Archive for November, 2010

Under the Big Top

Parenthood is like a circus with two main attractions.  Yes, there are still the clowns and dogs climbing out of the little car, chasing each other around and around the ring but the two main acts are the tightrope and the trapeze.

We walk the tightrope as soon as we decide to sleep-train our babies.  Should we err on the shorter or the longer timeframe before going in to comfort them?  But that is only beginning.  The act builds and builds as the decisions become harder and harder – as we balance between being a strict disciplinarian and giving them a little freedom to learn from their mistakes, between keeping them safe and smothering them in our worries and between helping them to succeed and doing it for them.  Still, the tightrope is the buildup act.  As long as we, as parents, are the ones making the decisions, there is a safety net.  We are in control.  We can bend and move as the situation changes.

The trapeze act though, that is where the real danger lies.  The safety net is lowered.  The lights go down and the tension rises.  As we swing through the air with our child in our hands and release them at just the right moment, throwing them up, up, up into the air, where they will either soar or they will fall.  That is when our hearts pound and we realize that holding onto them was not the work.  The real work is watching them make their way forty feet above us, knowing the dangers and not snatching them back into the safety of our arms but being prepared to grab them when they fall.  Being prepared to grab them and hold them tight, reassuring them that it is okay to try again, to fail again, and then while our hearts are still broken for them, tossing them high and starting the process all over.

When my children were small I made a decision during the tightrope act to err on the side of independence.  I wanted my children to be comfortable away from me, to be able to self-correct. This meant watching them as they ran ahead on the city sidewalk where we lived, knowing I had taught them to stop at the corners and alleyways but still feeling my heart in my throat as they cut the stops just a little close.  My friends and my mother-in-law cringed at the independence I afforded them and I often doubted my decision but stuck to my guns as I watched them learn from their mistakes and make wiser and wiser decisions.

This was the beginning of our trapeze act and I felt good about our early efforts.  I had learned to let them go and fall.  I had been there to pick them up, dust them off and send them back out. But this week, when my oldest son received his driver’s license and pulled out of the driveway to head to school on his own, I faltered.  Instead of tossing him high, giving him the momentum he should have received, I lost my grip.  As he drove away, I stood in the driveway with tears streaming down my cheeks and visions of his fall in my head.  Without warning the trapeze act built to a crescendo and my child flew out of my sight, lost somewhere high above behind the light and I worried about what the fall from that height could mean.  And suddenly, I wanted that safety net back, not just for me but for him.

Parenthood is the greatest show on earth.  It comes with the highs of watching them grow and become the adults they will walk out into the world as, but that high has such a deep low.  To watch him walk away, to drive away, is the toughest thing I have had to do yet.  And still I realize that it is only the beginning.  From here there will be more and more of this soaring into the lights where I won’t always be able to catch him and I will have to trust in our years of training to get to this point.  I have to trust that he will continue to soar and self-correct.


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Christmas Eve morning, with the preparation of gifts and dinners and dressing the kids, is a morning of brain cell overload for most moms.  Last year in our house this was more true than ever.  After having received my second suspicious mammogram in two year, my doctor ordered a diagnostic mammogram.  Apparently these are harder to schedule than others and I was given two choices, either the day after Christmas or Christmas Eve.  With a knot the size of fruitcake in my belly, I knew waiting was not an option.  So, I scheduled the test for Christmas Eve at 3pm.

In the days leading up to the exam, I prepared myself for the worse.  I asked my in laws to cover whatever I was supposed to bring for our family dinner just in case we were not able to make it and I scheduled a nice dinner at a local restaurant for my small family with the hopes of not completely ruining my family’s evening with bad news. I tried to maintain a normal appearance in our house – baking cookies with the kids, wrapping gifts, cleaning the house.  But mostly I worried.  Every second of every day leading up to Christmas Eve I thought about what would happen if it was cancer.

Cancer is my biggest fear.  My mother is a twenty year breast cancer survivor and since her original diagnosis there has been a small part of me that is convinced I am destined to follow in her path.  Luckily, so far it hasn’t happened.  After having the more thorough mammogram on Christmas Eve, I sat in the small room with the provided shawl wrapped around my shoulders shivering more from nerves than cold and listened for the sound of footsteps coming down the hall.  Would they be slow and dreading steps or quick and cheerful steps?  I listened for voices whispering about my diagnosis, all the while hoping not to hear anything.  When the news came, “Everything looks great.  We’ll see you again next year,” I was stunned.

With every fiber of my being I had believed I would be going home to tell my husband that it was cancer.  I had thought about how I would break the news, about how I would keep the news from my kids until after the New Year, how I would hold myself together while I waited for the next step.  Instead, I was leaving with what should have been great news.  But, I still felt the knot in my stomach.  Instead of feeling relief, I worried about when that other shoe would drop.  How long before I heard the bad news?

This year I decided to talk to my doctor about this fear.  As the time approached for me to receive my mammogram I called him and told him I wanted to make sure my Christmas wasn’t spent with the same worries as last year.  I love my doctor.  I love that he is laid back and relaxed.  I love even more that he has an optimistic outlook on life.  Two weeks ago he sat across from me and told me that he understood my worries.  Before he continued he wrote me a prescription for a diagnostic mammogram.  “No sense waiting for news when we can get it all done at one time with this test,” he told me.  The relief of having him understand the waiting is indescribable.  I have always felt so foolish for worrying over the results before they come out, but he understood.

But the next part of our conversation was priceless.  He addressed my fears with numbers.  After explaining what an industry the breast cancer cause has become, he looked back over my family history.  It is a short history.  My mother had breast cancer.  That’s it.  No siblings, aunts, grandmothers, just my mom.  He explained that my chances of getting breast cancer with no family history is twelve percent.  Because my mom had breast cancer, my chances do increase but only to sixteen percent.  Then he asked, “If I told you that you had an 84% chance of winning the lottery, do you think you would buy a ticket?” And I would.  Suddenly, breast cancer went from being a “going to happen”, to a “could possibly happen.”  Suddenly the elephant sitting on my shoulders shifted a little and I was breathing a little easier.

Today I went for my diagnostic exam.  I went in feeling fine, not worried at all about the prospects.  Maybe it would come back showing something but there was no reason to believe it would. I sat in the lobby reading a Joe Hill novel more worried about his character than my breasts.  I would love to say I remained that nonchalant but I didn’t.  As I stood in front of the machine and waited for my breasts to be squeezed between the plates, I felt that old fear creep in.  Felt my knees begin to turn to jello and I sent up a quick prayer.  “Please God, please,” I begged.  But this time the worry was only minutes.  With the diagnostic mammogram, the pictures are reviewed immediately.  I sat with the shawl around my shoulders, nervous but not shivering with fear and I waited until the technician came back in with her big smile and told me everything was okay.

I am a worrier.  It is what I do but thanks to my doctor’s numbers and a test that offers almost immediate results I am worrying less.  I have a lot of friends who are heading in for their first mammogram in the next few months.  They worry about the pain – it doesn’t hurt.  They worry about the embarrassment – seriously?  After pap smears, is anything ever really embarrassing again?  And they probably worry, like me about the results.  For this I don’t have a solution.  Except to say, look at the numbers.  Look at your history and send up a quick prayer

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