I am not exactly a ‘kid’ person.
Yes, I have three kids.
Here is what I mean: I was never that 13 year old who was desperate to babysit or who wanted to be a camp counselor.
Maybe it is because I was the youngest child/cousin on the side of the family that lived nearby. At any family event I was stuck rising to the level of those around me. No one babied me. I was always spoken to like one of the adults.
My only sibling is 8 years older than me so when I was 7, I was trying to be just like my older, cooler, sister who was listening to INXS and wearing giant earrings that required her to have her earring holes re-sewn from the effects of gravity. I wanted to be in high school when I was in 4th grade.
I always knew that I would love my own kids. I just never really felt compelled to hang out with other people’s kids.
I speak to my kids like adults. This may screw them up or make them extra cool, TBD. I am far more likely to respond to bad behavior with a, ‘dude! get your act together!’ than ‘sweetie, mommy needs you to be a better boy/girl.’ We have never listened to Raffi. We listen to Drake.
When we told the 2 older kids (at the time 5 & 7) that I had cancer, we did it in a very matter of fact way. No emotions. We told them what we thought they needed to know and asked them to tell us back what they heard. We then opened the floor to questions and only got two.
- Are you going to die? No
- Will you turn green? Yes
Along this space odyssey we tell them things on a need-to-know basis. I moved out of the house for 2 weeks after mastectomy and also moved out for 6 days after each chemo so we were able to spare them a lot of those details.
We have tried to keep my cancer as not scary as possible. In many cases, we were even able to make it fun, which is quite a feat. They had a summer of extra playdates, an awesome camp experience and tons of positive attention.
When school started, I pulled both of their teachers (1st and 2nd grade) aside and asked if they wanted me to explain anything to the other parents in the class. My kids talk about my cancer all the time. Not because they are upset or scared, but because it is their reality. Their mom is sick, their mom is sleeping, their mom has drains, mom is bald.
I was very nervous that my kids would tell their new little friends about their mom’s cancer and, in turn, those children would come home and say to their unsuspecting parents, ‘what’s cancer?’ It seemed like my responsibility to head that off at the pass.
Neither teacher thought it was necessary, which sort of surprised me. I have heard little things from parents whose kids have commented on my appearance, but as far as I know, no one has had to explain cancer to a 6 year old, thank god.
Since I have small kids, I am in contact with other small kids all the time. For a long time I always made sure to have my head covered so as not to spook them, but within the last few weeks, the jig has been up on that front. I actually love watching these small humans see my bald head and take a few seconds to register what is going on. It is that same childhood wonder, absolutely never any judgement.
Very few actually comment to me, but a few have. It is usually something like, ‘where is your hair?’ to which I answer something vague like ‘I just don’t have any right now, but it will grow back.’ They always stare a minute longer than usual, but then go back to better things like playing superhero or jumping on a trampoline.
I hate very much that I am a walking, potential major life lesson conversation, but what can I do? I can only hope that if these children come home to their parents and ask why Luca’s mom is bald or what cancer is, that it creates an opportunity for a healthy conversation, but I know not everyone is ready to break the news about The Big C to their 1st grader.
My kids will be better off for going through breast cancer with me. They will be wiser, better adjusted and will know a lot about ‘boob balloons’ which should fare well for them in middle school.
What I hope they know more than anything else is that their mom is a BEAST who looked cancer in the eye, and told it to FORK OFF.