Thursday, October 19, 2017

Pink

Pink

This is me about four years ago, around the time of my first October post-diagnosis. When I look at this picture, I notice how small Tobin's hands are and how he still has his top baby teeth. He was seven--right between the ages Evan and Lauren are now. I also notice my hair and remember how glad I was to have it back, even if I was self-conscious about how short it was. I had only recently shed my head scarves and caps; I felt relieved and exposed.

Prior to my diagnosis, October and its "pinkness" in honor of breast cancer awareness had been a simple, positive association. But October 2013 felt complicated. My first encounter with this feeling was when I walked into Kroger to do my weekly grocery run. As I lifted two-year-old Lauren into the cart, I noticed a huge display of water bottles, all with pink labels. Behind them was an ad with a picture of a young woman, smiling with her head covered in a pink scarf. I felt a rush of tears--not the good kind--and wanted to run from the store. It felt traumatic, seeing all the pink, making me think about the disease that had turned the last seven months of my life upside down.

A few days later, I was driving into Chapel Hill for one of my last radiation appointments when I passed a pink fire truck, driven by a smiling firefighter. Tears welled up again--this time, the good kind--as I felt what I'd guess was intended by the color of the truck: a sense of solidarity with women like me, fighting the good fight.

I don't know why my reactions to these two instances of pink were so different. All I know is that there's a before and an after. Now that I'm in the "after," I'll never experience October like I did before. I feel like I can also speak on behalf on a lot of my breast cancer survivor friends: it's complicated and different for all of us. Some embrace it; some hide from it. I think I might be somewhere in between.

October happens to be the month I finished treatment. On Monday of this week, I saw my oncologist for my semi-annual checkup. She confirmed I was in good health and, most importantly, my MRI from last week was clear. Tuesday marked four years to the day of my last radiation treatment. It felt surreal to talk with my oncologist about my next appointment in April 2018, when I will be past the fifth anniversary of my diagnosis and likely switch to once-a-year checkups.

This morning, as I drove across town en route to the two-school drop-off, listening to my kids sing along with the radio, coffee in hand, and my heart pumping a little fast from the adrenaline rush that comes with trying to get everyone out the door on time, I felt a wave of joy wash over me. I am so grateful for this season in our lives. I am here, in the thick of it--sometimes a little too busy, often stressed out, and never handling it perfectly. But I'm here, watching my kids grow and change, laugh and cry, win and lose. I'm cheering them on, comforting them, and laughing with them.

In this month--this moment--that's what pink means to me. I can look at this picture and be thankful for what has changed and what hasn't. My hair is longer and my boy is (a lot) bigger, but we are still in this together. I can hug him tight and then let him go.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Words

I've been trying to figure out a way to write about recent discussions about words and language in our house. "Appropriate" is a word that Allison and I use a lot about language, and as the kids have gotten older, we've had to help them categorize words they might hear at school or in movies (or from Dad when he breaks something in the kitchen) as "appropriate" or "inappropriate."

Evan especially seems to have friends who are experimenting with inappropriate words lately. For a string of nights not long ago, Ev tearfully shared with us that he had actually said some of those words in an attempt to be funny or silly. It became clear to us is that Evan and his friends don't really have a firm grasp of the words they're trying out. Still, it was endearing that Ev obviously felt a level of guilt about the possibility that someone might have thought he had ill intent at any point in the words he was using. Allison was especially comforting to Ev when she explained that our words are important, and that we want to be sure we don't use words to hurt people--but that he has a good heart and loves people--and that if he follows his heart, he'll be just fine. He seems to have gotten over it.

Lala's questions about words are pretty different from Evan's. As in most things, she is more blunt about her questions and ideas. Where Ev will whisper something along the lines of "My friends and I might have said the s-word when we were being silly on the playground at school," Lauren is much more likely to say "Dad, why is [actual s-word] a bad word?"

Lauren has also picked up on context as a concept at what feels like a pretty early age. Someone on the playground was apparently using an inappropriate word that also happens to be part of the name of a famous national sporting-goods store. So she asked me at home one night, pretty smartly, why that was a "bad word." I explained that it's a word that people use in an ugly way to refer to a body part. Because she is who she is, she asked which body part, so I told her it was an inappropriate way to refer to someone's penis, which is private. She thought for a few moments, then said succinctly something along the lines of "That's really weird that it could be a bad word: it's not like the name of that store is 'Penis Sporting Goods.'"

Luckily, we moved on from that discussion to something equally puzzling or hilarious. While Allison and I have had some good laughs about these conversations, I realize that I am sincerely thankful to have children who think (and maybe worry a little) about how powerful their words are. One of the points of emphasis in my English classes is the importance of measuring our words. Early in the year, I invite them all to remember a time in their lives that they felt most hurt. After giving them a few moments, I take a kind of straw poll to see how many thought of a time that they felt physical hurt. Those numbers always pale in comparison to the ones who indicate that they remember being hurt by non-physical things. Grief and hurtful words outweigh physical pain for most of us when we conceive of painful memories. I'm thankful that my own children are already grappling with the weight of words and how they use them. I hope their mindfulness will remind me to use my own words to build and affirm and love as a parent, partner, friend, and teacher to those in my life.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Reunion

reunion

The weekend before last, I drove up to DC to spend the weekend with two of my best college friends, Molly and Amy. Molly hosted us at her lovely home, and Amy flew in from Vermont. Three years ago, we had a similar girls weekend in DC but we were also joined by our dear Jeanne from Utah; we missed her this time around.

There's obvious reasons why I'd be thankful for a time away with my girls: long conversations, good meals, and a little break from the rigors of life with kids. The weekend felt indulgent and restorative. I'm grateful for friends who have known me for almost twenty years, who were right alongside me as I fell in love with Matt, who have been there to share so many joys and sorrows over the years, and who can always pick up right where we left off. Friendships of that depth and length are a treasure.

The picture above shows us enjoying a lovely brunch. We were joined by our college friend Tom, who happened to be in town, and Molly's husband Deepak, who was taking the picture. There was such a relaxed and joyful feel to the whole weekend. Back home, Matt was holding down the fort, taking the kids to three soccer games on Saturday morning. I'm grateful for him and the way he's genuinely happy for me to get away and handles life at home so gracefully.

I am mindful of the abundance in my life when it comes to friends and family.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Futbol

squad

We're parents of three soccer players on four soccer teams. This season has been full of successes so far, with an overall-winning record and lots of fun. I'm especially thankful to experience soccer as a parent, since it wasn't ever really on my radar as a kid. Tobin teaches me about strategy and lineups, explaining parts of the game I don't understand. Evan (#8 in the pic) asks me to play goalie for his shots and practices his moves. Lauren plays with a recklessness and glee that are a wonder (and fit her personality perfectly).

I'm thankful for soccer, and thankful to have learned about it as an adult.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Busy

With two schools, three kids playing on four soccer teams, and two working parents, life feels busier than ever. Tobin made his middle school soccer team, which means he stays after school most days until 5:30 for practice or games. All three kids play league soccer, which involves Tuesday and Thursday evening practices and one Saturday game. I work two part-time jobs, only one of which involves me going to an office. But I’m also still going to a PTA-related meeting almost weekly, which will make a given weeknight all the more hectic. September has been full of evening meetings for Matt, too.

Yesterday evening ended up being one of the less hectic ones this week, but the lead-up to it was plenty busy. I took the kids to school then went home to prepare for an 11:00 meeting in Raleigh, 45 minutes away. I had taken the day off from my office job, so I could attend this meeting at the law firm I work for (albeit, usually, remotely). My meeting was short and put me back in Durham by 1:00, but I had to run by Costco. I got home with about an hour to spare to eat some lunch and check emails, then the kids started arriving home around 3:00. All the kids. Tobin had a rare day off from soccer. While they did homework and played, I made a pot of chili for dinner. Matt got home from work at 5:15, when I headed out for a school meeting, leaving him to feed the kids.

I pulled in the driveway around 7:00 and saw a smiling Tobin running around the backyard. He was playing touch football with Matt and Evan. When I walked in the house, I could hear Lauren’s voice from the playroom, engaged in some sort of chitty-chatty, imaginary play. The evening had a more relaxed feel, because the kids had been home—not rushing in from somewhere, scrambling to take showers and get in bed.

We’d done it. We’d made it through another very full day. And everyone was pretty happy. I don’t love being this busy. In fact, Matt and I try to plan the kids’ schedules so they’re not too busy—e.g., only one sport per season . . . with the exception of school sports, which is a new thing for us? But the current fullness of our lives highlights so many things I am grateful for: healthy, able bodies; sports; community; a true partner in parenting; two vehicles; a big yard for football; jobs; good schools; and even enough hours (in some days) to make good food for my family.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Influence

I've enjoyed watching T grow into increased independence as he has begun middle school over the last few weeks. Still, I admit it's pretty easy to fall into the trap of worrying about "influences" he'll encounter. The Internet adds a level of uncertainty and potential danger that I hadn't really thought about before. Part of me understands the decisions parents make to reduce their children's exposure to the world and the specter of "bad influences."

For a long time, the "talk" that I worried about having with T was "THE TALK." We've had a few discussions about adolescence and sexuality, but the talk that I found myself surprised by was one we had a few weeks ago as ugly scenes unfolded in Charlottesville. We were watching sports (surprise) and passing mention was made of white supremacy and white nationalism. T asked about them, and I found myself trying to explain a fearful mindset I myself don't really understand. As I tried to think about how to frame our discussion, I found myself wondering about people T might encounter who would influence him to think wrongheadedly about race and his own whiteness. I found myself thankful that we live in a community and attend schools where integration, diversity, and immigration are practical realities, not theoretical abstractions. When I can cite friends of ours as examples of people those in Charlottesville would label "undesirable," the absurdity of so many represented there presents itself.

I tried to think of how my own parents guided me through their worries about "influences." I think the first time I was aware of the word "boycott" was when my dad announced that we wouldn't buy products advertised on a certain radio show. I remember a fleeting disappointment that we weren't going to get Snapple any more, but as I think about it from a parental perspective, I understand wanting to reduce exposure to vitriolic, extreme views about the world. I don't know if boycott is the way to combat such things, but I'm thankful in retrospect to have had parents who talked to me frankly the best they could about race, class, and politics.

I've resolved to try to do the same as a parent. As a public school teacher, I feel like I hear a lot from parents, other teachers, and the community regarding concern about "bad influences." Coded language about "good school/bad school" binaries often dances around the racial and socioeconomic makeup of those schools. Having gone to a high school myself that many expressed polite (but implicitly racist) concern about, I feel like I understand that code better than some. My line as a teacher on influences has always been basically this: I agree that influence should be a great concern. I'm mindful that influence is both good and bad. I've seen students seemingly "led astray," sure, but I've also seen students make constructive, positive changes and decisions based on the positive influence of their peers. I'm concerned that parents who make decisions ruled by fear of otherness, difference, or the potential for bad influence are possibly removing their own children from an opportunity to be good influences themselves, or at least to more realistically see the community they live in.

I'm thankful for the good influences in my life, and for what I hope has been an opportunity to be a positive influence in schools and my community. As a parent, I hope I can keep my instinct to overprotect and shelter within a rational framework so our kids can learn and succeed and fail and grow to be influential members of their own communities.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Change

Haircut

This week has been full of change for all of us, but especially for Tobin. He started a new school and cut off two years' worth of hair growth. Cutting his hair was something he'd contemplated for a few months. He finally pulled the trigger last weekend. Since then, he's spent a lot of time looking in the mirror and rubbing his head, adjusting to the different feel of it all.

A lot feels different this week as we get up earlier to leave the house earlier to take the kids to two different schools. Tobin has definitely been tentative and nervous about going to a new school. But it helps that he's at a small school with lots of friends from elementary--especially with his best friend since first grade in his homeroom. I am thankful for these constants in the midst of change.

Change is inevitable. Sometimes we choose it--like T did with his haircut. Other times, it's just an expected next step--like moving up to sixth grade. Still others, it's something that surprises and overwhelms us--like a natural disaster or a scary diagnosis. I've tried this week to be thankful for the opportunity to experience something new. Change can be scary, but I've learned that I can be fearful AND grateful--with an open heart. I've said that in different ways to the kids this week: "It's okay to feel nervous. You're going to learn some new things." I'm thankful for new opportunities . . . and also looking forward to when this "newness" feels more routine.