happiness is a means or an end or a goal but it is just one of many possibilities. The thing I hope to earn with age is not happiness or contentment or scars or wrinkles that serve as badges of honor or even wisdom. I want stories. More stories. I want ambivalence in the face of reaction. I want to be so old that my tiny stooped shoulders can shrug at the world and say, so? Think what you want. Let me tell you about the time...

I want to be old enough to have the ability to live outside of my own experience almost all the time because I have had enough of my own experience to see it as largely irrelevant. I don't want to be old and therefore wear purple. I want to be old and say, yep, there's purple. To hell with it. Or, bring on all the purple, because it's Monday.

I think of age as the privilege of seeing your life as a really interesting story that is sitting on the bottom of the pile of millions of interesting stories. I think of age as not having to worry about leaning in or leaning out but rather just...kicking back. Kicking back and flinging the ash off the cigarette that you're not supposed to be smoking and that you're probably holding wrong and just watching the people pass judgment on you one way or another and not noticing anything but the curl of the smoke.

I want more stories about how things are, not more explanations about how things got this way. Maybe I've failed at that for the last four and a half years, but I've tried, and I'm trying. I might be fully grown, but I have some aging to do.

I have a small story and I'd like to tell it here. It's a story about being a woman, a mother, a wife, a person who has had cancer. This story is maybe a paragraph long. It's a story of adulthood.

I was getting my hair cut at the salon the other day. I was going shorter than I have in a long, long time. I sat at the shampoo bowl and chatted with the woman shampooing my hair. She had baked banana bread and had offered me some, and we talked about banana bread recipes. I told her my daughter liked it when I put chocolate chips in it but my son liked it plain because he is like that. She asked me how old my kids were, and I told her 5 and 8. She paused and said "You will have such a beautiful life. It just gets better as they get older. It just gets better as you get to know them as adults. Enjoy it. It's a blessing." And for a split second I felt this aching pang, as I thought of how I might not ever get to know them as adults, that I might not ever experience that beauty and that blessing. For one second I thought, how could she know that she is making me confront one of my greatest fears and potential losses as I sit here waiting to get my hair done? And then, it happened. I didn't feel like that at all anymore, and I could tell somehow what she was really saying. She was saying, my husband is dead. My children are grown. I bake banana bread for the girls at the salon. I spend more time than is necessary washing your short hair. .

And so I thought to myself, this isn't about me at all. It hardly ever is.

I told her this: "That's what I've heard. I can't wait. Thank you." She told me I was done, and then asked if she had forgotten to offer me water or coffee and I told her she hadn't forgotten, and that I didn't need any, thanks.

There we were, lost in our own thoughts, but pretending we weren't, in order to live inside that brief moment of grace, in order to give the other person their moment of importance.