Monday, May 20, 2019

Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First

Quinn and I spend half an hour or so most nights reading side-by-side in his bed before I tuck him in. He recently suggested I start reading some of his books, and then he'll read them when I'm done. We have our own two-person book club and so far it is one of my favorite things that has happened to me as a parent. Right now, I'm a few chapters into book two of the Book Scavenger series by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman. The series is about a couple of kids who crack literary puzzles and codes to find hidden books and also solve bigger mysteries. The second book, the one I'm on, is called The Unbreakable Code.

I'm one of those people who's always got a handful of books on my nightstand, and right now I'm also reading Creative Trespassing: How to Put the Spark and Joy Back into Your Work and Life by Tania Katan, a local creative genius and also breast cancer survivor. I met Tania through my friend Sandi a couple of years ago at a storytelling event Tania was emceeing. And listening to her engage the crowd with her enthusiasm for story itself, I decided then and there I wanted to be her when I grow up. When her book came out a few months ago, I grabbed a copy, but it has taken me a little bit to dive into it because time does not grow on trees. Or something like that.

As I was reading Creative Trespassing the other night and highlighting and drawing stars next to passages left and right, including, "The moment you choose to let the world see the real you -- messy, imperfect, warts and all -- is the moment you choose to shine too."

A little further down the page, Tania writes, "And then I look on my  refrigerator to see the poem I placed there in case of an existential emergency, "The Summer Day" by Mary Oliver. The last line of poem is "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" Oh, it gets me every time. Because this is it, kids. I don't mean to get all life-or-deathsy here, but regardless of what your beliefs are about death or life or life after death, why would you want to squander a single moment of your one wild and precious life?"

I love that passage, and I have long loved that line by Mary Oliver. But here's where it got super weird for me, you guys. The very NEXT night, as I was reading next to Quinn, the kids in the Unbreakable Code book met with a librarian who has a tattoo sleeve on her arm. One of the tattoos is of an airplane carrying "a banner that read Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" Which gave me goosebumps because what are the chances? Sometimes the universe bonks you on the head with these signs, and if I've learned anything, it's to pay attention to the neon signs in your life -- and also lumps and bumps that aren't typical.

And these signs I'm getting lately, I believe, tie into a conversation I was having with a survivor friend recently about self-care versus selfishness.

In a post-cancer world, we survivors are acutely aware of the value of time and the resources that go into how we choose to spend it. For many of us, side effects linger long after treatment ends. Chemo brain is a very real hindrance in our day-to-day lives. Depending on how far out we are from surgeries or other treatments, we may have physical limitations like the extreme tightness in my right pectoral muscle. Many of us struggle with anxiety and PTSD. Despite all of this, we show up in this life because we have seen the terrifying possibility of an early end to it, up close and personal.

We show up by paying attention to our own needs first. Which might sound backwards to some, but what we've learned is that our health is everything. That without it, we are in hospital beds or on chemo chairs or recovering on the couch, and it's much harder to show up as our best selves when we're not well. We know that we can't take care of our families, or advocate for other patients, or live the fullest out of our one wild and precious life if we don't first take care of ourselves. It just doesn't work that way.

This is why flight attendants tell parents to put their own oxygen masks on first. On a plane that has lost cabin pressure, you can't help your child breathe if you aren't breathing.

It's why the spoon theory about how chronically ill patients choose to spend their spoons each day went viral, because others could concretely visualize why we are so frugal with how we spend our energy.

And because I'm on a Brenè Brown kick lately, it's why this quote makes so much sense: "In a society that says 'Put yourself last,' self-love and self-acceptance are almost revolutionary." If we are to show up for this one wild and precious life, we have to engage in self-care, as revolutionary as that might sound to some. So go to the gym, eat the vegetables, have a mom's night slumber party away from your kids, see your therapist, get the massage, walk more, cuddle with your dog, read with your child, do something creative. I am not just talking to the cancer survivors.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Construction Can Take Eons

Driving Quinn to school yesterday, we were listening to The Absolutely Mindy Show on Kids' Place Live. She told a story about an eagle in Kodiak, Alaska, that got ahold of a piece of halibut someone had thrown out because it was freezer-burned. A second eagle then got wind of the feast eagle #1 was having, and a fight for the prize broke out in the air.

I have seen almost this exact thing happen a few years ago visiting my home state of Washington. A heron caught a fish and almost immediately, an eagle came into attack and steal the catch. It is fascinating to watch these majestic creatures that symbolize our country swoop in to try to take what is rightfully someone else's. Metaphors abound.

3 years ago in the PNW - photo by my friend Lara Agnew 
Where we saw the eagle / heron fight
But Mindy was talking about these two eagles, and how suddenly, in the chaos of their dogfight (er, bird-fight), one went CRASHING THROUGH SOMEONE'S WINDOW and landed in her house. The homeowner, Stacy Studebaker, said, ""It was so unbelievably loud. My first thought was: I thought an atomic bomb had dropped and the windows were blowing out." Ironically, Studebaker founded the local chapter of the Audubon Society. 

Mindy went on to describe the mayhem that the eagle caused with its EIGHT-FOOT WINGSPAN and Quinn's eyes went wide as we both imagined the chaos. "That's like the size of a dad, lying down, plus one extra foot on either side," Mindy explained, and we laughed at the thought of a bird that giant in our house. The woman, Mrs. Studebaker, and a neighbor tried to get the eagle outside, 

"But it freaked out again and flew into the dining room and there was just stuff flying everywhere — broken glassware, art supplies, you name it. It was still trying to get out through the windows in the dining room," Studebaker said.

Eventually they maneuvered behind the bird and were able to get it out of the house, which took her and her husband hours to clean up.

"If you could have seen the house, it really looked like a bomb had gone off," she said. "There was glass that had been thrown into a bookcase that was 25 feet (7.6 meters) away and all over the furniture. The carpet was sparkling with glass."

She added: "It was like having a wrecking ball coming through your window — with wings!"

And it was funny, and we were laugh-crying in amazement as I dropped Quinn off at school.

Quinn's wingspan is not quite that of an eagle's
But later, it got me thinking about destruction and how quickly devastation can set in. I mentioned I've been seeing a massage therapist for my neck / shoulder. Last visit, she asked how I was recovering from the car accident. "Honestly? I feel like I take two steps forward, one step back," I said. I was talking about my shoulder, but it could also apply to processing my cancer recovery.

"Construction can take eons," she said.

"What?" I thought, lying with my face smushed into the cradle at the end of the massage table. Conversations are weird when you can't see the other person's face and their knuckles are digging into the muscles under your shoulder blade.

"Destruction only takes a moment, but for the body to recover can take years," she said. This woman is so much more than my massage therapist. She is quickly becoming my secondary therapy therapist.

Years, you guys. One foot in front of the other. Until one day you wake up and the overwhelming, repeating mantra in your head isn't about when the other shoe is going to drop. Suddenly, it is simply gratitude that you can see the other side, that you get to spread your wings and live this beautiful life. I am still somewhere in the in-between, but I am moving forward and taking steps (19,365 a day at Disney a couple of weeks ago).

Acting like movie stars at Disney with my favorite boy