The Husband and I haven't had that much of a Christmas, nor Thanksgiving either, of our own choosing. In early November, we talked with the children about the gifts they received last year, many of which had been disappointing. We have a large playroom, with stained carpet, that seemed to be a perpetual mess. "What if," we proposed, "this year, our gift to you was a new playroom. A new floor, and we'd find a way to organize it so it was easier to keep neat. And maybe you could even ask Santa for his help with it."
Amazingly, they agreed to what was little more than a promise for a new floor and some cubbys. With enthusiasm, they each asked Santa for one small toy, and for him to help Mom and Dad with some things for a new playroom.
The Husband and I put a lock on the door before Thanksgiving, and began working our hearts out. Laminate on the floor, purged all the broken and unplayed-with toys, old game boards up as decoration on the walls, new game boards in a cabinet. (Once you realize that there's really no value in keeping the boxes, and you can instead put game pieces in baggies in a bin, and file game boards like books, it's amazing how many games can fit in a small cabinet.) Every evening, while the children watched Rudolph and Frosty downstairs, we worked.
December 23, we both realized something. Little Warrior's eyes were crossing. Almost immediately, we each had another realization. That it is rare, but Wilms' Tumor can relapse in the brain.
"It's subtle, not dramatic. I think we should wait until after Christmas. Give them a good Christmas. In case."
Somberly, The Husband said that he agreed completely.
7:30 am Dec. 25, we staggered out our bedroom as the children tumbled down the stairs. Santa came! Their stockings were stuffed and each had a couple of presents from Santa! Hmm. Perhaps Santa had decided not to help with the game room?
After ransacking our stockings, we went upstairs. The tv, about 15 years old, was outside the door. What the ... ?
We opened the door. In addition to all of our work, Santa had been there. He left a new tv. And Beatles Rock Band. And some videos and games.
I expected the children to be jumping up and down. Nope. Silently, barely breathing, they walked slowly around the room. For the first time ever, my children were speechless. "I'm overwhelmed," The Boy said.
And then ... Little Warrior sat down at the craft table. Bo Peep at the desk. And The Boy and The Princess sat down at what used to be their grandfather's chess table, and began playing.
Eventually we made our way back downstairs for homemade cinnamon rolls and the rest of the presents from other family members.
Christmas afternoon arrived, bringing it with Lala and Pop Pop, our "adopted" grandparents, as well as The Hysteric Cleric and Mrs. Hysteric. Tofurkey and dry-brined turkey, agave carrots and potato gnocci. Wonderful company to be with, a party all around. And more presents, of course, including a very special book passed on from the HC from his library to mine.
Christmas evening comes and we can settle down now, just the family, in our new game room. "Bo Peep, go get me a towel from the laundry room," I instructed her. She came back, her mouth agape. "There's ... there's more presents, in the laundry room." "What's she talking about?" asked The Husband. "Y'all go down and help her," he told her siblings. They ran out and we giggled.
For the previous two weeks, amazon.com had run lightening deals on tons of games, selling them for 4.99. "I'm not getting anymore," I would inform the husband, and then they'd run another that was just too irresistible. We wrapped them all, and hid them in the laundry room, deciding on Christmas Eve that it would be more fun to wait until Christmas night to give them. We were right. "Monopoly!" "Clue!" "Guesstures!" "Trouble!"
We watched It's a Wonderful Life and cuddled with the children. And if we each hugged Little Warrior just a little harder and a little longer, it wasn't noticed by anyone.
Saturday, Sunday, holiday things and cleaning and leftovers. They wanted their friends to see the new playroom. Sunday night, The Boy could invite two friends to spend the night, then the next night The Princess, and so on. We dearly hoped.
Monday morning, woke up. Fears I had tried to basket up for the holiday were tumbled all around me now. I waited til the office would open, then called the pediatrician. She wouldn't be in all week, so I agreed to see the floating doctor. In the waiting room, in the tall high-rise, I noticed a ladybug crawling on the arm of LW's chair. A sign? A good sign? Or a sign to be strong? Superstitions are never clear in these cases. We were called back to see the Floater Doctor.
She gazed into LW's eyes. She didn't see anything, but one eye, she couldn't get the refraction she was looking for. Did I want her to call LW's oncologist or ... "I'll call," I said.
At home, I called to leave a message for Dr. Onc. "Hello," he answered, in person. I explained. "Before an MRI, let me have her see a special opthamologist who's here at the hospital." He promised to call right back. He did. "Tomorrow, 1 pm," he said, in his clipped, Indian accent. Half an hour later, he called back. "We were able to move things, so your appointment is now at 10 am." He didn't have to explain. I knew. If things went bad at the opthamologist, there would still be time for scans in the afternoon.
The Princess had her friend spent Monday night, after the friend's mom said it was fine that I would leave early in the morning, leaving them with The Boy. Make hay while the sun shines, thought I. The Husband came home. He had talked to his mother about when he had an eye patched, as a kid. "Maybe it's the same thing," he said hopefully.
Bo Peep wanted to invite her friend for Tuesday night. "Let's wait til after the doctor appointment," I said vaguely.
Woke up early. Made coffee. Fed LW, mentally calculating at what hour she could safely get anesthesia in case of MRI.
Drove to the hospital. Passed all the same things I have passed for the last three years. Got close. Got teary. Bitched at myself to suck it up, soldier. One message beat with my every heart beat: I do not want to be here again. I was not referring to physical location.
Wait wait wait for the doctor. Get teary. Get hyperventilatey. Pull out iPhone to look at anything. Check email ... perhaps there's a message from God letting me know everything will be fine? Got God's "out of the office" automatic responder. iPhone Air Hockey. Winner. Winner. Winner. Read waiting room books to LW. "Mama, you're holding me toooo tight!"
Our turn. Sitting in the patient chair, LW looks across the room. She correctly identifies what's on the screen. Covers the "good" eye. Can't read most of it. Hmm. Is that good or bad?
Old, experienced, kindly opthamologist comes in. He talked to our onc. He knows what is at stake. He examines her and turns to me. "I think it is an eye problem," he says. "Not a neurological problem." He smiles at me, but adds, "But I need to dilate her eyes, and then I will see you in half an hour."
Drops. Waiting. LW is bored. And then, it is our turn to go back. The Kindly Opthamologist looks and looks into each eye. He holds different things up to her eyes. "I am going to write some terms down for you," he explains. "You can google them when you get home." Apparently my reputation has preceded me.
LW is far-sighted. When her eyes try to focus, she looks cross-eyed. Some cute glasses, and she should be good as new. He'll see her again in a month.
I can't hide my tears of happiness, relief, gratitude. "Am I your only patient's mother to be so thrilled her daughter needs glasses?" He chuckles. "Oh, even parents who haven't gone through what you have, if they see crossed eyes, they think, 'brain tumor.'"
I had not told anyone. Not my parents, not the BFF-DRE nor the Hysteric Cleric, no Facebook, no blogging. Too many people are invested in my little girl. No need to make them worry.
Now, I let them all know. Now, like my mother, even though she hadn't known to be worried, she and they can feel relief.
Happy New Year to all.