This is us each morning, on our way to school.
And at school …
8.40 a.m. Grant and his friends play basketball every morning before school. Cliff, PJ and I have tried to bring the kids on their bikes to school earlier in the mornings, since Cliff has been off work, so we can spend a few extra minutes watching Grant’s games. There is a group of about eight ten-year-old boys he hangs out with and they are remarkably courteous and kind in their sportsmanship. So supportive and encouraging of each other. The morning games are one of the joyous moments we are cherishing each day in our new routine.
10.36 a.m. Now. Now. Now.
I can only think about the now.
Made the mistake of thinking about what’s to come, just now in the shower. Hyperventilated. Eyes hot, red, and filling with tears. Then I thought, I’m in the shower. I’m getting ready. Cliff is downstairs. We’re going to another psychologist appointment soon. It is all O.K. Life is O.K. right now. This minute. Focus on the now. Cliff wants to get all the tools we can to fight this emotional battle. I’m with him.
2.00 p.m. Hannah Anderson left a big, beautiful batch of chocolate chip cookies on our porch.
4.05 p.m. Tom’s last day of kindergarten today. Two lollypops to celebrate. One for each cheek. Because ya can.
7.51 p.m. Saw the third shrink today. I think she’s the last. We’ll probably stick with shrink #2. Today was a free session through Cliff’s work. We went through the whole thing again with her. She didn’t have much to offer. Kind of said, ‘Well, you guys seem to be doing the best you can. You’re doing what I would tell you to do. If you just want to talk, I will be here to listen.’ Don’t know what will come of that; whether Cliff will want to go there again or not.
8.15 p.m. Tonight, as Grant was getting ready for bed, he and I stepped outside to check the weather. It’s a nice night. We stood side by side with our bare feet on the tile porch in silence. It was calm and cool and good. We took in the air. After a few moments we looked at each other and smiled. Then Cliff came down from tucking in the little boys and joined us on the porch. He and Grant hugged and stood there, looking out at the coming night.
They were about to have their special time, watching 20 minutes of an Indiana Jones film together. It’s big-guy time. They both seemed calm and happy. Perhaps Grant was more effervescent than Cliff, but still, they were happy together. I told them to wait a sec, reached around the corner into my study, grabbed my camera and took this shot.
9.38 p.m. Not sure if I wrote in here or not about telling the kids. But we informed the kids about Cliff’s cancer on the very first day. Without any advice or preparation of how you’re supposed to tell three little boys their Dad has cancer, we tried to explain it as best we could. We had them sit down with us, Grant (10), Leo (7) and Tom (5).
‘Dad has cancer,’ I said. And, of course, because they have no experience with cancer, they don’t know what that means. So we continued and tried to gauge their reaction. Grant said he’s heard the word before, but didn’t know what it meant other than being sick. We explained: Dad has five lumps inside his body that shouldn’t be there. It’s making him sick. It’s called cancer. Dad didn’t catch it from anyone. You can’t catch it from Dad. He can’t give it to anyone. It’s not because of anything Dad did. It’s not because of anything you did. It’s just something that happened inside him; because of the way he was built when he was born. How do you explain genetic predisposition for the susceptibility of cancer to a five year old? When you’re in shock? That went pretty well. Tom and Leo climbed all over their chairs and then ran off. Grant sat there and asked, ‘Can I go back to my computer game now?’ We said yes.
We weren’t scheduled to meet with a psychologist for another ten days but we thought they had to know right then because they would be hearing the grown-ups around them mentioning the word ‘cancer’ and our whole world had just changed and they deserved to know. They also needed to know why the phone rings all the time now, why Mommy sometimes cries a little bit at story-time or dinner-time and why all the amazing, beautiful food appears on the front porch.
We told them everything … except the prognosis. Right now, that’s not going to help them.
The next day I talked about it a little more to Leo to see how much he had absorbed and if he was feeling O.K. about it. He said, ‘Mum, I think I know how Dad got it!’ ‘You do?’ I asked. He said, ‘Yeah! I don’t think he used soap.’
We’ve been watching Grant to see how he has been travelling with the news and our re-adjusted lives. He seems himself. Smooth. Calm. Alternately arguing with and loving his brothers, just as usually. About a week ago, when the little boys had gone to bed, I asked Grant if he had any questions about Dad being sick. ‘Not really,’ he said. ‘O.K.,’ I said. Then added, ‘You know, we will always be honest with you. Right now, Dad and I really don’t know what is going to happen, what this cancer means or how it is going to affect our lives. If we knew what to expect with this, we would tell you. I’m sorry, but I think every day is going to be different and we just have to deal with each day when we’re in it. We will always tell you what is going on as much as we can. And you can always ask us anything.’
For the first three days Tom told a lot of people, ‘My Dad is sick.’ His teacher, the lady in the shop, another mother at school, etc. He is bouncing this new information off the world to see what he gets back. What do they think it means that his Dad is sick? What should he make of it? He’s checking the world’s reaction to help create his own opinion. He has stopped doing that now. He worked out himself that it’s not such a bad thing having a sick Dad. It means Dad is around a lot more and takes naps. Nothing wrong with that. And Tom’s friends seem to invite him around to their house to play a lot more. And the Most Amazing Food and Treats magically appear on the front porch.
We will continue quietly watching and communicating with the kids. We are aware of the changes in their lives and are sensitive to their emotions. We’ll deal with issues as they come up. Each child will direct us in what they need.
Cliff didn’t have the greatest day today. He’s feeling more fatigued than usual. He was in bed all afternoon. He seems to be coughing a bit more. Or am I more sensitive to the cough? He’s gone to bed now. I should follow, too. Just have some fires to put out in my work email first. If I can.