Thursday, October 26, 2017

Youth Group

A couple of weekends ago, my friend and former youth minister, Steve, treated the boys and me to tickets to Late Night With Roy Williams at the Dean Smith Center. The boys geared up in their Carolina gear and cheered loudly as the Heels raised the banner for the 2017 championship and introduced the 17-18 team.

It was a great night, but for more reasons than the basketball. We talk (and write) a lot about sports here, but part of what made the night special for me was getting to see Steve interact with my own kids. Steve was a crucial part of my life through all of high school, and has now been part of my life for most of three decades. He was an officiant at our wedding. He's on my short list of most influential people in my life. I'm thankful that every time we get to talk or see each other, it feels like we simply pick up where we left off.

This year, T started youth group at our church. Tonight, I got to spend some good time with his youth minister at a community forum. T has enjoyed his youth group meetings and events so far, and seems to be off to a great start, making friends and getting involved. I'm thankful that he and Tommy seem to have complementary personalities, and I'm hopeful that T is beginning what will be an important relationship for a long time to come.

Thursday, October 19, 2017



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


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



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.