I once thought of clubs as an integral part of childhood…and occasionally the bane of my existence. I see now that they never go away. Sometimes they are overt, but often clubs for adults (no, not THAT kind) are unspoken. Instead of a secret handshake, it may be a shared look. Grief. Pain. Experience. There is the infertility club, the child-loss club, the cancer club – just to name a few. There are survivor clubs and it-kicked-my-ass clubs. But here’s the thing. These little semi-secret, exclusive groups do the same thing they always did: they provide a safe place for members, and they deter the uninitiated. The one is good…the second? It still hurts to be on the outside. The older I get, the more I realize that kids and adults aren’t different in kind, just in experience. Sometimes things hurt, and we can’t fix it. Sometimes we have to let our loved ones go to where they need to be…even if it isn’t to us. I am so not going to do that well when the loved ones in question are my kids….
Today is one of those days when I really need to stay away from Facebook. It is not just the obvious time-suck that I am trying to avoid (rather unsuccessfully, at that), but the engendering of the proverbial green-eyed monster. Yep. Everyone whose kid is being good, loving to write/read/obey/not act like any kid who lives in my house, everyone who is going on a fabulous trip, and everyone who is in general happy with his or her life is making me crazy at the moment. This is, of course, ridiculous. For one thing, I am not having a bad day, week, month, or even year. Finally. I simply seem to lack the basic human capacity to be happy for anyone today. Yes. I know. This is entirely my problem. See? Staying away from Facebook….
Unfortunately, my envy-monster is not the only one I’m seeing evidence of on social media today – or yesterday, either. The other two monsters kept me on the verge of tears yesterday – for strangers, no less, and I am afraid I’m too tired to do it again today. You see, one of the bad guys is cancer – in this case a stage IV brain tumor in a four-year-old. This is not my story, and I couldn’t speak to what the family is feeling or going through, even if I wanted to. I just hate the monster. HATE it. And yet I can’t leave it alone. I can’t just ignore the posts that are showing up on my news feed from disparate friends from Virginia Beach to Jacksonville. So I cry and pray – really eloquent prayers like: “Oh God, oh God, oh God. Be with them and thank you and oh God, oh God, oh God.” Our own cancer battle was a horror to us – and it still is a lot of the time…and it was a GOOD NEWS cancer diagnosis – with clean scans and remission and all that. And it was and is the single worst thing in this world that has happened to our family. I hurt for me and for them and for everyone, and I am having a hard time with happy. Because there be monsters here.
The other monster I’m struggling with today was perhaps best described by a certain Elizabethan playwright as outrageous fortune. We sometimes call it bad luck, Murphy’s law, or the effects of a fallen world – generally depending on our spiritual background. It is the bad things that happen…like massive, fatal car accidents that take children and devastate families. It is another horror that I cannot pretend to understand or explain, but that I cannot ignore. So I hug my loved ones, live my life in the best way I know how, and pray for all the hurting people out there – even if those prayers are wordless groans for pain I cannot fathom and fear in depths of my heart that I didn’t know I had until they started hurting. “Oh God, oh God, oh God….”
So there be monsters here. Petty ones and nasty ones and horrific ones and probably stupid ones. I hate them, but they give me words that I never found before I knew them. Maybe owning that reality will be the thing that allows me to enjoy the good things again. We are fighting to celebrate victories rather than to fear possible defeats, and seeing that facing the monsters works better than pretending they don’t exist might be a step toward that. I am also trying to come to terms with the reality that sadness and anger resonate with me more than hope does. (Cue worried phone calls from parents…I’m fine – don’t worry!) It is real to acknowledge that I miss my friend who was taken by cancer and that I don’t want to lose anyone else, and it is true that I don’t want anyone to have to bury a child or a spouse and that I hurt for them when they do. “Oh God, oh God, oh God….”
Are you fighting your own kind of monsters? Are they real or are you afraid they’re only in your head? Does that actually make them any less real?
I wrote the above, and then realized that it is mostly about me. Which is normal, I guess – I’m the one I know best. But it feels wrong to only share my reaction to something without giving you the chance to see the real stories if you want to. It feels selfish. “Oh God, oh God, oh God, help me love others and not just indulge my vicarious pain; let me remember that how I feel isn’t the main story here!”
A dear friend who has been fighting a monstrous grief of her own for the last year reminded all of us that a simple, practical, financial kindness to a grieving family is of more help than you might think. “There is nothing that anyone can say to ease the pain…nothing. But this tangible act of giving can keep a family from having to think about or worry about financial matters. Because sometimes, it takes all you have to just breathe.” Here are links, if you want the stories to touch your heart too…it may not be easy, but it is life in the trenches – and I think that is where we are supposed to be. So maybe Facebook isn’t so bad, after all….
I have a friend who used to punctuate all of our outings by sending a post-mortem apology email. Most of the time there would be anywhere from two to six stay-at-home moms who had gotten together and talked non-stop to the first adults we’d seen in days. We had a lot to say, and this one friend always worried (after the fact) that she’d been offensive in some way. She hadn’t, but she always issued a preemptive apology anyway. We still laugh at her about this…and then say we hope we haven’t offended anyone by laughing…. She actually starts most conversations by issuing a blanket disclaimer, so we’re good now! And that is how I wanted to start this post – by apologizing for not being more diligent in updating my blog. I don’t actually expect anyone who reads it to be angry about my lack of writing. In fact, the argument can certainly be made that I hurt no one but myself in my procrastination. But then I thought of the apology issued by the meteorologist in the Birmingham, Alabama area who issued a mea culpa yesterday regarding the failure of the weather center to correctly predict where the snow would fall. Contrast that with all the officials in Atlanta who have been blame-shifting. The weather people said nothing, so the news people blamed the city, who blamed…the people of Atlanta for going to work and school and for not knowing how to drive in the snow. One early apology in Alabama let everyone focus on those who still needed help, while most Atlantans are just pissed off. They are helping too…because that is what is needed. We southerners may not be experienced at driving in the snow, but we do take community emergencies just as seriously as do our neighbors to the north. It was the same weather, y’all! It was exactly the same storm at about the same time and meteorologists from both states missed the forecast. Two different cities made similar mistakes and had similar traffic problems. (Because, not for nothing, weather is hard to forecast correctly!) The difference is the reaction of the people in charge in the aftermath. Claiming fault and apologizing is hard, but we teach our kids to do it for a reason: it’s the right thing to do and it often really helps.
So, am I apologizing for not writing more? Sure. Because I’m sorry that I’ve been doing other things when this is what I actually love, and my laziness is no good to anyone. And the part I didn’t mention about my uber-apologizing friend? She infected the rest of us. We all do it. We all love to talk and we love our adult time, even though several of us are no longer at home with kiddos all the time, but we also want to be careful that we are understood and not offensive. We want to communicate well, and even when we are snarky, we don’t want to hurt each other. It’s not a bad thing to be careful of. And it’s fun to laugh at all the apologizing too….
I don’t want to be one of the angry bloggers. I don’t want to complain all the time. I do want this year to end already. I want my septic and/or electrical system to miraculously be fixed. I want the cars not to need tires and brakes and fuses and oil changes and headlamp bulbs and…you know…stuff that costs money. I want people to ask us how we are and if we are having problems and how we can best be served in those areas without having them jump to conclusions about our spiritual health. I want people to stay at the church…or if they must leave to do so as graciously as possible. I want radiation to start already so that we can get to the end of it. I want insurance companies to act like…well NOT like insurance companies. (Not only are we trying to get next year’s coverage squared away – with limited success; but we are also now waiting for pre-authorization from the insurance company for radiation – which can take 30 days. I was also hung up on twice by said company. Displeased is putting it mildly. Furious not an overstatement.) So I’m a bit put out with the doc’s office that failed to send the request sooner. I want to treat Adam with respect in the midst of his fluctuating chemo-brain. I want others to do so as well. I’m not doing super well at that sometimes, and I’m afraid I’ve infected everyone. He is doing so much better…he’s mostly back to being himself…just a less inhibited version. So chemo turned him into me. I’m SO SORRY. Though his temper is still less volatile…. Sad…. So we’re sad and tired and frustrated and trucking along because that is all there is to do. Please God, can we have a few easy days?
We’re tired. We feel
Do you ever have those moments when you look around, see numerous jobs that need doing and just think, “Nah…I don’ wanna?” I know – it’s a bit embarrassing to know that you look, feel, and sound about 4…or 14…but still, that’s exactly what is going through your head. Oh. You don’t have those moments. It’s just me. All the time. Shoot. (Which is not the word that I’m really thinking, but is the one that I’m writing anyway. Even though I SO don’ wanna.) I’m doing lots of things that aren’t high on my list, and I’m ignoring things that would be higher on my list if only I had a little bit more mental energy. So school lunches are getting made, laundry is getting washed and folded (though rarely put away, to be totally honest), dishes are getting done, and everyone is being fed and put to bed at night. Other housework is suffering. It just is. I started a new job last Monday, and now am away from home from about two to six every weekday afternoon. I like my job – I’m an after school care worker at our church’s early childhood center – but I have less time and less energy than I did before and I wasn’t getting the housework done before. And I’m almost sorry about that.
I also have the bigger don’ wanna moments. The ones where I dread telling my kids to do something because I know it’s going to be a fight, and I know I have to win, and I just don’t even want to go there. I get to be the bad guy parent most of the time, especially now that Adam is out of commission so much of the time. It is so…tiring…. I made a comment to the kids the other day that something wasn’t worth fighting over. My darling boy, who is way too much like his mama, replied, “Everything is worth fighting over. Hashtag: everythingisworthfightingover!” (Everything is also worth a hashtag. He’ll be a menace on Twitter one day.) This is the philosophy by which he lives: everything is worth fighting over. He has an opinion on everything and wants to be right all the time. Did I mention that he’s a little like me? Sigh. My mother didn’t even saddle me with the mother’s curse (“Someday I hope you have children who act just like you….”), yet it worked…in spades. I am so tired of the endless cycle of asking/telling/instructing followed by crying/yelling/disobeying followed by crying/yelling/punishing (yes, I know, I shouldn’t cry and yell) followed by more crying/yelling/disrespect leading to more disbelief/punishing/banshee-ing culminating in submission/obedience/sniffles and deep breathing/exhaustion/wine. Couldn’t they, just once, you know…OBEY? Because it isn’t just the one who is so like me that is fighting me. Darling daughter is also a fighter. Or a manipulating sneak. Still…not a submissive, compliant model child.
So I don’ wanna. I forgo grown-up-ness for today. I will henceforth proceed directly to napping. Because I already have a caffeine headache from all the coffee I’ve ingested over the last week and I just need to relax. Bring on the soaking tub, candles, and wine. And please: nobody need me for a few days, okay?
P.S. For those who tend to worry: we’re good. Last week was great, even with my new job and the new school year starting. I’m just tired.
Aleph Mary Kaneer, née Pittman
Today my grandmother went home. She was ready. It never sat well with her that her younger sisters went before she did; and after Grandpa died three and a half years ago, a part of her never came home from the cemetery. She was a care-taker. But there was no one left to care for. Well. Not no one. In fact, her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and yes, great-great-grandchildren number over 50…without including spouses…which we do. So with family that in four generations ballooned to close to 100, she is missed by many. She is also missed by nieces, nephews, in-laws, church members, and all the other people she cared and prayed for over the years. And we all wish she was still here to care for us. We all have favorite memories, favorite foods, favorite quotations, and favorite images of her. Facebook is positively bursting with pictures of my grandmother, who never owned a computer. And I’m so glad to share her life and death with my family that way, because I can’t go to her funeral. She would understand that I have to take care of my husband and children. I’m pretty sure she liked Adam better than me anyway! He is a pastor, after all. I was a smart-mouth. (You know, before. Not now. No, never.) She missed those of us who couldn’t see her often, but she loved us the same. She prayed for us and worried about us…and when we came, she cooked for us and read Bible verses to us. And occasionally reminded us not to run into oncoming traffic…when we were 20. She never sat down. Never. Not even to eat. She would try, but then someone would ask her to pass something and she would run to the kitchen to get more. Though we were never out. The plastic-covered table (there were lots of kids around) was always full. Chicken and rice, fried chicken, sliced tomatoes, butter beans, green beans, peas of all sorts, green salad, ambrosia salad, jello salad, okra, pears, figs, water melon…these are just a few of the things that graced the table over the years. We all had our favorites. The house was often full too – especially if someone was visiting from out of town. The kids were always outside playing…unless they were me – I was trying to hold the baby (there was always a baby) and listen to what the grown-ups talked about. I was often sent outside…and told not to go in the street. We played on tire swings, shot arrows at targets in the pasture, hit baseballs, softballs and volleyballs, did handstands, cartwheels, and handsprings, and generally acted like…Kaneers. When someone got hurt, Grandma the nurse patched us up and told us about the illnesses of all the people in the extended family and in her church…we had generally never heard of them in any other context. That was Grandma’s sphere of influence: home, health, church, and family. And we all know and love each other because of her tireless efforts to make their house a home. Where I’m quite sure she never sat down. Go in peace, Grandma. We’re still praying for each other, for your sake and our own.
I don’t always like being a mess, and I really don’t like others to worry about me when I’m a mess…but I don’t really mind at all that people see my messiness. It does make me sad that some of my friends and loved ones don’t like that I show those less than together bits…but I am constantly reminded that there are other friends and loved ones out there that love those bits best. Maybe because they identify with them, or because they are reminded to pray for me and others, or because it makes me seem accessible. I can’t really know all the whys and wherefores, but I have been told several times in the last few days that my honesty is refreshing and that it is appreciated. So I’m glad. In turn, I feel refreshed after a good trip with the kids to see some of my family and friends in Athens, Georgia. (Which is, by the way, the BEST college town in the country – if not the world.) It was so good to see and be encouraged by our loved ones there, but even more importantly, it was a great time with my kids. We’ve had some good times this summer, but most of them have been so hard. This wasn’t without it’s difficulties, but everyone was trying to love each other well. Okay, maybe the kids weren’t trying very hard with each other, but with everyone else, they were good. And I successfully navigated a couple of emotional minefields with each of them. Especially with Ethan, who has been a warhead ready to explode for weeks or months. It was such a relief.
Then Kara lied to me this morning. Because showing her messiness and being honest isn’t really in her 9 year-old wheelhouse, at least not yet. So here we go again. Teaching a lesson that has been taught and learned before. About obedience. Honesty. Integrity. But that is okay. Those are still the lessons that I’m relearning too. And it is nice to be facing them from a position of hope rather than from the depths of woe.
Cancer still sucks and I still wish all of this was over. I know the depths may come back and reclaim me for a time – it may happen lots of times. But for now, I will enjoy the the hope. Because I know, even in the depths, that hope is what is true: hope in Christ that all of this will pass away. And it is also true that there is real beauty amidst the horror in anything. Even cancer. The beauty of the love and support of those around us. And the depth of joy that comes when real woe is banished – even if only temporarily – is something I would never have known without cancer. So, like the goblin king in the movie Labyrinth, it has no power over me. And poof. The nightmare ends. Sort of. For today at least.
Our daily reality doesn’t match our eternal one very well. I guess it never does, but that is more evident to us right now. It is difficult to put into words something that covers the two disparate, but equally accurate, truths. I have hope and am not defeated, but must fight dirty to stay that way. How can we already be conquerors and also need to prepare to fight? How can Monday be so hard when the weekend was so good? Why are my kids right back to where they were…because now the other one is fighting me too. Why did it take long enough to write this that the situation changed? Sigh. Because this is life. And in truth, it’s messy and broken. But it’s not the only thing we know to be truth. So here I go.