How has it been a year since I wrote the last one of these? How are you FIVE? Time is a funny thing, isn't it? A couple of weeks ago, on the way to school, you asked me what makes today a new day. I explained that the earth rotated one full turn, that every morning is a brand new day.
"But what makes it different?" you wanted to know, after you figured out that we're always spinning in space -- too slowly to feel, too quickly now that I'm a mom.
"Today we get to choose to be awesome!" I said, apparently having gotten a good night's sleep the night before and doubled up on my morning coffee. "I'm going to try to be an even better mom to you. What are you going to try today?"
You said something ridiculously sweet, like, "You already ARE a good mommy!" Because that's who you are, how big your heart is.
A few days later, we heard this song on the radio about trying everything.
"How is that even possible? For one person to try everything? I don't get it! What does that even mean?" you said, your inflections slaying me. I basically want to carry around a recorder and catch your voice all the time lately. You talk almost incessantly around your dad and I, and I still can't get enough of it.
That morning, we talked about living an adventurous life, about exploring and traveling, about being open-minded. I don't think you'll have any problems in this regard (except maybe when it comes to trying new vegetables). I love seeing the world unfold through your eyes.
For weeks, I'd been filling out family information forms for kindergarten, with questions along the lines of "describe your parenting style" and "what are your child's strengths" and "list anything you would like to keep out of your child's early childhood experience."
I would say my parenting style varies between nurturing -- perhaps to a fault, if that's possible, because I've always loved you with the fear of cancer lurking in the background, wondering how long my luck could possibly hold, so I dote on you a bit -- and freaking out because we're running late yet again and no one can find their shoes or sunglasses and I forgot it's my day for snacks at preschool. I am not quite sure how we're going to get to kindergarten by 8:30 a.m. come August.
But I'm at the point where I can pretty confidently say I think I'll be here to see you start kindergarten (knock on wood), so I'm not really going to sweat it if we're a few minutes late the first week or if your socks don't match.
Your strengths are easy. You are creative, helpful, thoughtful, empathetic as they come, curious, adventurous. I ran out of space on these forms to say all the wonderful things about you. In one of my favorite birthday cards you received, a friend of yours wrote that what he loves about you is how funny you are, then included a story of you standing in front of a mirror at school, saying, "Why are you copying me?" Please don't ever lose your goofiness.
What I didn't write: cancer. I wish I could have kept that out, but no one asked me about that one. What goes without saying: death. I really don't want that to be part of your childhood any more than it already has been.
Two days after your birthday, the three of us boarded a plane to Kauai, where your grandparents had requested their ashes be spread. Our second day there, we found a guy who would take the three of us out on his boat to scatter the ashes in the Pacific. You wanted to know why Grandma and Grandpa wanted their ashes spread at sea, what it meant to be cremated, whether it hurt them, where their bodies are now, what happens to us when we die. "What is heaven?" you queried, the end of a long line of questions to which I have only vague answers. I may not have all the answers, but I love the richness of our conversations lately.
I am still scared for the day when you start asking more questions about cancer.
I write these letters to you as the time comes, to reflect on the last year. I don't write them in advance, and I haven't done one of those "cards for every potential occasion I might miss as you grow up" kinds of things. If I died tomorrow, this would be it: whatever I've written for you here, plus snippets in your baby book. I haven't wanted to go down that "just in case" path. I've wanted to believe I'll be here to dance at your wedding instead.
But honestly, I wasn't really sure whether I'd be here for your fifth birthday when I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer four-and-a-half years ago. The statistics aren't great, but as your Grandpa Jim would have said, "Statistics don't mean a thing for the individual." You'll have to forgive me if I was a little emotional when you woke up last Sunday and found me in the kitchen drinking coffee and looking at baby photos of you. You declared, "I'm five!" and have said it intermittently over the last week. Riding your bike with no hands yesterday, you stepped it up with, "Being five is AWESOME!" because, obviously, no hands.
You question everything, want to see the proof. "Just trust me," or "because I said so," are never going to be enough for you. Some days it makes me batty, but at the same time I love your insatiable curiosity, your not being satisfied with the easy answer, your constant desire to hear the full truth.
I slipped and told you to keep track of your shit the other day, after you'd asked me for the gazillionth time where something of yours was. You stopped, because you knew somehow this was a word I shouldn't have said.
"What's 'shit'?" you asked, a half smile spreading across your face. "'Shit' is a funny word," you went on.
"It's a mommy word, and you shouldn't use it," I said.
"Tell me what it means, and I promise I won't say it," you bargained.
"It's basically poop," I said, hesitant. What had I gotten myself into?
You laughed, and looked at me funny. "Mom, you just told me to keep track of my poop!" Ha ha hahahahaha. Ha. Mommies are hilarious.
To your credit, you haven't repeated the word since (knock on more wood).
At night, when I'm tucking you in after we've read your three stories to you -- or lately, you reading to us! -- I tell you I love you more than anything. "I love you more," you say most of the time.
"I doubt it, but tell me how much," I say. I love to hear where your imagination goes.
"I love you to the end of space, past all the galaxies, times infinity," you say, "then back into your heart for you to keep forever." Then: "What's after space?" Of course.
"That's SO much!" I say. I wonder where you come up with this stuff. "I love you that much, too, buddy. And I don't know what comes after space. It's a mystery."
You ask me if I'll still love you when I'm dead. "I think a part of me will, even after I die." What do I know? Anything is possible. I hope that won't happen for a long, long time.
"I think so too. I'll miss you so much," you tell me. I try not to cry. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes not. And you lean in for a bear hug. You're so great at those, and I'm amazed at your strength.
I'm amazed at you. You're five!