The Secret

I’ve been thinking lately about positivity and the power of our thoughts. I recently watched The Secret, which is a documentary based on the book written by Rhonda Byrne in 2006. I remember the book being popular, but I was having my first baby that year and had little time for reading. The general message, I found through the lazier on-screen footnotes, is that we will receive goodness if we expect goodness. Similarly, if we meditate on negativity and fear, these are the things that will be attracted to us. It reminds me of years ago when The Prayer of Jabez was all the rage among the church-goers. It was a book based on the simplest of verses, and encouraged followers to ask for specifically what they want, and expect it to come. Have faith, and your desires will naturally gravitate toward you.

This was a hard theory to swallow, given what my family has been through the last 7 years. My oldest went through years of chemotherapy, my middle child had gut issues, and friends have unexpectedly passed away. Throw in post-traumatic stress and daily life, and it was tough to say the least.  I had major fears that our family was doomed to a destiny of darkness and challenge. So, according to the theory of attraction, did I do this to myself? Was my son’s cancer a result of my concern? I don’t think so. In fact, I think sometimes shit just happens.

That being said, I do not discount the theory entirely. There are those times you hear about people recovering from serious illness simply with their positive thoughts, or achieving an unlikely goal after meditating on it daily. Extreme things happen from time to time. But beyond the extreme, it has been proven that positivity is beneficial to our health, and if we focus on the good, we usually walk a path that finds goodness. If we believe in ourselves, others will too.

As I’ve pondered this, I have found one example from my recent past that supports the law of attraction. After my son’s cancer, I found I had chronic Lyme disease and through nursing (or invitro) had passed it down to my kids. We started treatment by taking antibiotics plus herbs, and literally had to make a chart of all the supplements and prescriptions we had each day. Keeping track of treatment felt like a full-time job, and the monthly blood draws and doctor visits plus the meds and herbals turned out to be an enormous investment. All the years of insurance-covered cancer treatment cost minimal compared to the monster of treating Lyme. Being a slow-dying disease, it only took a few months for us to look at the length of our road and get concerned. But somehow, I couldn’t stop. It broke my heart that my middle child wouldn’t ride his bike because of his joint aches, and that my oldest had regular headaches and fatigue. My kids often looked sick, and for myself I wanted to feel more energized, and be rid of my migraines. I felt so strongly that we were right where we were supposed to be in our journey.

Trusting this, we began accumulating debt. Scary, and completely out of our character, but somehow, I knew we were on the right path. And if we were on the right path, then the finances would be supplied for us somehow. They would manifest, although I had no idea how. I just chose to fully believe that if we were where we were supposed to be, it was going to be made possible. God (or your specific interpretation of the higher power) was going to provide.

Time marched on, we improved, treatment slowed, and about three months before our first debt-laden credit card was going to start accumulating interest, we got a phone call from Make-a-Wish. My son, three years prior, had chosen to go see Monet’s house in France, because he had learned about Monet in preschool the year he was diagnosed. Make-a-Wish was now calling because they were doing an Ad campaign with Subaru and the director had found our story to be unique and appealing.  It felt like a lifetime ago, and yet we were now being asked to Skype with a production manager to discuss what the trip meant to us.

After a quick review through our photos (kids forget so quickly), we all sat on the couch and talked to a complete stranger about our adventure to France. We had no real investment in this project, and didn’t know what next steps were if we were chosen to help with it. A week later, Make-a-Wish called and said Subaru would like to fly us out to Hollywood for an all-expenses-paid four days to shoot the commercial. Sounded amazing! We accepted and it turned out to be a pretty big deal. We had no idea at the time, as we chatted over tacos, that the director sitting with us was an academy award winner who had filmed the first digital movie EVER. It was inspiring, to say the least, to see these hard-working and talented people doing what they love in a creative field.

Unimpressed by glitz or fame, however, my kids were much more interested in the pool and the beach. In fact, the studio time was a bit of a disaster, and one of those situations when a mother must remind herself she cannot control her children. They were tired, they would not smile for the cameras, and it was like pulling teeth to get them to talk. Definitely a deer in the headlights situation. So, being that the crew had many potential options and other families to choose from, it was most unlikely we would make it to the final cut of the commercial. I chalked it up to an “oh well” situation and we felt grateful for the free trip.

It was when we were in the studio waiting for the shoot, that we found out we were getting paid for this adventure. Each of the five of us was getting paid, simply for showing up. Further, we would get paid again if we were chosen to be in the national Ad.

After our performance, I greatly doubted we’d be in the Ad, and honestly didn’t care. I felt so grateful and blessed to have had this real-life experience for my children to see how production works, see creative minds working outside the box, and to have time to laugh and play at the beach. But months later, when the commercial released, it turns out we were in it for literally 1 second (maybe less?)… 1 second where my children look miserable. I was baffled.

The money my husband and I earned through that fluke phone call for the trip to France over three years before, paid every dollar of medical debt. And as a bonus, the money my children earned successfully fattened up each of their college savings accounts. It was the answer I had faith would come, and yet could never have predicted how.

So, as far as The Secret, I still think sometimes life just hands us tragedy. That being said, it can’t hurt to be positive and believe good things for ourselves. To train our minds to gravitate toward thinking the best in others, and live in the space we feel called to live – knowing that we are worthy of our dreams. Because sometimes, life can baffle us with goodness in the most unexpected ways – and there seems to be benefit in having faith that it will.

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Halloween: Ways to Cut the Candy Without Dampening the Excitement

I love Halloween. Although it’s supposed to be eerie and dark, the whole spirit of the holiday ironically warms my heart.  I love that our children are still silly enough to dress in costume, and that our neighbors are still friendly enough to open their doors and hand out treats. I love that parents walk their children door to door, and that people put in the effort to carve pumpkins and decorate their homes. It is a tradition that seems to belong on Leave It to Beaver, and yet somehow still thrives today.

This being said, there is a new challenge we parents face which was conveniently underemphasized in generations past. Sugar. We are now fully aware, no excuses, that sugar is way over-done in our culture and frankly, bad for our and our children’s health. We have issues with child obesity, diabetes, and ADD to name a few. So, how do we avoid those huge buckets of candy our children bring home without having them miss out on all the fun? Here are a couple ideas.

  • Make a deal ahead of time for your children to trade their candy for a desired toy. There are even books/toys to use (sugar goblins and switch witches) to make it more magical. I used this tactic with my kids last year. We conducted a straight trade directly after trick or treating, and the tin of Pokémon cards was successfully far more exciting than the bucket of sugar.
  • Make it known, in advance, that your children may pick out X number of treats, and then help you hand out the rest in the give-away bowl. Children will make a big production out of picking their favorites, and may surprisingly enjoy the fun of giving to others.
  • Have the “one-sweet-a-day” rule, where one candy may be picked from the bucket each day. The bonus – no gorging on sugar. The draw-back – there’s a good chance you will have that bucket through St. Patty’s Day. Also be prepared, if your children are looking at their candy every day, there is little chance of sneaking any of it away to the trash (or for yourself).
  • Focus on visiting the allergy-friendly houses. The Teal Pumpkin Project was something I learned about last year after discovering my middle son’s food intolerances. In short, if a house has a teal pumpkin displayed, they are giving away little trinkets instead of candy. This is very exciting for those kiddos that can’t have most processed sweets anyway.
  • Go to a no-candy Halloween event. It’s never too late to start a new tradition, and there are always some pretty cool venues hosting Halloween events for kids. Skip the candy collection and in with the new.
  • Use excess candy for baking, holiday gingerbread house-making, or send it to the office. This, of course, only works when our children do not have an exact count of their inventory, and really only encourages others to eat the sugar instead of our children. So… take this one at face value.
  • Trade it in to a dentist. There are many dentists and orthodontists that actually take candy trade-ins for gift cards. Pretty good deal (if your child likes gift cards… or toys at the store).

With any of these options, you have a definite advantage if your children are young enough for you to make the decision without them. But if they are old enough to really feel they’ve earned their candy – a deal must be struck in advance. For success, the agreement must both sound like a winner to your kids and meet your requirements for sugar consumption. And I can say in all honesty, with all the negatives that go along with too much sugar – I have never regretted the extra effort put into finding a crowd-pleasing solution. After all, Halloween is still eerie and exciting – even when the candy is taken out of the equation.

An Advocacy Letter for Early Childhood Family Education

The Quiet Power of ECFE

A wise counselor once told me that, when we look back on our lives, there will only have been a handful of things that truly shaped us. Things, that when reflected upon, were catalysts for change, forcing us to see the world differently or take a new road; situations or decisions that challenged us to the core, creating new beliefs, habits and perspective. These are the things we would remain grateful for, acknowledging the genuine impact they had in our lives.

I’m thirty seven, have three kids ages ten to four, and have lived in St. Paul for nine years. When my oldest was born I had no idea the challenges that lay before me – the power struggles, sleep trouble, discipline strategies and diet issues. Enforcing any sort of boundary was new territory, let alone the confusion that comes along with constantly changing stages of development. Becoming a parent, with all its facets, left me feeling isolated at times. I had never been a mother before, and I was stumbling through as best I knew how.

One day, during our first summer in St. Paul, a neighbor asked if I knew about ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education). She said it is a public school program for ages birth to five where children and parents play together, then separate for a time. Children have their first introductions to “school” while the parents have an educational class and drink coffee. I was lonely, and my son’s sleepless nights left me exhausted, so honestly, it was the adult-only coffee time that hooked me. I signed up the same week.

Quickly, ECFE became more than just a relaxing break from my child. While the coffee was enjoyable, it immediately took a backseat to the support that was offered and the knowledge I gained. For nine years and two additional children, I looked forward to my mornings at ECFE and attended faithfully. Slowly, and gently, I was molded into a much different parent.

First of all, being in a group of parents who are also navigating the ups and downs of early childhood is comforting. There is an air of understanding and a lack of judgement. We’ve all been there. There is no problem presented by a parent that doesn’t solicit a series of nods and empathetic murmurs. Parents sort through issues together, which diffuses the frustration and allows for clear thought. Then there is the parent educator, who provides research-based knowledge, always pointing out that what works for one may not work for all. It gave me great relief knowing I had a place to turn with the frustrating predicaments that otherwise may have caused my parenting (and child) to suffer.

Secondly, many of the topics discussed at ECFE were life-altering. This may sound dramatic, but knowing how to talk to your baby or toddler about bodies, for example, opens a channel for the sex-talks of the future. And it is that openness between parents and children that can literally protect them from sexual predators and potential poor decisions that may otherwise have a negative and lifelong impact. Many parents, such as myself, were not taught openly about such issues, and therefore desperately needed the guidance to talk to (and therefore protect) our children.

But the body talk was only one of a range of topics covered at ECFE, from learning styles and early literacy to praise vs. encouragement; throughout all of which was the thread that emphasized the importance of connectedness between parents and children. The topics were informative and occasionally presented by professionals in our community. The discussions gave me not only the parenting tools I did not have, but also tools I never knew I needed. It is all too easy to fall (even subconsciously) into parenting patterns that we find familiar or safe, but aren’t necessarily the best approach when it comes to teaching our children. We all need a gentle nudge in the right direction when we wander off-course, and this is what ECFE and its many parenting topics provides. ECFE essentially gives us the parenting manual we all wish we had been sent home from the hospital with – adapted for age and fully equipped with an educator and support.

As parents, we rarely sit back to consider the weight of our impact. We are raising humans, and these humans are going to come in touch with and influence hundreds, if not thousands, of people in their lives. They will most likely raise other humans that will impact thousands more. They will shape others. And yet, so much of the pain and problems of this world go back to the home. To the love of the parents. To the connectedness and the tools they had or did not have to thrive. I’ve heard it said that “parents do the best they can with the tools they have,” – which leaves me to wonder how the world would change if parents were given even just some of the tools they lacked.

It has been nine years since that first class, and as I left my last ECFE in the spring, I knew I was walking away a different person. I walked away with years of empowering knowledge that would protect my relationships with my children in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise known. I was molded into a more involved parent, a stronger mother, and a better citizen. My children, their community and the larger world they touch, will be better because of it. So, yes, if I could name, over my life to date, the handful of things that had truly shaped me, ECFE would be on that list. I am grateful beyond words. And though I will miss the guidance over the years to come, I will hold on to the strong foundation it provided during the critical span of early childhood. It has provided so much good.

If you are a new parent, I encourage you to give ECFE a chance. At the very least, your child will be lovingly guided while you enjoy the comradery of other parents over a cup of coffee. And who knows, like me, you may glean some helpful knowledge you didn’t know your family needed.

If you are a legislator, I thank you for your support of this program, and ask for your continued support. ECFE is strengthening our communities on the most foundational level. It is a quiet, yet powerful force with an astronomical impact on parents, their relationships with their children, and ultimately our world.

 

“In the home begins the disruption of the peace of the world.”

“Love begins by taking care of the closest ones – the ones at home.”

– Mother Teresa

The Hurricane and The Now

 

I read an article this morning in the New York Times called “Walker Percy’s Theory of Hurricanes”. It presented Percy’s idea that, while we would assume the opposite to be true,  people are actually happiest in the midst of a hurricane (literally or otherwise). It is during the hurricane that guards come down, honestly is spoken with frankness, and people desire to help. Appreciation is felt, and perspective is upon them. Percy recounted a couple that were completely at odds, except during a hurricane when they would actually connect and enjoy each other. Then, when the hurricane passed, slowly things regressed to their former state.

This whole idea, I found both intriguing and disturbing. Maybe I am uncomfortable with anything good being associated with the hurricanes in life, or maybe it is all too familiar. It makes me reflect upon the hurricanes I have endured, and forces me to acknowledge that in the midst of them I was, indeed, truly at my best. Stripped down, agonizingly broken and distraught, but present and brave. I oozed love. Love for my kids, with the patience to let tasks go and look into their eyes. Love for my family, so engaged I wouldn’t think to check texts or email until the day was completely done. Love for my friends and an overwhelming gratitude for the role they play in grounding me and making me better. Love for my community and the care they felt toward my family. I wanted to give back. To make this world more beautiful in some small way.

There were also moments during my hurricanes that have been too painful for me to re-live. As they bubble up inside me, softly suggesting I sort them out, I too often push them down, causing the exact opposite effect as they rumble in my belly and spin me into anxiety. And as I read the article about Percy today, I couldn’t help but consider that facing and re-living the hurricanes might actually be a gift. A gift to ones self, as it brings pain but also healing and perspective. And a gift to the world, in the form of presenting one’s self with honesty. Happy, broken, and connected, as the yellow glow of the hurricane is once again within sight.

There are plenty of trials that make us ache and agonize from the inside out. They affect our sleep, energy, and ability to cope with the mundane tasks in life. And without the needed solitude to process and let ourselves mourn, they can turn us into real monsters. Monsters who are short and distracted with the very people we may have been concerned about to begin with.

But a hurricane is bigger than a trail. It breaks us down fast and demands our best. There isn’t time to stuff it down. It keeps us locked in the present, intentionally connecting and overwhelmed with gratefulness for every gifted moment. Our time is spent carefully and trials become small. In general we seem, although broken down, to be our best selves. So, it is with some hesitancy and exhaustion that I consider Percy’s theory to be true. And if this is so, it may also be true that the dreaded hurricanes we have endured are best kept worn out on our sleeves. Visible enough to slow our regression, but far from tripping up our feet. Hurricanes, with all their mess, that are revisited often enough to stay intentional, be vulnerable, act brave, and dare I say, feel happy.

One Wish for My Daughter

My van radio was broken for two years. Life with kids is crazy, and there were simply more important things than repairing it… until last weekend. We finally made the space for my husband to take it in, get it fixed, and bring it back to a houseful of family members who couldn’t wait to hear music in the car again.

Our first ride, post radio-fixing, was a two-hour drive to my family’s cabin. It was just my children and me, and I dug around for a crowd-pleasing CD when I found a mix that a close friend had made me a few years ago. I had known this particular friend for decades, and it was a collection of songs that each had significance throughout our school years. Those influential, self-conscious and awkward years… each song transporting me straight back.

Now, creeping into my late thirties, I realize what I want my daughter to understand when she is still green and tender. History matters. When it comes down to it, when life hits the fan, it is the people who have seen you at your worst, and still loved you through, that you want by your side.

During the first hospital stay for my son’s leukemia, I was a wreck. I was overwhelmed and scared, and we had just received news that his diagnosis was worse than originally thought. I pressed through every day being strong and positive for my son, while routinely running to the bathroom to cry, quickly dry tears and paste on a smile. Visitors came, and we tried not to talk about details or fears in front of our boy. For his sake, we tried to make everything seem as comfortable as possible. My tone was chipper, visitors brought presents, and my son was pretty sure that this sickness thing wasn’t so bad after all. I, on the other hand, felt like a ticking time bomb.

A few nights in, we were playing on the bed when a very close friend knocked and came in. I expected her, but I did not expect my reaction. Seeing her – a friend for over 20 years and someone who has seen me through the growing pains of life – I lost it. She hugged me and I felt all my pent-up agony erupt. I soaked her shoulder and literally wanted to crawl onto her lap. That was not the first, nor the last time I have cried to her… but was indicative of a comfort level that cannot be achieved overnight. The level where you meet after weeks or months apart and just lay it all out there. Vulnerability is welcomed and reality is expected.

For a while I was completely taken with the book Anticancer by Dr. David Servan-Schreiber. It is chock full of scientific data regarding foods and behaviors that have been proven to prevent or help fight cancer. Given my own experience, I should not have been surprised to read this:

“In the Nurses’ Health Study, a large-scale study of nurses in the United States, women with breast cancer who could name ten friends had a four times better chance of surviving their illness than women who could not. The geographical proximity of these friendships was not significant; the protective effect seemed to stem from the simple fact of feeling connected.”

Four times better chance of survival. Not only does science support the importance of connectedness in regards to our health, but for me it is further supported by how I feel. When I leave brunch with my close-knits, or a weekend with my college girls, I feel how it breathes life into my chest. I feel the relief from mutual sharing, from the support and wise words. I feel recharged, and an overwhelming love and appreciation for the women in my life – they make me better.  A better person, a better wife and a better mother.

Not unlike marriage, this kind of love only comes through years of dedication. Years of showing up. That is what I want for my daughter. When she finds people in her young years that are good-hearted, fun and respectful, I want her to hang on tight. Decades later, when the years of life have worn on her and her bookshelf of memories have started accumulating, it is these women who will be familiar with all her patterns and references. They were there. They watched the creation of the painting and encouraged the brushstrokes to be authentic.

It was my friends who taught me about loyalty and dedication. It was my friends who taught me to be truthful and wear my heart on my sleeve. We trained each other, and made each other feel appreciated. We made mistakes, hurt each other occasionally, and made up. We’ve endured loss, and have laughed until we cried and cried until we laughed.

It is these friendships that keep us prosperous and strong, helping us fight cancer, mourn loss and pursue joy. I hope my daughter finds this. Because to have the support and safety of a network of women who love her – through the silliness, heart breaks, children and trials – I simply cannot think of a greater gift.

Silver Lining Flashback

I remember the phone call with sickening detail – where I was standing when our pediatrician called and needed both parents on the line. I felt I was instantly living a nightmare. I listened to the doctor utter words about cancer, an indefinite hospital stay, and an oncologist expecting us immediately. Simultaneously I watched my son play with the car set we had gotten him after his 5th blood draw that month… he looked so small.

I climbed the stairs of our little house and stood in the middle of my son’s room, not knowing what to pack or how to prepare for the events that would follow. I stared at his bed and wondered if and when he would ever sleep in it again. It was all so surreal… a blow like I’d never experienced. And it was the beginning of a journey that would shape my life forever.

In the weeks and months to follow, during his most intensive chemotherapy, I racked my brain wondering how this could have happened. I fed him organic veggies. I snuck spinach into his food. I said no to most sweets and monitored his sugar intake. We went to the park. Played with friends. I had my thumb on every move and constantly thought about his wellbeing and safety. How, in God’s name, could he have gotten cancer? I felt robbed. I felt as if cancer had snuck in, in the night, and invaded my child while I slept peacefully in the room next door. It definitely brought a fire of anger into my belly that made me fantasize about having an all-out brawl with this beast. Me and cancer. I would win.

As the months and years went by, these feelings mellowed into a more reflective state. I became more rational. I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, and I could finally pick out the good we had seen and the lessons learned. Don’t get me wrong, I still had my days… the days I felt a knot in my chest until the kids were asleep, and then sank into my bed to cry. But it did trend up. The sobbing sessions spread out. I was able to see through the haze, at least until the next big change or transition. Slowly things took shape. The lessons that emerged, however, didn’t feel like little ah-ha moments – they felt earned. The kind of lessons that strip you down until you are raw and nakedly vulnerable, and then slowly cloth you with something unexpected and new. They had a significance that I will not easily shake, and one that is universal in application. And although I could list dozens of ways this life-event changed me, I decided to list my top five as follows.

1) Be grateful. My son had countless chemo visits over the course of his three and a half years of treatment, and was sedated 20 times for toxins to be injected into his spinal fluid. He received blood and Immunoglobulin transfusions, not to mention the ER visits for fevers, relapse scares, immuno-suppression, daily vomiting – you get the idea. But honestly, to walk into clinic for his chemotherapy and see the faces of the children recovering from Bone Marrow Transplants… bloated to three times their natural size after spending months in the hospital struggling for their lives… one feels nothing but fortunate. It could always be worse, and there are always things to be grateful for. This is not to belittle the struggle or avoid the grieving that must be done, but in our case the chances of my son relapsing were only 12%, while many kids were pinning their hopes of survival to a similar number. We were blessed.

2) Don’t fear what hasn’t happened. Sounds too simple, right? We moms always worry – it’s our job. We are constantly thinking about prevention and wellbeing. We obsess about things like screen time and the best kind of sunscreen… or if sunscreen is bad after all and we should resort to buying sun hats. Some of this is just life as a mom – because we care. Of course we have concern for our kids, and of course we see a potential tragedy five steps before it happens. It’s how we survive, and keep our kids alive too. There is a line, however, that we often cross. We play on the other side of the line – the “what ifs”, and it is an ugly and dangerous place.

When my son was in the midst of his battle, I feared a phase of treatment a few months down the line called “delayed intensification”. Just the name was enough to make me shudder. There were toxins he would receive that would undoubtedly make him terribly sick. One medicine was so hard on the heart that he would need an echocardiogram before and after, and then every five years for the rest of his life. He would lose his hair during this time, and there were a series of shots we would have to give him at home. The list goes on, and I was terrified. I cried and fretted for months before we hit delayed intensification, and at times felt absolutely paralyzed by my obsession with it.

My husband, however, dealt with things differently. He took it as it came. He listened to the facts, what could happen, and then decided not to live as if it already had. If the worst happened, we would deal with it, and if it didn’t, we would be grateful. His method fascinated me, and I started realizing how much energy I put into worry and grief over something that may not play out exactly how I feared. I am not one to run from mourning – it is essential – but I was literally doing it dozens of times more than what was needed.

After delayed intensification came and went, this lesson resonated with me and I still think of it often. My son did get sick. He did lose his hair. He did look weak and we did give him the injections. But, it wasn’t the overcast gloom that I had anticipated and spent countless hours worrying about. Overall, my son, in his 5-year-old glory, handled it like a champ. He still laughed and played. He loved seeing the image of his heart and learning how it worked. We brought crafts to his longer chemo sessions, and he suggested we administer the shots while he slept – which actually proved successful. We had his bed set up in our room so I could listen for his signals – if he had to throw up or had insomnia. We coped. We cried. We were supported. My hours of fearful worry over a phase we hadn’t encountered had been a waste. We had endured the dreaded delayed intensification, and much to my surprise, working through it together turned out to be nothing short of beautiful.

3) Mourning is good. I’ve learned a lot, in the last few years, about how I grieve. I’ve even changed it a little and grown to embrace it. But one of the most powerful things I’ve learned about grief, obvious as it may be, is that it is healing and necessary. The fear of the hurt is much, much worse than just walking through it. Putting off the mourning just prolongs the process, wastes valuable energy, and keeps you miserable.

I kept a CaringBridge site through my son’s treatment, which was one of the ways I grieved. I felt the pain and sadness well up inside me, and I knew it was time to write. Time to cry. Time to vent. As a mom of three, I had to literally reserve time on my calendar to feel sad and swim in the grief for as long as I needed. And afterwards, I felt surprisingly refreshed to pick up my bootstraps and carry on. In fact, I came to know and appreciate the healing power of grief so much that, when I felt it was time to mourn, I could not wait to have the opportunity to do it, feel better, and have the ability to be present again. The temptation to waste time running from sadness thereby vanished. Mourning was a service, and it was an avenue to freedom.

4) Make your own path. There are many things and circumstances that will force us to be different or stray from societal norms. My son’s cancer was the first thing that really pushed us to become our own advocates, and be advocates for our kids. The first few times I brought him to the doctor, they told me he was fine, and that “four-year-olds make stuff up”. Now, I respect every doctor we have had, but I know my son, and I knew he was sick. He knew he was sick. We just hadn’t found the right person to help us yet. Those mama instincts are strong, and should always be listened to. They may exaggerate at times, but they are usually based in some sort of legitimacy. We are the absolute experts when it comes to our kids… the way they breathe, what they stare at, what and how much they eat, and exactly what expression they make at each emotion felt. It is an art, and it takes thousands of hours of study. So when we encounter something in this world that is not right for our child, may it be a school, a certain caretaker, or some sort of media, there is no need to get defensive or angry. We simply stand confident in our expertise. And although we may gather information from others who are experts in their areas, when it’s all broken down, we are the only ones equipped to make the best decision for our child – with our heads up and shoulders back.  It doesn’t matter if it strays from the norm. Who cares if Aunt Margaret and your respectable neighbor thinks it’s weird – make your own path.

5) Take good care. Now, I know as moms we are doing this every day, caring for the people around us, but it’s nothing new that we generally invest too much care into things that will never give us a return. What people think, if we are too old for a career change, or if our car and appearance portrays we are keeping up with the rest of the world, for instance. I fall victim, definitely. But there is nothing that erases the superficial faster than tragedy. On the one-year anniversary of my son’s diagnosis, a best friend of ours suddenly died of a brain aneurysm. She was 33 and had a 6-month-old baby. I was absolutely devastated along with our close-knit group that we called family. Her parents had lost their little girl. Her husband had lost his wife and best friend. Her little baby had unknowingly lost his mother and would never grow to remember her voice or the sound of her amazing laugh.

My son’s illness with all its baggage and life-long concerns, followed by the paralyzing loss of a cherished friend… it was enough. Enough to say, god-damn-it, life is too precious. It’s too precious not to feed our bodies well, sleep well, and respect ourselves. It’s too precious not to build on our dreams and take a risk. It’s too precious not to cherish our friends and nurture our inner circle like the treasures we’ve spent years to earn. We listed our very top priorities and vowed to spend the vast majority of our money, time, and thoughts on just those things. We vowed to take good care.

I wish I could say I live by these lessons every moment of every day, but I don’t. I stray. Thankfully, when I do, it doesn’t take much more than a nostalgic look at my big 9-year-old boy, a year and a half out of his chemotherapy, to remember. Life is a beautiful gift, even in the hard times, so treat it well.

Would I go back and save my son from cancer if I could? Of course. But I cannot, and as it turned out, the awful storm cloud did bring a silver lining. We are forever changed, and for the better. Despite the endured pain, struggle can emerge in such beauty after we drag our way through. It is this journey – the crawling, crying, agonizing journey – that breaks us down enough to mold and etch us into an irreversible and beautiful new design. That is, of course, if we aren’t afraid to let it.