Life Isn’t Fair (A Parental Perspective)

Having a sixteen year old daughter who is very much like you is a strange conundrum. On one hand, the experience of parenting a child who looks like you, who acts like you, and who is really a better version of you is both exciting and rewarding. Yet, on the other hand, having a child so much like yourself is a bit scary as you wonder if she will make the same mistakes that you made. When you see her struggling with life’s obstacles and she seems to be handling the problems much like you would have at that age; but you want to guide her otherwise now that you are older and wiser. <Where is my Parenting 101 Guidebook when I need it?>

My sixteen year old is my first born, so whereas she has all the rights and privileges of being number one in our family (ask my son how he likes *that*), she also bears the burden of our intense parenting…okay, MY intense parenting, as I insist on raising children that will not only be successful people, but compassionate humans who will be highly functioning in the real world. <Yes, she may need therapy soon, as will my other two children.>

My oldest has experienced a challenging situation this fall, and instead of being a helicopter parent, I am *trying* to provide her with the coping skills she needs to handle the situation herself.   My words of support only take this strong girl so far.   Being the brave girl that she is, she has managed to instigate a conversation to find out how she could make the situation better. My sense of pride swelled as she described how she handled herself. Yet, the words returned to her were simply heartbreaking and offered no real explanation. Inasmuch as I could hear my motor revving and my instinctive desire to swoop in and find out more behind the lack of description behind the words provided to my hard-working girl, I had to refrain from being *that* parent. <@#8@&#^!@)*(!@#@!@#E*&$#@!!!!!!>

Life is not fair.  How do we find the ways to cope with *that* message?  You just do.

life is not fair

My gut tells me to continue talking to her, to encourage her to engage in dialogue again with the other party in this particular matter. Yet, my daughter’s eyes glazed over and she complacently agrees with my *strategy* to go get ‘em, killa! My need to use my twenty-four years of experience post-sixteen myself becomes compulsive and my talent of picking up on body language cues slides further down the slippery slope. <LISTEN TO ME, HONEY…..I was THIS girl twenty-four years ago and I now regret some of the choices I made or did not make!   LISTEN TO ME, PLEASE! >

<Hangs head…..knowing this girl is exactly a form of me and I need to back the eff off before I push her too far and away.>

Tuning in to my newly minted fourteen year old son I turn, hoping to find a few easier parental lessons here instead. My son and I are at a good place after a couple of tumultuous puberty-filled years. However, his newfound lady friends and his increasing interest in them have me more on high alert. Keeping the dialogue open with a teenaged boy is vastly different than communicating with my teenaged girl. Slowly, and painfully, my son is learning that the more he shares with me the less I am to keep inquiring. <Trolling: parents hovering, watching, stalking, leering, peeking, looking away for a moment, observing, and pulling out all points surveillance on all forms of social media to ensure your child is behaving in a manner that you deem appropriate. I am guilty as charged and holy Instagram, Batman!>

Continuing down the path of parental trials is my youngest girl, at six years old, who is so innocent and excited to be in school. The plethora of friends and social activities that she engages in frightens me; as much as I adore how social this particular child is, I fear that she may provide me with my biggest parenting obstacles as she grows. <Can a six year old be deemed a party girl, party animal, using her zest for life as an excuse to enjoy her world?!?>

Lately, I find myself conflicted with my personal rule of NOT picking my children’s friends. As my littlest girl shared every sordid detail of her school days (Maybe *that’s* why my son does not share much– he’s sandwiched between two sisters who tell me everything?!?), I started to worry about particular details of a classmate. Certain out of school behaviors lead me to believe that I am not comfortable with my child spending extra time with this child. How do I tell my precocious daughter that we are not okay with her being friends with so and so? Eek. We have simply talked about bad choices and that perhaps a good choice for my daughter is to limit time with those who continually decide to make bad choices. <Stay the EFF away from these kids, THIS KID, you are NOT to be friends with them. You will not EVER be allowed to spend time with them without my presence. Smile. Blink eyelashes. <Have this conversation in your head to yourself!> (Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.)

Life. Phew. Life is far from fair. As a parent, your instinct is to shelter and protect your wee ones from the garbage in life. We desire the world to be viewed from those rose-colored glasses. The older the kids get, the more you realize you cannot protect them from the tougher instances in their lives; but instead, you must equip them to someday go off into the vast world and survive themselves.

Life is not fair. My children have had more than their unfair share by watching me, their momma battle cancer and by losing their maternal grandparents at a young age. My *need* to protect them from the other inequitable aspects in life seems more profound than what you may find in a typical parent.

I do not want to watch my oldest struggle with the internal sadness she feels as she tries to understand her current challenge. Yet, I understand that she must handle this situation on her own and find her way. The best thing I have the ability to do right now for her is to offer her hugs and kisses. Unconditional love. If anything else in this world, my sixteen year old and her siblings will have parents, especially their momma, to offer them unlimited and unconditional love when their world may seem as if it is falling apart.

I have to trust that despite periods of pain or sadness in my children, they must make their own choices in their lives. My children will learn from each of their smart decisions, as well as learn from their respective mistakes. <Do as your mother says, NOT as your mother did!!!!> Each experience in their lives is simply yet another thread in the woven work of progress they are each individually, just as my experiences are my own and my decisions make me (or made me), uniquely me.

I am not proud of some of the decisions I made in my youth. Some of my decisions were downright poor and I was judged heavily for those poor choices. Yet, the lessons learned remain with me to the present day and offer me the ability to be a better parent to my own kiddos. (If I ever get lucky enough to finish my book, you may find out what some of these poor decisions were in detail. EEK.)

life is good

My children may learn that while life may certainly not be fair, the journey at times may be tough, but their lives are to be full of so much greatness. <Once you surpass the high school days, that is, children! Cackle!>

Recently, I became so frustrated with the amount of money flying out my front door that I decided change must occur in our household. With children in multiple activities that cost nearly an arm and a leg, we have to start making some other sacrifices because I do not want to live in a yurt when I am 65 (unless that is the choice I make, not the only option I have because of a non-existent retirement account).

The first place I looked was our “Triple Play” statement. Are you kidding me? Are you #*&$@ kidding me? Every month we pay for a home phone that we NEVER use (because we are NEVER home). Every month we pay for a cable package that does not include the premium channels, but has 652 other channels – yet, constant complaints about how nothing is on are daily mantras from the creatures that reside in our dwelling. Every month we pay for internet speed which drives nearly every form of technology; namely technology that household members are ON while complaining that there is nothing on the television.

Enough. I called our provider and said to nix the home phone (911 will be fine from our cell phones and THAT hefty bill we have been paying for the past three years while in this home). I asked our provider to nix the cable, with the exception of the basic news channels for a much more comfortable $10/month. I asked the provider to please leave the internet alone (and promptly signed up for Netflix for yet another comfortable $10/month). We are saving over $115/month! Yes, that went out the door for another new bill almost as soon as I told the provider to cancel those aforementioned services (damn kids)!

With that, we started watching the series, “Breaking Bad” as we had heard so much about it and I am a fan of Bryan Cranston since his “Malcolm in the Middle” days. Honestly, I had no idea or any expectations of the AMC drama – as I knew it involved Bryan’s character, Walt White, making and selling meth. I had no idea that Walt would be making and selling meth because he has lung cancer. Nor did I have any idea the flooding emotions that would overcome me with many of the passing episodes.

“Breaking Bad” is one of those shows that sucks you in with a magical force; a deep drawing breath pulling you closer and closer – not unlike that of a Dementor pulling the life out of Harry Potter. You cannot get enough and you are conflicted: making and selling drugs is bad, but Walter White wants to provide for his family before he succumbs to what appears to be a terminal case of lung cancer. You find yourself shaking your head in disgust because of the process and community involved with methamphetamine; but you find yourself rooting for the family as their dad sacrifices to ensure their future without him in it to provide.

In my own cancer battle, I recall wanting to make the best decisions for my family and not necessarily me. I knew I had to stay alive at any cost because I had two young children and another on the way. Every single sacrifice had to be made in order to ensure my children did not lose their mother prematurely; that was my driving factor and I did not feel there was any other choice. Perhaps when Walt was being pressured by his family to make that same decision that I had to (saving yourself regardless), my tears flowed heavily because now, six years post-treatment, I understand that a choice of treatment plan is precisely that – a choice, a decision that ultimately needs to be made by the person diagnosed with cancer themselves. Every situation is different; every family is unique and will do whatever they need to do in order to keep a loved one alive. However, at the end of the day, the decision on what poisons, or surgical procedures, or costs to incur is up to the body the cancer resides within. I learned this the hard way when a friend of mine battling stage four breast cancer met with me to tell me she was done. My own brain could not fathom the selection of words she was conveying to me; the side effects and quality of life were not worthy enough to warrant another year or so on this planet. But your kids! She quickly and firmly retorted with a resounding explanation of how she did not want her kids to remember her last weeks/months/years as a supremely sick being. That night, in our local restaurant, my friend gave me a priceless gift of a different perspective, an empathy if you will, but also an empowerment in realizing how important it is for each of us to have the choice in what we do for our bodies; particularly when given a cancer diagnosis.

breaking bad chemo

I cried for Walter White; a fictional character on a television series because his family was not giving him the right of a choice of what was best for him.

Every time Walt vomits, my eyes well up as my own vivid recollections of spasmodic, wrenching, chemotherapy induced projectile vomit rifled through in lighting speed to the front of my memory banks. My oldest is exceptionally compassionate to the scenes because she remembers her mom clinging onto the kitchen sink calling her father for help in between the heaving.

breaking bad walt vomit
Photo courtesy of AMC

As Walt gears up for surgery and acts loopy from the pre-surgery drugs, I laugh with him in recalling my own silly pre-surgery moments; such as when I was in for my wire localization lumpectomy. I laid nervously on the table in radiology waiting to be wheeled into surgery with a very thin, long wire standing up approximately five inches or so out of my left breast. Since it was early December, I joked about how I looked like a remote control car my young son would be getting for Christmas. Or the time the Chief of Radiology wrote a very large signatory initials on my left shoulder to document the proper side for my sentinel node surgery and I clumsily teased him if he autographed all of his art work (he did not find it funny, but I laughed from a drug induced stupor as if I were suddenly on the same caliber of comedy as Lily Tomlin).

I feel every ounce of Walt’s anxiety as he nervously awaits dreaded diagnostic test results, such as an MRI. Ask any cancer survivor and they will tell you, the waiting game is nearly enough to derail you and force you into the fetal position until THAT call comes in or you drag your feet into your oncologist’s office. Even my husband comments on the scenes waiting for the doctor to convey the news, with a repulsive feeling of the dread that accompanies the inevitable words outlining the good or the not so good.

My emotions bubbled up when Walt first held his newborn baby; because I knew, I knew what was going through his head.  After all, I lived it by birthing my own baby smack dab in the middle of my cancer treatment.  The first thought you have is, “Will I live to see this child grow up?”  Yes, I was relating to a fictional character who makes meth!

breaking bad new baby
Photo courtesy of AMC

Watching the show regularly (one plus of streaming your television is instant gratification and not waiting another WHOLE week before the next episode), I question why I suddenly have such strong cancer emotions six years after I finished my treatment. With each passing year of good health, one would assume that I am well on my way to putting the cancer behind me. If it were only that easy!

Not only did I focus so much on getting the cancer OUT OF ME, I neglected to let myself feel the emotions that come with the territory. I shoved those ugly feelings wayyyyy down deep within. Yes, I did. However, the real lesson here is that you may never assume anything in the cancer world. You cannot control what you feel and when you feel it. Six years later, I am still sorting through unexpected emotions just as my body still struggles with the “Collateral Damage”. More so, now being in a position to support my childhood best friend through her cancer battle allows me to process some of the emotions I buried. For what I did not feel for myself, I feel for her… eyes well up at the injustice of it all – the cancer world pounds the crap out of you and stays with you for the remainder of your life.

As we pore through Season Three, my heart breaks for Walter White and his “Breaking Bad” family because the pain they portray is very real. The writers and the actors have done a supreme job at conveying the realistic and compromising world of cancer, the unexpected and often times inappropriate reactions as well as the assumed responses from those affected.

In particular, the conflict of right versus wrong (is it okay to make/sell drugs to leave a legacy for your family because you think you are terminal) toys with the obscure reality of whether you may live or die when you are diagnosed with cancer. Would I do the same as Walt has chosen to do? Would you? Would I make different choices in my cancer battle now versus what I did back then? Would I choose to handle my emotions in an altered manner had I known then what I know now?

breaking bad bad good

There are no answers. I am now awake, however.  I choose to live in the now and experience, feel, cope with the emotions that may surface. I cry at the television when it strikes a chord with a relevant cancer scene. I get angry watching my friend going through six hundred and fifty three seemingly never-ending chemotherapy treatments. I am anxious when I plop my boobs on the cold tray as they are about to be squished and scanned for any sign of recurrent disease. I also feel the energy kick of the kale surging through my vein. I experience the strength of cut and weakened muscles as they pound through a WOD at Crossfit. I hug my friends who are struggling to get through their journeys. I laugh at the amount of money we are saving by reducing our spending; and know that even though my children have this new savings spent before I actually touch it that I do not need to sell any meth to buy more time with them. I have it, even if some of it is spent watching “Breaking Bad” together.

breaking bad I am awake

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