“We Can Do Hard Things.”

My daughter was nearly bald until she was two.

See?

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With “Geen-dad”. She called this her “Tute Face”.

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Look at those sleeping babies! Elizabeth is, uh, the one in the back in case you can’t tell…she and Rebecca took several naps in this beast of a stroller that I picked up at a rummage sale.

Beginnings of a curl...

Beginnings of a curl…

She’s never had more than an inch and a half cut off of her hair before. It has taken us a long time to get to this point (if you’ll  allow me this gratuitous number of long-hair photos):

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Don’t worry, honey, you have a few years to practice teen angst before you’re graded on it…

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With Avery, our back yard neighbor and another St. Baldrick’s participant.

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Matching hair with Josefina.

Her hair goes almost to her waist when it’s down, and for a while now she has loved having long hair. My own little Rapunzel (without me as the witch, she assures me). She said repeatedly that she wanted to grow it as long as possible, and I said she could obviously because it’s her hair and she can do as she likes. The only caveat was that brushing and washing it shouldn’t be a huge dramatic battle. We’ve mostly kept to that. Ahem.

Some friends of ours, RuthEverett, AverySean, and Seamus are shaving their heads or donating their long hair on March 15th to raise money for children’s cancer research. They are doing it in memory of their friend Rebecca who died last June due to anaplastic astrocytoma (a type of brain cancer) While they are not on the same team as far as St. Baldrick’s is concerned, these kids have been playing together since before they knew what playing was. At this event they will join together to raise money to stop the thing that killed their friend. I am honored to be in the presence of such bravery and solidarity in our children.

A few months ago Elizabeth asked if she could take all the money in her piggy bank and give it to doctors so they could figure out how to help people better. I think it was about twenty three dollars and eighty-five cents. When it was first mentioned that she could cut off her hair to raise money she replied immediately, emphatic and wide-eyed. “NO!” I figured she loved her long hair so I dropped it. Then she said she wanted to get her hair cut short. I explained that some of her friends would be doing a meaningful thing. After a lot of conversation she finally whispered with her head down, “I’m afraid of St. Baldrick’s.”

I pulled her into my lap and thanked her for sharing a hard thing with me (she read and approved this post before publishing, lest you think I’m breaking a confidence). As we continued to talk it through, I made sure she knew that whatever she decided would be ok with me, but that I didn’t want fear to be in charge of her and push her to make decisions. I continued to offer her information about what would happen at the event; who would be there, what they would do, who might cut her hair, etc. I admitted that to be honest, St. Baldrick’s scares me a bit too. These days large groups of people I don’t know (and sometimes even large groups of people I do know) make me nervous. But we can do hard things.

There are lots of ways to remember Rebecca without cutting one’s hair. When we are at a party with other families and there are two little girls playing picnic by our feet instead of three. When we get together for playdates that used to be evenly matched and instead it’s one big sister and two little brothers. After more than half a year it feels more accustomed but no more right. Sometimes I catch my friend’s eye in a group conversation and I think, I see you thinking about your girl, and I am too. Cutting hair and donating money are two of many possible ways to show solidarity; ways to say, “We went to a funeral and then we went home….but we are still nearby. We still care about you.”

Elizabeth has decided that she wants to donate her hair to help the doctors find “betr medicin”, as she typed it in her thank you emails. Because while people are working so hard and we have come so far, the best medicine we have right now is not nearly good enough.

Click here to support Elizabeth by donating to St. Baldrick’s

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The Understandable and Unfathomable Weirdness of Grief

When our family arrived home Saturday from saying a goodbye I will not share about here, both of us parents were dealing with a toddler tantrum and E wandered in the back yard, thinking. She met up with her friend A (our back yard neighbor, who goes to Fairfax Elementary and just graduated kindergarten with Rebecca Meyer). This is approximately how their conversation was recounted to me later:

E: I’m feeling sad.

A: Why?

E: Because I just saw Becca, and said bye to her. Because she’s dying.

A: What? No. That’s not true. I think you’re lying.

E: I think I can’t be your friend any more until you’re like a grown-up or something. I can clearly imagine her spreading her fingers in the air as she said this.

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We went down the street for a little while. When we got back, the neighbor girls were out in their back yard playing in the sprinkler. E went back to say hi, and came running in to tell me she’d been invited to go run in the sprinkler and that A’s mom wanted to talk to me. N told me over the fence what the girls had said to each other, and that afterward A ran in and said, “MOM! E says we’re not friends anymore, and that Becca is dying, and WHAT?”

So they had to have that conversation. I don’t blame N for not telling her daughter, and I really admire how she handled being thrown into the deep end. There is just no palatable way to tell your 6 year old that the friend they have seen every day at school or known since they were born is dying. That is an awful conversation I don’t wish on anyone, and the only honest way to make it remotely less awful for a child is to not pretend it isn’t horrific; that, and to let them know that you as their grown-up are there for them and with them. Sometimes it’s ok to cry in front of your kids.

I asked E about the conversation between the girls and said, “I feel like what you meant might have been that you couldn’t talk to A about Becca, because she wasn’t understanding what you were saying. Does that sound right?”

“Yes. That is what I meant.”

“Ok, you might just want to let her know that, because I think that whole conversation was pretty upsetting for your friend. I don’t think you did anything wrong, but it might be good to just be clear about what you meant.”

So she did.

I know many grown-ups who are not always so clear about what they mean, or so able to verbalize what they need. Sometimes I am one of them.

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She doesn’t bring Becca up all the time. Several times a day for the past week, since we found out this was imminent, but I know she is thinking about it almost all the time. Dropping a piece of food on the floor is enough to make her throw herself onto the couch in tears. Wearing the wrong shoes by mistake will turn her into a sidewalk-squatting, limping mess (unless I am not looking and she is walking behind me). She whined and did not want to get ready for ballet class today. The last class of the year. I almost let her ditch it, because the truth is I didn’t really want to go either. Becca happened to be signed up for the class too. Before she got sick. Before any of this happened, today was supposed to be their last ballet class together, except that because of everything that happened, Becca never attended a single class. And instead of going next door to celebrate at Sasa after it was over tonight, we will talk about her at bedtime and cry and prepare for her funeral on Thursday. I really didn’t want to go to ballet today. But we went. We showed up. I didn’t chat very convincingly with the other moms there, but I decided to be ok with that (even on my best days I’m not that great at small talk anyway). I am cutting E a lot of extra slack these days, and trying to keep some left over for myself.

Her feelings are her own and she is allowed them. All of them. Even if she does end up wiping her tears and her nose on my skirt sometimes.

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