Press Restart

The other weekend, my husband and I took the kids sledding on a little hill behind our house. Even though it was only just barely above zero, we were bundled up warmly, and the kids screamed with laughter as they flew down the hill.

Our youngest child bounced over a particularly wavy patch of frozen snow and toppled over onto his side, skidding abruptly to a stop.

“Think he’s okay?” I asked, nervously waiting for pealing sobs to float up to us at the top of the hill.

“Don’t know,” Eli calmly responded. “We’ll have to wait and see.”

We heard Corey’s laughter first, before he rolled slightly toward us and waved his arms in the air. His brothers burst into laughter with him.

I raised my eyebrows at my husband. I’m still learning to be patient. This last year, I’ve learned a lot, about slowing down and about taking time to breathe, even in the crisp cold air, even at night under a blanket of a thousand brilliant winter stars, my breath churning out puffs of smoke. 

When everything stopped, both through my own brain fog and exhaustion from cancer treatment as well as the seeming halt of the world in the early part of the pandemic, I was able to re-group and focus on what truly mattered to me. I realized that I was putting too much of my heart and soul into work– both in trying to manage two very time-consuming teaching jobs and in housework.

When I look back now, life was far too rushed just before my diagnosis: I would rush to drop off my kids just to hurry forty miles away to the campus for one teaching job, planning forever new lessons from scratch for three different courses, running across campus to teach those lessons and then back to hold office hours, being sure to leave time for my virtual teaching work as well, where I spent endless hours not only teaching the students who were in attendance but also trying desperately to reach any lost students and families of students who would never respond. I would dash back in traffic to get back to my own kids, always late, and then rush home. I was always feeling rushed but like I wasn’t accomplishing enough.

Sadly, I think I’m not the only one who feels this way as a working parent in the 21st century. But I am thankful that I was able to break that chain. It took a health crisis to reveal my priorities. I do love teaching, even though it brings a lot of struggles and stress at times, and, of course, I love my family, even when my kids also bring their occasional sassy or frustrating moment. Still, balance is vital.

One weird thing about multitasking is that you actually accomplish less when you do it. I realized that when I set myself aside an hour or two to just focus more completely on my student meetings– or my feedback on student writing– or my lesson planning– I could actually accomplish much more than if I had my brain pulling in multiple directions.

It was the same for everything else. Taking time completely away from work or my phone to just be silly with my kids made us all a lot happier. And I learned to give myself time to just be me: with friends or reading a book or writing. Writing, especially, brings me joy; I love the flow of words across the page, the way the perfect word fits into a story or poem like a lost friend into your embrace. I’d forgotten these things in my rush to do everything else.

This realization about balance didn’t come to me immediately after diagnosis, or even as I wafted in a news-dazed, chemo-induced brain fog through 2020, but I started to put the pieces together last year.

I’ve been determined to find some positive purpose to having been unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer at age 32 and then put through the wringer of treatment– during a pandemic, no less– with three small children. I’m the sort of person who believes everything happens for a reason, and that we can and should grow from whatever difficulties we experience. I think both my faith and my romantic idealism make me this way, and I’m grateful for what I have learned despite how painful the lessons were.

These last two years, I’ve learned a lot about focus and priorities and humanity and love. I’ve gained more confidence and joy, and a greater appreciation for life’s moments, both large and small. Maybe I would have learned all of this regardless because I’ve been aging and growing all this time, of course. There is no real pause button. I wonder about aging during cancer treatment– not just the visible scars and wrinkles we gain, the gray hairs we add too soon, but the feeling that maybe a little extra wisdom is infused into our veins along with the toxic drugs.

6 thoughts on “Press Restart

  1. Hello. Thankyou for following my blog. I am following yours now. It certainly does make you re-think your life when you get cancer. I would love to know more of your syory, but, being blind as a result of my chemo, I can’t find my way round your blog very well. I hope that in time I can get to know you a bit beyter for we have this experience in common. What cancer did you have? Please don’t feel you have to answer that though if you don’t want to, please forgive any mistakes in my typing as I am. Ewly fully blind. Much much love to you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi, Lorraine. Thank you for the follow. I’ve been reading about some of your story on your blog and enjoying your poems as well. I’m sorry to hear about the blindness; I know that chemo is vital for us to survive, but it sure creates a lot of damage, too. I had stage 3 breast cancer. I was diagnosed right at the end of 2019 and went through treatment all of 2020 and into last year. I’m in remission now and doing well. Is there a way I can make my blog easier for you to navigate? I’m not sure if it’s my set-up in particular. Here is the link to the post that tells more of my story if that is helpful: Wishing you well.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Hello again. Thankyou so much for responding to me. Oh my! When I read on your blog that you were going through chemo during lockdown my heart went out to you. That must have been awful. I am so glad you are in remission now and I loved your description of being on the hill. It is not to do with the way your blog is laid out that I cannot find my way around it. It is the same with everyone’s blog. It is just because I am blind, which is most frustrating as I love reading other peoples blogs. Thankyou so much for the link. Thankyou also for reading my poems etc. Sometimes they cam be a bit dark if Iam feeling bad but often they are not. You are very brave. I remember on my first chemo session telling the nurse how scared I was, and said that I was not brave, and she said, “everyone who comes in here is brave.” It certainly is scary going through chemo. All the very very best to you, and your family. I will keep reading your posts. Take care. X

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Thanks for the response! What you said about navigating the blogs makes sense. I wonder if links are the easiest way to navigate? If so, I will post another link at the end of this comment to one of my poems I think you might enjoy. I’m not sure if I’m brave, but thank you for saying so. I’m grateful for the family and friends who supported me through treatment as well as my oncology team that always answered my questions and tolerated my bad jokes.

        Liked by 1 person

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