I was dismayed to learn of Bob Saget’s passing. I grew up fatherless and his role as Danny Tanner on Full House was important: it showed single parenthood as “normal” and nothing to be ashamed of. For thirty minute segments, he stepped in as a positive father figure where I had none. This feeling was so engrained in me that the first time my husband sat down with our oldest son when he was upset to have a heart-to-heart my first thought was, “Huh, like Danny Tanner,” and my second was, “Oh, like a dad.”
In November 2019, I was processing my childhood traumas and the complicated relationship I have with my parents when I wrote a poem that referenced this. I figured now is as good of a time as ever to share it with others.
A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting cross-legged on a yoga mat in my bedroom facing my floor-length mirror, with my hands in prayer position. Listening to mellow music, smelling a lit incense and appreciating my dimly-lit reflection, I thought to myself: “I’m becoming the person I’ve always wanted to be.”
I went digging through old journals to uncover what the intention was for this year and I came across something dorky that’s better left private (but champagne is now involved, so no holds barred): “2020 was the year of mental health, 2021 will be the year of the glow up.” 🤓
Not everything went as planned in the last 365, but I did hold up to that: I lost almost 40 lbs, continued to work through a 747 worth of baggage, got more interested in skincare than my past self would admit, mastered an influencer-worthy self-care morning routine, and bought enough clothes (many second hand!) for my new size that would make my husband grit his teeth at the end of a few months. More importantly, I painted, a lot. I even wrote a little. Gifting myself small pockets where I’d steal away from other responsibilities to create for a few minutes at a time has given me a “glow” that no serum, highlighter, or even a dress covered in sequins could replicate.
Behind great leaps are the hurdles beneath, stumbles unseen, and challenges set aside for another day. “Stealing away” for creativity feels that way every time: over indulgent. Guilt overwhelms with each direct message, comment, and text message that goes unanswered (almost all of them—please call or send a Snapchat!). Saying ‘yes’ to more creativity means saying ‘no’ to many. I say yes to my sons and husband, yes to myself & the care I need to show up best for them but I say ‘no’ often to people, tasks and opportunities that are of great value.
In the New Year, I know that I won’t be able to balance “it all,” because “having it all” and “doing it all” is a patriarchal, western myth. ESPECIALLY as a mother of a young family. But in 2022, I hope to feel less guilty over what I say no to and allow space for my art and writing to flourish. I hope that the writing and art I create, the children I raise, and the people I support interpersonally are the greatest contributions I will have in this lifetime. I hope to have the courage to ask for help or grace in the areas I struggle to manage on top of the strides I make in those areas of life.
As 2019 came to a close, I called it “the year of community.” As 2020 came to a close, I called it “the year of mental health” and correctly forecasted 2021 to be “the year of the glow up.”
2022 will be “the year of less.”
In 2019 I enriched the soil, 2020 I carefully tended to the seedling of my dreams, and in 2021 I watched myself flourish. What I hope for 2022 is to shamelessly prune aspects of life that, no matter how much time is spent on them, will not be my greatest contribution. In pruning back what’s not my greatest work, I hope to see my art and writing branch out to new heights.
Twenty-nine years ago on this date, I was diagnosed with cancer. I was so little. There’s no way I could pronounce Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, nevertheless understand what was happening in my body.
Childhood cancer is unique in that it doesn’t disrupt the patient’s life like it would an adult’s. The foundation of life isn’t yet there for disruption: a young child experiences the first hospital stay, the first round of chemo, the first spinal tap in the same way that children experience their first day of kindergarten, their first time riding a bike, and their first time tying their shoes.
I learned to tie my shoes while sitting in a hospital waiting room to receive treatment. My mom was talking to a mother she befriended whose child, diagnosed with the same disease, was back for round two after his cancer came back.
I fumbled as I showed him how I was learning to tie, and he showed me a different way, with bunny ears. I thought he had it wrong, yet I couldn’t show him the way to do it “right.”
That child died the same year. He was ten years old. I wasn’t old enough to grasp the devastation or to fear anything other than the dark. A child’s life is a series of events they can’t control, they have to get good at going through the motions. Those were the motions I went through: my mother asking if I wanted to go to this child’s funeral, then wondering that afternoon, as I played with toys under my Meemaw’s table, if I should feel bad for not going with her. The motions of refusing anesthesia as I recovered from another spinal tap, as even at four, five, and six years old, I preferred pain to uncertainty.
The motions also included being allowed to quietly play with my pre-K teacher in a dimly lit classroom while naps were strictly enforced for my classmates, some lying on their mats pretending to be asleep. It included missing much of kindergarten and the first grade to pass hours alone with my mom in a sunny hospital playroom, my left arm attached to a rolling IV stand, my right painting as I overlooked my town six flights below.
It wasn’t all bad. The mind can’t recollect the physical sensations of pain, no matter how significant. The mind can only recall the suffering that accompanies pain. Because of the privilege of unknowing and the affectionate touch from my mother consoling me, my suffering was not profound. Memories of that time in my life are fond, like the ones described in the previous paragraph.
It is because of these fond memories that I foolishly believed having childhood cancer didn’t affect me greatly. I didn’t think I was a “real” cancer survivor, because I wasn’t aware enough to experience overwhelming fear, impending doom, or the suffering that accompanies those big feelings. Even through my twenties, when it came up in conversation, I would shrug it off: “I didn’t really know what was going on. I think it was harder on my mom than it was on me. I can’t imagine having a sick child.”
I see now how wrong I was. As I was sick and my mom was worried, I felt responsible for her worry and apparent pain. I realize now that when adults would learn I was sick, I’d see their pitying glances and show them with my larger-than-life—or, larger-than-illness—personality that I was going to be fine. I wasn’t frail or pathetic or someone to be pitied. I’d dance, I’d sing, I’d put on a performance and perhaps people wouldn’t have sadness wash over them when they saw my thin hair, frail body, and when they considered probability of a tragic outcome from my diagnosis.
The significance of chemo memories faded in favor of typical and atypical childhood interests and activities, but I realize now how integrated it became in my personality to show up, do big things, and make sure people around me didn’t feel sad. My go-to response of emphasizing my mother’s emotional pain over my own childhood loss wasn’t a perspective I gained as a young adult with a child of my own—rather, it was how I felt all along. I was carrying the emotional pain of others and constantly trying to be more or do more so that I wouldn’t provoke pity again.
I kept up the performance, I was fearless and reckless, I was unflinchingly positive, I achieved goals. My need to prove myself, to be alive enough, manifested in different ways over the years. Childhood cancer affected me greatly. No one is the same after they receive a cancer diagnosis. No one. What’s different in survivors of childhood cancers, specifically those whose long-term memories were not yet formed, those whose only memories from before and around that time were because of the trauma affiliated, is that there isn’t a “before cancer” self to compare to the “after cancer” self.
I’ll never know how much cancer changed me, because a cancer diagnosis wasn’t a pivotal moment when things changed. Rather, it was a building block: molded and baked into my very being during my most formative years. It’s a part of me, it runs through my veins just as gifts of blood from people I’ll never know once did. As my doctors used all the tools in their arsenal to improve my health and well-being, I was learning to be scrappy, to heal, to fight, and to survive.
In August, I resurrected this old blog with intentions of getting back in the groove of frequent posting. It struck me that my youngest would soon be in a threes program at a local preschool for three and a half hours, three days a week. I could now expect to have ten and a half uninterrupted hours a week to position myself toward some long-term goals and create new habits that weren’t accessible with a lack of childcare.
Spent week three of social distancing trying not to succumb to despair. Hope feels like a distant memory, but I have to remember that any moment in time is just as fleeting as spring-it comes, it blooms, it withers, and new things are on the horizon.
I don’t have a lot of hope for what’s happening, what will happen next or after that. Dark times are here and more are following. But in dark times there are still bright moments. You find something someone else planted, years before you, in your own backyard. For brief moments, your home feels just like home, not the fortress from fear of what surrounds us. There is still sunshine, flowers, food in the pantry, and love even in a world full of sickness, death, greed and corruption.
Positive thinking and self care won’t cure the hurt I feel for the outside world, but as I go through this fourth week of #quarantine, I’ll try to shift my focus to the moments right in front of me.
As you know, we moved to our new house recently. What you may NOT know is that we moved in exactly three weeks before I gave birth.
My pregnancy was less than ideal, and at one point I was put on bed rest. So when we moved in, I wasn’t able (nor did I have enough energy) to get started on my projects! It was looking like the baby would come into the world without a space to call his own.