On June 13,
I catch my children playing cancer surgery
in their bedroom. When I walk in my son tells me,
“I’m pretending I have a lump in my back!”
“And I’m the doctor who took it out!” my daughter says.
My first instinct is to be heartbroken for them.
Later, I tell a friend who says she loves the hope in this:
the doctor gets it out. I think of my small nephew
eight hundred kilometres away in another city
with his brothers and my best friend, his mother,
and the way a tumour has challenged our belief
that every single thing about him is perfect as is:
his legs so gloriously chubby, his cheeks pink
because he’s getting new teeth—that gruelling, painful
work of growing that is usual to babyhood
which used to seem so unfair and now seems
at least ordinary. I both hate and love the photo of him
in his tiny hospital gown. It makes me remember
something my sister-in-law once said about babies
in grown-up clothes. The clothing makes babies
look both smaller and more world-wise than they are.
Of course, my sister-in-law was talking about collared shirts
and structured pants. We don’t actually want mini-adults
who understand hard things. I come into my kids’ room
just as my daughter is finishing the pretend surgery,
which involves my son lying on his tummy on his bed
and his sister poking him in his back,
then patting him and walking away, saying, “It will hurt
for just a little while.” I can try to remember
what I teach my children, both realism and optimism:
it will hurt, but just for a little while.