Realizing The Happiness

I always wanted to be a mother. I was obsessed with babies in adolescence and was overjoyed when my parents gave me fourth and fifth brothers in my final years of high school. Caring for them was fun and entertaining, not a chore. At 17, I enjoyed the contemplation of strangers when I took my baby brothers somewhere on the bus or to play in the park. Teen mom or babysitter? Most strangers didn’t assume that we were siblings. My parents never forced me to take responsibility for my younger brothers and it was something I wanted to do. I wanted to be a mom when it wasn’t cool to want that; as a teenager. Maybe it was my upbringing, yet then again, plenty of children are raised by attachment parenting, stay-at-home-moms, and choose career paths or not to have children at all. In today’s society, it’s all good. I’ve gotten to know all kinds of parents and observed many different styles and results and I’ve come to believe, with my soul,  that the champions of mothers are the ones whose children are loved unconditionally by them and are guided by that love.

December, 1991. My 4th brother, Gabriel and 16 year old me.
December, 1991. My 4th brother, Gabriel and 16 year old me.

During my first pregnancy, I entertained myself with the birthing books, prayed from the breastfeeding books, and studied from the parenting books. I planned to be a full-time mother, just like my mom. I was to be creative with art projects and active. I planned to be the outdoorsy mom who didn’t mind the sand and mud. I’d have clean toilets and floors covered in tiny footprints tracked by many pairs of happy bare feet. When my kids showed me a painting they made, I would be there to describe the colors and not be the bored mom who said, “Wow, that’s pretty,” or “You’re an artist”. I was to be the breastfeeding mom who led La Leche League meetings and didn’t worry about weaning or nighttime rituals, and never bought Wacky Mac or frozen pizzas. We would visit museums and I would have a membership at the zoo and the pool. I stacked my expectations high and felt the urgency of needing to be Supermom to my children.  As we grew from a family of three to a family of seven, I spent a little less time on nature walks and in parks, and more time driving carpools. We had healthy meals and early bedtimes. Nothing was ever too scheduled, precise, or perfect and that helped me feel secure. Still, I agonized over having enough play dates and extracurricular activities and whether or not I was giving our children enough experiences, enough stimulation, or enough of me.

I don’t think anyone ever anticipates what happened to us will happen to them. Like that call in the middle of the night that we all dread but never comes. This did. It was July and I was having a fun day at the beach with our five children, like nothing was wrong. Days later, I was lying in a hospital bed and we became the family with the cancer-mom, our lives changed forever. Over two and a half years later, after chemotherapy, a recurrence, and more chemotherapy, I’m in remission and participating in a clinical trial. I take three capsules per day and hope that I’m not in the placebo group. Motherhood for almost eleven years, before I was diagnosed, gave me plenty of experience, happiness and heartache. I never imagined a situation that could take me away from my children. I took that for granted. I never stopped wanting to be here yet I’ve intermittently departed. Our children were rarely left with babysitters for an evening and now they’ve adjusted to having me gone for days. Chemotherapy treatment is both a savior and an enemy. It’s a complicated reality.

Last beach day - days before diagnosis - July 2012
Last beach day – days before diagnosis – July 2012

Cancer treatments temporarily forced me to relinquish control and my role as the primary caretaker and provider of motherly love and vigilance. There were times when I stopped being the driver, the cook, the activity planner, and the ponytail maker. At my lowest point, I was no longer the one who could magically produce a lost sneaker and sometimes I didn’t even climb the stairs to tuck them in at night. I’m three months out from my last chemo treatment and settling into my cherished role once again. I’m not exactly the same mother I used to be, not in energy, not in patience, or ability. My husband and our children do so much more than they used to and we have domestic help. I used to live at 100 miles per hour and now I’m all systems go at tricycle speed.

In our new reality, the most reverent moments might appear mundane and routine. Treasured portholes open up while listening to our third grade son read a book to me after dinner and while cuddling, in my bed, with our youngest daughters before their bedtime. Even watching our 7 year old daughter tumbling in gymnastics class, has enhanced meaning. Heart to heart conversations with our eldest daughters linger in my conscious. I’ve slowed down and our children are benefiting from things that were not in my plan. My journey with sickness and an unknown future forced me to stop and take a break from living my life as I’d envisioned and planned it. Almost every preconceived idea of what is wonderful and fulfilling has come under reconstruction. It is scary and it’s also a gift.

The uncertainty and danger of this journey is real but I also have hope that I could star in a miraculous story and become the extraordinary woman who was cured. I’m not in denial and attached to that is sadness in not knowing if I will still be here for his Bar Mitzvah or her wedding. Every single milestone and occasion has new significance to me. There is immense joy in cherishing each day in a completely new way. Acknowledging my miracles and being alive right now, not a given, is intensifying my pleasure in the smallest of things. Things that used to be insignificant like a quiet few minutes spending time together, on the couch or chatting in the car, are worth so much to us. I wish I could bottle and spread it to the overstimulated world. I wish I could send it in a time machine, back in time, to the young mother that I was, studying the parenting books and giving myself grades. Stop, slow down, simplify, because happiness isn’t something you make, happiness is inside of us, waiting to be realized.