Happy Mother’s Day Jessica

How in the world am I to write this blog? Yesterday I slogged through telling my mom how much I loved her. That was hard (and rewarding). But to attempt to capture today my love for my wife–for the mother of my children–kill me now. There are not enough words, I don’t have enough words, there aren’t enough tissues to catch my tears as I sit beside her in bed attempting to write.

The problem, and at some point this might be considered unhealthy, is that there’s no me without her. Our lives, our identities, our stories are completely enmeshed. We literally only have a few stories that are not shared. Our lives have and will continue to be done together in every sense of the word until we’re forced apart. What’s clearly so hard is that we genuinely never thought that we’d be forced apart. Not like this. Not this early.

Anyway, I realize that I wrote this blog (the blog that I’m fighting against writing all over again right now, the blog that attempts yet again to tell her how amazing and wonderful and loved she is…) a little over a week ago too, so today instead of re-writing that blog I will focus on why my wife is quite possibly the most amazing parent you’ll ever run into. No joke. No hyperbole. She really is that amazing.

Jess truly, above all else, values people. She values children. She values them as human beings, as people with dignity, with inherent worth, and as creatures filled with life and significance. This alone sets her far above the rest of us. To Jess children are not things to be controlled, they are beautiful short people needing to be empowered and listened to. Jess spends much of her time cultivating an environment in our home where our kids feel safe and loved, where they know that their feelings are valid, and where they are confident in exploring new ideas. Rather than seeking control Jessica invites our children to look for answers and to explore ideas that they’re intrigued by. She’s always encouraging and inviting them into new experiences…and it’s a beautiful thing.

One defining thing about my wife, something that not only defines her as a mom but as a human being is that she makes every moment special and unique. If she makes pancakes they’re going to be in shape of dinosaurs. If the sets the table there will be little notes to say why our kids are special. If she’s showering while the kids eat she’ll place all their food on special trays and setup a mini-picnic upstairs. If we go on road trips she works tirelessly to think of games, activities, and little gifts that’ll make the time go by. If she does something she’s going to transform it into something special and specifically tailored to the person(s) she’s caring for. ‘Cause the thing is: Jess notices everything. With her nothing is wasted. No moment is left behind because she’s always attentive to what is happening, to how this moment can be a blessing to her children, to her husband, or to another. She remembers what you love, she remembers what you said about this that or the other, she remembers how special something made you feel and she’ll remember it next time so as to bless you with it. She’s always remembering her children and how to love them more fully. Jones and India’s feelings, thoughts, opinions, reactions, etc. are never wasted or forgotten. They are stored up and dwelt on, they are remembered and built on, and they are used to care for them in whatever ways are available as time moves on. As a person who does not pay good attention to much, I view this as a nearly miraculous gift!

Jess fills Christmas stockings better than any person i’ve ever seen. Enough said.

Jess knows and loves children’s books. Our kids have hundreds and hundreds thanks to her…which I should say is directly correlated to our children having a love of books…thanks to her.

My children have always eaten healthy thanks to her.

My kids have feeling journals thanks to her. How cool is that?

Jess makes my kids awesome treats: gluten free chocolate chip cookies that are to die for are at the top of the list.

While Jess’ forte is in creating special moments, the last year especially has been filled with monotony. Care-taking is not a job that leaves much space for uniqueness and creativity. And, again, while I am attempting to not make this blog about how amazing Jess is towards me, it is hard not to pause here to say that the way she has stepped up to care for me in my sickness has been nothing short of perfect. She has carried our family. She has stepped into the boring and not-so-exciting duties of taking care of a sick dad and showing compassion for emotionally exhausted children. Because the reality is that our children are not the same today that they were a year and a half ago (understatement of the year right?). Behaviorally they have regressed, emotionally they’re more volatile, India is back in pull ups, Jones is no longer able to regulate (there are some special needs here I’m referring to), and Jess is the one who tirelessly works to love us all through this. In the midst of my sickness Jess has worked countless hours figuring out Jones’ health care (he’s on separate insurance than the rest of us), she was the one who made sure our kids were in play therapy, she’s the one who takes Jones to his occupational therapy, she’s the one who makes sure they’re still seeing a dentist, she’s the one who has had to maneuver through our kids’ newly discovered fruit allergy (not sure I can communicate how big of a ‘maneuver’ this is/was), she’s the one who is making sure that ALL of us are having our practical needs met. It is too much for one mom to carry…and yet she does it gracefully and without ever (ever!) complaining about it.

I’ve got to stop. Again, like I said yesterday about my own mother, I could write on and on. I have been blessed to have two (three if you count my daughter) beautiful women in my life who far exceed a persons normal expectation for love and care. And I could literally write paragraph after paragraph ’till my tears (yes, the ones that are still flowing) dried up.

Above all Jess makes people feel loved…and it’s because she’s truly a person filled with love. Jess is one of the most capable people I know. She can do anything she puts her mind to (I really mean that). It terrifies me to think of leaving her behind, to think of her being a single mom, to think of her without me–but it’s not in any way, shape, or form because I think she can’t handle it. No, I’ve got no question that like everything else she touches, she will invite God’s love, grace, and imagination into her parenting as a single mom of our two amazing children. The reason it terrifies me is just because I know how hard it is going to be…and I know how hard she is already working…and I just want her to receive some rest. She deserves a rest. In every way Jess is capable, in every way Jess is built to succeed and to be a conduit of love and compassion for children who are in crisis and suffering. But does it have to be so?! Like I said in the beginning: Jess is my partner. There is no me without her, there is no her without me, our children only know an us…and until the us is just her I will continue to celebrate the gift God has given me of doing life and parenthood with the most beautiful, gracious, loving, compassionate, creative, memory-making, generous, hard-working mother I’ve ever seen. One day she’ll have to do it without me–and when she does she’ll do it beautifully (as she does in every avenue of life)–but until then she’s stuck with me!

I love you Jess and I feel guilty for being blessed beyond all others to walk this path with you. Jones and India are the luckiest children to have such an amazing mom. Please don’t ever ever forget it. You are incredibly special.

Parenting through Cancer

I’ve been ruminating on writing a blog lately about my kids. The thing is, it’s kind of a hard blog to write. I’d love to attempt to capture some of the story of what’s going on inside of them as it pertains to the changes in our family over the last eleven months of sickness. I’m just not sure I’m capable of accurately capturing it! I feel like as parents we’re constantly guessing and groping for what’s going on inside my kids brains and hearts.

We’ve been intentional in how we communicate with the kids, choosing to be honest with them in sharing the truth about my health but doing so in calculated and careful ways also knowing that we can’t just dump on them excess information. We’ve also been intentional in showing that doctors visits are not to be feared–that they don’t have to worry when daddy goes to see a doctor. So reporting about visits with doctors where good things happen, letting them come in and watch radiation treatments, and telling them all about what MRI’s are like has been a valuable way for us to remove some of their tension when I’ve got visits. The tension between giving information and witholding information has been a valuable tension to hold, one that I think we’re doing well in.

But the stress in my kids is most definitely there. It comes out in different ways for each of them. But its there. No question.

India does not talk about it much–though in her make believe play her family is usually dead (that’s got to mean something right?)–she doesn’t really talk about it but it does come out! She’s an extreme girl as it is, but over the last many months her behaviors have swung much more extremely from heights of ecstasy to the depths of the despair. In one sense she’s four years old and it is to be expected, but in another sense she’s…well…scary. Such a ball of emotion! Most nights she gets up and moves to our bed around 3am. And while she’s been a perfect and consistent toilet user (both at night and during the day) since she was three, when my health takes a turn so does her consistency there. She may not be able to control daddies health but she can control when or if she pees! She finds great value if she’s able to come with me to appointments, and in fact has become my blood drawing buddy: when I go get my blood thickness checked she always comes with me (it’s kind of our thing). She’s in play therapy with a friend, and I think that has been helpful too. While India does not talk about it much, she gets it and is fully aware of what is going on. In her words:

Daddy being sick makes me sad. When things change I get more sad. I like to buy daddy flowers because he has cancer, it makes me happy and it makes him happy. I bought them because of daddys tumor.

Jones has been much easier in many ways because he’s a communicator. He’s verbal in how he does much of his processing, as are Jess and I. Earlier on he would ask questions and seek to understand some of what’s happening. Will I lose my hair? Where is the tumor? Are tumors contagious? More lately he’s less interested in talking about it. In many ways as we’ve gotten deeper into all of this he’s grown more and more silent retreating to listening to books on tape and playing with Legos over and above interaction with humans. Between the high anxiety that he already carries in life (he does, in fact, have an anxiety disorder), going to public school for the first time, and daddy being sick he is actually doing really really well. At times his anxiety is expressed in a rigidness or an inability to cope with unexpected changes (often triggered by small insignificant things like a change in routine) while at other times it’s observable through his growing list of irrational fears: going to the bathroom alone, certain ‘creepy’ closets, etc. In Jones’ own words he shared that:

it’s kind of like when you have a family of four both the parents are strong, but then when one gets sick the other one still has to be strong (stronger than the kids). It changes things ’cause I can’t do bigger things like go to museums as much. I worry about whether dad can protect me from strangers because he can’t run. My advice to parents is don’t go out a lot and get lots of rest. You can stay in the building if you want to and help take care of the sick person but you need to rest.

While I make no claim to be an expert, here are a few of the things that I feel like we’ve learned thus far in our journey of parenting through cancer.

  • Be willing to get help. Play therapy has been very useful. Jones is in occupational therapy too and it has been incredibly regulating for him.
  • Being present is the greatest gift. We are finding that the greatest gift we can give is maybe the hardest: simply being present for your children. There are many times when we’re physically present with our children but our hearts, minds, and emotional availability are far far away. The kids recognize it, they get it, and it’s hard for them. This isn’t always a gift that we’re able to give as we’re dealing with our own sickness or grief–but it is incredibly important and wholly beneficial for the children.
  • Be willing to communicate. Kinds are so much more intuitive and smart than we often give them credit for. Leaving them in the dark with regard to test results or the reality of the sickness breeds, I think, distrust and leaves the kids feeling vulnerable as they are able to sense that something is not right. A lack of communication opens the door even more to your children’s grand imagination…and the likely reality is that their imagination is going to create much worse scenarios than the truth. Communication gives them a framework to work through the grief.
  • Don’t be afraid to model grief. Grief looks different for every single person, but I think that it’s important not to hide your journey of grief from your kids. If you do, they’re missing out incredibly. They too need to learn how to grieve, they too need to be invited into the grief process, they too need to be reassured that it’s ok to feel angry, sad, tired, etc.
  • Treats are good but they don’t fix things. This one has been hard for us. I want to buy them crap to make them feel better (and they want me to buy them crap because we all want more stuff!). There’s a place for treats (even and especially when life is extra hard) but we’re trying to now find some balance and not allow treats to take on a larger role than they should. Special things won’t fix things, buying lots of toys won’t fix things, more ice cream won’t fix things…
  • Let go. We are tempted at times to feel guilty because we’re not parenting as good as we think we should, we’re not eating as healthy as we think we should, we’re not _______ (fill in the blank). While we can’t and shouldn’t let go completely, it is important to find some balance and take reassurance in the fact that some things will fall along the wayside. Find some space in your life to let go of your previous expectations because things. have. changed. dramatically. !.
  • Expect some acting out. If your child isn’t acting out in some way during all of this you should be incredibly worried. Acting out when life seems to be falling apart is not only appropriate but in many ways probably healthy. They should be feeling more needy, they should be struggling with how to work through new (and stronger) emotions, they should have moments of insanity as they work through their own grief. Provide some healthy (and reassuring) boundaries but don’t squash them for their (very appropriate) emotions!

I could add an additional five, six, or fifteen bullet points here. I don’t write them as an expert, my point isn’t to speak authoritatively into your context. No, I’m sharing with you (as I’ve tried to do from day one) my own journey and process. This blog is all about what I’m learning, what we’re trying to do, how we’re trying to cope with a stage four glioblastoma spinal tumor. I wish this were all easier. I wish my kids were easier. I wish that Netflix had a better selection to keep my kids busy so I could take a nap. But life ain’t always fair.