There are some people I very clearly remember meeting. My beloved college roommate, who walked up to me on the first day of our science for non-science-majors class and said darkly, “My mom thinks I’m pledging her sorority, but it’s not happening. I’ve always been the black sheep in my family. I like your hat.” My husband, who shook my hand firmly and politely at a press lunch and then later offered me a bite of his steak, which he cut into tiny pieces for me – and then blushed and said, “Oh, God, sorry, I have a 6-year-old.” Another good college friend who I met at a party when he yelled from the stairway landing, “Watch out! You! Short girl! Don’t step into that puke!” All of these exchanges grew into immediate friendships.
Then there are people who are crucially important to me – my daughters’ two godmothers – who I don’t really remember meeting. I know Amy and I had a lot of mutual friends in common and that we stayed in a college town for a lot longer than many of our other friends until finally we realized how much we adored each other, but I have no clear memory of the first time I met her. And my friend Sarah – one of my very favorite people in the whole world – was just my coworker for a long time until one day we were basically best friends.
And then there’s my friend Jessica, who is sort of a mix of those two things. I know exactly how we met – she and her husband, John, lived in the top half of a duplex, and my husband and I lived in the bottom – and I remember the first thing I said to her – shouted after her, really, as she was going into her front door, which was that we should make time to sit down and have some wine in our shared back yard.
My husband made a face at me. “Baby, she can’t drink wine with you!” he said. “She’s clearly pregnant.”
“Oh,” I said, embarrassed. “Well, I just saw her from behind!”
I imagine I apologized after that and congratulated her, but I don’t really remember. I didn’t even know she’d gone into labor until I saw a blue wreath go up on her front door a few months later, and by then, I was pregnant myself. Our friendship grew slowly, but it was strengthened by what we had in common: two kids around the same age.
For more than two years, we raised our kids – her son, Jack, is about six months older than Georgia – together in our duplex. We had cookouts in the backyard, we traded babysitting, we attended our kids’ birthday parties and even brought food up and down the stairs to each other. We’d warn each other when we were trying new sleep-training programs or when our kids were teething or feverish. We’d commiserate about the stress of finding a good pre-K program, and once we were both no longer pregnant, we shared a lot of wine.
We were all sad when Robert and I moved to Broadmoor, and we were all happy when Jessica and John bought their own house near us in Broadmoor. Georgia, who will never have cousins as both Robert’s and my siblings are all dead, calls Jack her cousin, and even though we no longer share a house, we’re closer than we ever were.
About a year ago, Jack was diagnosed with leukemia, and although he has a great prognosis, there’s no way to sugarcoat how much it just straight-up sucks sometimes.
Jess is reluctant to start her own blog, but she is a beautiful writer, and yesterday, she shared something so moving on Facebook that I asked for her permission to share it here.
This Facebook memory is 6 years old; 6 years ago Jack’s nap was brought to you by a warm bottle and a lullaby. Today Jack’s mid-morning snooze is brought to you by Versed and other anesthesia meds. Today is a Lumbar Puncture day. This is a day when Jack is first sedated by nurses and a then a doctor injects chemotherapy directly into his spine. This is a regular part of our leukemia routine. Every 3 months Jack fasts after dinner and can’t eat again until after this procedure. Today we were mercifully scheduled at 9:30 a.m. Once he had to wait till after 2:30. As you may imagine that was not easy for a kiddo OR his parents.
None of this is easy. We make it look good. I am invested in making this look good. Which, funnily enough, sometimes has the effect of making this diagnosis somewhat invisible. Even the people closest to us forget. We do normal things like school and work and Legos and special Sunday dinners but we are also always (ALWAYS) taking daily chemo, administering as hellish regimen of steroids monthly, and are always (ALWAYS!) watchful for the first signs of fever that mean an immediate trip to the ER. Jack goes to school and does homework and worries about bullies AND he is on a first-name basis with about a dozen hospital employees. John and I are always there coaching him, begging him, cajoling, and bribing him to do his best, not let leukemia define his life, to stay calm, refuse the temptation of the temper tantrum, to use his table manners, to speak kindly to himself and others, to pick up his toys, put his clothes in the hamper, and stay still while a nurse puts a ¾-inch needle into his port.
Our ability to appear normal is a gift. There are many parents with children far too ill to even consider going to school or schedule playdates or eat dinner in a restaurant.
But our normalcy is also a burden. I find myself expecting so damn much from this little kid. I expect him to not bring any of these issues into his classroom. (“Please please please be relatively undamaged by leukemia,” I silently beg). I expect him to master handwriting, listen to his teacher, and to be a helpful member of his school community. I expect him to go to sleep on time, stop whining, apologize when he is rude to his parents, to stop thinking that every decent act of regular mundane cooperation should get him tangible rewards, and to take his meds three times a day without protest.
So today I’m inspired by this adorable picture of this adorable boy (MY adorable boy) to remember how small he once was and how small he STILL is. I desire more hope and patience and good humor to infuse my parenting and to help me soften my litany of expectations. I want to empower, not enforce. I want to help him, not herd him. I want to guide not grill. And when I fall short of these goals (as I will most certainly do and probably daily), I want to be as gentle with myself as I aspire to being with Jack.
Hold each other close, in affection and gentleness, my friends. Remember that YOU are part of your family, too, and need gentle nurturing and encouragement. Support your fellow humans. Empower them to do better and be better by looking upon them with love. This world can train us to expect the hard and the harsh and imagine judgment around every corner if we let it. Let’s not then, shall we? Let’s strive for a bit easier, sunnier, and rosier. Let’s appreciate our naps however and whenever they come to us.
Love, Jack’s mom.
Regardless of how we met, is it any wonder I am grateful to call her my friend?
If you’d like to follow their journey OR give to their GoFundMe, the link is here.