Guilt, Tears & a Side of Cake
My baby turned six last weekend and leading up to his big day I was struck with the hard reality that for half of his young life, he has had a "cancer mom". I know that seems silly to get hung up on, but most of what he knows as me as his mom revolves around doctors, limitations and this constant state of rebuilding, rather than the non broken, former version of myself. Deep down I know this is but both a travesty and also a blessing. When I think back to my maternity leave with my little guy, it was the most marvelous moment in time where I was literally altering the alignment of my stars....I started running, I had two older kids now in school, at least some of the time, and I had time to figure out how to be the mom and person I always wanted to be. It was a turning point and such a blissful time of my life. My baby and I conquered the running trail, jogging stroller in hand and we bonded in the greatest of ways. Moving forward I was the most confident I had ever been in not only this parenting gig, but in life in general. I think I got lost in the joy and the feeling of conquering something important to me...running and motherhood. Then I found a lump and my whole world fell apart. I always thought the number one thing a parent should never take from their children is that feeling of peace and security. In one fell swoop I blasted our world into a million pieces and had no idea how to make it whole again. Cue the guilt....
This pandemic has also made me feel sub par in the parenting department even though my intentions are made of gold. My kids have missed out on sports, gatherings, vacations and coming up soon, normal school. Contrary to the argument I keep hearing, I am not afraid of living our lives, it's honestly quite the opposite, I value this life we are living and I've fought, hell I'm still fighting so hard to keep living it that I'm ok with a little sacrifice to ensure a long and beautiful life with the people that I love. Being this way is quite obviously not the norm in my neck of the woods. Needless to say, this birthday party wasn't going to be like what they once had been. No trampoline park, no lavish pool party, no Chucky Cheese. Very. low. key.....More guilt...
So, for this birthday celebration, I figured CAKE! Cake is the answer. I will buy the most beautiful of cakes and it will make up for the fact that once again, I can't measure up to what some of the other families are doing. No drive through honk your horn pandemic birthday party because it seems everyone is over that and off doing whatever at this point. No friends coming over because I just don't know where they have been or who they have been exposed to....but Cake, I can do cake. I ordered from our favorite bakery and had a custom made round, two tiered buttercream frosting cake made with a shark theme because that's what the birthday boy ordered. I even scheduled "pick up the cake" on my calendar as to not forget and make sure to get it before the bakery closed. This was my birthday "win" after all! On the day of his birthday, we went over to my parent's house for swimming, dinner, presents followed by, you guessed it, the magical cake. Doesn't sound too shabby, right? When we arrived, I put the cake (still in it's box) on the kitchen island and then had to attend to some things that took me out of the kitchen. After some time away, the kids were all having fun in the pool, so I returned to the kitchen. What I saw completely horrified me. Jack (mom and dad's dog) had somehow moved the cake box from the center island to the stools that were pushed up to the counter and opened the box to begin his taste test of what I viewed as my motherhood saving grace. The damn dog was devouring my little buddy's cake. It was like a scene from the movie "Marley and Me". You know, the one with the mischievous dog that you couldn't help but love? Only, I didn't love Jack in this moment. It was the complete opposite. I HATED him. I was angry. I certainly didn't handle it like Jennifer Anniston did in the movie either, because there was definitely some profanity that came out of my mouth and I felt complete rage. I picked up what I could of the cake and I stormed out of the house. I made sure the kids were supervised and I got in the car and left. I drove home. I went there so I could cry, no sob all by myself. I was sad about the cake, yes, but honestly it was just a metaphor for yet another thing that I let blow up. After everything, I couldn't even give my kid a damn good cake. See....cancer just works its way in....all the damn time. It is constantly reminding me what I've lost and where I fall short. It haunts me at times where for a second I thought I had all the ghosts and demons tucked away. It sucks. In that moment, I just had to let it all out.
I pulled myself together, got in the car and drove to trusty old Wal Mart to pick up whatever they had for a birthday cake on hand. My eyes were still a little puffy, so I was actually grateful for the whole mask plus sunglasses look because I felt invisible.....and that is what I wanted to be in that moment. I found a cake, a regular sheet cake, but it had loads of sprinkles, so whatever. I also grabbed some wine. I mean, desperate times....please no judgement. I took a deep breath and went back to Mom and Dad's. I secured the cake and popped the cork to my Pinot Noir. I watched the kids swim, had some great conversation with my parents and tried hard to salvage the day. Here's what I know:
Nolan loved his new cake. It didn't have the shark on it that he wanted, but it had something else...it was sprinkled with the love of a mother who would move mountains to make him smile and feel loved. I know it's ok to need a moment and completely fall apart because that leads to rebuilding and that is the good stuff. Furthermore, perfection is boring. Had I never found my lump and had to go through the trials and tribulations that cancer has thrown my way, I would never have this amazing opportunity to teach my kids what resilience and determination looks like. Yes security has been a little shaky, but my love for them and my fight to be here for them has been unwavering. That makes us, our situation and our love story unique. Parenting is hard, navigating cancer is hard and this pandemic just makes it that much worse, BUT it's ok for us to be vulnerable together. Be scared, together and figure it out, together. I want them to see me be unsure, scared, pissed and then do something with those emotions. I'm not spoon feeding them with this fairy tale where everything just works out. I think that is ok. I guess it has to be and I'm coming to terms with it albeit slowly, but as quickly as I can. Finally, I know that the shark cake would have been to die for, the Wal Mart cake was ok, the wine was just what I needed and most importantly that smile you see in the above picture.....that kiss.....that moment....it was priceless. These little moments are my driving force and my reason for fighting. I will take them, as messily and emotionally charged as I can. This is the good stuff and what I will keep fighting for until my very last breath. Happy six years, bud.-XO -M
P.S. I've since made up with Jack...He meets me on my morning runs and I do look forward to seeing him and embracing his playful spirit to start my day. I will, however, always hide the damn cake.