Oh, that first touch. The one that pulls at your heartstrings and tells you that you’ll never be the same. The way that little hand wraps around your finger, so small, so delicate, so sweet. Your heart does somersaults and you might even feel a bit sick to your stomach from all of the overwhelming emotions coursing through you. Those first moments are so precious and simply unforgettable. Knowing that you’re responsible for the little life that is resting in your arms is the most important thing you’ll ever do.
It was the job I was created for. I had no idea how hard it would be. When my firstborn – Ben – was placed in my arms, a lot of things became unimportant. Ben saved my life. I was well on my way to being the most selfish person I knew. I cared about all the wrong things for all the wrong reasons. And the moment that little hand wrapped around my finger I began a brand new journey of self discovery. I can’t say that I let go of everything that was plaguing me – I still certainly have my issues – but I realized that raising this child was to be my guiding star.
And for two-and-a-half years, all was well. Then I was introduced to a beast named neuroblastoma and learned that it wanted to kill my son. There was nothing I could do but love and support him as he went through hell. But that maternal instinct of wanting to shred anything that tried to hurt my child, well, of course that never went away.
So we learned to celebrate mini-milestones: three months cancer-free, one year cancer-free…. And as we got more comfortable we celebrated the usual milestones: first lost tooth, first day of school…. We returned to some sort of normalcy. Just as we were beginning to breathe on our own without constantly looking over our shoulder, BAM! The beast was back.
I remember sitting on the bench at Ben’s school and crying to the school nurse. It was July. Ben was due to start back to school in one week but instead, he would be starting chemo. My heart was broken. Nurse Pam held me as I sobbed and reeled with the information of what Ben was going to have to endure: more chemo, more radiation, more surgeries, more pain, more missing out on normal kid experiences.
Here we are a year-and-a-half later. Ben is through the bulk of what a relapsed neuroblastoma kid goes through. He still has the painful 3F8 antibody to contend with but he’s back on the road to normalcy. Today, I dropped him off for his very first day back to school. Ben, Madeline and I walked over to school together. I dropped Mad at her line on the blacktop and took Ben – with the guidance of a fellow classmate – to where he was supposed to line up. He let me snap one picture of him before brushing me off and greeting his friends who were all too anxious to see him.
“Bye, mom,” he stated as a grin spread across his face, the onslaught of cheers emanating from his peers as they joined him in line.
My heart cracked wide open. For one, I was leaving my baby. We’ve been inseparable for a year-and-a-half. I was leaving him open and vulnerable to the cruelty that kids can be prone to. My own issues, I know, worried about kids making fun of him for being so tiny and frail. But when I heard his classmates cheering when they saw him, well, that cracked my heart open all the more.
Tears welled up as I walked away from him. It was so hard to not turn back and yell out “I love you, kiddo!” But I resisted the urge and scurried away. I didn’t want to be “that mom”, the one who embarrasses her kid to no end by saying corny things like “I love you”. So, I headed into the school office where I sobbed on Nurse Pam’s shoulder once again. She hugged me as I let all of my fears flow, just as I had about his cancer returning a year-and-a-half ago. The comfort she gave me brought me full circle because today’s tears were ultimately tears of joy.
Heartstrings. Today they were pulled even harder than the day he was placed in my arms for the very first time. I pray that he falls back in to being a normal kid with minimal effort and the loving support of his teachers and peers.
I pray – and pray some more.
Who knew this parenting gig would be so hard?