Last night I made a typical Tuesday-night dinner: chicken tenders with herby panko crust, green beans, and smashed sweet potatoes.
When Dennis arrived, the dinner plates were still steamy and we all dug in for our first family sit-down dinner since Hawaii.
I looked at my first bite of green beans and thought in an instant how comforting they looked, so predictable and normal, and as I chewed them, I was suddenly struck by how so terribly unpredictable and not normal things were right now.
I dashed to the bathroom because my eyes were welling and I couldn’t face Little J with a broken, tear-streamed face.
Little J and Dennis followed me into the bathroom and Dennis instinctively began to tell J I was sad to be home from Hawaii, but a second later we all realized we had to share with Little J what was going on. You see, we usually spare him the ups and downs, but it just felt like the right thing to do, to explain.
I sat on the toilet and cried while Dennis took J back to the dinner table and told him what was happening. He explained that Mommy’s cancer number was up, that we need to do a scan and maybe change her medicine. J asked, “What if the number goes back down?”
When I returned to the table, Little J searched my face for clues. To what? Maybe how bad it was. Maybe something left unsaid. I smiled at him and told him I loved him and that he had to eat all his potatoes. And that if he tried the green beans, he could have an extra cookie. It all comes back to what’s right in front of us. Dinner. What makes us smile. Cookies.
Little J did a few little tricks to make me laugh, things he knows will draw a smile. I took his little hand from across the table and told him thank you. And more importantly, he didn’t have to feel like he had to make this okay. It’s not his fault. He doesn’t have to try to fix it or make me laugh. I don’t want him to take on that responsibility.
It was hard to look at Little J for the rest of the night, knowing that he knew, knowing that he’d seen me cry. Believe it or not, and I will just tell YOU this: through everything, he has only seen me cry about the cancer this one time. And though it was hard to show him my vulnerability, it also brought me some kind of peace, some kind of relief to know that he understands it’s ok to be afraid. To be vulnerable. And that we’re going through this together as a family. And there are no secrets.
I didn’t wake up with my game-face on, like I normally do the day after bad news. In fact, it was all I could to drag myself out of bed after a fitful night’s sleep. I walked J to school then came back and sat for a long time, feeling angry and sad. And I allowed myself to feel those things. It’s exhausting, but it’s honest.
At the bottom of it all, my faith glows like a fiery orb. And I’ll be honest with my feelings and allow them to rush through me. I’ll take care of myself and be honest with my family. And when I need to act, and be strong, I will.