Ours

“Beautiful children. Are they all yours?”

We stopped for lunch at a mom-and-pop restaurant in a smallish town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, on our way home from spending Thanksgiving with B’s parents. (More on that another time.) An older woman behind the counter asked the question.

B was carrying his youngest daughter, following the server who was taking us to our table; Ethan was close behind, talking nonstop in B’s ear about something or other; and I was shepherding Lauren and B’s other daughter as we traversed the small entry of the restaurant, filled with knick knacks and tchotchkes for sale.

“Yes. Yes, they are,” I said, barely making eye contact with her as I made sure the girls’ heavy winter coats didn’t knock over something I really didn’t want to buy. I was busy holding the hand of one girl while directing the other by the shoulder.

The woman behind the counter followed it with, “But you both look so young…” and a sort of tsk-tsk sound.

Crazy lady, I thought. Of course they’re ours. What other kids would be with us? Does she think we found some kids alongside the road and brought them in for Swedish meatballs and limpa bread?

We were at our table at the back of the restaurant when it finally hit me what the woman meant.

“Are they all yours?”

Oh… are they OURS? Like O-U-R-S, mine and B’s? Well…

I felt a little foolish for  misunderstanding the woman. Yeah, they’re ours, but not technically O-U-R-S. Like if we start getting into if they’re our biological children and genetics and stuff… well, then…

But then, I realized I didn’t misunderstand the woman at all. YES, they are O-U-R-S. Damn, it, all four of them. For all their faults and all their goodness. For all the little arguments we referee. For all the cuddles we share. For the goodnight stories and kisses and late night movies and board games. For the helping make Christmas cookies. For the knock knock jokes at dinner. For the tears, for the laughter. For better or worse.

“Are they all yours?”

Hell, yes. Yes, they are mine. Yes, they are B’s. They, all four of them. They are ours.

That time I confronted a stranger who assumed I was a man

I’m shaking as I type this. I’m angry. I’m embarrassed. And I’m a little nervous about the confrontation I just had.

Background: My hair is growing back, but it’s in a really awkward stage. It’s no longer “Oh, look how cute! Little hair!” And it’s not long enough to do anything with. It’s just…there. I’ve overcompensated lately by dressing more girly than normal – dresses or skirts, soft colors, scarves, makeup, jewelry – things that scream “GIRL!” Or so I thought.

I was standing in line at the sandwich place in the food court of the Union. It was pretty busy, but I was hungry and sometimes this place has a decent sandwich. I stood there in my jeans (rolled at the ankles to expose cute black flats) and white t-shirt with a ballerina in a mixed-medium lace skirt. I wore red lipstick. I carried a bright pink purse and checked Facebook on my phone covered in a bright pink and gray case. A pink Fitbit on one wrist, and a delicate purple stone and silver ring on the other hand.

Do I look like a fucking man?!

Do I look like a fucking man?!

I placed my order at the counter, and then the student worker called, “Next!”

The older man behind me said, “Did you get this man’s order?” and pointed in my direction. At this point I was looking directly at him.

“You mean HER order?” the student worker corrected.

“Yeah, his order,” the guy said again. Then looked me in the eye and said, “Oh, HER’S…” It was a condescending, sing-songy tone.

He patronizingly patted my left shoulder twice. I looked away.

I was seething. My eyes started to get liquidy (not tears, but I tend to leak from the eyes when very angry). Do I say something? Do I let it go? I played a couple of scenarios in my head, a few things I’d like to say. The kind of things you think about but you know you won’t really say aloud.

I was stuck. This guy was an older white man, dressed in a suit coat and tie. I work at a university, and dress code is usually pretty casual, except for administrators (most of whom are older white men). Do I dare jeopardize myself, and possibly my job, by saying something?

I started to shake.

I grabbed a drink from the cooler and made my way to the cashier. After paying her, I realized the guy was behind me. And I realized that I was really pissed.

“Hey,” I said, looking him right in the eye. “You called me a man back there. Referred to me as a ‘him.’”

“Sorry, I wasn’t looking. Your hair…” he said, his eyes wide.

“Yeah,” I pointed to my head. “This is called breast cancer. Six months of chemo, 17 radiation treatments, and surgery. I’m a women, god-dammit, regardless of what my appearance might suggest.”

“I’m…I’m sorry,” he said again, looking down.

“Just do me a favor. Maybe you should LOOK next time. Really look.”

I turned and walked away, out of the Union, back to my building, into the elevator, and to my office.

I don’t know who that dude was, and know what? I’m not sure I’d change a thing if I DID know who he was.

Now, I’m going to enjoy my lunch before my next class.

Just another day

Things I’ve done in the last 24 hours:

  • Hit the wrong button on Favorites list on my phone and dialed my mom instead of B last night. Didn’t realize it was her voicemail until after I left a message. I don’t * think * I said anything weird, but embarrassing none-the-less since I used my “girlfriend voice” instead of my “daughter voice.” She rarely listens to her voicemail, so I’m REALLY hoping this one goes unnoticed.
  • Dumped out all Ethan’s drawers, emptied his closet, and raked out everything from under his bed. After realizing he hadn’t packed socks for a weekend trip and searching his room (unsuccessfully) for two pairs of No-Shows last week, I was so frustrated with the lack of organization/folding and the utter mess of clothes that don’t fit anymore that I just dumped everything in the center of the room. It’ll be a few days before things are back to normal. He handled it better than I anticipated.
  • Participated in a student interview about how I balanced life with cancer. He’s a great student who’s taking a feature writing class and chose to profile me (?) because he really respected the way I handled myself while going through chemo in the spring. It was super nice that this student thought so highly of me. I’m sure I shattered all the illusions during our hour-long discussion.
  • Filled out paperwork for a new therapist for Ethan. This one comes highly recommended by the school’s new principal. (“I’ve seen this woman work miracles with kids who’ve been traumatized!” she said.) His first appointment is Thursday evening.
  • Mourned the (re-) loss of my little toenails. I was born without nails on my little toes, and I’ve never had them – until after cancer treatments. Suddenly, post-chemo, each little toe sported a little, teeny tiny nail. Finally, I didn’t have just eight toenails to pedicure – I had 10! Like a normal person! Unfortunately, both peeled off last night. No pain, no bleeding, just no longer there. I blame having to wear “real” shoes. Thanks, Mother Nature, for the autumnal weather that forced me to trade my sandals for closed toed shoes.

What did you do today?

Crossroads AKA Freaking Out

It’s happening again.

This isn’t my first attempt at blogging. It’s not even my second or third. And every time, I freak out and quit for the same reason: Holy shit, people are actually reading my words! People I don’t know have “found” me and are “following” me.

You’re thinking, “Of course, people are reading this. You’re writing on the INTERNET. YOU are the one putting stuff out there, duh.”

Or maybe you’re thinking,” Of course people are reading this. YOU personally told me about it and gave me the URL, duh.”

Whether you stumbled across this blog by happenstance or you’re one of the dozen or so IRL friends I’ve invited into this world, I want to say this: Hi. I’m glad you’re here, really. I hope something I’ve written in the last few years helped you or gave you insight into who I am. But, right now, ARG!!

These thoughts have swirled in my head for months now. Cancer gave me some stuff to write in the interim, but now that’s done, and I’m fine and refocusing on getting life under control (which will be much easier when my skin stops burning and itching and peeling from the radiation. Ahem…)

There’s a lot I want to write about, that I need to write about because this is how I process stuff and it’s hella more convenient to whip out my phone and write than to carry around a journal and (gasp) a writing utensil. But I just can’t, you guys. I’m stuck because SOMEONE MIGHT READ MY WORDS, THE WORDS I’M PUTTING OUT THERE ON THE INTERWEBS.

Examples of stuff rolling around in my head:

  • What’s going on with Ethan and how I feel completely overwhelmed and alone and unsure about things and how I’m tired of having the same conversations with his school and is what they’re asking/DEMANDING legal? (Issue: Hi, moms-with-kids-who-attend-school-with-my-kids! Will I be alienated or judged by the other moms? Do they hear things from their kids and think Ethan is THAT kid? Spoiler alert: SOMETIMES he is, SOMETIMES he isn’t. Would writing about the issues and my position on these issues only strengthen that perception?)
  • My relationship with B, what’s next, and my frustrations with getting to the “what’s next” (Issue: Hi, B! We’ve discussed many of these things – to no real resolution. At the end of the last two * ahem * wine-fueled conversations on this topic I said, “I’m leaving the ball in your court.” So would writing about it be taking the ball back? That’s not cool. Would writing about it seem like I was harping on certain things? That’s not the intent. Blarg.)
  • Deciding what’s next with my career and the timing to make a big, bold move (Issue: Hi, colleague-friends! Work stuff… Enough said.)

Part of me feels like it’s time to close it down, but this forum has been so GOOD for me over the last few years… Part of me wants to keep writing, to push through these thoughts, to keep going and growing, and if people get pissed or offended, then so be it…

Until next time…I think.

Updates: radiation, kids, yoga, photo session

Cancer stuff: Radiation gave me second degree burns. In my armpit. Specifically in the crease of my armpit. It hurts badly, so I have a 3-inch by 3-inch gel pad stuck to it now. It’s cool and refreshing but oozy and weird. I hope it doesn’t dislodge itself and fall out during class today…

Tomorrow would have been my last day of radiation, but the oncology radiology doc decided to add a “boost” to my treatment. This means four more treatments, really super concentrated to the area in which the tumors lived. It makes sense – studies show a decrease in cancer returning in younger women with a few “boost” treatments. And the boosts will not affect the armpit area, so it can start to peel and heal. Thank goodness.

Radiation has been pretty easy. Lie down for four minutes while getting five doses of super powered x-rays, then on with my day. Other than a sunburned armpit and some slight fatigue, I’m handling it well. The only outward sign of radiation is the tanned skin my right side where the treatment happens. Overall, it’s certainly better than chemo!

Kiddos: The kids started back to school.

Kindergarten is kicking Lauren’s ass. She can hardly keep her eyes open during dinner, and she’s become super whiny until bedtime. She also sleeps until she’s woken up around 6:15 – completely different than the kid who was up by 5:30 every morning during the summer!

There was a bit of a hiccup in starting the year when I learned – at a parent meeting less than 36 hours before the first day of school – that Lauren would be required to wear a uniform this year. (Previously K4 and K5 did not wear uniforms. Apparently there was a communication that came home at the end of last year, but only three K5 families received it. There wasn’t any more communication from the school over the summer. Some found out through word of mouth and others were just learning of it also.) I spent the summer buying clothes for her to wear to school – and I checked and rechecked the dress code in the parent handbook (which wasn’t updated until VERY recently). I freaked out in that meeting, and I sent the new principal a strongly worded email that night. And… the new principal completely impressed me with her handling of the situation. She called me promptly the next morning (day before school) and offered that Lauren and the kids in K4 and K5 would not have strict enforcement of the uniform policy (so she could wear regular clothes when she wanted), and the school had a few smaller size uniforms we could have. Turns out, Lauren LOVES her plaid jumper. I’m out the cost of what I spent on school clothes, so I’m letting her wear them anytime, anyplace. She’s growing so fast that most will be too small soon anyway.

Ethan’s in fifth grade. He’s trying to find his place among his peers. Most of the boys play a sport or two, but Ethan hasn’t shown any interest in sports since Mike died. In fact, he’s specifically shied away from most sports – Mike was Ethan’s coach for baseball and soccer and helped (a little bit) practice football at home. He’s been reprimanded for talking out of turn during classes or hurting someone’s feelings. On one of the “feelings” situations, I have to side with Ethan. The kids were working in small groups to come up with “rules” for the class, and one kid suggested something like “we will give 110 percent in class.” Ethan called the kid out for the “110 percent” thing, saying it’s impossible to give more than 100 percent AND he strongly believed that in a school environment, they should focus on the facts not “bad math.” We talked about how he could have addressed his concerns in a more suitable way, but I also high fived him for identifying the flaw. (The teacher kept the 110 percent thing in the class rules, much to Ethan’s chagrin.)

Other stuff:

  • Mom and I started yoga. There’s a class at the Y for cancer patients and their caregivers. It’s not very physical, but there’s a lot of focus on stretching and breathing. The woman teaching the class also shows us how to modify some of the positions to meet our physical needs (like not putting too much pressure on the arm on the side where lymph nodes were removed). It’s an open-ended class, so no real beginning or end. Mom is loving it. I’m in it for a while (especially to learn the modifications), but I’ll need something more challenging at some point. Still it’s a cool thing to do with my mom once a week.
  • Friday will be my second boudoir photo shoot, complete with SUPER short hair and lopsided, mismatched breasts. (The first session was right after I started chemo – and still had hair, and the last session will be in the spring/summer – after reconstruction and after I have ((hopefully)) decent hair.) I’m hoping it’s as fun as the first time!