Being an Okay Mom

Being an Okay Mom

I’m thrilled to introduce a new series on the blog today. Mothering… it’s this all encompassing ‘thing’ that we can’t really put into words; escapes definition. A challenge and a reward. Tears and smiles. Heart swells and heart aches. We all walk a different path but I believe that the paths remain parallel to each other, allowing us the opportunity to spot each other along the way, to smile a knowing expression, to high five each other as we carry on. I want to share a few stories, experiences, of these unique walks – paint a picture of the landscape along the trails. I hope to expand awareness and understanding and perhaps bring full circle the idea that we are all very similar inside. I hope to create an open and comfortable place to share – community – that encourages awareness, extends compassion, and inspires others through these strong and unique voices. 

Today, my friend Melanie generously shares on mothering a child through cancer in… Being an Okay Mom. 

I never wanted to be a mom. Never thought about how my life would be if I were to be a mom. In fact, I never really planned much of anything, and everything always seemed to work out just fine. My husband and I were surprised with a daughter in 2005, and then a son in 2007. Our children have forced me to face some ugly truths about myself, including how selfish I can be, how guilt never really plays a role in my life, and how I’m terrible at apologies. Who wants to sign up to be my friend? ;)

“Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn’t know you had, and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed.” – Linda Wooten

I was okay at the mom thing for the first few years. Piper made life easy. But Pierce. He stretched me. Pierce was diagnosed with cancer when he was 18-months-old. I thought he had an ear infection. The thought of losing Pierce – an unplanned child who invaded every nook and cranny of my heart, brought me to my knees every time.

We went from goldfish snacks to chemo in a 24-hour period. Days became really long, and worries were constant. We lived in Texas during the H1N1 scare, and our local children’s hospital had tents in the parking lots to house all of the patients. Walking an immune-compromised toddler through the area was terrifying. Very quickly after my baptism into the pediatric cancer world, I realized that there was very little I could control. Pierce had so many close calls – times when he was so close to the edge of life that my breath was taken away…I had to let go before I broke entirely. So I did. I let go, and I put my fear away. There was no room for it.

I spent the first 18-months of Pierce’s 39-month treatment plan being the only person to give Pierce his medicine unless I was away. Not only was I wearing myself out, but I was denying other people the blessing of being involved in Pierce’s care and his story. I wanted to make sure it was done “right”. What I didn’t stop to think about was how I was taking away an experience for someone else – mainly, my husband. My husband loves Pierce as fiercely as I do – and guess what? He was great at giving medicine.

I often say that I was just selfish enough to be a cancer mom. And I mean that. While most mothers are riddled with guilt for taking time off or getting away, I lived for those moments. Moments, and sometimes days, when I could be with a friend that just let me be. A friend who wasn’t interested in only talking about the trainwreck of Pierce’s health. A friend who would laugh at jokes with me, drink a martini, and tell me what a bummer it was that her child didn’t sleep at night. It helped me be a better mother to realize that life was continuing on for other people, and it was going at a far different pace than it was in our own home. When minutes would drag on, and hours seemed like eternity as I was sitting with a child who couldn’t speak, felt like garbage, and didn’t understand why, others were celebrating birthdays and playdates and trips to the zoo.

I still had to parent! Our goal was to have a healthy, happy child in the end…one who was full of self-confidence and kind. It’s hard to parent in the cancer world – people flood your children with gifts. It’s almost a disappointment to leave the hospital where you get toys and have fun visitors every day – from the Rockettes to therapy dogs, and even sport teams. I have emails from people telling me how I should do things – that they could never put a child with cancer in time out, they could never tell that child “no”. Our challenge was to see through all of that, to who our children were beyond the diagnosis. When Pierce made a bad choice, we went to time out – with our IV pole. Nurses would wait until time out was over, and then they would continue with what needed to be done. We learned manners in the oncology office – we said thank you to every nurse, doctor, intern, janitor…everyone, and every time. We learned table manners while we were ravenously eating food in the clinic while we were on steroids. We learned how to have difficult conversations. We learned anatomy. We learned how to blow up latex gloves and make them into cows and Christmas trees. I finally learned how to apologize.

Piper learned to have empathy for other people, but she didn’t baby her brother. We all learned, together, that we can choose how to respond to difficult news in our life. We can choose how we react to challenging things that come our way. We were not victims.

I don’t envy mothers who haven’t had to deal with cancer – I am thrilled for them! We all have problems in our lives. There is no comparing in motherhood, and there is no guilt – guilt is quiet shame, hidden shame, and it can destroy the very cloth of our being. Don’t put it on, not for one second.

These days, Piper is almost 9, Pierce is healthy, happy, and about to turn 7. He is dealing with some long-term side effects, but fear still isn’t allowed in our home.

Comments

  1. “I finally learned how to apologize.” There is so much in that one sentence – so much good including hope, gratitude & love. Thanks for sharing. So happy to read that your son is healthy and happy :)

    • Thanks for stopping by, Mary. I agree with you…a powerful piece. My friend shared this essay as part of a mothering series I’m starting on the blog. I hope to express common ground in an experience that can look very different from the outside…mothering in all ways. Cheers…

  2. Wow, this is quite powerful… Thank you for sharing. My ultimate fear in life is something scary happening to my kids. I love the we are not victims. I will keep this story close to my heart.

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