They say acorns don’t fall far from the tree and that’s probably because they are too heavy for wind dispersal. They get shaken loose, fall to the ground with a large ka-thunk and there they sit, just waiting for an animal to abscond with them and bury them for a mid-winter snack. Or, perhaps, a child will come along and add it to their collection of odds and ends. Regardless, acorns are simply not capable of falling far from the tree.
This analogy is often used to describe children. I would have to agree when it comes to my kiddos. They are so much like me, in both looks and personality. When Ben was born he had red hair. Initially – and I’m not proud to admit this – I was concerned that my newborn son had red hair. Having grown up a redhead myself I knew that kids could be cruel. I didn’t want my son to go through anything as painful as being made fun of for being different. As I was holding my newborn son and marveling at how perfect he was – despite the red hair – I had NO idea of what my son would end up going through and some of the cruelty he would eventually face. My being worried about him having red hair was a ridiculous worry. I wish I could go back and give that new mother a good talking to. What I used to worry about is laughable now.
When my Madeline was born we were just six weeks into Ben’s fight with Neuroblastoma. I had no idea how I was going to care for a newborn and care for an extremely sick – and possibly dying – toddler. Again, I was worried about the wrong things. Madeline knew exactly what she was doing when she got here. April – the month that Madeline was due to arrive – was filled with Ben’s chemotherapies and bone marrow harvesting. As I looked at an overwhelmingly booked calendar that the nurse handed me, I mentioned in a very soft voice, “But I’m supposed to have a baby sometime this month.” She nodded and acknowledged my concern. All she could say was “pick a day and go do it.” I imagine my face was twisted with an expression that revolved around the question of “you can do that?” So, I called my OB/GYN and mentioned that I needed to schedule delivery, picked a day, and that’s what happened.
Madeline’s birth was simple compared to Ben’s. Ben’s was long. Fraught with scary moments. Distress for both mother and child. It was a semi-traumatic experience, whereas Madeline’s was simple. Peaceful. Quiet. And, after being in labor for just a few short hours, Madeline arrived looking absolutely perfect. I was overcome with emotion. After six horrific weeks of not knowing if my son was going to survive horribly harsh treatments, here I was, holding a beautiful miracle of purity. She was perfect. And there was simply no denying that she looked EXACTLY like me – but without the red hair. In fact, she had no hair at all. This time, as I held my newborn daughter and marveled at how perfect she was, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to divide my energy equally or appropriately.
Miraculously, Madeline knew her role and excelled at it. She was an amazing distraction from the horrifying world of pediatric cancer we had been living in. It was as if she was a beacon of hope on J5 (the oncology floor at Children’s Hospital in Columbus). All the nurses would take turns with her at night, just holding and comforting her. The sick children would stop by during the day to visit with her. She was an excellent distraction for everyone. And as she’s grown, she continues to do that. Madeline wants to entertain. She wants to make sure that everyone is laughing. She knows the world is messed up and scary and broken – and she’s diligently doing her part to keep everyone distracted. It’s bittersweet to watch her in action. She just wants everyone to be happy. I see so much of myself in her at times that it breaks my heart. I know what it’s like to want to please everyone, to think that you’re the only one who can offer everyone else a reason to not be sad or mad or upset. Someday she’ll learn that she can’t control how others react. What I hope I can teach her is that the only thing she needs to be is herself. That she can’t truly control the outcome of anyone’s emotions. It’s taken me a long time to learn that myself.
And my Ben. In all honesty, it’s the same for him, too. His heart breaks whenever anyone else is hurting. He hates conflict. He’d rather take the bullet instead of seeing anyone else get shot down. His heart hurts for all the children who have suffered – often times forgetting that he, himself, has suffered the very same affliction. He doesn’t quite realize how remarkable he is. What a survivor he is. How many people look up to him and regard him as nothing short of amazing. His low self-esteem doesn’t allow him to see. I know how that is, too. Low self-esteem sucks and encourages you to do a lot of self-deprecating things. I sincerely hope that I can teach him – show him – that he is amazing and he needs to embrace that. I didn’t really have anyone to teach me how to overcome my low self-esteem and I’ve paid for it dearly by wasting so much precious time. He’s a fighter, there’s no doubt about that, but he needs to realize that he can use that ability in ALL aspects of his life.
I have two acorns. They haven’t fallen far from the tree at all. And while they’re close to me during their childhood I will teach them all I can to LOVE themselves. APPRECIATE who they are. EMBRACE their quirky characteristics. BELIEVE in their abilities. And to simply BE HAPPY while trying to navigate through the choppy waters of their lives.
Ben Brewer gave me today’s word. He says he doesn’t know why he chose it but I know why… because it gave me the opportunity to write about my beautiful children. You’re AMAZING, Ben. You are my HERO and I know, with every fiber of my being, that I am the luckiest mom in the world to have two incredible children like you and Madeline. While I encourage you to grow a tougher skin so you can brave all the cruelty that life will inevitably throw your way I don’t want you to change a bit because I love your sweet and sensitive nature. I love how you see the world through your beautiful eyes – you give me courage to take off my cynical glasses and see the world how it should be. I’ve heard so many parents talk about what their children’s futures might hold… how they’ll be the next great politician or they’ll invent something to change the world… well, I can say without conviction that I’ve seen you change the world already. I don’t have to wait until someday to see how amazing you’ll eventually be. You’re already there. You’ve already achieved it. And I can’t wait to see what you’ll do next.