Okay, so lately I have been having these crazy days, the kind of days that pass in a dream-like state, the kind of days that seem like they didn't even happen. Be it exhaustion or cabin fever, or just plain good ol' fashioned ennui, I have not exactly been present lately. I go through the motions, do what I have to do, I feign smiles for my daughters' sake, but I haven't really been here, and I'm not exactly sure why, but there it is. My astonishing admission that I do not live to clean the poop off the potty seat or pick up Daddy's socks (again). Then today, I get an e-mail from a fellow cancer mom who has it so much worse than me. Way worse. And I get to thinking, about how lucky I am, despite it all, how I need to practice what I preach, follow my own advice, believe in my own bullshit.
"What can I say?" is what everyone says when they are at a loss for words because they never thought they would have to be in the position they are in, but I know better than most what to tell her to bring her some modicum of comfort, because I have been there. Maybe not quite where she is, but close. I tell her, as cliched as it may sound, to take comfort and reward in the little things. As cancer moms, we can't parade around the mall with our babies, secretly having a baby beauty contest in our heads (don't scoff, you KNOW you do it, too). We can't go to the park, or to play group. My daughter will never bring home her first art project from preschool, because she will never go to preschool.
And that sucks. Hard. But it is what is. We do not have the trophies that should be every mother's right to bear, we have crosses instead. But what we are left with is a strength that these mothers don't have, and God willing, will never have to have. We are left with children that are resilient and strong as well. We are left with the little victories that most mothers take for granted, even find annoying at times.
Take grass stains, for example. The other day, Mike gave me a break (in which I should have been writing, but instead I decided to tackle Mount Laundry, what the hell is wrong with me?) and had Sarah outside all day, and I do mean ALL DAY, sunup to sundown. Now, he's a dad, which by definition means he pays for the expensive Gymboree clothes but is not careful about staining the expensive Gymboree clothes, and it does not even phase him that she probably shouldn't be playing in the expensive Gymboree clothes if she expects to get more than one use out of them, because I hate taking my daughter out in dirty clothes. So there I am a few days later, trying to pre-treat grass stains that have been sitting for a few days, because Mike also gave her a bath that day, which means that I didn't see the grass stains when I could have possibly salvaged the expensive Gymboree clothes. And I am smiling. An outfit ruined by grass stains, every mother's nightmare, right? Not me. I am scrubbing the grass stains out of the knees, and I am smiling. I'm not even pissed that this expensive outfit is now forever banished to the play clothes drawer after she has worn it once.
I am smiling because when she was diagnosed at 20 months old, she stopped walking for two months. For two months, my baby did not move unless I moved her. For two years, I had to keep her locked inside this house, to keep her safe. Grass stains were not on my radar. Grass stains have never before existed in the world of Sarah before this. I have cleaned a great many stains out of Sarah's clothes in the past two years. Various chemo drugs, urine, blood. Never grass stains. So those scratchy patches of green on her knees are welcome in my eyes, because we have earned them. Those stains are a badge of honor, a rite of passage that most mothers take for granted and even complain about, but I smile because those stains are a victory, a step toward normalcy for Sarah, a small step toward being like other kids. It may not seem like much, but you have to take what you can get.
I talked to this mother, I give her my advice, and I realize that I myself must follow it. I need to be present for my daughters and revel in the little things because these are the things that are so easily forgotten but that matter so much, at least to those savvy enough to pay attention.