“It takes a night to make it dawn
And it takes a day to make you yawn, brother
And it takes some old to make you young
It takes some cold to know the sun
It takes the one to have the other…”
-Jason Mraz, “Life is Wonderful”
It was too early to feel anything and I was sorely under caffeinated for the task in front of me…but there I was, feeling it all with no coffee life preserver. I took a chance and slid my hand over to Ky’s leg, under his own hand. “What, Mama?” It wasn’t too early for teenage angst and grump, I guess. “I love you…” “Mama…” “No, I know. I’m just really proud of you, excited for you.” We hadn’t taken a traditional first day of school photo, instead Ky snapped a selfie of us on our drive. Unconventional and silly as it seems, it was perfect.
We pulled up to the middle school and parked. There was a moment of quiet before I gathered up a “Here we go…”, less an exclamation and more a statement of fact. This, his return to school, is what he has wanted since the day I picked him up from 5th grade and drove him to Maine Medical Center. May 18, 2016. So, we were ready. So, were we ready?
There is a lot from the fifteen months that I truly cannot remember. It’s frightening sometimes, comforting others. One moment I cannot forget is sitting in a chair in Kyan’s hospital room in Boston during last year’s first day of school. It was an absolutely awful day of social media for me. It took all I had to “like” posts from my Facebook circle – beautiful children, rosy-cheeked, hair combed, ready to start fresh with a new year. But how could I not like them? Of course I was happy to see healthy, amazing kids doing exactly what kids should do in the fall. But, three hours away, without me, Lou’s was having a first day of fourth grade…and three feet away, Cappy lay nearly motionless, unable to eat due to complications from chemo, and puffy from a plethora of steroids. Where was his fresh start? Where was the childhood he was supposed to have? I ached for the simplicity of a battle over bedtime or of a zillion reminders to please brush his teeth.
As I’ve often done, I counted steps, this time from the parking lot to the front doors of Lake Region Middle School. I wondered how fast I could run from my Jeep into the main office, in the event he ever needed me. I looked around, all kinds of activity that felt very familiar to a version of me from years ago; I spent a handful of years as an 8th grade English teacher. Instead of seeing it as a hive of activity and hope and fun, I wondered about germs, who was up-to-date on vaccinations, and if I could trust these children to be kind to Cappy. I was awash in worry. And then I saw his face. He was a little lost and kind of overwhelmed, but the corners of his mouth were finding a way toward a smile. With the help of a school secretary, we found his homeroom and, I think, a homeroom teacher that will be perfect for him. He walked in without much more than a “Bye, Mama…” and a quiet “I love you.”. Though I tried not to alarm his teacher, I likely overwhelmed her with some key details that might matter, even on day one. Teacher me was mortified, Mama me knew it had to be done.
When I got home last night, I asked about his day. He raved about his homeroom teacher. His locker is a next-level labyrinth which appears to only respond to the wisdom of his friend Avery. Some kids are really tall. Some aren’t. The more he talked, the more I cried. By all accounts, it was a magically average day. I couldn’t have asked for more; it was the stuff of my dreams.
When I woke him up for school this morning, he grumbled about how early we needed to be up. “You know,” he mumbled as he walked to the bathroom, “the nurses did 6 a.m. vitals but they were always nice enough to let me sleep. Can you get me ready for school without waking me up?”
Tomorrow is September 1. Tomorrow it will, once again, be Childhood Cancer Awareness month. Last year, I wrote about what that meant in the context of where we were last year. This year, I write about it in the context of where we are now. I still hate cancer. As often as I am able, I work to find the silver lining, but that doesn’t change the fact that I hate it. I hate that I have a small circle of other parents who I know that didn’t get first day of school photos yesterday, who ache for a magically average day. I see you; I’m so sorry.
I promised last year that we would spend time paying it forward in terms of the support and love we received when we were able to do so. And we will. There are several organizations that go above and beyond to support children in situations such as the one we found ourselves in. I would be happy to share those with you if you are care to give time, money, or some other donation.
I wish you a magically average September…and the wisdom to know it is so.