My neighbor Frances is 89 years young. I would estimate she is just as much, if not more of a southern spitfire as she was back in 1924 on the day she was born in farmhouse down east (as we say here in NC) in Elm City. Frances has seen me through many a life trial always without fail, inviting me into her grandma like home when I ring her buzzer. Read the rest of this entry »
Who knew such a benign and gentle hue could summon such strong emotions, and could wield such power? Read the rest of this entry »
Yep you read that right. Five Ears. Not five Years.
Y oh Y, you might ask, did I drop the Y?
Because I’m talking mouse ears silly, that’s why; Mickey Mouse ears to be exact.
As I hit “publish” on this beautiful orange juicy sunny Florida morning, I am sitting poolside at our very favoritest hotel in the world, the Pop Century Resort in Disney World. Enjoying a big cuppa of Mickey Joe and a tummy full of Mickey waffles, I am both overshadowed and comforted by the familiarity that is a four stories tall Mowgli and Baloo next to our hotel room. I have achieved Disney nirvana here next to the Hippy Dippy Pool; yes indeedy, I have all the bare necessities for this bear to rest at ease.
This trip marks the fifth pilgrimage to the House of Mouse for us since I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
As it is for everyone, cancer treatment was hell for my little family. Looooong months of the drip drip drip of chemo, surgery, weeks of radiation but the worst for a mom was the pain of lots of the fun things that kids like to do like sleepovers and other potentially germ ridden activities being put on hold. My kiddos were so little when cancer came to our house, and I promised their little faces that when the treatment was over, we were going to go to Disney.
Disney World became our carrot, or more correctly our cheese.
Now I had a lot of naysayers about the wisdom of me taking that first trip when I had just finished radiation and still had the drip of Herceptin going, the loudest of which was the voice of reason in my own bald noggin. I realized that I was in no physical shape to trutz two little kids through the massive undertaking of flying, touring four parks in four days, and lasting through 12 hour days in the heat. Beyond broke, I was digging into rapidly dwindling emergency savings to take the trip. But as with most things in life that I really want, when my Pop or other logical adults like my alter-ego voice in my own head reminded me of the sensible thing to do, I didn’t listen.
For some reason, going to Disney represented so much more to me than a vacation. It was about being normal again and bonding with my kids in that familiar way that we had about us before cancer came. It was about giving them the tradition of joy my mom and I had there together. It was about saying that cancer was behind us and promising them that good times were just a day away.
It was mostly about too, I suspect honestly, the fear that it was the last chance to get them to Disney World. It was hard for me to believe in the future.
As I think back on the evolvement of our trips over these last five years, it seems that the tempo of each one has mirrored much of where my life and healing was at that point. That first year out I led my life at a frantic pace, wanting to squeeze ALL of life in because I was scared I’d miss something, scared there would be no tomorrow. And too, that first trip to Orlando was kind of an awful Disney Overdrive, a busy bee buzzing through the parks. Sometimes now, as I look back on it I feel sad when I remember the intensity of the trip, how much I crammed into it so that they would see every last thing, and do every last thing, and remember every last thing– afraid we’d miss something; afraid it would be, well, our last thing. We got up early for magic hours, and stayed up late to see every fireworks show, every parade. Exhausted, hot, tired and cranky kids racing through the parks in a way I doubt they remember much more than a blur.
Truth is, much of my life at that time is still a blur.
Cancer had made me lose trust in body, and this fear showed up on that trip. I sent my son on rides alone because as much as I LOVE rides, I worried about the trustworthiness of my Herceptin saturated heart, and did not want to poke the skunk on Expedition Everest with two little ones in tow. Cancer, despite being told to stay home, wound up coming with us anyway; refusing to be left behind and bringing with it the heavy luggage I carried through each park every day, baggage that contained my ID, insurance card, my oncologist info, my cardiologist, the kids’ dad’s emergency contact info, and list of all current poisons being infused…just in case.
How we did that trip said a lot about how tenuous my life felt at the time. Even though I went to there to feel normal, I couldn’t find normal, or even the illusion of normal, not even in Fantasyland. There were no big adventures had in Adventureland and Tomorrowland well, it just made me uncomfortable, because it made me think too much about how there may not be a tomorrow.
As the years went by however, and I got a foothold on life, the tempo of our visits to Disney also fell in step with the cadence of my healing psyche. There was no longer this mad rush to see and do everything, to cram it all in. Adventures were found at last, fantasies came true, and cancer was not allowed admittance into the Magic Kingdom ever again.
And eventually, I began to trust that there would be a Tomorrowland for we three Mouseketeers.
My kids grew, right along with my confidence in living. They got to where they packed and carried their own luggage and we rode all the thrill rides. Back when my pace to see and do it all was frantic, I remembering wondering why if you came all the way to Disney you would waste a day at the water park or the hotel pool, instead of being at one of the parks. And what do you know, last year Amelia and I went to Typhoon Lagoon for the first time ever, and had THE BEST time; I have discovered the glory of sliding down Summit Plummet, unceremoniously plucking my swim suit out of my butt as I stood up, and then polishing off a giant turkey leg in its wake. I found that a lot of good conversation happens on a lazy river and during quiet afternoons at the hippy dippy pool.
The memories our family has stacked up now, after five ears, are more than even Dumbo could carry:
Embarrassing my kids each year with the extensive diorama I create in our hotel room window, hot days where we hit “the wall” and formed a mini flash mob-ish hat search in the Emporium for the goofiest goofy hats to sport for the rest of the day. Surprising my little ones with giant icees with Mickey feet while they were sitting and waiting for a parade to start, garnering a collective kid eye roll by standing up and clapping when Barack Obama stood up for the first time in the Hall of Presidents. Popcorn for dinner, Princess breakfasts where I asked Colton who that Aladdin looking guy was and he said, “Uh that would be Aladdin mom,” and the look on Amelia’s face when Belle hugged her told her she was pretty. Going into the animation studio to draw 5 times in a row, and sharing Pixar joy with Colton while watching Luxo pop out and perform while waiting for the Toy Story ride. Light up ice cubes at the Sci Fi restaurant, Soarin’ in the smell of orange groves and devouring, well, more than one or two French pastries in Epcot.
We girls still giggle about following a drip drip drip of chocolate ice cream trail along the pavement back to our hotel room one day, finding a smear of chocolate ice cream on the door frame, and then opening the door to find quite happy Colton on the bed with his chocolate ice cream cone…(finally a good kind of drip.)
How each day I gave them a souvenir allowance and took glee in seeing how carefully they picked their parts for Mr. Potato head to fill the box, and how they danced around when I surprised them one evening with a bonus allowance for an extra little somethin’ somethin’. Watching my princess become even more of a princess at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, seeing them laugh face to face at as they spun in the teacups together, and a tiny Amelia clapping with giant Mickey hands at Fantasmic. Finding every Hidden Mickey the park with Colton, and riding in a giant honey pot 42 times in a row with my own little Lilo and Stitch at the Halloween party. The “Paging Mr. Morrow, Mr. Tom Morrow,” announcement on the People Mover perfectly chimed in on by mom on cue, giant clear balloons with a blue Mickey heads inside and the thrill we felt when we traded for the pin we had searched high and Lilo for. Watching my kids pretend to be completely appalled at how boring they think the Carousel of Progress ride is each year when I make them ride with me, and how I make the ride even worse by singing, loudly, along with the song, “It’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.” Louder and louder each year, as I become more convinced in tomorrow. More grateful for tomorrow. More confident that tomorrow will be great and big and beautiful things.
We did indeed find new frontiers in Frontierland after all, and normal found us, nested us in the soft white gloved hands of Mickey.
But what I most remember most aren’t the rides, or the things we saw, but the times. The times. And the very best of those times were always, always Mickey gloved hands down, the evenings back in the hotel when tired fits of giggles overtook us and we laughed until we cried. Oodles of giddy giggles launched from the deep comfort of being in this insular, happy place; a place where, as we slept in the shadow of Baloo we did indeed forget about our worries and our strife. The times I thought we may never have again.
In our home, a long narrow ledge surrounds our stairs. Lined up on that ledge, in a mini mouse-like timeline, you’ll see our Mickey ears from the all the years of Disney trips. Cute pink little girl ears, Kermit the Frog ears, Steamboat Willie ears, and Toy Story ears. Ears that look like a Pumpkin, and ears with a Sorcerer Mickey Wizard Hat perched between them. And lastly, classic Mickey and Minnie ears with “Colton” and “Amelia” and “Lauren”embroidered in gold thread on the back. On the doorknobs to my home office hang lanyards loaded with Disney trading pins, each of strand telling a unique story; a tale of what we loved that year and what made us smile and laugh, of what calmed us and what made us find us again.
These things represent so much to me, they hold so much meaning….healing, longevity, a visual measure of a life coming to pass that I wasn’t so sure would do so, five years ago. Our own personal Disney vault of memories; the times…the times where we were overshadowed by Baloo and the simple bare necessities, instead of cancer, the times where we lived, no basked in a great big beautiful tomorrow. Cancer no doubt, takes a lot from us but sometimes, sometimes it gives us something, or just plain allows us to find something that was right in front of us all the time. It urges us to find the time.
It’s hard to see, but sometimes, cancer allows us to live.
Sometimes, it takes soaring above it all on the Astro Orbiter or on an Aladdin Magic Carpet to see it, and sometimes we must climb to a perch in the Swiss Family Treehouse to spot it. Sometimes, it is found deep in the space of a mountain, but mostly, it is found right next to us in the excited breaths of those we love, and in the deep pull in, of our own breath, as we Splash down a Mountain.
Without cancer, I don’t think this Disney thing would have ever gotten started in the first place. It would have been just another one of those things put off indefinitely, to when the kids were older, to when there was enough money to do it, till I was totally healthy…. till tomorrow.
Walt used to say, “I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.”
Yes Walt; a mouse, a single cancer cell and a woman who didn’t lose the sight of one thing, one dream-living to see her kids in mouse ears, spinning with glee in teacups and flying high above it all in Dumbo.
One pair of ears at a time, I lived my way into Tomorrowland. And it is for sure, A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.
“Paging Mr. Morrow, Mr. Tom Morrow,” Lauren is looking for you.
There’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow
Shining at the end of every day
There’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow
And tomorrow’s just a dream away
Man has a dream and that’s the start
He follows his dream with mind and heart
And when it becomes a reality
It’s a dream come true for you and me
So there’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow
Shining at the end of every day
There’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow
Just a dream away
~The Sherman Brothers
I am a woman of extremes.
In Lauren’s world, there is very little middle ground; to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, no nix that, extreme reaction. I frequently find myself either somersaulting into a dead of black night chasm or leap frogging into dazzling Clorox white. Little Miss A or Z, I am. Like in Wonkaland, my emotional elevator doesn’t just go to the top floor; it explodes through the ceiling and into the stratosphere. Conversely there is no end to the rabbit hole into which I can tumble, plunging into the earth to depths unknown.
“Grayness,” I insist to those trying to reason with me, “lacks luster.” Middle ground is bland and ho-hum; unemotional and flat, passionless people perplex me at times, I mean, how could you exist in that way? Extremes feel passionate and remind me I am alive; stretching the rubber band as far as it can go, I say, go big or go home.
Oh I know, I know, it’s a little worrisome. Even the psychologist in me points out to the anxious me that the edges of the bell curve are often not good places to be. Grandmother Willow reminds me on a quite regular basis, as she reels me in like the expert fisherwoman that while I go back and forth, I always come to the middle and will every time.
“Pshaw…” I say.
Now before you start thinking bipolar nutcase here, I will assure you it is simply not so. In fact to observe a day in the life of me, you’d think, “boring old middle-aged woman.” Nope, no drama queen here, no erratic borderline-ish, histrionic-ish crazy cat lady stuff. My polarity is mostly covert, just a little seesaw endlessly seeing and sawing in my lil’ noggin.
I give 200% or nothing. I don’t just feel hurt, I feel crushed. I give and give and rarely take. I let people either kinda suck me dry or surprise them when I completely buck up and tell them to knock it off. I am in or out, on or off, too good or not good enough. I am either working full steam or being avoidant. This dichotomy is what makes me either a whole lotta fun depending on the circumstance, or a whole lotta exasperation and exhaustion.
Maybe it’s because I really have had an all or nothing adult life. Many, many really, really good things have happened to me, and many, many really, really bad things have happened to me. Little of my life has been just status quo and middle of the road. Perhaps because I know better what to do with extremes, I tend to jack things up or down a bit. Perhaps as is with my life, the highs are higher and the lows are lower. Perhaps status quo is just uncomfortable and foreign to me. Perhaps…I dunno.
Ok so maybe I experience things a tad bit more extremely than others, but it just feels wholehearted to me is all. I feel life and passion in Technicolor; where the rest of the world has a box of 8 Crayola’s to feel and describe their world, I have the jumbo box of 64 and perhaps a box of the Metallics in my holster as well. Raw Umber and Maize just can’t do what Green With Twinkling Turquoise Glitter can do for me and I said good riddance when they were retired. And boy do I love to color.
In the Disney movie Tangled, Rapunzel runs free on the ground after living her whole life in the tower. We watch as she goes through the day; her feet feeling the tickle of the Aquamarine water and the Granny Smith Apple grass, yet she is continually voicing the tick and the tock of her internal tug of war between the guilt of leaving her mother yet the joy of experiencing her freedom. In a scene I just love, she teeter totters between the elation and guilt shouting, “This is the best day ever!” and then, “I am a despicable person!”
I so get that, that tangle of stuff.
For me, if it’s not the best day ever, it’s what a client of mine cleverly and accurately coined, “The Catastrophic Death Spiral.” When you are in The Catastrophic Death Spiral, it’s never just gonna turn out bad, it’s gonna turn out very bad. It’s not going to be just an unfortunate outcome, it’s going to be the worst possible outcome ever and everyone is gonna die likely involving thumbtacks in your skin, weepy lesions and a horrible burning sensations in unfortunate places as well.
Here is how the spiral goes. Last week, Scout the Wonderdog had a back injury and I was in tears on the phone with a friend, explaining to him just how very very very bad it was. He calmly said, “Now stop. Don’t be putting him in the ground just yet,” and he added a bit snarkily, “Because we know that would be so unlike you to go there already.” He suggested perhaps a good idea would be to go to the vet for an opinion before I decided on a time for afternoon euthanasia. A wise man indeed; accurately assessing my parachute-less run toward the rim of the catastrophic death spiral, and lasso-ing me just before the jump. And voila! By that afternoon, a vet visit and couple of tranqs and pain killers later (for Scout, not me silly) there I was considering what Santa was going to bring Scout for Christmas this year. That is how it goes.
So it follows that when I got cancer, I was gonna die. Not only was I gonna die, but die quickly and likely painfully. I didn’t just have breast cancer; I had bone cancer and mets in my brain and lungs for sure. I had body cancer.
In this Spiral O’ Tragedy the future was Granite Grey bleak, my motherless kids would be dressed in rags, chronically starved for home-made chocolate chip cookies…emotional orphans crying out in their sleep for their mommy for the rest of their lives. They would have no one to guard them from the Copper Penny evils in the world, and all types of peril would befall them from bad manners, to not having clean underwear, and chronically unsigned homework. They would have no more fantastic Christmases making cookies and finding wonderful gifts under a beautiful Green with Glittering Turquoise tree, and they would have to subsist on junk food. They would have eternally dirty Licorice Black fingernails and the worst part of all of it was that they would have to have store-bought Halloween costumes! They would go to proms where their Tumbleweed stained suits and Burnished Brown dresses were wrinkled, and of course, they would be forever scarred by losing their momma at a young age and would likely be unable to ever function as adults.
And poor Scout! He wouldn’t have a home either! He’d be wandering the streets with his matted dirty coat, (instead of his current Baby Powder White fur) an empty dog food bowl in his mouth, begging for milkbones with hungry children trailing behind him eating milkbone crumbs and…. OH MY GOD, it would was all gonna be just awful because I didn’t just have cancer, I had BBBAAAADDDD cancer. This scenario of course, unfolded before any diagnostic testing was done. In fact this was all worked out and settled in my head before the phone was back in the cradle after the call where I was told that unfortunately, I had cancer.
The catastrophic death spiral makes us think a lump in our thigh is thigh cancer, a headache is brain cancer, and shortness of breath after running is surely announcing lung cancer.
The catastrophic death spiral is the vortex that is cancer.
Is there any value or good in extremes? Do extremes serve any function? Sometimes. Without them life doesn’t break loose and move like it should. I once heard a story of the Sequoia and the forest ranger’s efforts to save and protect them. For years, they did all they could to keep forest fires away from the giants, guarding them from being burned like a human firewall. But one day they realized that no little baby Sequoia trees were sprouting anywhere, as it seemed no fertile seeds were being launched from the way up yonder cones in the Jungle Green canopy. It was then they realized it takes extreme heat to cause the pinecones to launch and release fertile seeds, and without the heat, nothing happened. So the next fire they let burn as nature intended, and what do ya know, the trees lived, able to withstand heat they never thought possible. And soon, new baby Sequoia sprouted; new Sheen Green leaves, and Illuminated Emerald shoots and tiny Blast Off Bronze trunks emerging from the Milky Way black charred ground where once it seemed, all was lost.
Yes, sometimes a good old butt burning makes us grow and move and release what is needed and yes, sometimes we all deserve and thrive with wide open fantastic Technicolor joy. Sometimes yes, extremes serve us well, sometimes. Not all the time.
Life is rarely A or Z . I must fight myself to stay in LMNOP, and trust that LMNOP is how life most often is, and that despite the initial blast off or leap into, LMNOP will find me, if I just wait.
If it sounds too good to be true it likely is, and nothing is as bad as it seems. LMNOP. This will be on my tombstone.
This old Sequoia has learned a lot in life, through some wicked Wild Blue Yonder storms and trials by Burnt Orange fire, and by living through many joyful Laser Lemon days. The tonic of time simply passing finds balance. Stretching the band of that extreme reaction, I ride it out like a wave, and it passes. Middle ground and balance always finds me in a day or two. I arrive at LMNOP just like that, perhaps a day late, perhaps a dollar short, but better late than never.
Things always do look better in the morning, maybe not an Atomic Tangerine, Metallic Sunburst morning, but good old Yellow sunrise for sure. And who could ask for more than that?
There is inherent mental comfort and calming in the rubber band snapping back.
Taking pause before selecting the color of the crayon with which to color my life may not yield the most stunning and exciting picture, but likely it will produce the most accurate one. And it’s infinitely easier to stay within the lines that way.
I don’t think that even after five years I have reached the opposite extreme of the “I’m gonna die” vortex-like Catastrophic Death Spiral that is cancer; I have not gotten to where I am blasting into the stratosphere of “I am gonna live a long and happy life.” Truth is, the reality of what will unfold in my life is likely somewhere in between, somewhere in the LMNOP range, simply because that is life.
Still, some days Red Violet With Glitzy Gold Glitter, Inchworm Green and Deep Space Sparkle remind me I am alive and that life is better than good, and some days life is still just a reckless back and forth aggressive scribble of Onyx Black. But most often, the box of 8 is really all I need to get by. To crack open the tiny box and breathe in their fresh smell, and see the optimistic faces of the ordinary colors of life all lined up expectantly waiting, that is LMNOP.
Everything in moderation. Walls and lines keep us safe inside, but wow it’s a big world when we let our hair down and go over them…once in a while….once…in a great while.
Stay in center and embrace peace, simplicity, patience and compassion.
Embrace the possibility of death and you will endure.
Embrace the possibility of life and you will endure.
~tao te ching~
I was chatting with a friend the other day about our respective surprise! divorces. He is about 5 years behind me in the recovery process and admittedly, still struggles with all of the anger and turmoil and the in-your-faceness that is the devastation of a spouse walking out on you. Read the rest of this entry »
I have a vision of how it will be. I’ve seen it play a thousand times over in my mind; so real, as if I am there in the theater, popcorn absently mindedly moving from hand to mouth, mesmerized by the screen. Read the rest of this entry »
This week a friend of mine posted on Facebook:
“You are never too old or too young to be working ‘the bucket list”….love having the freedom and ability to live mine…so much gratitude….how about you??!!”
Love it for sure girlfriend….And yes, how about me? Read the rest of this entry »
I am on a tear these last weeks because quite frankly I am tired of hearing about “that guy.” Read the rest of this entry »
Cancer treatment is a veerrrrrryyy, looooooong haul for all of us, starting the day we feel the lump, or see the look on the mammogram nurse’s face, or on the day we hear, “unfortunately there is bad news,” and ending well, honestly never, cancer is never-ending. Read the rest of this entry »