The Best Thing about Cancer

indexThe best thing about cancer is the loud and clear wake up call it gives you. The one that says STOP WORRYING ABOUT STUPID STUFF. The one that makes you realize you, your children, your family, and everyone you love has a limited amount of days to spend together, and although it isn't easy to face and isn't something you want to think about, when you do think about it, you start to make some decisions about how you spend your time, and who you are spending it with. My mom having cancer has made me realize that I can make a choice about how to spend these days, and if I waste them, I have no one but myself to blame. It is time for me to put down the silly stuff, the unimportant stuff, to let go of the toxic friendships and self created stress, to turn my back on the bulls@#t and embrace the good stuff. I've been saying this to myself for years, but I guess I needed that giant kick in the pants that a loved one with cancer can be. Case in point. Our Elf on the Shelf. I am a fan, for the most part, but I'm not the best at it, I don't make up little "mischief" scenes with him, and if the kids are lucky I remember to move him. For most of last week he remained in the same spot on our mantlepiece, his little face looking out at me as a reminder that I forgot every single day. The kids also reminded me, wondering aloud (VERY loudly actually) why the elf didn't move, why he didn't do things like their friends' elves did, when he was going to finally move. One night, over tired and over stressed, I thought I might just call it quits on the ol' Shelf Elf. Maybe he would become the Elf in the Storage Container Downstairs Behind the Pile of Old Clothes. Maybe Junk Drawer Elf. The kids don't need a stuffed Elf toy to find joy in the holidays, I thought angrily. Why did I buy into this silly trend, it's just another thing to buy, to try to force more festivity into an already super festive time of year. It was just another thing that I though we needed to buy. That we didn't need. Something that was distracting from the real meaning of the season, to be kind to one another, to give, to spend time with loved ones. To appreciate what we have.

I didn't move him for another few days. I ignored the kids' questions. I was tired. I was stressed. I didn't want to add a freaking imaginary Elf needing to move to my list of about 5,000 things I have to do in any given day. Pay the mortgage, take the dog to the vet, move the elf. No thanks.

Then Levy wrote him a note, and left it on the floor by the mantelpiece. I figured it was a note asking for toys for Christmas, and I didn't pick it up until they were in bed and I was doing my usual tidying routine that is less than actual cleaning but more than ignoring the mess that also makes me feel a little bit more sane.

But she didn't ask for toys. She just wanted to know his name, and she drew him a picture of a Christmas tree. And it was so sweet. And I realized that it wouldn't be that hard to let the kids have this little piece of magic. Before they get too old for it, before they are certain Santa isn't real, before they aren't my littles anymore. Because that is happening at a more rapid pace every single day. The time is slipping past me, past us, past their childhood, and I want to hold on to it, to hold on to that magical time. Especially now when it seems like things are the hardest for our family. Why not make the small effort to help inject a little magic into an otherwise boring Monday morning.

So I moved the elf. And I named him Boodle. I wrote back to Levy, carefully trying to use a phony handwriting that they wouldn't recognize, and this morning when I heard how excited she was that not only did he move but he wrote back AND has a name I knew it was worth the very little effort it took. Will I keep it up? Who knows. But I know elf or no elf they will be happy kids. And, just like a lot of things lately, it made me cry.

The thing is, I'm not a crier. But lately, it takes very little for it to start, because I feel like I am finally realizing just how beautiful things can be when you look past the every day stuff. The other night, I stopped into a convenience store late after working a party, we needed milk, and it was the last stop on a super long day for me. I was all dressed up for the party but felt anything but put together. I put the milk down on the counter and fished around in my tiny gold clutch for my debit card, which I apparently didn't bring. The woman behind the counter paused, reached out to my hand on the counter before I could speak, and said, "Are you okay honey?". And I cried. Right there next to the US magazines and Hostess snacks I cried, while trying to make some sense to her, explaining that I'm not a crazy person but my mom has cancer and I am so scared and upset but I don't want to cry in front of the kids and I don't want to cry in front of her because then she'll cry and if I make her cry when she has cancer I'm afraid I will just never stop crying.

"It will be okay, honey," she said, softly patting my hand. "I know it is scary, but you will be okay, it will be okay, I just know it honey." I wiped my eyes on my coat sleeve and laughed a little bit at how ridiculous I was being, but the laugh came from a place of deep, deep appreciation for this stranger who was basically talking me down from a very scary ledge of anxiety. I checked one last time in my clutch and found a ten dollar bill that my mom had given me in case there was a coat check and I needed a tip. Because she always thinks of things like that, she always remembers that I never have cash and then feel guilty for not tipping. Which of course made me cry again, just for a minute. The thoughtfulness of a good mother.

I wanted to share this to be a nudge to all of you who are kind enough to read my blog. Especially during this holiday season, don't stress about little things. Don't worry if you don't move your elf or if you never even got one in the first place, they will get over it. Don't worry about not being able to get the kids everything on their list, they don't need any of it. Just be there, together, in your warm house, with your kids, and your loved ones, with maybe something yummy to eat, and realize how lucky you are. Know that there are people out there who need help, whether it be a pat on the hand in a convenience store at 11pm or donating a small gift or a warm coat. Take stock, today, of what you need to do more of and what you can do less of, and what to just simply let go of. Make that part of your holiday routine, doing something as little as smiling at a stranger, telling a friend you are thinking of them, putting some love and kindness into the world. Teaching your children how they can do it too. Most of all, don't let the reality of a limited amount of time scare you, but don't ignore it either. Use it as a challenge to rise above the stupid stuff and celebrate the beautiful.

I also wanted to thank you guys for all of your kind words, some on facebook, some here on the site, and some of you in person. It has all meant so much to me and my family, and I wanted you to know how important that is, that sense of community, even in our time of social media being the one to remind you when it's your friend's birthday. That we can still reach out and help each other, that we still need to do that, it is vital for all of us. And now I'm crying again, but it's a happy cry. Love you guys. xoxo