Like Space Mother, Like Daughter (a repost in honor of Mother’s Day)

little-girl-astronautMy daughter is at an age where she talks a lot of nonsense. Her stories lack focus. Not to be too critical but they generally lack a beginning, middle and end. But hey, she’s not even potty trained so there’s still hope her skills can improve.

She uttered some such nonsense the other night while I was cutting potatoes for roasting. She stood next to me and said, “My diffwent mom teached me to do dat.”

Wait, what? Your different mom? And she let you use a knife? I had so many questions.

“She cut potatoes too,” my baby said.

I had to ask, “You had a different mom? From me?” She nodded. “What did she look like?”

“She have yellow hair. Yike me,” she said. I have brown hair.

“What’s her name?”

“Mom.” And then things got weird. “My baby sistahs ahr cute. Dem Beanie and Dot.”

I’ve heard of kids who sometimes talk about a past life and I wondered if this is what was happening. I actually believe in reincarnation — or I hope in reincarnation. When I was pregnant with my daughter I went to my older son’s grave and begged him to come back to me as the new baby. After she was born I looked for signs of him in her eyes and mannerisms. I never found any.

Something similar happened to me in my childhood. When I was about seven I told my mom she wasn’t my real mom. I said I was from outer space and I was going to wait outside for my space mom until she arrived in her spaceship to get me. I stood on the driveway that evening and looked at the stars. My mother stood at the dining room window and looked at me. It wasn’t until years later did I learn how much this freaked her out.

Now it was my turn to freak out. I looked at my daughter’s stunning green eyes. Mine are brown. “Beanie and Dot,” I said. “Are they twins?”

“Yeth,” she answered. “Dem twins.”

“When did you live with them?”

“Me unknow,” she said. Wow, I thought. She unknows. That’s deep.

The subject of her different mom and baby twin sisters came up again when I packed away some clothes she outgrew. “Don’t give dose away!” She protested. “Save dem for my baby sistahs!”

“Will I ever meet them?” I asked. “Me unknow,” she said.

“What was your different mom like?” I asked. “She never say no to me or yell,” she said. Whoever this different mom is I’m beginning to think she might be a lot better at this motherhood stuff than I am.

I only know a few details about “different mom,” like we have the same kind of slipper-socks, we both watch the news, and we both like hugs. I’m curious why she talks about her. Maybe there are things that feel familiar to us and we don’t understand why, so we make up a story to explain it to ourselves, even at a young age. Or maybe my daughter did have a different mom before she came to me, and is young and pure enough to remember bits and pieces of her previous incarnation.

I also wonder what I felt as a child that led me to tell my own mother that I wasn’t her real daughter, but a child from space abandoned on earth with a strange human family. I vaguely remember the feeling of going outside and waiting. Maybe we all feel like aliens in our own homes, different from the people closest to us and have no explanation for what we’re doing with them while we wait to finally find our home.

And maybe beyond the different hair and eye color, my daughter and I have much more in common. After all, what goes around comes around. Like an orbit.

Butterfly: My Daughter’s “Diffwent Mom”

I’ve written previously in “Like Space Mother, Like Daughter” about how my little girl surprised me with her claim she had a “diffwent mom” before me. I have since learned more details.

pretty-butterflyHer name is Butterfly, she has purple hair and wears skirts. She is married to Brian and they live somewhere cold (I asked her to show me on a map and she pointed to Alaska). Her siblings are baby twin sisters named Bella and Rosy, and a baby brother named Junior. Brian likes to fish and they eat what he brings home. My daughter says she was seven years old when she lived with them. She doesn’t know why she had to leave and live with me. She claims to love me and Butterfly the same.

I find it fascinating that Diffwent Mom’s name is Butterfly. The spiritual and symbolic significance impresses me, as many people believe butterflies represent the soul, and are a powerful symbol of endurance, change, transformation and resilience. The journey from caterpillar to butterfly is one of confusion and struggle before the creature emerges from the isolation of its chrysalis a more beautiful, enlightened, and less fearful version of itself.butterfly-chrysalis

The butterfly is a good allegory for recovery of any kind — from loss, grief or illness — all of which I know too well. You probably do too. A lot of people know what it’s like to go through a process of self-isolation and emerge braver and stronger.

I feel badly for Butterfly, if she truly exists somewhere she’s mourning her loss. She doesn’t know how much our little girl is loved and adored. She can’t see that she’s happy and glowing. I relate to her struggle, because I wonder about my deceased son every day. I wonder if his soul was returned somewhere in the world, being loved while he talks about his Diffwent Mom with brown hair who likes to wear flannels, whom he slightly remembers and hopefully misses. If this scenario is possible, I’d wish he’d still love me the same as his present mom.

I want Butterfly to know that I understand, and she doesn’t have to worry because I’m loving our girl enough for both of us. If I could write Butterfly a letter, I’d tell her she did a good job fostering our girl’s exuberant and silly soul which arrived intact, along with her big personality and feelings. She came with an overflowing capacity to charm and spread love, which fills my heart with joy every day.

My daughter talks about Diffwent Mom and “baby bwaddah and sistahs” several times a day. I think she was a protective and doting big sister because now she frequently wants to give them her leftover food, outgrown clothes and baby toys. She talks about their favorite foods, activities and colors. I’m fascinated by her stories, especially the details, like Junior won’t eat macaroni and cheese but her sisters love it. Her sisters have brown hair but Junior has no hair (“but him still cute”).

purple-butterfly-transparentI’m oddly comforted when she talks about life with Butterfly. It gives me hope that maybe our souls, no matter where they travel in the world, never forget love. If that’s true, then my son will never forget me. My daughter’s fantastic tale about a possible past life makes me believe my deceased son could still remember me. His Butterfly.

Our Mitsubishi

So I’ve been super busy and I’m a little late catching  up on This is Us

I didn’t cry when Jack Pearson rescued his family from the fire. I didn’t cry when he went back into the burning house to save the dog and a pillowcase filled with memories. I didn’t cry when Rebecca crumpled into a heap when she saw Jack died alone from a heart attack in his hospital bed. I didn’t even cry at his funeral.

I’d say I held it together pretty well during the the most traumatic episode of This Is Us. Until…

That damn scene in the car salesman’s office. Someone please explain to me why I fell into breathless sobs during a scene about a car?

But it’s not a scene about a car. It’s a scene about everything…

As soon as Randall spilled the soda all over the back seat and Jack turned around to glare at him my eyes welled up, but it was Jack’s voice-over that got me crying. The notion that every stain, every scratch on the family car is a “battle scar.”  I get this, because so much of family life is a battle — small ones usually, but sometimes the battles are huge and they leave scars on our flesh, fabric or fender.

boy-driving-carFor years our family lived in a huge sprawling city and so much of our lives wound up happening in our car. That car — a 2002 silver Mitsubishi Montero Sport — carried us through fifteen years of everyday errands and epic, cross-country road trips — oh, the amazing road trips! The spills and throw up and sand and mud and crumbs and stains! Plus the life moments and great conversations and arguments and plans!

That silver Mitsubishi Montero Sport was the first new car we ever bought. We needed a car larger than my Corolla SR-5 after the birth of our son. We needed something with a functional back seat. I remember being pregnant and waiting at a red light, looking at all the large SUVs that surrounded me. I thought, my little car can get swallowed by one of these things. I wanted something safer. In the words of Jack Pearson, I wanted us to be okay.

The plan was I’d keep the car sixteen years and then give it to our son. Sometime during the car’s fifteenth year, after it outlived our son for five years, I accidentally drove it going 5mph into a pole in the parking lot at Kohl’s. Nobody was hurt but the front end caved in. Our insurance company said the car wasn’t worth much (to them) and totaled it out.

My husband wondered if I hit the pole accidentally on purpose. (No.) He asked if I realized we were getting close to the time we said we’d give it to our son (I did.) He wanted me to get my eyes checked. (I didn’t.)

But maybe there is such a thing as accidentally on purpose.

Every once in a while in family life something comes up that marks the end of an era — a birth, death, graduation or moving houses. In a smaller way, even changing cars. Jack Pearson tells the car salesman that the Wagoneer he’s about to buy will someday tell his family’s story just by looking at it. I get this — we had a whole story planned for our Mitsubishi — but it never happened. Our car’s intended story never came to be.

I hate change. It’s exhausting. Our bodies age and change. Our hair grows and thins. Our clothes fade and fray. Our relationships…well, don’t get me started, those constantly change. Our family changes, and this is the hardest one for me to get used to. I miss the past before all the changes happened. I miss my parents. I miss my son. I miss the way things used to be.

Maybe, at some level, it’s possible I wanted to end an era. How could our Mitsubishi outlive our son? Maybe, at some level, I didn’t care that my attention was focused on looking across the parking lot for the exit rather than seeing what was looming immediately in front of me. One rule of Karma is there are no accidents, but don’t tell that to my insurance adjuster.

broken-heart

I understand what it’s like to want to be okay. At first it seems like a mediocre goal — one even I can reach. But it’s not easy. I should know. I’ve been trying to be okay for years and I’m not there yet.

Could it be possible I slow-crashed my car to get closer to being okay? Sure, there are easier, smarter and better ways to change cars.

But like I said, it’s not really about the car.

 

It’s Been A Week

pink-cherriesIt’s been a week.

Here’s what I remember — Everyone is very calm in pre-op. The nurses have wonderfully sweet voices. Anesthesia has the biggest team, and I was visited by no less than three anesthesiologists who told me they would “take care of me” in the operating room. My surgeon is a rock star, a notion that is reinforced by her using a Sharpie to sign her name on the boob she would remove from my body. I remember scootching from the gurney to the table. Then that’s it.

There’s an empty space where my breast used to be. I refused to look at it for two days. When I finally did I thought, “So that’s what it looks like to get mauled by a tiger.”

Except there was no tiger. There was a scalpel.

I accidentally looked at it on the second day. It’s ugly. I’m not going to lie. It’s purple and scarred and folded/caved inward. There are sutures and lines and bumps and dents. And it hurts. It fucking hurts all up in my armpit. I’m on Norco for the pain.

My husband looked at it on the first day. He said, “Baby, remember it’s a start. When this is over you’ll have healthy and beautiful bionic boobs.”

I read about a phenomenon that occurs, mostly in veterans and amputees, who don’t fully realize a part of their own body is missing called Phantom Limb syndrome. This is how I feel walking around the house. I’m sure it sounds strange but I don’t feel like I’m missing a breast. I feel like normal — until I accidentally brush my hand along my chest and I don’t find a breast there. It’s like I need a neutral third party — my hand — to tell my brain something is missing. My brain can’t seem to figure it out on it’s own.

A good friend said if I want to spread the tiger story around town she would back me up. So next time you see me ask about the safari. Ask me what it’s like to fight a tiger and win.

I got to kill the fucking tiger. And I have the scars to prove it.

Booze and Ice Cream; How To Prepare For A Mastectomy

toasting-champagne-glasses

So I knew this day would come. I was told two months ago it would happen. That’s a long time to prepare. Or, if you’re me, it’s a long time to ignore reality.

The reality is I have DCIS breast cancer. Just one boob. The one on the right. So the next time you see me you can stare. It’s okay. I’d stare at your boobs too if you told me where your cancer was.

ice-cream-with-cherries

DCIS is the kind of breast cancer you want if you ever get breast cancer. At least this is what my doctor told me. It’s non-invasive, which means it’s confined to the breast and doesn’t metastasize in the body. They call it stage 0. It is 99% curable.

The cure is a mastectomy.

Whoa, right? Seems drastic for something some doctors call “pre-cancer.” I think so too. But the alternative is watching and waiting for it to become invasive cancer and this seems even more stressful. I’m not a cross-my-fingers-and-hope-for-the-best kind of patient. I’m a do-my-research-and-find-the-best-experts kind of patient. Which is why I’m having everything done at a major teaching hospital instead of a cornfield.

So here’s the plan. This Saturday is my birthday. I plan to get drunk and eat ice cream. I bought Malibu Rum and Sangria so I can pretend I’m on vacation, and a tub of organic mochaccino ice cream. In my drunken and dairy-bloated state I’ll probably convince a photographer friend of mine to take classy photos of my cleavage. (Is there any other kind?)  Sunday I will detox and then it’s onward to Mastectomy Monday. I bought new pink satin button front pajamas and something called a Brobe, so I’m set. After I come home stoned on opiates I will lay in bed and watch Oscar screeners and possibly binge watch Game of Thrones. I hear I’m among the three people left on earth who never saw an episode.

I’m not happy about being out of commission for a week. Pretty sure chaos will ensue. But that’s minor and temporary. What I can’t shake is the feeling I’m running out of time. I’m not talking about mortality. I’m talking about my wholeness. The clock is ticking on the amount of time I have left to feel like “me.” After Monday, I don’t know what I’ll look like or how I’ll feel. After Monday everything will be different.

But until then, it’s booze and ice cream.

Deal With It, Kid

boy-holding-big-pencil“Mom, do you want me to make a list of everything you do wrong?”

This question came from my son. Nothing provoked it. It was just something on his mind and he thought he would be helpful. I declined, and now I think we can add me declining his unsolicited assessment of my job performance to the list of things I’ve done wrong — feedback is good, right? It would be good to have my shortcomings itemized by the tiny human boss I gave life to.

However, I already have a critic inside my head that’s pretty good at telling me everything I do wrong, so maybe I don’t need her and my son comparing notes — can’t we all just laugh at me and get along?

This same son once told me when he grows up he wants to be a great man so I have to raise him right. When I asked how I was doing so far he shrugged and said, “Okay, I guess.” He’s a tough boss to please. I still have a lot to learn about parenting, like how to resist rolling my eyes when my son criticizes me. But every now and then I can add something relevant to the conversation.

A while back I (thought I) was a seasoned second-time mom in a mommy-and-me group surrounded by younger first-timers. One newbie asked what everyone thought was the best and worst parts of being a mom.

Now, there are a lot of priceless things, like source material for a blog, but that’s not what I said. I told the group the best thing about being a mom is the love — nothing compares to the love you feel for your child and the love you get in return. I don’t care how much you love your spouse/partner (and I do), every mom knows what I’m talking about and you’re all nodding your head.

As far as the worst thing goes, I skipped over lack of sleep, weight gain and accelerated aging and went straight to the truth. The worst thing is the worry — nothing prepares you for the absurd amount of time a mom spends worrying. About everything. I can’t even get started on this one. Worry consumed me even before my oldest son became ill with cancer. I wear worry like an accessory. It hangs around my neck like an ugly chain.

Nobody knows the future. That’s what is terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. But as parents we learn from the past and each other. For example, I knew a mom who told me her three year-old son had an inconsolable crying and hyperventilating fit over something. “We had to shove his face in a mud puddle to get him to calm down,” she said. The mud puddle technique never got into my repertoire. I’m not clear on the logic — perhaps she thought if the baby couldn’t breathe he couldn’t cry? This story came from a mom from a different generation and it shows how much easier it was to get away with banana parenting techniques before cell phones.

Now let me tell you her kid turned out just fine. Most do regardless of our eccentric decisions — kids are the most durable thing on the planet. They go through so much turmoil on the road to adulthood yet (most) become productive grown humans.

I screw up every day and my son somehow makes it to bedtime unscathed and relatively happy. One day he will appreciate having a complicated mother. After all, he’ll need something to discuss with his therapist when he’s older.

Or material for a blog…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Make Mine a Double?

two-cherriesMost of us are lucky enough to be born without flaw or blemish. We come into this world about as perfect as we’re ever going to be. Our bodies grow and develop, we reach our peak, then we age and decline. It happens to all of us. Along the way we acquire scars, bruises and fractures. Every one of these is a story unto itself.

When I was two I broke my collar bone after falling off a kitchen chair. My family was within arms reach but they were too busy applauding me for sitting by myself “like a big girl.” I then went a long time without any major body damage until I turned thirty-two and had my gallbladder removed. The operation left two tiny slit-like scars on my abdomen and one inside my belly-button. Coincidentally, my paternal grandmother also had her gallbladder removed at the same age, but she died days later from a post-surgical infection.

At thirty-three I became pregnant and experience the body altering process all pregnant women go through, until the end, when I had an emergency cesarean after my water broke and my body had no idea how to coordinate labor. I developed sepsis and, I swear, I never saw people move so fast in a hospital before as my son was cut from my body within minutes of me spiking a fever. I was left with a beautiful baby and a not-so-beautiful gash extending from hip to hip across my lower abdomen. I would go on to have two more cesareans, both over the same scar, when I gave birth to my next son and daughter.

Sometimes our scars tell a dramatic story of how we skirted what would have been a catastrophic outcome had the event occurred a hundred years ago. Sometimes our broken bones and scars are minor, the result of accidents, and heal nicely on their own. Either way, they mark us up like a map representing the moments when our body altering experiences become life altering.

I have one such body and life altering moment coming up very soon, and I have yet to make a decision about the full extent of how it will leave its mark on me.

While the medical community debates whether Ductal Carcinoma In-Situ is really breast cancer, pre-cancer, or should be downgraded to dysplasia — the treatment remains the same — cut it out, slice it off, remove those bad cells from the body. DCIS is viewed as a potential threat that could someday become invasive cancer. The treatment is nip it before it has a chance to become threatening.

In other words, I have to have surgery and the date is coming up fast. The great news is I won’t need chemo or radiation. FYI, there is nothing medically to suggest I was at risk for bc. You have to go up two generations to a distant aunt before you find anyone in my family with it; I tested for all nine known genetic mutations that contribute to bc and I have none of them. In fact, my medical profile would suggest I have a low risk.

Yet here I am.

The decision I face is what to do about the other breast. Many women opt to have both removed so they never have to worry about breast cancer again. I’m not sure I have the courage to do this. It’s wrenching enough to part with one. (Is it courage? I’m in the thick of wrestling with this decision and I can’t tell if I’m approaching it from bravery or fear).

I’m an extremely adaptable person, but I also have difficulty letting go of things. Even things that are better off gone from my life, I tend keep them longer than I should. I also have a hard time making decisions because I’m overwhelmed by seeing all the possible consequences, and I wind up frozen. I would love if/when a difficult decision arises that the right path be self-evident. I prefer no-brainers. (Who doesn’t). I guess this is wishful thinking — life rarely smacks me with no-brainers.

Thankfully, no matter what I choose I will come through this looking pretty much normal again. I’m lucky the advancements in plastic surgery can create a new silhouette that resembles my natural one. I’m lucky I don’t live a hundred years ago.

So the cartography of my body will be drastically redrawn. There will be new scars, both physically and emotionally. The landscape will change and be replaced with something artificial.

All this is swimming around in my head where I’m drowning in my own thoughts, and meanwhile my surgeon’s office wants an answer from me today. I still don’t know what I’m going to tell them.