Sunny Side Up.

I originally sat down to write this post with the opening line, ‘2016 can suck it.’ My plan was to sit and bitch about the ups and downs we faced in 2016. I was going to find humor and delight in skewering the year that was a royal pain in the ass for all who were so fortunate to experience it. That was my plan.

I ran into an acquaintance at church this morning, someone I had not seen in quite some time. Her hair was shorter than mine but not for the same reasons. I hugged her and immediately saw her as a mother, a friend, a wife, a complete person facing uncertainty and I immediately felt a sense of gratitude for the year that was 2016.

As much as 2016 sucked, and by all means it did, the truth is, I had the year. It was mine to bitch about, which in so many ways is something to truly be grateful for. Every minute, every day, every year is truly a blessing. Both the good and bad.

Over the course of this year we have watched our children overcome struggles and blossom into strong, courageous people. I have watched them turn an obstacle into an opportunity. Together, Brian and I have faced the fears and did it anyway. We worried and stressed, hoped and prayed. We watched things work out really well and others, not so much. I was often drained emotionally and physically. We have been doused with the uncertainty and fear that tag along when you face cancer. We have watched our people gather around us and support us in ways we never thought possible. We have seen the greatest of humanity and sadly, the less-than-great as well. We have persisted and prevailed in the face of both. We have laughed. A lot.

So, 2016 can suck it, but I am eternally grateful for having had the opportunity to live, love, and laugh through it. I sit with great anticipation for 2017. Not necessarily for any grand gestures from the universe but maybe to be just a tad lighter on the crappy stuff.

So, 2016, in a few short days I will usher you out the door and happily close that chapter of our lives. I will look back fondly at the good times and memories, and stand in awe at all we overcame. I will welcome 2017 with anticipation and deepest gratitude, in hope that once again I am granted the precious gift of life for each and every day of it.

Happiest of New Year’s to all. xoxo

 

 

 

Mel-A-Phone

“Mom!”                                  “Mommy?!”

                       “Mom?”

“Mommy?”             “Mooooooooom!” 

Don’t judge me, but last Friday night I looked at Brian and confessed, “I’m ignoring them.” I can’t help it, it’s the end of the week for me, too and I just need a break from the countless, seemingly endless string of questions and requests. I truly feel like we are raising good, smart, solidly kind children but I worry about their need for me to intervene in their lives. Brian and I recently heard John Rosemond speak at our school and he assured us that children today or not in any way genetically different from children 50 years ago. If this is true, my 8-year-old daughter is the same, typical third grader that I was in 1982. Thinking back, I was insanely resourceful, especially when it came to bird-dogging my mother.

Here’s the scenario:

“Bon soir, La Cuisine, may I help you?”

“Yes, hello sir. I need to find one of your customers. There’s an issue at home and I need to speak with her.”

“Oui, Madame. Who can I find for you?”

“Her name is Elaine Forstall. She’s tall and thin with straight shoulder-length blonde hair. Tonight she has on a gold and turquoise peacock print dress, it has a jewel neck and drop waist, three-quarter length ruched sleeves. She’s with her husband, Rick. He has salt-and-pepper hair. He has on a white button down shirt, no tie, and a grey suede sport coat. I think they are dinning with two other couples.”

“Oui Madame. I think I see her. I will get her for you.”

**wait**wait**wait**

“Hello?”

“Mom?”

“Melanie, what’s wrong?”

“When are you coming home?”

I had mad skills. With a phone and white pages in hand, I could make just about anything happen. I had the communication skills at 8 to be a CIA operative and yet sometimes my kids get stumped opening a single serving pack of Sweet Tarts. How is this possible? No one taught me how to do this. My mother never sat me down to discuss the finer points of stalking people. I was driven enough and I just did it.

My parents fondly named my skill the ‘Mel-A-Phone’ knowing that they could never go too far without me finding them. They really were never safe. While I don’t condone the idea of constant invasion of parental privacy, I give my 8-year-old self kudos for having the drive to get shit done.

So what’s my plan? I’ve decided that I am no longer helping. Nope. No more…everyone can tie their own shoes, so please by all means tie them. Everyone can get dressed on their own, I’m not needed. Look for it. No one in my house has a weight lift restriction which means everyone can pick up their own shit and put it where it belongs. I am not needed for this task. If you can’t open an item on your own, the likelihood is that you don’t really need it. I bet you big bucks that if you were dying of hunger you would figure out a way to get that wrapper open. Look again, look harder, and look one more time. You do not need me.

But you do need me.

Come to me for hugs. Come to me for snuggles. Come to me and ask questions about life and tell me about your day. Come to me when you are scared, happy, lonely, or sad. (Not bored, don’t come to me when you are bored. I cannot help bored.) Come to me with excitement or worry. Lay your fears at my feet and I will always wipe your tears. Come to me to laugh. Ask me to play with you. I will love you ultimately forever. Come to me for encouragement. Come to me for a reminder of the beautiful soul you are and how much you are truly loved.

xoxo

Raising Diamonds.

Almost daily I stop and ask myself the same question, “Is it just me?” and I promptly reassure myself and answer, “Of course not, dear. But it doesn’t matter even if so.” Recently, though I can’t help but question why I don’t feel the same way as seemingly so many others. Picture after picture is captioned, “I miss my babies!” or “Time please stop!” or “I wish I could go back!” I see these pictures, and while I love a quick dose of nostalgia, my first response is usually, “Like, how far back are we talking?”

Sure, I have wonderful memories of when my children were babies but I have no interest in going back there. You want to go back to the endless nights of staring at your newborn daughter for hours on end watching the rise and fall of her chest just to know with certainty that she’s still breathing? No thank you, I actually like to spend my nights sleeping. Back to the time when my son would cry in spits and spurts for no apparent reason and nothing I could do seemed to soothe him? Oh yes, please, sign me up for more of that.

I remember in particular one very long day when my son was about four months old and I just could not get him to settle down. We had enjoyed roughly four hours of an eat, sleep, cry cycle and I had just about had it. I decided to take him to the pediatric after hours clinic and with my three-year-old in tow, I had a plan. My mom had recently come for a visit and she left a crisp hundred-dollar bill on my nightstand. (That’s who she is and what she does.) I was frazzled from the day and was not interested in waiting endlessly to see a doctor. I arrived at the clinic with the cash in hand ready and willing to hand it to whoever was in line ahead of me. I was willing to give money to a stranger just so I could quickly get this baby to stop crying. So do I want to be go back to this place and time? Hardly.

I love that my kids are growing up; is that so wrong? I love the people they are becoming. I love to see them navigate through life and ask me thoughtful questions. I love that they are developing opinions and tastes that may or may not align with mine.

I love the fact that my son can tell me that the medicine burns, or that he feels like he might throw up. I love the fact that when she does throw up, my daughter can aim perfectly into the toilet. I love that they can easily explain to the doctor what ails them. Karaoke is a lot more fun now, too.

I am genuinely excited for my daughter’s third grade year. I honestly wasn’t sad when my son started pre k. His excitement was so infectious, how could I possibly be sad? I see how excited they are about the journey before them and I can’t see any other option but going along for the ride. I don’t find it sad to see my kids grow, blossom, and step into their life’s milestones.

That’s just it. Their life. It’s their life, not mine. I guess I can’t hold too tightly to something that’s not mine to begin with. I read a quote recently:

“To raise a child who is comfortable enough to leave you, means you’ve done your job. They are not ours to keep, but to teach how to soar on their own.”

This was a perfectly fine quote and in many ways it spoke to me. But so does Elizabeth Taylor and I’ve never met a diamond I didn’t like:

“I’ve never thought of my jewelry as trophies. I’m here to take care of them and love them, for we are only temporary custodians of beauty.”

Don’t get me wrong, the thought of my kids leaving and going to college in Idaho makes me very sad; but I still wouldn’t discourage their wanderlust. And full disclosure, each night when I kiss them goodnight, I jiggle them gently to hear them breathe. Old habits die hard.

As much as the thought truly sends shivers up my spine, I am their temporary custodian; my job is to prepare them to soar. They are two of the brightest jewels of my life. Brilliant and dazzling, precious and rare. Expensive. Temporarily mine to protect and nurture until they are ready to shine on their own.

#raisingdiamonds

xoxo

 

Three Gifts of the Father.

By the time I became coherent and realized that, in fact, I had just had surgery and wasn’t really playing with random children at the beach, I was in my hospital room with Brian by my side. Everyone had kissed me goodbye and returned home, I was in a ton of pain, thirsty and hungry. It must have been the drugs because I was suddenly concerned about a white bag sitting on the counter.

“What’s that?” I grumbled.

“Your dad bought you a few things while you were in surgery.”

I motioned for him to bring me the bag. I lifted my bed up, focused, and watched as Brian showed me what was inside. The bag contained three gifts: a square, a stone, and a scarf.

A Square.

It was a flat, squared-shaped magnet, colored white and aqua that read, “Cancer Sucks. That is All.” Nothing speaks a greater truth. No matter where in your body or what kind, cancer sucks. It shakes your foundation and unsettles your soul. It is a logistical pain in the ass. It is very expensive. It’s scary. While I have no control over what cancer is or does, I can control the way I react to it or the way I deal with it. Some days I say this to myself and it helps; I mean it and believe it. Other days I laugh and laugh at myself, saying instead, what-the-fuck-ever sista; this shit sucks. Either way, it’s ok.

A Stone.

It was a polished white oval with gold script lettering that read, “Celebrate Life.” I have found there is no better way to do this than to sing at the top of my lungs along with Toto. I found so much joy signing ‘Africa’ the other day, tears actually ran down my face. I don’t know if it’s because I love the song so much or that I am so incredibly thankful that I didn’t lose my voice after surgery. When faced with the possibility of loosing it, having a voice really is something to celebrate. I could have also been just really excited to finally be alone in my car. I’ve celebrated by saying ‘yes’ to almost everything lately. Yes to staying up late, yes to new shoes, yes to cookies for breakfast, and yes to TV binges both for me and the kids. All of which is okay. Life really is great and so much of it is worth celebrating. As much as cancer does totally suck, it could be so, so much worse.

A Scarf.

There were actually two scarves, one hot pink and one aqua. We had planned a beach vacation prior to my diagnosis and were leaving 10 days after surgery. My surgeon gave me the okay to go but only if I made sure the scar was completely covered, protected from sun and water. I cannot think of a better way to accessorize a bathing suit in the middle of the summer than with a scarf.

I was nervous about the trip for a multitude of reasons but despite my worries, I found that burying your feet in the sand really does have therapeutic properties. Walking along the surf is often exactly what the doctor ordered. Laughing with your family while teaching your children the game of spoons (a game that has a very long history in our family) is incredibly good for the soul. Watching your daughter win the spoons championship is the icing on the cake! Or in this case, the cream on the pie. I had a slice of key lime pie twice a day, every day of which I do believe had a positive effect on my overall healing. Our Lady of Emotional Eating, pray for us. 

I wore those scarves everyday. There is no doubt people thought I was totally nuts. Picture it: black and white mod one piece, large brim black hat, and a hot pink scarf. If that isn’t the image of a high maintenance weirdo, I don’t know what is. Truthfully, if I had even one shit to spare, I still would not have given it. I wore those scarves with pride and let my flag fly. Be weird. That’s okay, too.

I discovered that my days were very much like the beach waves – some good, some not so great, some perfect. The important thing wasn’t so much the quality of the day, but that the water was continually flowing. Some days I didn’t crack a smile until 10am and other days I woke up laughing. The best thing I could do was give myself space to feel however or whatever I was feeling that day. An exercise in peace and patience….even now at home. Either way, good days or bad, it’s okay.

These three gifts turned out to be a true reflection about life for me right now. We are all going to have times that suck. There may be days, weeks, or months that suck, and it may be really awful, but no matter what, hold on to the promise that it will get better.  It will. Remember that there is always something to celebrate. Even the tiniest, smallest thing can be celebrated. Sing in the car. Laugh with your kids. Buy yourself the shoes. Have a cookie for breakfast. Let your flag fly. Be you. Be the best you, you can be no matter what. All of it is so totally, and completely okay.

 

Just Ask.

So, I’m pretty sure you have figured out by now that I didn’t die. Thank the good Lord because that would have sucked so terribly bad. The days leading up to surgery were filled with stress and anxiety. To fix that, I decided to clean my house from top to bottom – steamed bathroom floors, cleaned windows inside and out, and washed basically everything in the house that was made of fabric. I can’t imagine how bad the cleaning tirade would have been had I not had the Xanax to keep my feet on the ground.

While stress and anxiety were completely expected, what was completely unexpected was my willingness to ask for help. How in the hell that happened, I have no idea. Look, I will be brutally honest, I make no effort to hide the fact that I’m a kick-ass working mother of two and wife who has all of her shit together. I mean, aren’t we all? The absolute last thing I need is help. No thank you, I’m fine. F-I-N-E. Right? F-I-N-E.

Well, maybe I don’t need help on a random Thursday around 10am but after a cancer diagnosis and pending surgery, more than likely, I do need help. In a big way, actually. Asking for it wasn’t something I normally did or necessarily liked to do. At all. But in this situation, there really wasn’t an option.

I first asked for help when I called that awesome receptionist at the Baton Rouge Clinic. I so wish I had asked for her name because she needed to be recognized. That woman was a true-to-form rock star. I’m still amazed that I did it but I actually accepted food from total strangers! Friends from church organized dinner for my family for over ten days. Looking back, I don’t know what I would have done without these gracious people feeding my family day after day.

I needed someone to watch my kids. All day. On a Wednesday. Throughout all of this my brother’s wife had said repeatedly to me that she’d help in any way. She offered to watch my kids numerous times so I took her up on her offer. I hated making the request – it felt like so much to ask! She immediately assured me that she would be there, just for me to tell her what time to show up.

The requests for help continued. I need ice chips. Please may I have something for the pain? Mom, can you stay at my house another night? Please can someone help me to the bathroom? What about something solid, like something that I can actually chew. Can someone please make that happen? None of this was within my comfort zone but I focused on my family – our children. If I didn’t ask for help now, I would not be able to help them later. It was for my own physical and spiritual good.

I can only blame it on the pain meds but I took this picture the morning after surgery:

IMG_5674

I call it my ‘proof of life’ photo. I survived the surgery and lived to tell about it. I never needed that emergency trach that sat ominously next to my bed, with a label “DO NOT REMOVE FROM ROOM!” I asked for help a million times and I didn’t implode. I showed the world that I couldn’t do this alone and not a single person pointed or laughed. It’s a good thing because I’m fairly certain that my requests for help will continue. I’m still not sure how to process what lies ahead.

Thyrogen…injections…levels…scans…levels…isolation…radioactive…ablation…

What I can process, though is the love that I see and feel around me. I can process how I much I love my kids. I can process how I feel about my husband who has been an absolute steadfast rock-of-life throughout all of this. (The next time any of you see Brian, please be sure to give him a high-five or a hug, or whatever you deem appropriate because the man has been AMAZING.) I can also process the fact that I’m ready and willing to do anything and everything to get well and be healthy, even if it means asking for help.

Truly, from the bottom of my heart, thanks for all of the help. xoxo

 

 

Love in Action.

We say it all of the time:

“I love you.”

“I love her.”

“I’m in love.”

Years ago before I was married my mother gave me some powerful advice about love. “Be Missouri. Make sure they show you.” She reminded me that the words are really easy to say, but it’s the actions that count. Love is a verb.

As mothers, it’s easy for us to love our babies and children. We cradle them, gently sing to them, rock them, prepare meals for them, engage them continually reinforcing our actions of love. We hug them, we listen, we pack lunch, we make them laugh. We show them each day how we love them.  I honestly haven’t thought that much about how this is expressed between adults. Romantic love, well that’s easy. What about ordinary, everyday love?

We see the true face of humanity; the wonderous good and dismally bad, within the space of two life changing experiences: 1) winning the powerball, and 2) a cancer diagnosis. I’ve only had the pleasure of experiencing one of these experiences and it is through this that I have witnessed love as an action and it’s beyond anything I could have ever imagined.

Love is stopping me in the hall to ask how I’m doing and standing there long enough to listen to the entire, oddly crafted, winding answer. Love is sending a hand written note with words of support and encouragement. Love is praying with me. Love is sitting with me, crying alongside me while I worry out loud of the possibility of death. Love is laughing while hugging me and exclaiming, “But you’re not going to die!” Love is beautiful hand-made pajamas. Love is offering to watch my children and taking off work to actually do it. Love is calling daily and simply asking how I’m feeling. Love is reminding me that I am never alone. Love is hot food waiting at my door.

I don’t think I have ever witnessed a greater expression of compassion, love, and humanity as I have in the past few weeks. On the eve of my surgery, I don’t think I’ve ever seen love in such full and complete action. I feel it. Brian feels it. Our children feel it.

My deepest and most sincere gratitude to everyone who has reached out and truly loved our family.

Peace out! See you on the flip side…

xoxo

When Our Pediatrician Treated Me.

My son is four. He is almost always happy and has the most infectious laugh. He loves to laugh, too. He’s affectionate and easily expresses his feelings; especially his love for me. For the past few nights he has not been himself. It’s like a switch right around bedtime – suddenly out of sorts, cranky, downright confrontational. To call bedtime a struggle would be an understatement. He doesn’t want to sleep because, “sleep is boring!” He won’t stay in his bed or room, engages in a standoff with me in the hallway, crying when I walk away. I know behavior, I know best practice and I applied all strategies. I offered hugs and love neither of which he wanted. I tried to ignore the behavior which only led to him attempting hand stands in the dark almost taking down my table lamp. He wanted mommy, then daddy, then mommy, then daddy, ad nauseam….

This afternoon Brian suggested we bring him to the doctor to maybe check his ears. I’m usually not that quick to make an appointment especially when there is really no sign of anything being wrong with him. But, we have had a long history of ear issues and he is known to have ear infections without typical symptoms. So with no hesitation I opened the app on my phone and took the last available appointment. Who in the world makes and appointment for 4:50pm on a rainy Thursday for a reasonably healthy child? Me.

She looks in his ears. Fine. She checks his throat. Fine. Tummy is great, too. She asks him some questions about what’s been going on at night and if he’s possibly sad, angry maybe, scared, or even just really, really tired. Of course his answer to all of her questions is ‘no.’ He’s super! I shift uncomfortably in my chair because I’m starting to feel embarrassed for taking up our doctor’s time.

This makes zero sense for me being here.

My throat tightens.My eyes start to burn.

She looks directly at me and asks, “How are you?”

Tears begin to stream down my face. She casually, yet swiftly ushers my son out the door and has him join the nurses to look through stickers and have a sucker.

The truth is I’m not ok. On May 12th during my annual exam my gynecologist found a lump in my neck. On May 18th I had an ultra sound. On May 20th I found out I have a large, dominant, solid mass in my thyroid. On June 1st I had my first appointment with my endocrinologist. On June 9th I will have a biopsy.

My words and tears fell freely as she listened. She offered me tissues and asked good questions. She gave me advice, both as a doctor and a mother. I felt overwhelming guilt; realizing instantly that William was responding to my current state of stress and anxiety. Of course I try to hide it but either I’m a horrible liar or my kid is highly intuitive. I’m fairly sure it’s both. She reminded me not to take on unnecessary guilt. She reassured me that no matter the outcome, I will be ok. William will be ok. We all will be ok. It was like a good, honest conversation with a friend that I desperately needed, only with a $25 co-pay.

It’s no surprise he’s affected. My current state is fragile. Sometimes tense. Often preoccupied. Worry. Lots and lots of worry. I worry for them, though, not really for me. I am perfectly content with the idea of removing any body part that may be plotting harm. If my thyroid is trying to kill me, take the fucker out. Besides, you haven’t been doing a great job of keeping my hair smooth lately so you can suck it on the way out. But for them, for a million different reasons, my heart aches for them.

I’m working on it. I pray often. I try to keep busy. I adopt huge ass pianos. Which, by the way, turned out to be a terrific decision for our family. I stare obsessively at my kids which freaks them out and that make me laugh.

I’m human and far from perfect and admittedly I see that while my kids don’t know any of the specifics, this is all affecting them in unexpected ways. They are resilient and I pray that this time in our lives will soon be a distant memory that only I remember.

For now, I focus on gratitude. I’m thankful for my family, friends, and faith. I’m thankful for my husband. He is more than I could ever ask for or imagine in a partner. Today especially, I’m thankful for being 41 with a really great pediatrician.

xoxo