I’m washing the sheets because it’s Friday, and Friday is the day you wash the sheets. This is the same every week: Saturday, you mow the lawn and garden, Sunday is church and football, Monday is vacuuming and wash the floors and pay the bills, Tuesday is the bathrooms and organizing and appointments, Wednesday is F it because I’m tired so I lay in bed and watch TLC reruns and eat chips, I Don’t Care, then it’s Thursday and it’s last minute grocery shopping because we ran out of food because my kids are bottomless pits, and then it’s Friday, and Friday you wash the sheets and vacuum again and bathrooms again. Every day is laundry. Every day is two dog walks, one friend walk. Every day is an hour and a half in carpool. Every day is banking and school forms. Every day is wiping and tidying and why are there pants under the couch, COME ON You Guys.
Every day is wonderful. Every day is enough.
My mom’s cancer isn’t going away. It’s spread, and everything is Major all the time now. We call every day or two and see how she’s doing and how my dad is, and we’ve even been up to the hospital when she had an emergency situation with blood clots and fluid in her lungs. The hardest part hasn’t even been seeing her in moments of decline. It’s in been the moments of hope– those glimpses of bright, valid optimism– that everything will actually be okay in the end. It gets Good. It gets Encouraging. Then something goes wrong and it’s like, Jesus, this was almost It. Pulmonary embolisms, that’s serious as hell, and it’s fast.
Before she was in the hospital, she was looking great. She was skinny, yeah, and she had tubes going in her body and medication to take, but– besides that, she was like my Mom all over again. But almost better. Sweeter. Younger. Before the hospital, I’d come up to see her, and Aunt Lisa had come down with her girlfriend, Carolyn, and we had ice cream and Aunt Lisa said she needed to get everyone SEX TOYS for Christmas! EVERYONE! boxes of SEX TOYS!, and my mom was laughing and laughing and pink-cheeked and embarrassed, but she was so happy. She let Aunt Lisa take her hand and squeeze it, and they grinned at each other. They told stories about each other as children. Carolyn and Lisa regaled us with some crazy Lesbian Drama: “It’s WAY worse than Straight Drama,” Lisa informed us. My mom sat in the corner of the couch, eating the last of her ice cream. She was wearing a big oversized sweatshirt. Maybe my dad’s. It made her look like a college student.
After they left, my mom and I put on the TV, and fell asleep on the couch. We whisper-talked until we were passing out. She said she can’t believe how nice everyone is being to her. Everyone is just so kind to me, my mom said. There was this childlike wonder in her voice. Mom, I said, everyone loves you. You’re so awesome. Really? she asked, and I was like, OMG MOM, yes, you’re so smart and kind and adventurous and badass and the BEST. Everyone says glowing things about you, all the time. You take care of everyone, too, so of course we all want to take care of you. My mom made a little pleased sound and nestled in her pillow.
A few minutes go by. As I was drifting off, my mom whispered: “Becca?”
I murmured, “Yeah?”
“… I have to ask you something.”
“Okay,” I answered, already more awake. Sure. Anything.
She paused. Then I heard her kind of shift, and take a breath. “Do you think I’m funny?” she whispered.
I started laughing. It totally took me by surprise. Yes, I said, you’re really funny, Mom, and she said, Well, Lisa is the funny one, I just wondered if other people thought I was funny too, and I said, You’re different kinds of funny. Lisa is bawdy funny. You’re dry, straight man funny.
Okay, she agreed. I just wanted to know if people say that too.
Of all the times we’ve had together in the past year, that moment stands out as one of my favorite. Just my mom and I. Just us as friends, having a sleepover. How big my smile was, and how deeply I loved her, and the sound of her breathing getting more regular as she drifted off to sleep.
And then– like that– we get a message and she’s in the hospital on oxygen, and you don’t have to come see her but maybe come see her? We hang up the phone and drive five hours to Arlington. She doesn’t look like My Mom when we get there. That isn’t my mom. My mom is the one on the couch in the big sweatshirt, eating ice cream. What’s in the hospital bed is the disease. It’s paper-skinned and gray and weak and miserable, and this whole thing just fucking sucks, and I hate it. When I take her hand and rub my thumb over her knuckles, because it’s the only place I can touch without a tube or an IV, I just keep telling myself that she’ll be out of here again soon and everything will be back to how it was. Christmas is going to be here and we’re all going to have cookies and roast and wine, and there’s going to be vibrators wrapped up under the tree so when we open them in front of our husbands and kids we’ll freak out and try to immediately cover the box (oh my God, what on Earth, I can’t EVEN), and Aunt Lisa is going to laugh so hard, and my Mom is going to laugh too, and then they’ll be crying, and it’ll be good-crying. I have to tell myself that because what else is there.
So in the meantime, I’m around here, and I’m trying to soak up every second of it up. Because everyone takes something different from an experience like this, and I don’t think there’s a wrong or right one. Whatever emotion you feel when you’re confronted with life and death and that uncertainty, that glimpse of meaning, that questioning, that frustration or sadness or anger or relief: it’s all valid. When I was a little girl, I thought I would be a famous explorer. And then a famous author. And then a famous architect. And then a famous photographer. I thought my life would have value because I was popular, acknowledged, in the top of my field. I thought travel would validate me. I thought art would give me happiness.
I thought the worst thing would be to be what I am now: married, a parent, in a nameless suburb in America. I thought being average would mean my life didn’t matter. It would mean that I, as a person, was interchangeable. I was Normal. What worth was there in normalcy?
Here is the thing.
I look at this normal life now and I think I am lucky as HELL to have all this.
What else could I want, really? I’m healthy. I look at my mom and I realized, man, I am healthy. I try to run or walk at least ten miles a week, and people might think it’s because I’m crazy or vain but it’s really because I have good lungs, good legs, a good heart. I don’t want to squander that. It’s precious. I run because I can. This house isn’t the biggest– it’s become, easily, the smallest of anyone I know– but it’s mine, and it’s clean and it’s well-tended and well-loved. I don’t need anything more. I’m blessed. We don’t live in a huge city, but we always have things to look forward to, every season– the fall fair, spooky movies under the stars, holiday sleigh rides and tree lightings, spring carnivals, summer at the lake. We have happiness around every corner.
Our neighborhood is like any other but it’s filled with people who know and care about each other. It’s filled with kids that spend long days at the pool playing Marco Polo in groups or riding bikes around the cul-de-sac, the older ones helping the younger ones. Our family is a normal family but we’re all in this together, all the time; we’re in it when we’re annoyed with each other and when it isn’t easy, and we’re in it when times are awesome and we’re all gossiping about husbands while we push strollers around parks. Jason has a normal job, but it gives us good healthcare, a retirement fund, and enough money for pizza and movies whenever the mood strikes. He only works ten minutes away. We can have lunch dates every week. I’d be crazy not to appreciate all that.
I don’t have a thousand friends or a thousand readers, but the ones I do have are special and dear. They’re important. They’re enough. All of this is enough, you know.
We have enough money, enough time, enough love, enough people. Life at its simplest has been, for me, the most fulfilling. These are the best moments, to me:
Elias opening the car door and climbing in after school ends (– you won’t believe what this kid put in his locker today, it was so disgusting--). His content sigh when we pull out of the parking lot.
The way Addie laughs every time you make a fart joke, like she’s surprised by the fact that it’s still funny but OMG, FARTS!
Eli’s wry and sarcastic sense of humor, the way he gets adult interactions now. Addie’s intricate drawings, platypuses and horses and unicorns and jackalopes and phoenixes.
Listening to them both on Team Fortress 2, side-by-side at their computer. Their announcer play-by-play of what they’re doing: I’m going to be the spy, Elias, okay? I don’t want to be the medic anymore. (Well, what map are we doing?) I know! Let’s fight the machines! (You always want to fight machines, Addie… why don’t we try something else.) Okay, but no map where you shoot me because I don’t like fighting you. Your guns are overpowered. (…) Okay? (… okay, did you want to do Team Fortress hide and seek?) Sure, buddy! (But no cheats.) But what about no clip? (That’s a cheat. If you type it in the cheat panel, it’s a cheat.)
And there’s tucking both the kids in bed at night. I love that. Talking to them, hearing their thoughts and dreams, crouched by the side of their mattress, holding one of their hands (bigger every day) and folding it into mine, trying to memorize every smooth plane of their face, every lilting note of their still-unchanged voices.
And Jason, Jason pulling into my driveway in workout clothes at sunset: it elicits such a deep sense of Home and Joy. We’re always talking on the phone and he has to end it to get out of the car. I stand on the porch and smile at him. He smiles back, popping the truck to get his gym bag. He always starts with a story as he walks towards me (–so I told you about how that game was coming out next week, right? Stephen and I were talking--), and me (– you and Stephen are ALWAYS talking about a game–), and then we laugh, and he says okay okay but really, there’s a game coming out, and he totally told me about it six months ago, and maybe he could get it?, and I’m like I don’t care, of course, just come in and kiss me. And he always does. He always kisses me and his beard tickles, and he says, Missed you, and I say Missed you too. And I have.
The big special unusual thing we did this summer was go to California for a week– a trip I barely pulled off, a situation that involved about two weeks advance notice and ticket booking. It was awesome. I like California. I like the heat, I like the deserts, I like the way the days seemed to last forever, like the sun was holding out as long as it could. I didn’t like the traffic (WTF LA?) and I didn’t like the congestion, even in the suburbs, but the land of it, yes, I liked that. I get it.
We stayed and flew for free off credit card rewards, so it left a lot of extra room in the budget for sightseeing. We drove about six hundred miles total– we saw the beaches, we saw the mountains, we saw Hollywood and the Griffith Observatory, we saw the Santa Monica Pier (perfect day, perfect weather, Addie said it was just like that Super Silly Fun Land scene in Despicable Me and I can’t even look at pictures of us on the Ferris Wheel now without hearing Pharrell). About two days before leaving, we decided to go visit a local suburb that Jason had been to before. It was maybe ten in the morning. We drove out to a neighborhood park that had like twenty-six slides and a walking path to see the only redwood grove in Orange County.
While the kids were on the slides, I was like, “Maybe we should go to Disneyland tomorrow.”
We’d only barely touched on going to Disney to that point. I brought it up with the kids on the plane and they said no, that was cool, no Disney necessary. (I don’t know. They said they did Disney in Orlando with Nana, and they loved it, and so that was enough and they never needed to ever go again.) Jason was hanging by his arms on one of the metal bridges of the playground, doing mock-pullups. “We should go today,” he said. “We’re only like ten minutes away.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah. We’re literally, like, ten or fifteen minutes away.”
“Get your phone,” I told him (my cell phone reception was crap the whole trip), so he did, and we looked it up. Twelve minutes down the road. “Should we?” I asked him, and he was like, “Well, it’s expensive.”
“But it’s DISNEY.”
“I think we should just go,” I told him. “We’re way under budget. We can just buy the tickets and tell the kids it’s happening.”
Jason said, if you’re SURE, in that voice where he really wants me to be sure so we can do something fun. It’s the same voice he uses when we get a new television or video game console where it’s like PLEASE PLEASE but also: are you sure? I’m all: BOOK IT!
So we tell the kids, who are polite but enjoying the playground. “Can we at least see the redwoods first?” Elias asked. Addie agreed: “Yeah, we were excited about the hike.”
I glance at Jason. “Ooookay, sure! The trailhead is at the other end of the parking lot.”
We get in the car to drive to the trialhead (parking lot is like three football fields long). Park. Beside the trail is a big sign saying DANGER MOUNTAIN LIONS ON PATH! ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK! PARK NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR DEATH OR DISMEMBERMENT!
Beside the sign is a shirtless man, shaving his chest and arms. He has a trash bag of what looks like honey beside him.
We stare. He stares back. Silence.
Finally Eli’s voice from the backseat: “You know guys, I think maybe we should just go to Disneyland after all…?”
And it was amazing. It turned out the kids didn’t realize that amusement parks had anything but toddler rides, because that’s all they did last time. So they thought we were just bringing them to sit on It’s A Small World and take pictures with Mickey.
Needless to say: they were in for an AWESOME surprise.
The first ride we got on was the Star Wars 3d adventure, and the kids were HOOKED. They did not even realize thrill rides were a THING. We went right into Indiana Jones and Roger Rabbit’s car chase and the Haunted Mansion and walked through Toon Town and Tarzan’s treehouse. We had pizza at an astro cafe and beignets at a New Orleans restaurant, and met Captain America (Jason was stoked) and Thor (Addie did not care: “Who is this guy?” she asked). When the day was wearing down, we got tickets to our first and only coaster, because my logic was– if the kids love it, it’s a great note to end on, and if they hated it– well, we can exit the park quickly. Heh.
Both kids are nervous getting on the ride (Big Thunder Mountain Railroad), Elias the most. He sits with me. I tell him it’s going to be totally fine, I PROMISE.
Hope it’s going to be totally fine.
We’re blasted out the mountain and then blasted into the mountain and whipped around, and I can see Eli’s hands gripping onto the bar for dear life. When we pull back into the station, I’m almost afraid to look at their faces. Finally turn slowly toward the kids.
“…Well?” I wonder.
Elias whispers: “That… was… AWESOME.”
Addie is practically bouncing out of her seat (“it went SO FAST, it was SO FUN, I was like WOAH and then there was DYNAMITE did you SEE it”) and Elias gushes, “I WAS WRONG MY WHOLE LIFE! I DO LIKE ROLLER COASTERS!”
We’re walking out of the park and they’re bubbling about how totally BRAVE they feel because they just got SHOT OUT OF A MOUNTAIN, like WHAT!, and Addie is like THIS IS THE BEST DAY GUYS, THANKS FOR TAKING US, YOU GUYS ARE GREAT PARENTS and Jason and I melt, because, AWWW. “You’re SO WELCOME!” I tell her. “We’ll get you that cool snowglobe you wanted before we leave, too, so you always have a reminder of it!”
Addie is elated. We turn onto Main Street, Disney, and Elias looks up at the twinkling lights of the shops, and at the balloons and stars. There’s a calliope tune in the air and families laughing all around us.
He tells us, “You guys were right. This place is really magical.”
I smile at him. My heart.
And then Addie adds, “Yeah… So much better than being eaten by mountain lions.”