BYE BYE LYMPH NODE

SolotSummer2016-8835“We can’t shut the door to cancer.”The allergist stated as my two-year-old bounded around the room.

“We got blood tests last year because I was worried about his lymph nodes and the tests were normal.” I responded. “The doctor said it wasn’t cancer.” I brought my baby boy to the allergist, thinking he would be subject to an uncomfortable scratch test and that we may  need to eliminate dairy from his diet, but instead CANCER.

“The fact his blood tests were normal a year ago is great, but we can’t rule out cancer. I’m going to order some blood tests this morning and I think you need to see a Hem-Onc doctor.”

“What is a hem-onc doctor?” I asked.

“A pediatric oncologist.”

***

Fast-forward three months later, blood tests, ultrasounds, chest x-rays, and echoes, the specialists agreed that they should biopsy the lymph node on his neck in order to rule out lymphoma.

On Monday, June 20th, my wild two-year-old boy had surgery. He screamed as I held him down and the anesthesiologist put a gas mask over his face. His thrashing stopped and he drifted off to sleep as tears ran down my cheeks. The five minute biopsy took more than an hour and the ENT doctor removed his entire lymph node. The node was larger than they expected and he decided to remove it if there was any chance of a malignancy. The ENT said it looked like a normal node, but he wouldn’t have the results until Friday.

The morning of June 21, my baby woke up in his crib whimpering in pain. My head spun, I didn’t know a biopsy meant possibly removing the node? The doctor must have seen something in the node to compel him to remove it? Did my baby have cancer? 

I panicked silently as I held my sweet boy and we watched Mater Tales on Netflix a thousand times. I called his pediatrician, his oncologist, and the ENT to see if  the removal of his giant lymph node was standard procedure. I wept while my baby dozed on my chest.”I have a cut on my neck,”my baby cried. “Who did this to me?”he whimpered throughout the day. Finally, that evening the oncologist called and told me that the pathology came back normal and healthy.

Relief swept through me. My baby is HEALTHY!

However, I am intimately aware that the conversation with my son’s Oncologist could have gone the opposite direction. I know that life can change and does change in an instant. There are many families dealing with devastating diagnosis and loss, where the unimaginable becomes their instantaneous reality. My heart and prayers go out to these families.

No one is immune to sickness or loss. We can do all we can to keep our families safe, but there are many things we cannot control, sometimes lightning strikes and our journey changes. It sucks, but we change course.

***

I debated sharing this story.

I am sharing this because my baby is brave and resilient.

I am sharing this because no one knows what strangers are going through.

I am sharing this to remember this moment.

I am sharing this because I am incredibly lucky in love and life, despite the pot holes my family has hit recently.

I am sharing this because anyone can be hit with a pediatric cancer diagnosis, and pediatric cancers are surprisingly underfunded.

***

A big thank you to Julie Harris who captured this photo, which includes my boy’s giant and now missing lymph node.

Also, a big thank you to our pediatric oncologist Dr. Julie Zimbelman, who got all my baby’s tests done quicker than expected and called me with results before they were even sent to her office. If you are in the unfortunate situation of needing a pediatric hem onc doctor in Denver, she is amazing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SHE IS FOUR-YEARS-OLD

Photo credit - Julie Harris photography

Photo credit – Julie Harris photography

Your hair is still blonde, framing your round face and dark brown eyes. Your round belly peeks out of shirts that are a little too small. Shirts that you still love and I hate to pack away. Shirts that your sister wore three years ago and are now stained pink from years of afternoon watermelon and popsicles.

You are a fish. In swim lessons, you swim across the pool, flipping to your back to catch a breath and then instantly flip to your stomach to finish the traverse. You reach the other side of the pool and you look for me with a giant smile. You wave. You shine so brightly, my eyes sometimes fill with tears watching you.

Every night around 12am, you walk to my room and climb in bed beside me. Unlike your sister, who I carried back to her room, middle daughter, you experience the luxury of my exhaustion. I pull you in bed and we snuggle. Lately, I’ve pulled you in bed and in my exhausted haze, I’ve thought you were your big sister. You are getting so big. People often ask me if you two are twins.

You are an expert cuddler. You snuggle next to me on the couch or bed, and gently pinch the skin on my arm, my cheeks, and my belly. Sometimes you pinch a little too hard, but mostly you give gentle squeezes. “I like to squeeze your squishy parts,” you murmur. Pure love, you make me almost happy to have extra parts.

You were the easiest of my three babies, you were not a screamer, and slept better than both your siblings. Today if I had to put money on who would be the most likely to sleep past 6:30am, it would be you.

My partner in crime, my little helper, we run errands together, you help me do laundry and clean the counters. A homebody, you are happy to stay home and hang out.

When I pick you up from preschool, you give me the detailed run down of every minute of your morning, including who sat with you, played with you, and what everybody said.

You are so proud of your family. When I pick you up from school, you lead your baby brother over to your friends and demand, “LOOK AT MY BABY,” with the biggest smile on your face. On the rare occasion that your big sister was home from school and came to pick you up, you were on cloud nine. “THIS IS MY BIG SISTER,” you told everyone.

Your sister is your best friend. You share a room, a bunk bed, and toys. Some days you choose to match and wear identical clothes. As your brother gets older, you play with him too. You and the baby are magnets pulled together by an invisible force. To my irritation, you cannot keep your hands off of each other. The minute he finds a toy, you steal it and run from him at lightning speed. You silently pinch him behind my back. You constantly push his buttons (and mine too). You make him scream constantly, but the minute you disappear to another room he searches for you.

“Sister, where are you?” he calls in his 18 month-old garbled speech? “Where did sister go?” he asks putting his hands in the air.

He will be tough because he has you.

You love Star Wars and Scooby Doo. When your baby brother was born, I relaxed a little in terms of appropriate television viewing. As long as your Dad kept you and your sister entertained, I was happy. Your Dad let you watch Star Wars. You and your sister are obsessed. For Christmas, you got a Star Wars lunch box and backpack. Much to my embarrassment, you told everyone in preschool (including your friends parents) that you love Star Wars and watched every single one of them. Initially, you loved “Luke,” (because he is handsome?!?!?) but now you prefer the dark side.

Parents approach me, “Wow, she watched Star Wars?”

“I like the Empire Strikes Back,” you announce unabashedly.

“I didn’t know they were old enough,” they state.

“Nope, they aren’t, it’s completely inappropriate for three-year-olds,” I admit embarrassed. “I have lost all control.”

Although initially you may act shy, once you feel comfortable you give everyone the constant run down of everything that is going on. My parents used to tell me that they called me the “Family Narrator” because I would describe everything that everyone did at all times. You are our family narrator. You are good company. I never feel lonely or bored when I’m with you.

You love playing with boys. This year you were a little boy obsessed, which is weird because how could a three-year-old possibly be boy crazy, but you are. You came home from school and would tell me, “Mom, I like playing with the Bad Boys.” When we dropped your sister off at the kindergarten “Kiss & Go,” you always wanted Mr. Stephen to come to the door and grab your sister. You even sang songs about him, much to your sister’s embarrassment. You will be trouble in middle school and high school.

Although an easy baby, at times you were an impossible three-year-old. You are pure charm and naughtiness. You haven’t napped since you were two, but I enforce quiet time while your brother naps. You stay up in your room while I work on my computer. Quiet time is never quiet. You sneakily steal shampoo from the bathroom and wash the Barbies’ hair on the carpet in your bedroom, you pushed toys and stuffed animals down the HVAC vents in your room, and you colored elaborate pictures on the carpet with markers. You make my blood boil, but charm is your super power. You always magically float back into my good graces.

You may be one of the most charming people I’ve ever met. You make everyone feel special with your smiles and whispered words of love. You dole them freely to all those you love.

On the flip side, you are fierce. If something upsets you, you roar mightily, stomp your feet, throw things in rage, and slam doors repeatedly to make your point.

The other day I met you at camp to rock climb. Before leaving for camp that day, you told me you were too scared to climb. When I got there you climbed one side of the wall. You maybe made it a couple of footholds off the ground. Each time you climbed, you got a little higher. You attempted to climb each side of the wall, and one time you may have gotten half way up. You kept trying and getting a little higher. It was hot, 90 degrees, and the wall was set up on hot pavement. Most of the other kids stopped and sat in the shade, but red faced you kept climbing.

The instructor hooked your harness to another side of the wall. You smiled.

“You know what,” she said. “When you keep trying something even though it’s hard, and you don’t give up, that means, you have a giant heart.” I smiled at the truth of the statement.

You are pure heart.

***

This birthday post comes two weeks late. I’ve debated posting it because I began having mixed feeling about posting details about my kids. Now my oldest values her privacy, so I will not publicly post my birthday letter to her this year. I decided posting this one because:

(1) friends and family appreciate a glimpse of the little personalities emerging in our family,

(2) I adore these kiddos and want to remember every single moment.

(3) This is my public love letter to my little girl, I’ve never received a public letter of adoration, but I bet I would like it, and

(4) I love my family so much, I want to shout it from the roof tops and tell the world just how special they are,

For these reasons and more, I’m writing the memories down.

28 Days of Play: Who Doesn’t Play With Their Children?

youplustwoparenting

I sat on the couch, my legs curled beneath me, my pregnant belly wedged on a throw pillow. My husband lay beside me, watching a miscellaneous sporting event on television. Our toddler slept soundly upstairs. I skimmed a parenting book. That summer I flipped through hordes of books, worrying about my daughter adjusting to life as a big sister.

I shifted positions on the couch. “Hey babe,” I said. “It says to help our children develop healthy self-esteem, we should participate in “child directed play” for at least ten minutes every day.” I laughed.

“Are you kidding me?” He responded, “Who doesn’t play with their kids for ten minutes a day?”

“Exactly.” What kind of mom doesn’t spend ten minutes playing with their children? 

****

Well, ah … things have changed. I’m a different mother than I was lying on that couch.

Check out the rest of my essay over on You Plus 2 Parenting’s 28 Days of Play where throughout February writers share their honest feelings about playing with their children.

Sweet Baby James

Solot summer 2014-9927

You are only one, but there is so much to say about you.

We contemplated whether or not to have a third baby. Did we have room for one more? Did we have the patience, the stamina, and the mental reserve to have three kids under five-years-old? We didn’t know if we did, but when I looked at family photographs, a part of me knew that someone was missing.

You were missing.

 ****

In April 2013, my dad died and one month later I discovered I was pregnant with you. It was a hard pregnancy. There was my grief. Then your dad tore his achilles tendon and could not drive or walk for two months. That fall, your dad lost his cousin and a childhood friend.  The doctor told me that each subsequent pregnancy feels harder on a woman’s body. My body hurt. Pregnant with two preschoolers and an injured husband, I was exhausted.

People often said, “Don’t worry third babies just go with the flow.” Pregnant with my third, I clung to this adage wholeheartedly.

In my head, I thought you would just roll with the punches. Your dad hoped you would be a garden gnome baby who would sit and sleep in your baby carrier and be toted to all of your sisters’ activities. We did not think to contemplate the alternative, which was the ultimate jinx.

Colic.

You screamed. You cried like a screeching car alarm, hardly breathing. You turned purple screaming. The color vanished from your lips.

The definition of colic is constant and inconsolable crying for at least three hours a day, for at least three days a week, for at least three months. The definition sounds nice compared to your screaming. You screamed all day every day for months. I dreamed of only three hours of crying.

You screamed at home. You screamed in the car. You screamed in the stroller when I walked your sisters into preschool. You screamed at the supermarket.

“Is he tired?”

”Is he hungry?”

“Does he need to be changed?”

“Is he cold?”

A chorus of suggestions from well meaning strangers followed me wherever I went.

When my four-year-old daughter’s teachers asked about her baby brother, she responded, “He cries a lot,” which may have been the understatement of the year.

Initially, I marveled at the patience of your two big sisters since your scream became the soundtrack of our lives.  We couldn’t hear ourselves think. I marveled at my husband’s patience. He would never have maintained his cool so well with our first baby.

We were all so patient, but then …

Your two-year-old sister lost her cool. As you screamed in your car seat, she put her hands over her ears and started crying and yelling at the top of her lungs, “BABY, STOP SCREAMING,” repeatedly on every drive.

The sheer noise level of our drives was mind altering.  This may have been the point where the rest of us lost our minds.  My hearing permanently diminished.

Was it reflux? We tried gripe water, Zantac, Prevacid, and Chamomile tea. I eliminated everything from my diet.

You cried. You screamed. You didn’t sleep. You were up every hour for months on end.

I worried that you would never smile. I prayed there was nothing wrong with you. Were you in physical pain? Was there something wrong with your brain or your nervous system?  Your screams pierced our psyches.

My spirit wilted. Were we going to be okay? Denial, I kept smiling.

At this point, there were a handful of people that were my saviors, your grandmothers, who were the only people I trusted to watch you as you screamed inconsolably, a couple of friends who listened empathetically, but most of all there was my twin sister.  She maintained my sanity.  I have never been so grateful for our relationship. She had a newborn as well, a daughter two months older than you. Every day I dropped my big girl at preschool and endured the stares as you shrieked in the stroller. I drove around in my minivan, talking to my sister on Bluetooth, as you endlessly shrieked in the back seat. She spent countless morning hours on the phone with me as I drove my screaming baby. She never told me she couldn’t hear me. She never complained. She never told me to call her back. She talked to me about life as you screeched inconsolably in our ears. This is love.

One conversation stands out.

“Having a third baby is not so bad.” I commented as I pulled out of my alley. “You should definitely have a third baby.”

“Justine, are you crazy?” she said. “I talk to you every day.  You may be the reason I never have a third child.  You can’t tell me what your doing is easy. I can’t stand it when my baby screams like that for five minutes. What you’re experiencing is so hard!” She acknowledged what I couldn’t say out loud.  Silly, but her words meant everything.

At two months, you smiled and the family breathed a collective sigh of relief. You laughed. Milestones came and time passed. The colic vanished with the size 2 baby diapers.  Colic became a distant memory.

****

Your beginning makes me think of an Edward Abbey quotation, “May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.”

You are the most amazing view.

You are joy, love, and enthusiasm. You stretch your arms and reach for everyone in the family – an equal opportunity spreader of love.

When I cradle you, you wrap your arms around my neck, pulling my face close to your soft cheek.

You give giant open mouth kisses to everyone in the family, sucking on our noses, cheeks, and mouths.

“This is hilarious,” your big sister giggles as you dive mouth first for her nose. (These kisses may have something to do with this being the worst cold season we have ever experienced).

Adored. We swoon in your presence.

You love your big sisters, but they may love you more. This Thanksgiving, the curmudgeony three-year-old proudly told her teachers that she was thankful for her baby brother.

We are all thankful for you.

You have zero personal space. Your two big sisters smother you with hugs whether you want them or not. They grab you, and you either laugh or you scream.

You don’t talk yet, but your desires are known. You watch me fix a snack for your sisters and you shriek loudly until the same snack is placed on your tray. I fill a glass of water and you scream because you are thirsty too.

You scream until your needs are met.

Meals are loud.

Life is loud.

You already know you must fight for what you want. Your three-year-old sister steals your toy and a guttural howl escapes your mouth. Your arm stretches to grab it back. This may be her favorite game, anything you like she takes instantly.

At six-months-old, you saw soccer balls in the grass and kicked your feet wildly with excitement. You chase balls around the house, pushing and throwing them and then crawling after them at rocket speed.

IMG_4070

Much to your dad’s joy, you sit in front of the basketball hoop outside and reach up with your arms to try to place the ball in the hoop.

You and Deets (our dog) are equally obsessed with tennis balls.

You started crawling at 7.5 months.

You are a lover of all things dangerous – stairs, toilets, sockets, and electrical chords.

You don’t know how to walk but you climb step stools and stand on your tippy toes to grab anything elicit from the counter.

You stand on your tiptoes and pull colored pencils off the girls’ art table.

You bump your head on the coffee table at least a thousand times a day. You don’t go around tables or chairs instead you go through them and are constantly stuck in chair legs, rungs, and sandwiched in between end tables and couches.

You see an open baby gate and throw your crawl into high gear in hopes that you make it to the stairs before me. We have started constructing giant barriers of beanbag chairs and toy baskets to block you off from dangerous areas of the house. You summit our manmade obstacles and we make them higher. Cru, our old Basset Hound, barks constantly at the barricades . Again, we are so loud.

The girls screamed angrily in their highchairs when the dogs ate crumbs from their laps. You giggle with delight when the dogs lick your feet.

“Hi,” you wave, so pleased with your ability to communicate. Your wave is an exaggerated opening and closing of the fingers. I say hi, and your fingers immediately respond. I tell you to say goodnight to your dad and sisters, and your fingers open and close dramatically.

You laugh hysterically at my jokes and funny sounds.

You have the hazel eyes of your namesake.

You have a one-year-old mullet of thin old man hair that makes us smile.

You are beautiful.

We survived your first year.  My last baby, every moment is nostalgic. Every milestone is as wonderful as those accomplished by your two big sisters. As I felt with them, you truly are the smartest, most coordinated, most loving, and most beautiful baby in the world.

How did we get so lucky three times?

You put giant smiles on all of our faces. Our hearts soar for you.

“My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.” (Tom Robbins)

Three-Year-Old Wild Thing

“Santa is watching,” I tell my daughter who appears to be dangerously close to putting a large pot over her baby brother’s head.

“Oh no,” she cries, collapsing in a heap on the hardwood floors. She cries inconsolably, gasping for breath. “I am so naughty,” she wails. I sit down on the floor and wrap my arms around her body and give her a tight squeeze.

“It’s okay,” I whisper. “It’s not yet Christmas, you have time to be better,” I rub her back with my hand. My words are the opposite of soothing.

She bolts upright. “I CAN’T,” she screams. “I want to stop being naughty, but I can’t.” She is distraught and realizes that behaving is not a possible. “SANTA WILL NEVER BRING ME ANY PRESENTS,” real tears stream down her cheeks.

This is the seasonal variation of her wailing, “I want to be good, but I just CAN’T,” or “I want to stop crying, but my tears just won’t stop.”

*****

I walk into my daughter’s preschool classroom. I love picking my three-year-old up from school. Typically, she runs at me with open arms, yells “Mama” and grabs hold of my legs. I never get greetings like that. Today I walk into her classroom. My daughter is huddled in the corner behind a table. She looks up, sees me, and screams, “GO AWAY,” at the top of her lungs. These public greetings can be embarrassing. I approach her and her shrieks grow louder. She opens her mouth wide and ROARS.

“What are you doing? We’ve got to go.” I snap, kneeling down beside her. She holds a Ziploc baggy that contains a chocolate in her hands and like a wild animal she tears at it with her teeth.

“What are you doing?” I repeat, slightly horrified by her animalistic behavior.

“I want my treat,” she growls. The teacher told her she could not have a treat until she finished her healthy food. My daughter’s lunchbox sits full on the table.

“Maybe you shouldn’t put treats in her lunchbox,” her teacher suggests as we exit the classroom.

 ****

“MOM,” my baby howls. I glance at the clock, 2:30am, jump out of bed, and run to her room. “There are spiders,” she murmurs still half asleep. “Mommy snuggle,” she implores. I lie down in her bed, placing my head on a stuffed animal. I try to fall back to sleep. Moments later, she barks, “MOM SIT IN THE CHAIR!” She doesn’t want me to share her bed, the bratty child wants me to sit in the chair by her bed.

 Seriously? I think. Are you kidding me? Last time I climb in her bed.

****

The baby screams and instantaneously, she screams, “I didn’t do it.”

“What do you mean you didn’t do it?” I say. The three-year-old and the crying baby sit beside each other next to the steps.

“What happened?” I ask.

“Oh, I just bumped his chin against the stairs.” She answers innocently. “Is that bad?” Her grin is devilish.

This kid thinks she can get away with anything, and she probably can.  In the future, I just hope she uses her charm for good and not evil.

****

A professional family photo shoot at Wash Park, my wild child pops a squat in the middle of the very public field. There is no shame in her game.

****

We are at the playground, waiting for her big sister to get out of school. I push my wild child on the swing.

“Try pumping,” I say, she knows how to pump her legs, but she has no desire to do it on her own.

“DO OR DO NOT, THERE IS NO TRY,” she croaks in her best Yoda voice.

Okay, Yoda, you win. You may have the force on your side, but you are dangerously close to sliding to the Dark Side.
Solot summer 2014-9874

Photo credit: Julie Harris Photography

Tired

I am so tired that I drove my minivan into the mall parking structure not realizing that I still had the giant capsule roof rack on top of my car. Immediately, I heard the loud SCRAPE of my car against the low beam of the parking garage. I froze, but I couldn’t freeze. Once I entered the garage, there was nothing to do other then follow the maze of exit signs to the exit. I scraped every low beam along the way. It was loud. People pointed at me and not so politely informed me that I was scraping the ceiling.

No s***.

I nodded and smiled. Yes, I was entirely aware my car was hitting the ceiling, just creeping to the exit.

Thank God, my daughters weren’t in the car. My kindergartener would deem this situation “embarrassing” and would probably not recover this decade. As for me, it was definitely embarrassing, but post-children I’ve become well acquainted with embarrassing. It is just par for the course.

I am so tired that I wrote about it. Please read my essay over at Scary Mommy.

Warning – The Invisible Virus

Guilt – A highly contagious virus is spreading like wildfire this flu season.  Parents, especially mothers are highly susceptible.  This includes: stay-at-home, working, breastfeeding, bottle feeding, single, coupled, same-sex, attachment-parenting, helicopter, free-range, tiger, and any other type of mother you can think of.

There is no known vaccine.

The virus may cause insomnia, emotional distress, stress related headaches, attitude problems, marital discord, stomach aches, and nausea.  It may lead sufferers to drink copious amounts of wine or binge eat after bedtime.

There is no known cure.  Although sleep, exercise, yoga, wine and confessing all your guilt inducing sins to your true friends will help alleviate symptoms. Acceptance, of oneself and fellow sufferers is key to moving forward.

Let’s support one another in this parenting escapade.

We are all doing the best we can.

Also, if you get a chance check out my essay “Mom Guilt” on the Huffington Post – share it, like it, tweet it, and email it around.  You can “Fan Me” if you want the Huff Post to send you an email whenever I publish over there.

I am an insecure writer, so any fandom is much appreciated.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/justine-solot/mom-guilt_b_5793030.html

Thanks,

Justine