Friday, October 26, 2012

Hypothetically Speaking

The other day, my older son took a break from his homework and came to me while I was making dinner.

"Hey Mom?"

"Yes?" I answered a little distractedly, hands in the meatloaf mixture I was combining, figuring he had a math question.

"What would you do if you got cancer?" he asked instead.

I stopped mushing the meatloaf mixture. Now, I'm not very good at algebra, but at least I took the course (we won't say how many years ago), so there is SOME foundation that I can reach back to when he is seeking answers. But this? How do you answer such a question? Let alone to your child?

To me, the moment played out in slow motion, which I found very interesting on many levels. First of all, I have come to learn that when my son asks me hypothetical questions like this, it's usually because of something he's read in a book. So I usually turn it around and say, "Why do you ask?" just to see where it's coming from. But the fact that cancer is in my genes--I have lost five family members to it already and have a relative going through treatment for it right now--is something that has weighed on my mind more and more as I've gotten older. This knowledge distracted me from asking my usual question of the source of his inquiry.

"I would seek out the best doctors for their advice, and then fight it with everything I've got," is what I told my son.

The true answer that came, though, in the hour or so that I thought about it after his asking, is I don't know.

I've reached the age where everyone I know has been touched by cancer, either through their family, friends, co-workers or community. Sadly, the illness is so prevalent and varied that the only thing we can be certain of is we're not alone when it happens to us.

I know all the facts are out there about cancer, the odds, the heredity. But we're all going to die; none of us knows when or how. Is it better to try to plan and prepare emotionally for something that may never happen? Or to live in the moment, be as present as we can with our children, keep standing and doing and loving until we can't?

It may be a level of denial, but I've decided to go with the latter choice. Saying I'm far too busy to take the first route may be a cop out, but I really think it's what we all do until we're forced to do otherwise. Hopefully, Jacob's question will forever remain a hypothetical one that never has to be answered.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Brain Freeze

This week, I attended two inappropriately-named "Back To School" nights. I say inappropriately-named because as soon as the teachers started talking, I realized that what happens in my children's schools is no where near what happened in the schools of my youth.

Rubrics and spirals, formulas and I sat in my 5th grader's classroom, my head spun listening to what my child does all day. The teacher danced around the room picking up various math tools, puzzles and books, then jogged back to the head of the class where he poked at a 'Smart Board', the new blackboard. I cursed myself for sitting in the back, making all the other parents turn around to look at me every time I had a question. And I had a lot of questions.

Since the teacher is young and dynamic, I tried to tell myself that the fact that he's a grad student is what's confusing me about all this. He's talking about everything he's learning and employing in the classroom, and trying to do it in a short period of time. The truth is, the job of educating our youth is a much more complex and nuanced undertaking than I ever realized. Not that I ever thought teachers had it easy (OK, maybe that whole 'summers off' thing upsets me a bit), but this shined a new light on a teacher's day for me. And it was pretty glaring.

The revelation of my ignorance didn't stop there. In the middle school, I met six of my 8th grader's teachers and learned how hard my older son works, moves and juggles all day. And that's aside from tennis, Boy Scouts, fife and drum, newspaper club and chorus. Now I didn't just feel stupid, I felt exhausted.

These two nights of glimpsing into my children's days taught me several things: today's kids work incredibly hard in school, no matter how young; teachers are phenomenal balls of energy who exude both patience and passion in the job they do every day. Sadly, I also learned that, no matter how much I try to deny it, I am old. Not only don't I have what it takes to be a teacher, or even a middle school student, I don't have what it takes to be a fifth grader. Let's look at the facts: I can't remember what I had for breakfast, what I did this weekend or the name of that mom I ran into at back to school night, although I've known her for years (thankfully, this last one came to me about 10:30 that night). At first, I was worried I had some form of early-onset Alzheimer's. But on further reflection, I think my mind was just overwhelmed by everything I was learning in those short hours at school. All that enlightenment gave me brain freeze.

My respect for my children has grown, and my faith in their chances in the world post-schooling has increased exponentially. As long as I can get them do their homework,  and even if they just retain a portion of what they're being taught, they'll be just fine. But just in case, I'm going to up the frequency of brain foods like salmon and avocado servings in our house, for all our sakes. It's the least I can do and, very possibly, the most.