It’s surprisingly warm. I’m sitting on our back deck writing, at a table that we didn’t own when we moved to Colorado in March. We bought the table, six chairs to go with it and a fancy umbrella with LED lights just before Ollie’s first birthday.
We had been living here for about two months when we invited friends and family over to celebrate. The oldest of friends: parents of my childhood schoolmates. Old friends from high school and college. New friends from down the street. A melting pot of time represented.
Ollie sat quietly in her high chair as we sang Happy Birthday and presented her with her very first and very own cake. We all watched expectantly, crowded into our outdated kitchen, eagerly awaiting the moment she would dive in, smearing frosting onto her face and into her abundant, two-toned hair.
Five months have passed since that day and now the leftovers of another cake sit in our fridge. Chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. The words, “Happy Birthday, Dear Daughter Laura,” half eaten. My mom’s words.
We spend a lot of time together, my mom, the girls and I. At my parent’s house Ruby likes to use Grandma’s fine tip markers to color mandalas made for adults (and Dora the Explorer) or play with the second-hand dollhouse in the basement. Ollie likes to chew on the tiny, plastic toothpick cases that are surprisingly prevalent and any remote control she can find. Both girls like bouncy rides on the big, green exercise ball. It’s now off limits because it’s just too much fun and Ollie has yet to learn the concept of taking turns.
In many ways it doesn’t feel like my mom is sick. It’s easy to live in denial, to believe that we will just continue on in this way uninterrupted, celebrating birthdays and the small, everyday moments of life.
But reality has an ugly way of reminding you of her presence. My mom’s peritoneal cancer, shrunk with chemo, a major surgery and then more chemo, managed to sneak into her brain. Apparently this is not normal. Nor was the appearance of two additional tumors just 6 weeks after treating the first with localized radiation.
A breeze is blowing through our backyard, turning the umbrella in such a way that I cannot find a suitable temperature, the sun too hot on my back every other minute. I’m reminded of a Sesame Street book on seasons shelved in the girls’ playroom:
In fall leaves turn colors, red, yellow and brown.
Then cool winds blow and they fall to the ground.
The seasons are changing. Yellow leaves cling to my neighbor’s aspen tree, the one hugging the fence between our yards. A splattering of dried leaves blend into our deck, the brown of death camouflaged against a muddy red finish, cracked from wear and weather.
Everything is changing. The wind. The weather. Life.
People ask if we’re settled. But there isn’t really such a thing, is there? Our boxes are unpacked, our furniture placed just so. But there’s still a pile of tchotchkes huddled atop a bookshelf with nowhere to go. We never got around to organizing the storage room and I don’t expect we ever will.
This concept of settled is just an illusion. The girls continue to grow up, the rhythm of our lives subtlety shifting each and every day to accommodate their development. My mom drawing nearer to death even as she debates what to have for dinner.
And here I am. Filling my days folding laundry, making peanut butter sandwiches and cutting strawberries into tiny cubes, driving Ruby from here to there and back again, so very settled in this new life. And here I am. Working on starting my own run coaching business, going to yoga teacher training, contemplating the circle of life and my place and purpose within it, silencing my so capable and logical head in order to listen to my gut. So very, very unsettled.