As I bent down and kissed Parker on his forehead a few nights ago (it was Mom's turn to rub his back) we gave each other a fist bump. "I love you big man. So proud of you. Only two more," I said. Parker's tiny voice responded--the one that people describe as "beyond his years". It was a question: "Dada, when radiation is over will the tumor grow back?"
It is these moments that I want to curl into a little ball and hide. Just let me run. Please. I need to run. This isn't real. This isn't my life. I've been tapping my heels together since January but all I have are raw heels to show for it.
But I know running isn't the answer.
I glanced up at my wife for some help. I was weak. I needed her strength. We promised him that we would always be honest. Despite the horrors hiding behind answers, we haven't wavered from our promise. If he is brave enough to ask, we must be brave enough to answer.
But it is easy to imagine what the next question may be. Or the one after.
And it makes me physically sick.
As hard as Jennifer and I try to piece together a new life that resembles normalcy, it just...isn't. None of it. We probably look like fools to our kids. I can remember my parents and their stories. The ones that weren't exactly following historical record--the deviations from truth created to make something easier either for themselves or for us. And I don't fault them. Burdens can be insurmountable. I don't fault the mistakes that were made, the decisions that in hindsight became lifelong milestones of pain, therapy and shifts of character. Every family deals with these circumstances. It may not be cancer, but there is always some sort of tectonic shift in our lives when we finally see the curtain in front of our eyes. None of us are invincible. A life without is probably a boring one. But I'm so ok with boring right now.
As we march through the this olympic treatment milestone, radiation completed, we enter an enormous chasm. It is dark and the only stories of its secrets are from those who passed before us. Anybody who enters knows there is no going back. The narratives are all similar, but nuanced with those familial histories. The culmination of ones own struggles with life, all coming together to form the next epoch in someone else's.
The role of parent has never felt so real.
For years and years I never wanted children. The thought of children only manifested burden and a closure to a life that I hadn't finished exploring. There are two kinds of parents in the world: those that have always known it was their place, and those that grew into the appreciation of small life. Maybe there are others, but cut me some slack...
When Parker was born those tectonic plates shifted for me. If you live in California perhaps you felt it, too. Nine months of this idea of a little boy finally presented itself with screams, and blood, and tears and joy. He fought so hard to come into this world. And we fought the explosion of emotions. This explosion of life. He was everything I never even knew I needed.
Parker has fought his whole life. We all do, I guess. But the fight he puts forth now is one that I can't even relate to. This little boy, this five-year-old superhero. He really is beyond his years. Anyone that gets screws in their head and a drill to their skull, and needles in every extremity, any kid that talks about their PICCs and ports before bedtime instead of toys and dreams. Fuck me. Yes, they are strong. They are the damn definition of strong, the definition of fight.
At night we tuck him in and he chooses which of us will stay with him until he drifts off. And I hope he always drifts off to a place with smiles and laughter and toys to the clouds and silliness and family. But it has also become his safe place to ask those questions that no child should be asking. No child should even contemplate these ideas. Unfortunately this world doesn't cater to perfection and should and should nots. So despite this great pain we endure, we must look him in the eye, this brave warrior, and we must maintain truth in the face of torture.
Hug your children extra hard for me. Look them deeply in the eyes, tell them you love them. Then tell them you love them. Then tell them you love them again.
When they are old enough they will look back at you and your crazy and they will understand what it was all about. They will understand the truthiness of your ways, your struggles as a parent, and the choices that lead their lives to the point where they find it. And regardless of their interpretation, as a parent, you will find comfort in all those nights where they got tucked in and kissed on the cheek. The nights that you rubbed their back until they slipped away, the nights that you comforted them through fever.
This incredible journey, this incredible struggle and this incredible pain--this is what being a parent is, and I would never trade this for anything.