Wednesday, May 12, 2004

"Where has all my empathy gone?"

IM #2, Week 6

Sometimes, when I’m walking around thinking everyone else on the planet needs a good, swift kick in the pants, it suddenly occurs to me that *I* am actually the one who needs a good, swift kick in the pants. And what’s funny is that realization can be so subtle that I don’t even get it at first! (surprise, surprise, I’m sometimes considered ‘obtuse’).

The past few days I have been having a bit of a pity party for myself. Nothing major, no crisis; just a whiny, grumpy, bitchy sort of pity party about how stupid and annoying everyone else in the universe is. (Readers of this journal and present company excluded, of course).

It started Monday night at Kellen’s t-ball practice when Kendrie came over and said a couple of older (as in eight or nine year old) girls on the playground were making fun of her. Normally I subscribe to the “just ignore them and maybe they’ll go away”-style of parenting, with an occasional foray into the “it takes a village” theory, whereby I will say to Kendrie, “Well, honey, they probably aren’t used to seeing a kid with no hair, so try to just be nice to them”, hoping we can all grow together in peace, love and harmony. I really want her to be able to handle this, and try not to immediately leap to her defense like a Mother-Bear on crack.

Monday night, however, for some reason, grown-up sensibilities just left me and I stomped over to the playground equipment and walked right up to the alleged offenders and said, “Do you girls have a problem or something? Because if you have any questions you’d like to ask, then go ahead and ask them. Otherwise you’re being rude and I suggest you leave this little girl alone!” The girls, suddenly deaf and mute, just shook their heads and then slinked off the playground. On the one hand I was glad I stuck up for my daughter but on the other hand, hello, could I have done it without acting like a teen bully myself?

Then last night I had a PTO meeting where a parent stopped me to ask, “How’s Kendrie?” “Fine” (with a smile) is my knee-jerk reply. “She’s fine, really? Everything’s ok?” and I sensed that this person just wanted reassurance that everything was indeed fine, and that they received brownie points for asking. I thought, I should just be truthful and blurt out, “Well, no, actually this phase of chemo is getting kind of harsh and she’s nauseous and barfing a LOT compared to normal, and feels tired and crabby and whiny and cries and fusses a lot which of course makes me crabby and fussy, but yeah, otherwise everything is ok.” Did I say that? No, of course not, but I thought it.

Then this morning a friend called to invite us to lunch at an indoor play-land. To the parents of an immuno-suppressed child, there is no place on earth as foreboding as an indoor play-land. I could just as conceivably imagine taking her to, oh, I don’t know, a play date in *HELL*, as taking her to a play-land to share confined space with stale air and inside play equipment with other little kids.

As a last annoyance, I went to a retail store today and paid for something with my Toys ‘R Us credit card. The clerk (young, too much eye makeup, etc) said, “Oh, Toys ‘R Us, I was just there last night buying my daughter a toy.” I was still in a bit of a snit over the play-land issue and wanted to say, “oh really? A TOY? I had no idea they sold those there” but of course that would be rude and while I might be obtuse I’m certainly not rude so instead I just smiled. Then the clerk said, “She had pink eye last week and was so miserable. Poor thing. I felt so bad for her and all she had to go through with pink eye that I thought she deserved a toy.” And the outside of me was making appropriate clucking noises with a “oh, that’s too bad” look on my face, but the inside of me was really about to snap, “Pink Eye??? Are you freakin’ kidding me???? My kid has CANCER for heaven’s sake! You want to talk about deserving???? If your kid gets a toy for pink eye, then I think my kid deserves a time share in Santa’s Workshop at the North Pole or something!!!”

What is the matter with me? I’m annoyed at the parent who is kind enough to ask about her well being, and I’m annoyed at the parent who obviously isn’t thinking about her well being, and I’m even annoyed at the total stranger who has no clue who I am or who my daughter is and who has normal problems of her own, which I somehow have absolutely NO patience or time for. How are people supposed to win with me? I am tired of leukemia and treatments and statistics and medications and side effects overshadowing every thought I have in my head but I can’t seem to stop it. Life is going on for everyone around us, as it should, but I can’t seem to focus on anything but this stupid, stupid cancer. I have turned into a completely self-absorbed personality and wouldn’t blame people for avoiding me like the Black Plague.

So fast forward a few hours to lunch today. Blaine is practically running to the bathroom with Kendrie because she’s fixing to throw up and the only receptacle we have is her Batman ball cap and she would disown us if we let her throw up in it …. And I’m sitting in the booth thinking, “What on earth made me think we should attempt lunch in a public restaurant??? What was I thinking? Did I want the Oriental Chicken Salad that desperately bad???” and when they return, Kendrie is beaming from ear to ear because she noticed the cherries at the bar (en route to the bathroom) and knowing cherries are Kellen’s favorite snack in the entire world, she asked the bartender for some. So she’s looking at me from across the booth, and holding onto this cup of cherries and she says, with the biggest smile on her face, “Mom! Kellen is going to be SO excited about these cherries!” and I see her happiness, and the way the sun is coming in through the window and shining on her beautiful little bald head with just the slightest bit of yellow-blonde duckling fuzz on it, and it’s like my heart just swelled up full and I suddenly realized what a bitch I’ve been.

As many people as have gotten on my nerves the past 48 hours, that many people and more have done kind things for my family in the same time frame. To Mary from Ohio, and Jennifer C. from Lighting Children’s Lives …. Thank you both for the care packages you sent for the kids. I’m always a little hesitant to mention things like that in the journal because I don’t want anyone to think I am hinting for more stuff, but it definitely deserves mention because my kids got such a kick out of the neat things, so thank you. And to my friend Kelly, for letting me drop Kendrie off for some very last minute babysitting on Monday. A lot of people say, “If there’s ever anything I can do to help, just let me know”. I believe most people are sincere in the offer, but it’s very difficult for me to call people and ask for help. Thank you to Kelly for being the kind of friend who doesn’t make me feel weird for calling and asking.

And to all of you who support us online; both through my online community of cancer parents, and everyone who is kind enough to leave messages in the Caringbridge guestbook. Whether my current personality defect is cancer-related, or parent-related, or some other type of crisis-related, it’s wonderful to read the notes of encouragement from others who have been there, done that, and come out on the other side intact, and also those going through the same issues even without cancer involved, so at least I know I’m not alone (and that my children are not actually headed for jail or a lock-down facility.)

And hey, if you guys see me sliding backwards down Empathy Hill on my very generous behind, please don’t hesitate to step up and administer that swift kick I was talking about earlier!

Thanks so much,

WORST THING ABOUT HAVING CANCER TODAY: I am starting to feel kind of crummy.

My dad is still off work from his surgery so I got to stay home and take a nap with him while my mom ran her three bazillion errands today.

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