My 2-year-old son Quinn's new school had fall break last week, but one of his teachers offered care in her home instead to bridge the gap. She calls it "Fall Break Boot Camp," and they do arts and crafts, sing songs, and most importantly, from my perspective, take afternoon naps. Many working parents can't afford to take the week off, so it's nice to have the option of consistent care, with a teacher we trust and the friends our kids are used to.
Since I'm not working, I debated keeping Q home with me all week. What excuse did I really have, other than I want to do some writing and make it to yoga a couple of times and maybe grocery shop without having to fight about the car seat at every stop?
I mean, what excuse other than cancer?
I forget sometimes that it's there, that I'm supposed to be resting, that my body is doing a lot of work right now. A friend of mine said her oncologist told her to expect to have about half the energy a normal person has, which makes me feel better when I have trouble keeping up with my son and let him watch more Bob the Builder than I probably should.
In clothes, I look almost normal, other than the port in my chest. And my hair looks like Princess Diana circa 1992, but it's MY HAIR. My eyebrows still haven't quite grown back, either, but otherwise, I look mostly okay. More importantly, I feel mostly okay. I can still go hiking and make it to yoga and take my son to swimming lessons, and I am so lucky for that. My quality of life on this particular chemo is amazingly normal, relatively speaking.
But then I fell asleep with Quinn on his twin bed at 8 o'clock the other night, and when I woke up confused and groggy just before midnight, it came pounding into my head like a hangover -- oh, yeah, cancer. Chemo on Monday. Scans next month. And then I might have eased myself back to sleep with some Xanax.
So in the interest of continuity and my health, I took Q in to his teacher's makeshift school for a couple of days. The first day was fine, but drop-off the second day was rough. He didn't want to be there to begin with, and then, right in front of me, another little boy bit his arm, which made my son even more clingy. I stayed to console him for a good fifteen minutes, maybe longer, as he cried in my lap.
Then one of the teachers suggested a book, The Kissing Hand, which is about a mom's love always being with her kiddos, and theirs with their moms, even when they're away from each other. The story is about a raccoon on his first day of school, but it struck me that it's relevant to any separation from a parent.
As I was reading this to Quinn in the middle of the playroom floor, I felt a hard knot tighten in my throat, and I tried to pass my sniffles off as allergies: "Chester felt his mother's kiss rush from his hand, up his arm, and into his heart." Whenever Chester feels lonely at school, all he has to do is press his hand to his cheek to feel the warmth of his mother's kiss. "Do you feel that, too?" I asked Quinn, with my hand over his heart. My little boy nodded, and I struggled to keep my composure.
I was choked up for the same reason I pause just a bit at the refrain the teachers tell the kids when one is having a rough day: "All mommies come back." How I wish. I hate knowing otherwise, and I try to keep that anxiety of mine from my son, although he's been biting his nails lately, so I'm not sure how successful I am.
Anyway, drop-off that day was rough for me, too. I started sobbing before I even got back to my car. I know Quinn needs to learn he's okay without me at school, and he will be okay when I die someday -- all of us eventually are, but -- God, do I want more time with him, and to continue to feel well enough to enjoy it.
I'm continually trying to find that balance between spending enough time with him (as if there were such a thing) and not wearing myself out. Other moms (with cancer or not, working or not), I'd love to hear how you find that balance in your lives.
An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog, www.boobyandthebeast.com.