Monday, September 9, 2013

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Over the weekend, Chris, Quinn and I went up to Spokane, in eastern Washington, in honor of my grandfather's 80th birthday and my grandmother's 76th. Even though they haven't been married for probably forty years now (or maybe because they haven't been married for forty years), they were able to come together with their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to blow out candles with each other and celebrate with the family they began more than a half-century ago.

{my grandmother and me sharing a moment on a swing}

I wasn't sure what to expect for the weekend, honestly. I haven't seen some of my aunts and uncles since my high-school graduation almost two decades ago, and even though I was in Spokane in 2010 for my maternal grandmother's funeral, Chris hadn't been able to join me then and had never visited. It wasn't exactly at the top of our destination list. Not to knock the city where I was born, but it has always looked to me like a town in need of a fresh coat of paint.

We stayed at my Aunt Kathy's house, which used to belong to my great-grandfather, although you can hardly see the outline of the old house after a year of remodeling and renovation, both inside and out (no fresh paint needed here). This house is next door to where my dad grew up and my grandmother still lives today. Together, the houses sit on six acres in a suburb called Otis Orchards, not far from the Spokane River and the Idaho border. It is rural, and was probably an idyllic place to grow up when my dad was a kid. Now, my Aunt complains of "tweakers" stealing parts out of her barn to sell or trade for meth, so they've had to put up an extensive security camera system. The economic downturn hit Spokane's manufacturing economy hard; trailer parks and junk yards have taken the place of wide open fields and horse farms. As my dad will tell you if you visit with him, "It didn't used to be like this."

***

I met two of my first cousins for the first time on this trip. It's a long story that's not really mine to tell, but there are a couple of special kids growing up there without a mom, which I know isn't all that unusual in the world, but it is unusual in my family. The mother in me wanted to shower them with as much attention as possible while I was there. It was only a weekend, but I bonded with Lacy, a precocious six-year-old, pretty quickly.

While I was reading books to the kids, she saw my license sitting out on the dresser and asked bluntly if that was me. I said yes.

[my license photo, probably taken summer of 2008}

"Why'd you cut your hair?" she wanted to know.

How would I explain this? I wondered.

"I had to take some medicine that made my hair fall out, and it's just growing back in," I tried. I told her it wasn't like any medicine she was ever likely to need, because I didn't want her to be scared the next time she had to take Tylenol or antibiotics.

I've been wondering lately how I will explain cancer to Quinn when the time comes. He's getting older, and already knows how often I have to go to the doctor. I'm going to have to explain this to him someday soon. I think honesty is the best policy, but I also want to keep my discussions with Quinn (or any other kid) age-appropriate. How much should I tell her? I decided against using the cancer word, against going into detail about why I needed medicine or what my future might look like.

"Oh," Lacy seemed satisfied with my simple explanation so I left it at that.

And then she added, "Your face used to look better, too. I think you're growing a mustache." She looked closer. "Yep, definitely a mustache."

Apparently, the last few years have aged me a little (but at least I have enough hair again to worry about waxing my upper lip). Go figure. Let's see what my face looks like when I turn 80.

{four generations, ages 79.9, 34.9, 60, and 2.5}

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