“If Mom could get on her bike through the pain and the tears, just to be able to go, I can do this.”
On October 10, 2010, my younger sisters, my brothers-in-law and I ran 13.1 miles in the rain. This we did in memory of our mom, who’d lost her excruciating battle with neuroendocrine cancer six months earlier. Together–thanks to the loving support of our friends–we raised $5,015 in Mom’s memory for the American Cancer Society.
As we neared the end, my sister Rachael got quieter. Each step was harder than the last, but remembering Mom’s ferocious spirit in her final days gave Rachael the strength to persevere.
Tomorrow Rachael and Nick will run once more for Team Christine. It’ll undoubtedly be a struggle, but most things worth accomplishing are.
After my first marathon, I wrote:
Around mile 24, I wanted to die so that I wouldn’t have to run anymore.
When I wrote those words, I had no idea my mom would die of cancer six years later, at the age of 52. I similarly had no idea my younger sister and brother-in-law would run a marathon in her memory a year after that. I had no idea how proud I’d be that, instead of running a marathon wishing they’d die so they could stop running, they’d run so people could stop dying.
People often say to me, “I could never run a marathon!”
Couldn’t you, though? If there was a chance it would save your mom, or your sister, or husband,wouldn’t you? Call me a fool, or naive, but I believe you could. I believe you would.
I believe you would know the agony of being so tired you can’t keep your chin up. Of being so tired you want to strip naked just to take another pound off the load you’re carrying. And I believe that you would also know, when you crossed that finish line bawling, exactly what you are capable of surviving. You’d know that the victory is so sweet because the tribulations were so bitter.
It’s true of marathons, but no less true for life.
Tomorrow, Rache and Nick will run 26.1 miles. I’ll be 1,000 miles away as they cross that finish line, but my mind and heart will be turned toward their struggle, their triumph and the hope that someday fewer people will have cause to run in memory of a loved one stolen too soon by cancer.
This was among posts accidentally deleted from this blog.
Swearing is good for you.
OK, that might be a bit of an oversimplification, but it’s true that swearing may sometimes be beneficial (Why Swearing Helps Ease Pain: Benefits of Curse Words – TIME).
Does this mean I’m ready to send my toddler to pirate school? Nope. Am I going to teach him my favorite pain-relieving curse words? Also nope. That’s because, unlike most adults, he’s a ways out from knowing when it’s OK to drop the F-bomb and when it’s going to earn him (or his mom!) a scolding.
Please, please live long enough to meet your grandson.
In the early weeks of my son’s life, I called my mom in tears almost every day. “Crap, Mom, I just went to see another lactation consultant. I can’t make this work!”
My mom treated each of these conversations about breastfeeding as if it was our first conversation on the matter. Each time, she shared anecdotes, recommended research points, and told me she was proud of me for persevering as long as I had.
Each time, I hung up the phone with a smile. Yeah, I can do this thing! Then I’d remember my mom’s failing health and start crying anew. I prayed time and again that she’d live long enough to meet her grandson on Thanksgiving.
Planning my Thanksgiving trip to Eugene was a feat. I had the intellectual capacity of a My Little Pony but had to coordinate a combination of land and air travel for no fewer than three people. All my travel up to that point had involved searchin’ and purchasin’. Nothing more.
When my son was three weeks old, I posted a favor request on Facebook. I asked if any of my Los Angeles friends would mind driving up to Eugene with me if I flew them back down to Los Angeles from there. I was surprised that the first response was from my most recent ex, Nathan. He stated succinctly that it’d be just as easy to fly a Eugene friend down to Los Angeles as to do the opposite.
I loved the thought. I was pretty sure Ba.D. would be down with it, too, but wasn’t sure how to ask the question. “Hey, hon, mind if I spend a day and a half chillin’ with my ex? For budgetary reasons, by the way, we’d have to share a room . . . no problem, right?”
I don’t remember exactly what I asked. I do remember Ba.D.’s unimpressed look when I raised the question. “Why would I mind, Deb?”
A month later, Nathan flew down to Los Angeles and spent a couple days with me, Ba.D. and our newborn son. He was rather taken by Li’l D, and chuckled how it sounded like he was saying, “Yeah! Yeah!” when he cried.
The night before we set out, Nathan watched Li’l D for me and Ba.D. while we got my car checked and ran some errands. Upon our return, Nathan balefully informed us, “His crying? It doesn’t sound like ‘yeah’ anymore.”
I spent the next several hours packing and shuffling things around in the apartment. When I did finally fall asleep, I was too anxious to stay down for long. I shuffled into the living room and boggled to find Ba.D. and Nathan chatting like lifelong buddies.
A few hours later, in the darkness of the moments just before sunrise, Ba.D. and Nathan hugged. Ba.D. said, “Take care of my family.” Nathan said, “I will.” Just like that, our 1,000-mile drive north began.
Over our day and a half on the road, Nathan and I talked about everything under the sun. I remembered exactly why I loved him so much, if that love was no longer romantic. I felt overwhelming gratitude that he remained a part of my life after we broke up.
I dropped him off around lunchtime the day after we left Los Angeles. I sped off toward my sister’s house having conveyed only the tiniest fragment of the thanks in my heart. As I drove, I thought about folks I know who cut exes out of their lives completely and eternally the moment they move from “beau” to “ex.”
Sometimes that’s warranted. Sometimes, though? It’s like cutting off a hand to get rid of a bug bite.
When my mom held my son for the first time, I was blessed to see her smile—truly smile—for the first time in years. Until that moment, I thought I’d never see her smile again.
Whenever I look at this picture, that question resounds through my mind: Why? Why on earth would we create rules that cut ourselves off from love?
As I snapped a photo despite her protests (she hated being captured with her wispy cancer patient’s hair), I barely held back tears. And I wondered, why do we willingly let go of love? Why do we categorize it and break it into the kind we want to keep and the kind we can exile to memory?
Thanks to the kindness of an ex, one who’d known me half my life and knew my mom before schizophrenia claimed the lightness of her, a painful journey northward was marked not only by pain but by love and laughter. When I look at this picture of my mom and my son, I see the totality of all the love I have known in my life.
And I say a quiet thanks. For who knows what the journey might have been, but for the fact Nathan and Ba.D. agreed?
This was among posts accidentally deleted from this blog.
“So it’s gonna be biracial.”
These were my mom’s words when I showed her a picture of me and my future baby daddy.
These words could have been uttered with just about any kind of emotional inflection imaginable: humor, rage, disregard, antagonism. As actually spoken by my mom, they might have been about a trip to the supermarket or the day’s weather: “Oh, fancy that. Another cloudy day in Eugene!”
I told my mom drily, “Yes, that does tend to be a consequence of having a white mom and a black dad.”
That was it. That was our entire conversation on race before my mom passed away almost a year later. Frankly, it was a much more exhaustive conversation than I’d expected on the matter, which–knowing my mom–I hadn’t even realized would warrant note.
Much more important to my mom was the question, “How’d that happen?” When she asked these words immediately after I announced that I was pregnant, she wasn’t asking for a refresher on sex ed. She was asking, “How’d my presumably lesbian daughter end up pregnant?”
That I expected!
In retrospect, it’s unsurprising to me my mom commented on race. She always talked very openly about it when I was growing up, which left me feeling a little embarrassed as I got older. If race was proper discussion fodder, why weren’t other folks talking about it?
“Shh, Mom, we’re not supposed to be talking about that!” I’d either whisper this message fiercely or will my mom to pick it up via brainwave, depending on the situtation. As she always did when I proclaimed she was embarrassing me, she would shoo away my protests and plow onward with whatever she was talking about–race or otherwise.
Apparently, my mom had the right idea.
Around the time my precious Li’l D was born, I read an article about the importance of discussing race openly and calmly with children. One of the points touched on in the article was how minority families typically begin discussing race much earlier than do white families. A blog entry by Rebecca Bigler touches on the discomfort likely at the root of the white families’ silence:
I thought about that. “Honestly, despite everything I’ve read on this issue, it just seems so taboo─almost cruel─to call her attention to it. Isn’t it sort of confusing to a child to mention race, and then say race doesn’t matter? If it doesn’t matter, then why am I mentioning it? — Is Discussing Race With a 3-Year-Old Too Young? – Newsweek
This neatly sums up how I felt the first time I had to check off Li’l D’s “ethnicity” on a medical history sheet. I stared at the page and went, “Holy cow, there are other boxes, aren’t there?” Immediately following that, I thought: “But that’s so irrelevant!” (Yes, this was despite the fact my anthropology background informs me that certain illnesses are more prevalent depending on ancestry. I wasn’t thinking about that then, though!) I checked off a box for me and a box for Ba.D., then moved right along. My discomfort continued, as if by checking those boxes I was highlighting the fact that my son was (a) different than me and (b) something other than the most beautiful thing in the entire world.
Here’s a shocker:
My son isn’t me!
I know, I know. I should’ve asked you to sit down for that one.
In the year and a half since I first grappled with those checkboxes, it’s gotten easier for me to see the matter through my mother’s eyes. Sure, my son’s got darker skin than I do. He’s different from me in a lot of ways that don’t make me love him any more or less.
My little “mocha cub” has curly hair to my mildly wavy hair. It looks like he’s going to take after my very tall mom’s side of the family in the height department. It also looks like he’s got my ginormous forehead, but he’s got a gorgeous enough smile I’m hopeful most people will overlook the (potential) Frankenforehead. My son loves to climb, dance, and announce “HUG!” with each hug he gives. Describing each of those things that he is so far–tall, mischievous, mocha-colored–doesn’t change who he is. (In my totally unbiased opinion, this is summed up by the word “perfect.”)
Talk to your kids. Talk to them about these different colors, shapes and sizes people come in. Tell them all about how much more awesome the world is when it’s full of this magnificent variety. Help them see, as you do, that color is descriptive, not determinative, guiding them not to be “color blind”–impossible for the categories kids sort the world into–but instead to be color impervious. Look here for some good guidance for getting started down that road.
The first couple of conversations you have with your child(ren) might feel a little uncomfortable. Fear not, that’s an excellent reason to keep having them! Practice makes easier, so bear in mind that it’ll become a little less awkward each time. With patience and practice, you might find the discomfort fades so much that you’re as impervious to race–which should not be confused with culture or heritage!–as you’ve equipped your children to be.