I woke up the other morning at 3:30, my mind racing with mundane but persistent thoughts. Something I’d done, something I’d forgotten to do, nothing even remotely interesting. Like most well-adjusted folks, my husband was asleep, so once I realized I wasn’t going to drift back to blissful unconsciousness, I sneaked downstairs to watch television. When my occasional insomnia flares up, mindless programming gives my beleaguered brain an excuse to take a break and lulls me back to sleep. Unfortunately, my terrorist cat had other ideas. He didn’t approve of the break in routine, so he took to howling, banging on doors; waking up my daughter. Outrage stoked the fire, the hamster on the brain wheel was going at a breakneck page. I HAD A BUSY DAY PLANNED, DAMMIT. It was going to be a long one, including running a meeting in the evening for a school organization I chair.
When my 6 AM alarm went off, I was supremely grumpy and the cat was still howling. School day mornings unfold predictably, no matter how well-rested I am. Make coffee (extra cup), make lunches, get ready for work, get the kids ready for school. I had dark circles, puffy eyes, and a bad attitude that included murderous thoughts toward a certain well-loved feline.
An efficient morning machine, we set off at 7:30. Two uniformed, brushed, lunched, tableted, backpacked, and otherwise prepared kids and I walked down one house to the corner school bus stop. On schedule, the kids boarded the bus while a few commuters waited until the red lights stopped flashing. I waived at two kids a bit too old and distracted and self-conscious to wave back then turned to walk home.
A woman in a red car rolled down her passenger-side window.
“Watching you put your kids on the bus everyday is so touching to me. My kids are grown and I miss doing that so much.”
Sort of stunned I replied, “Well, I’m going to keep doing it as long as they let me.”
She drove on. I walked home disarmed, a little less self-pitying and a whole lot less angry.
This is what they call a trigger, a moment when five years ago, almost six now, pops back up like it’s today. The proverbial phone call that brings you to your knees.
Malignant cells in your lymph node.
I dropped everything in my life that was inessential and made a few modest goals. As I was in the whirlwind of testing and treatment, they were starting third and first grades. How do I let them bask in their well-deserved glow instead of allowing this stupid cancer become a metaphorical cancer on their childhood? I tried to keep their lives as normal as possible and one reliable routine was the morning school bus ritual. I vowed to walk them to the school bus every day.
It wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows. My then eight-year-old grew embarrassed of my bald head and asked me to wear my wig to the bus stop. I tried to be understanding, but did blow up once about how I didn’t like baldness much either. I don’t think she remembers that specifically, but recently she did tell me she was sorry for not being more supportive of me during those year.
Ridiculous, I told her. Her very presence was all the motivation I needed to keep on keeping on, and what better support could there be than that?
I’m happy to report I met my goal every day except one — the morning after my mastectomy I was in the hospital and my mother-in-law took over morning bus duty. That was a Wednesday morning. I was back in action Thursday.
I know that goal was just as much about me as it was about them — clinging to something normal and dependable in an attempt regain my footing, realizing what I always took for granted.
I also know my kids don’t need me to walk them to the bus anymore. They are 14 and 12 now, and I am aware that having your mom at the bus stop isn’t the slightest bit cool. But we laugh and talk and watch the neighborhood animals and the geese and herons flying overhead and the changing trees and enjoy the fresh air. We talk about the weather and review our schedule for the day.
And like I told the kind miracle worker in the red car, they haven’t yet asked me to stop.