"Good Cancer" my ass

Some phrases are nails on a chalkboard. When I was a kid, it was the grown-ups’ substitution of  “We’ll see” for “No, but I don’t want to fight about it right now.” When I got a little older, it was any cop-out relationship phrase like “We have to talk” or “It’s not you, it’s me.” All the obvious lies used as escape hatches.

Last week, I heard the worst yet: “It’s a good cancer.”

Dan found an extra Adam’s apple about a month ago. We got the biopsy results last week. From Dan’s description of the appointment, I imagined the doctor delivering the news to Dan with a hearty handshake -- “Great news! It’s malignant!”

Then I imagined punching her in the nose.

The doctor shooed Dan out the door with an oncologist’s card and parting words like “simple surgery” and “90% cure rate.” She tossed off the same breezy percentage about thyroid nodules when he first went in a month ago-- “Over 90% are benign!” Maybe her nonchalance is supposed to be comforting confidence; I find it dismissive. Now that otherwise-encouraging percentage feels like somebody’s crying wolf.

But then, I’m in the minority. I hate falseness; I’m a straight facts girl. I want to know all the gory details about the hard road. I want to be prepared for that other 10%, just in case. I have a contingency plan for everything.

Dan, on the other hand... when I ask him, “How do they know it hasn’t spread?”-- his answer was a mystified “Huh! I didn’t even think about that!” What? How could you not think about that?

But then-- this is why we’re so damned good together. He lifts me up, and I ground him. He sees the perfect ending and I line up stepping stones to get there.

He was cracking jokes within a few minutes of delivering the word ‘carcinoma’ to our doorstep. Not to purposely lighten the mood, the way I would, but because he’s just really funny. I felt guilty laughing, like we should be more somber. But-- well, he’s right to be normal and funny. I mean, no one died or anything. And 90% is a really high number.

Still-- Dan’s nature baffles me. I’m always asking him about it, trying to figure out how he ticks. Maybe so I can channel some of his unflappable optimism for myself.

“I don’t understand it. How can you be joking? I mean, I love you, but are you in total denial or what?”

“No, no honey. I’m not in denial. I’ve processed it and moved on. We’re already in recovery.”

For Dan, there is no “getting there.” You’re “here” and then you’re “there.” He sees a mountain, he goes toward the mountain; the mountain is all he sees.

My sister says, “Well, they say healing is 90% attitude, and Dan’s got that coming out his ears.”

That’s a 90% I can get behind.



It’s finally cooled off enough that I can work in the Little Back Side Yard again. I’m excited to play back there, but I know nothing about gardening.

Over the summer, I read a bunch of stuff online about it. Didn’t help much. I checked out a bunch of books from the library that helped even less. Finally, I decided the best way to learn-- just begin it. Last week I bought a bunch of little plants at the local nursery and transplanted them, hoping for the best. It’s really tricky keeping fingers crossed while digging holes.

I expected to approach gardening like parenting. The parallels are clear-- planting seeds, watching them grow, pulling weeds, metaphors everywhere. I figured I’d plant some stuff, be ruthless with the pruning, and let the garden find its own way. Just like raising Miss G.

I would not describe myself as a particularly nurturing mother. I love Miss G to pieces, and she loves me back just as hard, but it’s tough love both ways. She didn’t tolerate being fussed over even as a baby. She started out independent, as self-sufficient as it’s possible for a baby to be. And she’s grown into a girl with a huge heart for those she loves, but no patience for the rest of the world... just like her mama.

Only -- in the garden, it turns out I’m a big marshmallow mess.

I hovered over the new transplants like a nervous helicopter-- watering them three times a day, checking on them at least twice that often. I shirk other chores, investigating the hen-and-chicks to see if they’re spreading yet, suffering little heartbreaks with every edge of green leaf fading to brown. The dogs are no longer allowed past the steps. I bristle even when the kids come out.

It’s funny to discover this side of myself. Well-- rediscover it. I know I’m a softy at heart. Always have been. I guard myself extra tight because of it. But parenting requires an edge, consistency and discipline mixed liberally in with all the love. I didn’t notice the edge took over. Miss G is so anti-coddling anyway, and our pre-Dan life didn’t leave much room for indulging emotions that gained us nothing. I had to fight and scrap for both of us; I guess gentle went dormant along the way.

I like feeling that edge soften when I’m digging in the dirt. I like even more that my life has arrived at a place where I can reclaim my gushy center.


Listening Ears

This morning over cereal, Miss G was telling me about a dream she had last night. It’s so rare to get more than one sentence at a time out of that kid-- any kid, really, those Kings and Queens of Monosyllabia. I should be more appreciative. And I do always wonder what’s going on in that crazy, busy brain of hers. But I couldn’t concentrate on her words. I was distracted instead by how her slim her hands have become, how her face is changing shape. I see translucent echoes of the woman she’ll become (all too soon) crazily overlapping with chubby remnants of the toddler she hasn’t been in years. It’s disorienting.

I listened better when she was younger. I guess once kids are past the age of swallowing legos, we stop paying full attention. They don’t want full attention anyway; they want to play with their friends and explore their independence. They gradually fade out of our lives and form their own, popping back into full focus only at times of emotional crisis-- like needing poster board for the science fair project.

These in-between years of 7 on up were not my favorite-- but now I wish I would’ve remembered that every stage only lasts a little while, and been more appreciative of my child during The Age of Yick. While organizing photos last week, I could not believe the difference in the girls over the last year or two. They are not little girls anymore. When did that happen? I was right here.

I nodded and smiled as Miss G talked, meanwhile thinking about the person she’s turning into, imagining who she’ll be in 10 years, 20 years. I wonder what age she has to reach before I can just be in the moment and listen to what she’s saying. Or maybe it never stops, and all our parents still see 4-year-olds when we’re talking to them.


Disaster Camping

We had a good plan. It’s only a 2-hour drive to the campground, so we could get there Friday night after picking Miss L up from the airport. We’d pack everything up Friday afternoon. Dan would bring the dogs with him to the airport, and pick up the friend Miss L wanted to bring along on our way out of town. Miss G and I would bring all the gear with us, and meet them at the friend’s house. Then we’d caravan out of town together and be at the campsite by marshmallow-roasting time.

Through the course of a crazy Friday afternoon, the plan fizzles out. The hours get eaten up by this and that. Dan’s buddy needed a piece to his camping stove back that Dan borrowed, and Dan drives around for an hour or two looking for a replacement part for us to use. He ends up just buying a new stove. That took up time needed to get other things finished... like, packing. And loading the car.

Dan calls from the airport, and we work up a new plan: Pick up friend and a couple pizzas, kids have overnight here while we load the cars up, we all leave first thing in the morning. Dan calls me again about an hour later. “Miss L is helping Friend finish packing. I’m getting the pizza. Oh, and it turns out, Friend can’t eat pizza, so I’m getting her chicken fingers. She has an ulcer.”

An ulcer does not bode well for the huge pot of chili I made for tomorrow’s dinner. Crap.

In the morning, I make pancakes and sausages. Friend wakes up in hysterical tears because she saw a cockroach. She no longer wants to come camping, Dan tells me quietly in the kitchen. I said, “Scared of bugs? Did she think we were going to a bug-free outdoors for camping?” Dan says, “Yeah, I guess she’s never been before. I don’t think she understood what it entailed. She called her parents to come pick her up.” At least I’m saved from the chili-ulcer dilemma.

Miss G wakes up with a headache, feeling queasy. She’s not sure if she’s up to camping but really wants to go, because her best friend Miss B is going (separately, with her dad) and is all cruxed out. Tough cookie that she is, indecision is her Waterloo. She spends the morning in and out of headaches and tears.

Dan goes outside to start loading cars, and finds one instead of two. I should mention at this time that Dan’s been borrowing one of his dad’s cars, because his failed the smog test and is now sitting unregistered in the driveway. Dan’s dad mentioned his other car had been running a little funny, and he might need the blue car back. Guess he took it to work without letting us know.

There’s no way I can fit 3-- no, 2-- kids, 2 dogs, both of us and all the camping gear plus cooler into my car. I tell Miss G, “Looks like we’re down to just one car, so maybe you & I will stay here.”

“But Mama! I really really want to go!”

“You do? I thought you felt too crappy to go and wanted to stay home.”

“I do! But... I-- I don’t knoooooow!” Commence full meltdown.

Dan says he thinks Miss B’s dad Jon could maybe bring our gear and we’d just bring the kids and the dogs. Jon agrees, and drives his truck over. We start tossing stuff in. Miss L announces she has talked Friend into going camping after all. I no longer have time to plan/prepare/pack an alternate meal for dinner. Miss G is back in tears.

The cars are stuffed, the dogs are loaded up, and the girls are bickering over who gets the middle seat. We’re within minutes of leaving. Dan and I have a strategy session in the bedroom, trying to figure out what to do about Miss G. Mid-session, she pops her head in, says “I’m going!” and bounces off to fill her water bottle. Problem solved. The girls all want to ride together, but I can only fit 3 kids in my backseat. Jon offers to take all the girls, because he is a saint among men. We take his dog in exchange for the 3 pre-teens, and Dan & I have a pleasant drive up-- just the two of us and a car full of dogbreath and waggy tails.

We approach every camping trip with a cheerful attitude, carefully blocking out any memory of disasters from previous escapades. This past weekend wasn’t bad at all.