Don’t Say Nothing When Facing Tragedy

Don’t Say Nothing When Facing Tragedy

I have a list in my head of what people said to me when they heard that I was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. There were those whose words, presence and actions were real comforts. Then there were those who probably meant well, but totally missed the mark — and they are the reason for this list. To be sure, talking about a terminal diagnosis is one of the most emotionally fraught conversations you’ll ever have. It is devastating to hear from a loved one that they are dying. How you react to the news matters, yet most of us have no idea what to say when somebody we love shares their tragic news. In that spirit, I offer my own personal don’ts and dos. DON’T say “let me know what you need.” A generalized “call me for anything” is nice to hear, but understand that those of us who are really sick can only tolerate certain people washing our hair or driving us from a chemo session as we barf in a bucket en route. A good thing to text or email would be: “If there was one thing I could do today in your house or garden that would be helpful, what would it be?” and then be prepared to do it. Empty offers are just cruel. DO make sure you ask if they can handle flowers or scent of any kind. Before showing up with lilies or spritzed with Chanel No. 5 just check. Many medications create bizarre and shifting sensitivities, most of them to smells and flavours. Perfumes, flowers, cotton candy and even spaghetti sauce have sent me to the bowl for a gag. DON’T pelt them with 20 questions. I know that for some people getting all the gory details is the only way they can absorb the news. But detailed questions can be exhausting to answer. Never ever ask how much time they have left. There is a really good chance that, like me, I told the doctor I didn’t want his estimate. A good question might be “What is the plan for your treatment?” then let them talk. DO notice when they are tired, and leave. Are they blinking longer? Shifting uncomfortably? Maybe they don’t want to admit being tired or unable to stay up. Notice, and then make a loving and speedy exit. DON’T touch them without permission. Sound strange? Consider this: Maybe they are just barely holding it together and leaning on you in that moment might result in a meltdown they can’t bear. Depending on your relationship, you might want to ask them if they would like a hug, and be ok with whatever their answer is. DO let them know...
Gazing at Memories

Gazing at Memories

Today I am hanging pictures on the walls of my home. I had a box of framed photos that just hadn’t been dealt with for some time, and today was the day. The pictures are of my children, their friends, our family, vacations and happy times. They are of moments I snapped from behind a camera that were so beautiful, they merited a frame. When I put them into those glass and wooden dedications, I didn’t think things would ever change. I thought those toothless smiles would be forever. Chubby cheeks, sand covered little fingers and cupcake smiles, it was our world in that golden time of sunshine. Looking at the pictures, I realize I somehow blinked for a few years, and haven’t framed anything new. My golden babies sat in a box all this while. I look at them now and ache for the moments I had the sense to capture. The new moments, the now, is where I live. Time has moved forward and teeth have grown in. Feet and fingers are no longer chubby, but are starting to resemble the adult appendages they will become. Cute is fading, and we are entering the age of interesting challenges and tearing away slowly. “Mommy” is turning to “Mom” and the photos are of reluctant poses with embarrassed slightly tolerant smiles. No longer does my lens get the love of big fat easy grins. They no longer run to me when they hear the shutter click and say “Mommy see da piture??”. I walk around the house clutching my framed babies as they were, and find places of honour for them. If I had known that their years of being so little aren’t endless, in fact they are breathtakingly fast, I might have done things differently. Like a roller coaster ride that suddenly screeches to a halt, you wonder why you closed your eyes on the big hills, because now you realize you could have enjoyed it more. You were safe and it was ok. I cried over some of those pictures today. Because like the period of life in which they were taken, time has moved on. I know how lucky I am, I know that many people can’t glance up from the picture of their toddlers and look at their happy healthy older children. That doesn’t mean I am not going to take this day and look at pictures of the way we were. Pictures don’t belong in a shoe box. They cover the walls of our happy home and in a few years I will be missing the people they are today. Time to take some more pictures.   This post ran originally on BluntMoms.com...
High School Parent Advisory Committees – The Real Game of Thrones

High School Parent Advisory Committees – The Real Game of Thrones

When my daughter entered high school, I was positive I would finally be welcomed to join the High School Parent Committee. This is the upper echelon of the super-elite PTA. I had spent my kid’s elementary grades sweating and laboring through years of cake pops and cookie dough fundraisers, so I was ready. Now, at the high school level, I would help raise a bazillion dollars for band instruments, or a new stadium for the football team, or whatever. I had done all the volunteering and auditioning, so I knew this would be my time. Surely, I was in. Oh, but I was the opposite of “in” because apparently a high school PTA is a whole other game. It is a ruthless, dangerous underworld fraught with intrigue and deception. You can’t see it from the outside, but these seemingly friendly PTA members are disingenuous schemers with malicious intent to rule the high school as its evil overloads. High school PTAs are the real world version of Game of Thrones. Most PTAs have a Queen Bee at the helm. Let’s call her Cersei. She rules from the Iron Throne and is the unquestioned sovereign of the small council, or as we usually know them, “the executive.” These people are an exclusive cadre of elected parents (more on that later) who direct all the activities of the school. I held back and didn’t run for the small council in my first year. I decided to serve instead as a common serf to learn how the kingdom was run. As a result, I find myself tasked with the modern-day equivalent of “hamlet rat catcher.” Relegated to tasks usually reserved for the village idiot, I am trying to learn how one becomes worthy of the inner circle. My position as an invisible nonentity at PTA events and meetings allow me to surreptitiously observe the machinations of the maneuvering sycophants. They are masters at building their networks, peddling influence like courtiers in King’s Landing. Queen Cersei is the puppet master, and only the fundraisers of her invention are lauded as genius and drizzled in gold. The small council is ostensibly formed by democratic election. Or so it is advertised. The most crushing revelation to me: It is not actually an election. Being granted a seat on the executive board is about who has been the most enthusiastic in their pandering to the Queen. What is worse is that these special alliances have been cemented for years, dating back to the preschool era. There is no room for interlopers or ambitious rat catchers. The same Queen I have been trying to avoid eye contact with for years, now rules the universe of high school. She...
8 Ways to Rock Christmas Like an Evil Genius

8 Ways to Rock Christmas Like an Evil Genius

I was at Costco earlier today. Now I am drinking. They have Christmas trees festooned with sparkly lights, reams of wrapping paper and boxes of dingle balls for sale in their stores. It is August. Clearly their marketing department is a den of evil geniuses. Their plot is brilliant if you think about it. Now, months ahead of time, we are thinking about Christmas purchases before we even close the pool. I am already panicking about Christmas because of all the pressure and work and thankless tasks involved in putting on a family “holiday.” Why is it my job to make Christmas happy for everybody else? Screw that… I have a new plan… an evil plan… to make the holidays great for me. Here’s a handy list of things you can do to elevate your Evil Genius status to Master Level: 1.Start leaving hints for gifts in your husband’s underwear drawer. Make sure the notes are written in crayon using small words so there is no question about what should be under the tree for you. Print “Dolce and Gabbana” carefully so you don’t end up with a Dusty Cabanna instead.  2. Make sure the kids start getting the message that there is in fact no Santa, and that Mommy has no cash. Lowering their expectations makes for a nice peaceful Christmas morning, as long as the children weep quietly. This allows you to buy more chocolate and wine for yourself.  3. When the kids are outside playing with friends in the early fall, start your car and make a big show of running over the elf on the shelf in the driveway. Once they have seen you roll over that mischievous little fuck ten times, they will know how misbehaving little turds are dealt with at your house.  4. Photoshop some counterfeit airline tickets with the names of you, your spouse and the kids on them. Make sure the tickets clearly show a departure date of December 23rd to some far away destination. Email copies to your in-laws and let them know how sad you are that they can’t come spend their usual three weeks at your house for their Christmas visit. Tell them they can however send their gifts ahead of time and maybe you will make a ham for Easter.  5. Stockpile the treats you like to keep for yourself during the holidays, then wrap them in boxes with gift tags made out to you. Write with your opposite hand so you can convincingly credit them as gifts from co-workers, or the mailman or whatever. Just for you… no sharesies.  6. Put out notes to your girlfriends, neighbours and school mom PTA over-achievers to tell them you have already got...
Teaching Children to Lie, One Ice Cream at a Time

Teaching Children to Lie, One Ice Cream at a Time

We all sometimes witness things that make us want to BARK at other people. Bad drivers, fashion victims, slow walkers and close talkers all bring out the worst in me. I know you can’t picture old Magnolia popping a vein from all the restraint, but truly, I do sometimes just turn the other cheek. There is one thing I cannot bear and you shouldn’t either. As Mothers, we often entrust our children to other people. Sometimes babysitters, our in-laws (shudder) and day cares. We breathe a sigh of relief when the Daddy takes them out for an errand so we can deal with our body hair or whatever is currently plaguing us. But do you know that very often these folks – although incredibly well intentioned – might be teaching your child to be a victim of abuse? I might stand alone in this view, and will withstand the torrent of screechers who I offend, but if you think about it for a second, you might agree with me just a little. People want to give your kids treats, or let them sit in the front seat, or do stuff with them that everybody knows Mom would not permit. They want to feed them contraband chocolates, or Pop or let them watch movies you wouldn’t. The lure of being the provider of the special treat is so great that they do it even though they know you disapprove. And rather than owning up to their blatant disregard for the rules, because they are assholes, they tell the child not to tell you. This is teaching the child to keep secrets. It is teaching them that secrets from mommy are especially okay. And worst of all, it is teaching that Mom isn’t safe. It has been done by Grandparents since the beginning of time, but that doesn’t make it right. A friend of mine talked about the time she brought home doughnuts. Her two year old picked up a cruller and said “Look! A don’t tell mama bun.” The now busted, and currently doghouse-residing husband had been teaching the child to be dishonest. I don’t think I have to draw the line for you smart people, but I will because some of you might not be. A child who is taught to keep secrets will do so when threatened by an abuser. Children do not have the skills to differentiate between an innocent secret and a really bad one. It may be a point of friction in your life, it sure was in mine. Everybody got informed of the “no subterfuge” rule, and when broken the consequences were harsh. We have compliance from all caregivers, and my children are now just...
When is it Time for a Woman to Lean Out?

When is it Time for a Woman to Lean Out?

There is a lot of chatter around the idea that women are supposed to “Lean In.” The book that coined the phrase is everywhere. So, being a “with it” kind of chick, I started to read the book. I am in that demographic of women who have spent plenty of time in boardrooms and high level negotiations. I have been around a whole lot of men in suits. Not hot men in suits like Mad Men, more like Chris Farley as the motivational speaker. I know more than I care to about women playing in the corporate sand box for the long haul. I scoured the early chapters of “the book” looking for that magic gem of advice that would make me more effective, more motivated, or help me actually remember to pick up the dry cleaning. Maybe I could find some way of “leaning in” even harder than I have over the years when I did a master’s degree at night, had babies, divorced, moved across the country, all the while following the brass ring of the mega-career. Many women passed through my work life during those years. Promising young ones, experienced older gals who fought the great pant suit wars of 1974, and some zombies. All of them battled with the same things: How do I make this unicorn called “work life balance” work? What am I going to do with the corner office if I ever get it? Statistically it is a hard go, but you keep on truckin’ tiger. What decisions will lead me to fulfillment of heart and soul? (If you figure that one out, let the rest of us know.) Now that I am staring down the barrel of the final sprint to the finish line of my working years, I am thinking more about leaning out. It has been a hard slog, truly. I am now on the cusp of being matronly, and although I can’t go a seventh week without a root touch up, I can tell you I know plenty of stuff. The experience I bring to my career is mind boggling, but I find it increasingly boring to implement all of my genius every day. On top of that, even we fabulously-groomed middle aged women are becoming invisible in today’s society. Sometimes the struggle doesn’t seem worth it. Leaning out starts to look better and better, almost, you know, like fun. Hobbies and dirty novels become more appealing. Drinking wine at lunch with your best friends was the domain of the wealthy stay at home Moms when I was younger. I want a few 3 o’clock hangovers before I have to fish my teeth out of a glass in...
Explaining Menopause to Your Husband Using Cartoons

Explaining Menopause to Your Husband Using Cartoons

Menopause comes for all of us women, some sooner and others later, but the inevitability of this transition can’t be debated. At 46, my own hormones decided to throw a party for my dusty old ovaries. Their idea of a good time involved the usual guests – hot flashes, cramping of everything, surges but no urges and hair… OH MY GOD THE HAIR. Buying a magnifying mirror was like witnessing a train wreck every fricken’ day. And then there are the nights…. I just want to sleep, but this is not to be. The sweats delivered courtesy of the death struggles of my waning fertility are relentless. They arrive like some kind of a hot slime monster crawling all over my sad old body. The nightmare is real. There is so much going on with the menopause shit show, that I felt it was time to explain it all to my husband. I was trying to find a way to get him to understand all of the aspects of menopause in a simple list, but I struggled to figure out how. I wasn’t going to be able to pull off sports analogies because… well… sports. But cartoons might be the magic recipe of comprehension and sympathy I need. Menopause has many faces, and you can explain them all using Peanuts characters. Pig Pen – This dusty and sad character represents the new me. I turn in to him every night and wake up to him in the mirror. I don’t remember having so much damned maintenance to do just to be presentable, do you? I spend time, cash and sweat trying to hold it all together as my dignity falls into the sink along with my hair and skin flakes. Pig Pen also can’t see his legs without glasses to shave them, just like me. Linus – blanket on, blanket off, blanket on half leg, kick blanket off. Damn you Linus, and your blanket Little Red Haired Girl – she represents those women who gently go through menopause without so much as a hot flash or a chin hair, their period prettily and simply stops. Not a bad word escapes her mouth in a hormone driven moment behind a slow driver or dopey store cashier. She has all the chill therefore she is not my friend. Making menopause look effortless is a deal breaker honey. Schroeder – this menopause archetype is focused on his music, just like the gals who enter “the change” and suddenly find a new hobby. They focus on their petite point, watercolours or bedazzling everything with such  vigor that they don’t even notice their chin hairs and bladder leaks. I want to have Schroeder focus on something...
Parental Guidance Suggested

Parental Guidance Suggested

What does “Parental Guidance” really mean? The existence of this rating makes the far reaching assumption that most parents are reasonable and provide guidance. I would argue that one. We all know the rating “General” means you can breathe easy in the movie theatre while the “under 10” set hoovers popcorn into their gobs with no fear of nightmares from the screen images. It also means by the end of the opening scene, parents are trying to find forks to drive into their own eyeballs to kill off the boredom. PG means that your more sensitive youngster will be in your lap, but most kids are ok, generally. There is some violence, but no sex. (Isn’t that ironic??? But that is a whole other post). PG13 means the 10 to 13 year old set REALLY WANT to see that movie, but mostly parents will want to check first, or not. It is also an excuse for all the douche parents to bring their 3 year olds along as well. I have words for your kind of people… not nice words. Then there are those movies like Ted and Pitch Perfect that look like your 11 year old might enjoy them. Advisory: No… probably not,  or you will have some explaining to do. I am always flabbergasted at the parents I see who bring really small kids to adult movies, with violence, sex, explosions and scary scenes. Why do you let your children watch that stuff?? You tell yourself they are fine and they enjoy it, but newsflash: they can’t deal with it, and you are taking them because you want to see it. Leave them at home. Harry Potter might be some of the all time best child lit and great movies, but most kids under the age of 8 can’t deal with the imagery of the movies. Then there are those other parents. You know the ones, they ban all video games and movies,  and their kids are weird. Or the other ones, who seem to have no issues with their 9 year old playing Grand Theft Auto. Surely there has to be a middle ground? I saw a new rating the other day. A14. What the frig is that?? I just figured out the other ratings and now there is a new one. I will assume that one means if you take your kid to it and they are under 14, your are an Asshole. I have a whole other rating system at my house that has only one item in an entire category all to itself. It is rated H40. That is “Hot for 40 year olds” and the series is Game of Thrones. Now if that isn’t a great Sunday...
Who is in Charge of Maggots at Your House?

Who is in Charge of Maggots at Your House?

Do you want to see my militant tough chick persona go completely to pieces? All it takes is an open lid to a summer garbage can. Yup, one little pile of squirming maggots and my façade crumples like a cheap face lift. At our house, I don’t deal with maggots, blood, infections, icky things, mold, puke, random shit accidents or the ultimate – a drain clog of my own hair and toothpaste. Nope – blue jobs are clearly laid out in the marriage agreement. I am a warrior Valkyrie most of the time, except when there is some kind of fluid leaking out of my children or pets. If I am going to have to deal with the good and the bad that comes with living with a big stinky boy in my house, my bed and my bathroom he has to hold up his end of the deal. I will do my part. For instance, it is my job to make nice nice with that annoying school Mom who just has to talk endlessly about her amazing naturopath, if he deals with that cyst on our dog’s ass. That is a fair and equitable trade. I will handle birthday party shopping, and remembering the names of all the snot nosed brats who play at our house, and he has to scrape whatever that green stuff is that is growing under our hot water tank. I will smell it, and point it out, but that is the end of my role. Because I love him, I make sure there is always a box of rubber gloves and Lysol at the ready. Nobody told me when we decided to set up house and have a family that I would need a constant supply of those two particular items. Our anniversary card this year will read: To my lover and friend: thanks for putting your hand into smelly messes for me.   This post originally ran on...
The Future Without Me

The Future Without Me

I am a happily married mother of two young children and I have terminal lung cancer. These days, I’m consumed with curiosity — and worry — about what my husband’s and children’s lives will look like after I’m gone. I picture my daughter meeting her fiancé’s parents sometime in the distant future. They’ll ask polite questions about her family and she’ll respond with this: “My mother died when I was (blank) years old.” The only thing I can’t picture in the conversation is what age she will have been when I died. Will she lose me this year at age 14? At 16? Maybe at 20? It won’t be 20 though, people with Stage IV lung cancer don’t get that long. Will my son make it through high school, get a driver’s license or find a girl without me there to celebrate and worry? He will, but I wish I could stay for all of it. My body fails me even though from the outside it appears as it always has, quite complete and whole. But it isn’t. Everything is being done because I need my life and my life needs me. All the modern cancer fighting technology is waging war with my body and on it. I can handle the intense invasive medical procedures because this marathon is about endurance. The more treatment you can endure, the longer you live to endure more of it. Until you can’t. The rage keeps me going. I am so angry at my body, which quietly allowed incurable tumors to invade my bones, my lungs, my brain. It came in stealth and only made itself known once it was far too late to catch my life and live it. I sat on the cold hospital table hearing the news. At that moment my life fell from my hands onto the floor by my feet. I couldn’t reach it or pick it up. I just sat beside it and watched it get smaller as it seemed to drain through cracks in the floor. I don’t cry. If I do, I feel it might cause me to miss something I can’t get back. I hold my life fiercely because I can’t imagine leaving my two young children. They will have to navigate their lives based on what I have taught them and I know I won’t have taught them enough. Sometimes my mind dips so fully into my outside life, I can actually forget I am dying. I participate in my life as best I can. I work full time, see friends, drive my kids to their sports. I smile and laugh and make it all look so light and breezy that my children...