Each year on my birthday my dad used to take me to breakfast at the same place – the Moonakis Cafe on Cape Cod. It was our family’s favorite spot, so we’d go there as a family lots of weekends but, on my birthday, my dad would take me there by myself. It was a special tradition. On our car ride to the restaurant, he would offer me a piece of “birthday” advice. The advice was always a very simple concept, but I’d really take it to heart. I think when I was around 11 or 12 years old, my annual pointer was, “Remember to cross your t’s and dot your i’s”. I felt disappointed upon hearing it. I’d waited all year for my next major insight, and had anticipated something of enormous percipience. I realized, however, when my dad delved deeper into his explanation, the concept was of the utmost importance. It was about making sure the little things were done right, so that that the bigger things could fall into line. It was about building a solid foundation and, reading between the lines, it was about not fucking up. A small phrase I’d heard 1,000 times before, suddenly took on a lot more meaning.
The year I turned 16, my piece of advice was: “always be honest with yourself, because you’re always going to know if you’re telling the truth”. I don’t know if my dad even remembers why or how he decided on which token of advice he would give me each year. It might have even been off-the-cuff, but his words always struck me and, this specific piece of advice, has nearly haunted me. It is the way I want to live my life; to be disciplined and aware, and to not cut corners, physically or emotionally, in order to avoid discomfort.
Everyone’s allowed mistakes, but in adult life, when you’re (mostly) done screwing up or doing stupid/dangerous things, we have to look at the people we have really become. We have to reflect on our behavior on a deeper level. How strong and genuine are our most important personal relationships, and are we proud of the way we interact with friends, children and spouses on a regular basis? Do we fall victim to wanting to be right above all, and relentlessly argue a point? Are we judgmental or too hard on others, while forgetting that we all have so many faults of our own? Or, worst of all, are we full-of-shit? I, for one, am guilty of all these things at times.
A lot of people have asked me if I’ve gotten any help or gone to therapy this year, since all we have been through with Calum. I haven’t gone to therapy for one main reason: I haven’t taken the initiative to find a therapist and make an appointment. I think therapy could really help me work through some of the challenges I face with anxiety and, as I mentioned in my Cancerversary post, I’m working on it all the time. I think that being honest with yourself before going to therapy, however, is the most crucial step in moving forward. I have to be willing to accept my own role in the problems that arise in my life because, unless you’re ready to look beyond yourself and see the whole story, rather than just your own version of it, you’re never going to solve your issues. You can’t blame someone or something that happens for the way you feel all the time because, if it’s someone or something else’s fault, then you never actually have to change yourself when, in fact, that’s the only thing we have any control over.
All of my shortcomings, I am sure, effect my personal relationships. I know that with anxiety comes tension, and with tension comes a short fuse. I suppose my goal is to maintain my most treasured relationships and, unless I am willing to work through my own issues, personal relationships will inevitably suffer, too, which is the last thing I would ever want. Luckily things have not gotten out-of-hand for me yet, but I realize it should always be a work in progress, and it’s something I don’t want to let off my radar.
This past year has showed me also that if I could be more like a kid, I’d be a lot better off. Don’t get me wrong, my kids make me nutty for a not-insignificant portion of every day. For instance, lately, Calum does this thing where he thinks* he is telling a joke. It will go something like this:
Calum: Hey, Mom, I’m just hanging around. Get it??? Hanging around! HANGING
around!! Do you get it???
Me: No, buddy, I don’t get it.
Calum: Why, Mom?
Me: Because you are not hanging from anything. Your emphasis on the word ‘hanging’ should imply that you are literally hanging from something, and you’re just standing there. It’s called a play on words, and you’re using it incorrectly.
Calum: Stares at me with confusion.
As if explaining the stupidity of his joke did not suck enough of the life out of me already, even if Calum had actually been hanging from something, it still would have been a fucking terrible joke. On every level, it bothers me.
Anyway, other than his propensity for telling bad jokes, the way he has come through tough times has amazed me. Part of this is his natural disposition, but a big part of it is just because he is a kid. Kids have perfected the secret to happiness, which is the ability to live in the moment. They don’t let past events darken their optimism, and they don’t let future events that could be unpleasant keep them from being happy “now”. They have the natural gift to let the things that make them happiest consume their brains, rather than stewing over what makes them sad, angry, uncomfortable or anxious.
Just yesterday he had to go in for treatment at Sloan and, for the first time, we decided to bring Faye with us. It was meant to be a quick visit between blood work, a chat with the doctor, and a ten-minute chemo drip medication – maybe a little more than an hour. Calum was so excited about Faye coming with us to the doctor that he couldn’t sleep. He strolled down the hall to our room at 5:45am asking, “Is it morning yet? Is it time to go to the doctor? Can we wake up Faye?” It blew me away that, even though he was about to get stuck with needles, and poked, and questioned by doctors, and given medication that won’t make him feel well, he was consumed by the excitement of showing Faye the place where he has spent so much time during the last year. He was entirely focused on the positive.
The visit went fine. Faye dominated the playroom and stole lots of toys from the kids with cancer. Calum’s blood counts were actually “too healthy”, which meant all of his medication dosages needed to be adjusted and elevated to ensure the chemo continues to suppress any ability his body might still have to make cancer cells. We also spent time talking with our doctors about the flu this season and the future for Calum in terms of outside exposure, which are topics that always increase my anxiety. These monthly visits can tend to dredge up a lot of emotion. I worried yesterday thinking about avoiding the flu this year, and about next year when we will send him to school. How will we keep him safe while also trying to loosen the reins so that he can have more socialization? I’m still not sure, but if I could be a little more like Calum, and stay in the moment by appreciating what we have right now, I know I would only feel happiness.
In the meantime, I think I will finally try to get some therapy. I’ll let you know how it goes.