In the last few weeks, our family has been facing the continuing decline of Chris's mom's health, which has meant Chris has been traveling up to northern California to spend time with her every other week. Between Chris's travels and my time in DC, we've hardly spent any time together as a family in a month.
Quinn and I FaceTime with Grandma Maryann a bit, when she's feeling up for it, but Chris doesn't want how she's doing now to be Quinn's memory of her, so it's unlikely the two of us will see her in person anytime soon.
At school, Quinn drew a picture for me for Mother's Day, two stick figures holding hands. He tells me, "Mommy, that's me and you!" But on closer inspection, I realize both faces are frowning.
"Why do we have unhappy faces, buddy?" I ask.
"Because we're sad about Grandma."
All of this apart-ness and upheaval and emotion has certainly taken a toll on Quinn. He's alternately sweet as can be or acting out, defiant about every single thing I ask him to do lately, whether it's brushing teeth or turning off the TV or not running away from me in a crowded grocery store.
Yesterday, as I was driving Quinn to a new park to play with his friend Sydney, I was trying to focus on where the map was telling me to turn, trying to find parking, trying to communicate with Sydney's mom about where to meet without taking my eyes off the road, and Quinn -- in his utter and complete excitement about seeing Sydney -- would not stop asking me, every thirty seconds, how much longer we had until we got there. "Quinn! Can you please be quiet so I can focus on the road?" I asked him more than once, then felt a stab of guilt for being an asshole.
At school drop-off and pick-up the last few weeks, I find my conversations with other moms gravitating toward how tough this age is. This age being 2 to 4? 5? We wonder when it gets easier, joke that we need happy hour at three in the afternoon, talk about pulling our hair out. And even as I participate, I know better. I know how precious this life is, what little (if any) time any of us are guaranteed, how -- difficult or ornery we might all be on occasion -- my time with my boys is everything.
This morning, with Chris back in town, I went for a hike. I was heavy-limbed and clumsy. I twisted my ankle (it's fine) and felt unsure of my steps a good portion of the way. Eventually, battered and out of breath and frustrated, I made it to the top.
Back down the mountain, my head clearer than it had been in days, I checked my phone and got the punch-to-the-gut news that my friend and sorority sister Jenny's six-year-old son Michael died last night. It wasn't so much a surprise as it was a stark reminder of the brevity of our lives.
Michael had been diagnosed with a rare brain tumor a week before he started kindergarten last fall. Kindergarten.
That one pretty much takes the cake for cruelty, Universe.
And yet, Jenny and her family did not approach Michael's cancer with anger or bitterness. They celebrated his life. They spoke out to raise awareness about (and a lot of money toward) childhood brain cancer. They made to-do lists and checked them off every day, a tally of their accomplishments together as a family.
At his memorial later this week, they're encouraging everyone to wear yellow, Michael's favorite color. Yellow, the color of sunshine and hope, optimism and new beginnings. The color of forgiveness.
So, in Michael's honor, forgive yourselves, parents, for the occasional times when you're not doing your best. Then go hug your kiddos a little closer, a little tighter. You could probably both use it.
You can read more about Michael's inspiring story here and I encourage you to make a donation to the fund created in his honor by clicking here.
And I'll close with Jenny's own words from that Huffington Post article:
Jenny said she wants to remind parents to "enjoy every precious moment" with their children.
"The truth is that I often complained about how hard it is to be a parent," she said. "I do not back away from that sentiment -- I still think it is hard -- but I wish that in some of the moments when I was feeling overwhelmed or frustrated, I had the perspective to know that I was the luckiest person on the planet to have those kids driving me crazy."