For Ky, today is day +14.
For Lou, it’s week 14. Fourteen, nearly fifteen, weeks ago, Ky and I went into a hospital because Ky was sick. She knew he hadn’t felt well. Early dismissals, a couple doctor’s appointments, some missed school – we didn’t know enough to hide it; as soon as we knew for sure that Ky had Leukemia, we told her – named
the thing that was worse than any monster her nightmares had dreamed up – and we held her while she cried. She immediately wondered if Ky would be okay and what doctors were going to do to help him. I don’t think Bill and I had any clue what to say to her as Ky looked on from his hospital bed, but – we assured her that of course Ky would be okay…and doctors would do just what they needed to to make it so. But we had no idea. We’d only spent a whopping three hours wrapping our minds around the official diagnosis ourselves. Who could know? Days turned into a week, a week turned into weeks, one round turned into two, two rounds turned into a bone marrow transplant. It’s easier to tally what I’ve been there for with Lou over the last several months than it is to tally what I’ve missed. Even when I was balancing a busy career, I could tally the hits far more readily than the misses. I did what I could not to miss. But, this is different.
Today is her first day of school. She’s a fourth grader.
Last night I called as she was getting ready. “We still have to put my stuff in my backpack, Mama.” I always liked to get that done a few days ahead of time – but first, I’d label it all with their names in Sharpie. I assured her Papa would get that done for her, he’d make sure she was all set – and he will. “I miss you, Mama.” I told her I missed her too…and that I couldn’t wait to hear how her first day went. “I don’t want to go, Mama.”
Summer has provided a lovely respite from a barrage of Ky-related questions from curious peers. She went to the summer program a little, she spent time with family and friends, she visited Ky as she could. She went swimming, read books, had adventures…but she did it with some uncertainty and a little nervousness. Stoic as she is, it’s taken a toll. At the end of the last school year, she confessed on a teary car ride to the hospital that she was being asked daily if Ky was going to die. School, she told me, was a place she liked. She loves learning, loves to read, loves to help. But now, without the watchful eye a quasi-protective big brother and lots of curious children, she had to find her own way through it. Her teacher assured me that she did – of course she did. Her new teacher is lovely – one who knows our family and Ky quite well – he had her last year. She’ll loop fourth and fifth grade with Lou. Consistency alongside such a wonderful teacher will be good.
Today I’m not there to do my gal’s hair as she gets ready for school – it’s the one day there wouldn’t have been an elaborate protest about just wanting to wear her hair down. I haven’t labeled her supplies. I did manage order a new lunch pail and backpack, but I don’t have the slightest idea what will be in either of them. By now she’s used to the yin and yang of a Mama-packed snack. Something kind of unhealthy paired with something pretty healthy. Parenting Gods, please forgive me for the Handi-snack fake cheese and crackers, which are not whole wheat, because I also provided an organic apple. I don’t know if that’s how it all works, but – I like to think it keeps balance.
I know Bill will take her outside and get photos of her for me – we’ve always done that. But, the other half of those photos – dating back to preschool – is 143 miles away. I just reminded him that she starts fourth grade today. “Wow. Where does time go, Mama?” Oh that I knew, Ky.
We made Lou a little ‘good luck today!’ video from room 612 last night. Ky’s IV pumps cast a lovely glow on his face and the constant hum of his suction features prominently. I hope she doesn’t notice all that. I hope she’s so busy seeing just how much we love her, how much we miss her, that she gets the boost she needs to tackle today…and the next day…and the remaining days until we’re home, when I promise to pack her ‘only makes sense to Mama’ snack again, double-check her backpack, make sure she has clean clothes, and occasionally offer to do her hair, bracing myself for a “No.”, but hoping for a “Yes!”.
I hope fourth grade is your most magical year yet, Lou. I hope all the courage, grace and gratitude you’ve had the chance to discover and refine this summer serve you well…but I desperately hope you don’t need them in quite the same capacity. More than anything else, I hope you get to resume being nine again; I hope you get to return to your regularly scheduled childhood.
We’ll love you forever too, Lou.