So. I have this new friend Debi. She's a fellow Kindergarten mom. And she is funny and smart and wonderful. And she has a really incredible story, a story she's told me in bits and pieces - on the sidewalk before pick-up, over email, at the restaurant over omelets. In fact, she's the one who inspired this post and gave me the idea of bringing you other people's stories.
In a recent email, Debi sent me something she had written. And, guys, I was blown away by it, her words, her honesty. Today, I am publishing her words. If you are moved or inspired or affected by Debi's story, please take a moment to leave a comment here and also to share this post in your various social media spots. I think her story should be out there in the world. This is the first step. You guys can help me with the rest.
And, Debi, thanks so much for opening up to me, and to all of us. I can only imagine the good that will come from this.
by Debi Memmolo
I have decided I am trapped somewhere between the career woman I always thought I'd be and a lady who lunches. I derive more guilt than pleasure from nearly every aspect of my life. At times, like now, when I am supposed to be playing with my son I get so bored, utterly mind numb that I am drawn to some distraction, some sort of grown-up activity. Often it comes in the form of over-thinking or over-Googling (is that a word) some crazy thing like how much I should pay for paper towels or how tall my kids will be when they are 15. I log countless hours at the computer, mostly wasting time. It's become my buddy, always there when I need her, patient and always willing to help.
Of course, when we are not at home I've got her right in my pocket. And now that my eyesight is failing me, I can even talk to her and - get this - she talks back. How did this happen? I spent hours on the floor with my first-born, always ready to read a story or be an elephant. I've been a mother for six and a quarter years. That's longer than I've ever held one job, committed to one field. I grow restless, need a change - new people, new places.
So, hire a babysitter, go to lunch, shop, maybe even a museum. I wonder if he took a nap? Did he cry when he woke up? Does he need a snack? Is she playing with him or chatting on the phone, texting maybe? I should go, he's probably awake and missing me. GUILT.
I have what would seem to most the perfect life. Big, fancy NYC apartment, doting husband, 2 kids (one of each gender), second home, ample shopping budget, nights on the town, and carte blanche for domestic help. Do I have too many options? Maybe it would be easier if I knew I couldn't run out and hire a nanny if I so desired or that I had to go to work to help support the family.
This is the story of so many of my over-educated, stay-at-home mommy friends. Everyone is a little restless, wondering what they should be doing, but my story is not theirs. A few years ago, as my second born approached his first birthday it became eminently clear to me that I needed a project. But what, I had two toddlers and 15 hours a week of help? I found myself quickly evolving into the suburban super-mom who so many of my, well, suburban friends had become. Need cupcakes for the classroom? I am on it. Someone to run the fundraisers? Yes, of course. An unpaid substitute teacher? No problem. A seat on the Board? Absolutely. No was simply not part of my vernacular. But this was temporary, this over-involved status. It gave me an outlet and ready access to my children (read reduced guilt). I saw what was happening in the classroom, knew that teachers I'd befriended would for certain look out for my kids, do right by them. Soon enough they'd both be at school and then I could, guilt free, take on some projects of my own.
As life does, sometimes we get what we ask for and it's not exactly what we meant. For me, I got a project, the role of a lifetime. Just after little guy turned 1 I was diagnosed with cancer. My entire world changed. I vacillated between trying to live an entire lifetime in a few short months to completely disengaging from everyone I loved - everyone who loved me. It was a project that took every ounce of courage I could muster. For the next 9 months of my life I would not only be super mom but super patient. Every other week, for four months, I would take a 24-hour hiatus from my world, get an infusion and be back to fight another day. In November, I would have both of my breasts removed and be banned from picking up my kids, even pushing the stroller for the next 6 weeks. Following that I would sneak off for 36 rounds of radiation without either kid noticing I had an appointment. 36 times I lay on that table while they positioned and repositioned me. Making sure they weren't going to zap my lungs or, worse yet, my heart. Then the actual treatment. What a mind fuck. Here, lay perfectly still while we shoot you with high enough doses of radiation to give you the very disease you have dedicated yourself to beating.
After a long and grueling year of applying to private schools in NYC – a story in itself – our first-born started kindergarten this fall. It was as much a chance for new beginnings for me as it was for her.
Growing up in a working-class, immigrant family, the last place you would expect to find me is at the door of one of the most elite schools in NYC, the world for that matter. But there I am picking up and dropping off my little angel, my Bean among the rich, famous, powerful and influential. Oh and, as it turns out, the boat load of people just like us - people eking out just a little more than the generation before. A higher degree or two, a successful start-up, the right real estate decision and suddenly your living in a multi-million dollar apartment and paying $40,000 a year to send your kid to school. GUILT.
Somewhere towards the end of 2012 I decided it was time to start taking my life back from cancer. I needed to start living again, I mean really living. Letting go of the full-time nanny that we'd hired to get us through this ordeal was the first step. If I was going to be a stay-at-home mom then by God I was going to be the one who dropped them off and picked them up. I would be there when they needed a snuggle or board game opponent. We were going to start moving away from freezer ready meals. Once per week, the four of us would sit down and eat "real" food. Our weekly Sunday dinner would be a forum for some normalcy.
Two and a half years, one bald head, two surgeries, seven doses of chemotherapy and thirty-six rounds of radiation later I am pretty much back to me. Well, me minus a few body parts, but for the most part me. Lingering, somewhere in the dark recess of my mind is the 15% chance they didn't get it all. That somewhere, hiding behind some organ there is some microscopic cancer cell that lived to see another day. It doesn't usually bother me until someone says something like, "but you beat it." And I want to scream, "There's no cure for cancer." Mostly for my friend Rachel, may she rest in peace and my friends Kristen and Sarah who have fought this beast twice already.
Powerful, no? Do you ever feel stuck between the life you are living and the one you thought you would be living? Have you been through a life-changing event and come out mostly unchanged? What do you feel guilty about?