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So, I should probably expand a bit on last week’s ultrasound posting. It is indeed slightly premature for me to declare that Austin is three years cancer-free when we have yet to see his new oncologist (who we met for the first time in February) or to receive an all-clear regarding his lungs.  All of that will happen at the end of next week, when we visit the Clinic for labs and a chest x-ray. But, since his lungs have always been far down on the list of things we worry about and since the abdominal ultrasound is what has revealed anything and everything suspicious or dangerous over the past four years, we nonetheless feel pretty darn good with last week’s news.

It’s funny how this one crept up on us. This three-year mark. So unlike last year’s anniversary, for which there was so much anticipation and excitement, all of it dashed with that horrible May 7 appointment. And then we plunged into that surreal in-between world, filled with only fear and dread but no answers or action. I do much better when there’s action. When I can see the mountain in front of me, even if it’s absurdly steep, I’m able to gear up, draw upon my strength and plan out exactly how I’ll scale it. But when it’s only fog I see, only vague warnings about a pending cliff or a jagged slope with nothing concrete or real, then I’m paralyzed. Last May, I felt paralyzed. Terrified beyond anything in memory (and there’s been much terror to remember). I had no idea what we were facing, couldn’t even begin to plan our attack — but I felt certain something was out there. Something deadly was lurking there in the fog, waiting for us to pass, waiting for him. And I was paralyzed.

Of course, it all passed as nothing. Those sixteen days a mere post-script to our crazy story. And I find myself back again, in the very same place I was when I wrote this on May 6 of last year, the night before his faulty “something” scan.

And I’ll say it again, with a slight edit to the number: Come what may, it’s been a damn good three years.

There’s more, more, more from yesterday.

St. Baldrick’s has hit the $15 million mark and our kids are there to help celebrate. Check out their picture and a sweet little tribute to our sweet little Leah here. It’s impossible to expand the size of photos on their website, so here it is for you:

I forgot to thank the incredible crowd of supporters and cheerleaders who came out on Sunday, sacrificing the glorious weather outside to sit and cheer and laugh and cry for our shavees inside instead. You really helped make it feel special for everyone involved and gave the nervous kids (and adults!) a little boost.  I love these shots:

And people were indeed nervous. The images I posted yesterday showed mostly happy, eager faces, but there were some looks of hesitation, “What have I gotten myself into?” and downright terror. Which should remind us all that courage is not defined by the absence of fear, but by being afraid and still doing what’s right.

But no matter the butterflies in stomachs or hair in eyes, they all got up there and they all followed through.And they were all smiles afterwards:

I’m fairy certain there was not one person in that room, especially not one girl or woman, who didn’t wonder to themselves, “Do I have what it takes? Could I actually do that?”

But fifty people had what it takes and here’s what they accomplished: Our event has raised more than $31,500 as posted online right now.  We have about $2,000 in checks that will be mailed in later this week. And, because it’s not too late to donate, I do believe we will end up breaking $35,000. Which, considering my initial event goal of $10,000, is pretty remarkable.

Some of you have apologized for not raising “enough.” Perhaps this is my fault because I spent considerable time on Sunday congratulating those shavees who had raised really significant amounts, like the first grader who brought in more than $1,300 in all of eight days. But I really and truly mean it when I say that every dollar counts. I’m going to steal something I read recently on St Baldrick’s Facebook page, credited to a shavee in Greensboro, NC: “I know my small contribution may buy the petri dish that holds the cure.” Somebody needs to pay for the little vials and droppers, the gloves and the swabs, heck even the coffee that keeps the researchers awake. So whether you donated $10 or $1,000 and whether you raised $50, $695 or $3,217, you have put us one step closer, one petri dish closer, to a cure for childhood cancer.

And that is what it’s all about.

I know I implied I’d give you a treehouse update but the entire thing is under wraps right now (literally!) so I figured I’d wait a few more days for the big reveal. Just know that it is pretty darn spectacular.

The other exciting thing that’s happened in the past week is that as we were driving to the airport last Friday I received a email from Writer’s Digest informing me that an essay I submitted in their annual writing competition had placed. Not like first place or anything, but 60th in the memoir category. Now I know 60th doesn’t sound like much but last year there were 14,000 entrants so placing at all is not too shabby.

Here it is:

DEADBOY.

Did I really just see that? It couldn’t have been. It couldn’t have been that word. Not today. Take a deep breath, keep driving, eyes on the road. Maybe it was just my imagination. I am tired after all.

The next day, I look straight ahead, trying to keep my eyes from wandering to the cars parked alongside the road. But I can’t help it, I’m almost down the hill when I peek to the right. And it’s there, clear as day: DEADBOY. In bold capital letters on somebody’s license plate. Who would do that? Don’t they know they live right by a hospital? Don’t they know somebody’s one-year-old son has a mysterious cancer, a tumor that’s grown to the size of a small watermelon, a medal-winning butternut squash bursting out of his kidney?? Don’t they know that?

I don’t mention it to anyone. Not to my husband, not to my mother. Not as I pour my heart out on my month-old cancer blog, describing each moment of fear and confusion and relief, each setback followed by small victory followed by setback. I don’t hold much back. I share it all. But I never mention the license plate, I never ever say that word aloud.

And so it takes on enormous power, it grows in my mind to something of a talisman, an omen of how the day is going to turn out . . . or how this whole journey – and the rest of our lives – is going to turn out. If it’s there, my heart beats a little faster and I drive a little quicker so I can relieve my husband and get my boy back in my arms. If it’s not there, I breathe a little deeper, my shoulders relax and I panic less when I can’t find a spot in the damn parking garage.

What else am I to use as my guidepost? What else do I have to believe in? Certainly not God, since I’m not about to start believing now, just because I have a kid with cancer. No matter how badly I may want someone or something to pray to, hypocrisy is worse in my book. Hypocrisy is always worse. My lack of belief is a belief system too, after all.

And I don’t have chemo to believe in, not anymore. That magical poison we placed so much faith in that failed us so thoroughly. I mean, whose tumors grow . . . with chemo? That’s not how it’s supposed to work. Chemo shrinks tumors, god dammit, how can his body not know that? So there goes my steadfast belief in science and medicine, shaken to the core. And doctors . . .well, I believe in our doctors but everyone makes mistakes. They’re only human, I’m wise enough and pragmatic enough to see that. They have lives and personal dramas and professional dilemmas to consume them.

So what do I have left to believe in? A license plate, apparently. I quietly place my faith in that damn license plate.

And for eight weeks, I am haunted and taunted by that single word. From the day we learn of the inexplicable and shocking growth of his tumor until the massive eight-hour surgery that removes his destroyed right kidney through the miserable recovery period when he’s forbidden to consume anything by mouth – no food, no water, no breastmilk — for ten days. From the long wait for pathology results until the next CT scan reveals growing tumors on the left side as well until the next surgery, quickly aborted because an infection is growing inside his surgical site. Through the surprisingly relaxing week-long stay during which he is pumped full of IV antibiotics trying to clear up his MRSA (isn’t that what I just read about in the paper? Doesn’t that kill people?) and his c-diff (it would be another year before I’d read about that one in the paper which, yes, also kills people) and into the next eight-hour long surgery where they remove four smaller tumors and forty percent of his left kidney. And then through the torturously long days and nights in the PICU as he recovers, a sweet one-year-old boy with tubes in his nose, hands, feet, chest, with an eight-inch scar across his belly, with so few answers as to why, how, what next. Through all of that, I am haunted and taunted by a single word boldly displayed on someone’s license plate. A word I can not bring myself to repeat, that my rational mind insists is just a word, some sick joke on some sick person’s part, nothing to do with me and my child.

But my non-rational mind thinks otherwise. And when you spend your nights standing up holding your baby in your arms, your non-rational mind tends to hold sway.  It’s so in my face, so very blatant, mocking my fear. If it said something more benign or vague like WATCH OUT or BAD LUCK, I still might feel a tinge of worry. If it said DEAD GIRL or DEAD MAN, I still might have looked twice and shaken my head and thought about it later as I tried to sleep against the green glow of the IV pole. But no, this is not vague or benign. This is serious. As clear as day, it says the one thing I can not bear, the single outcome I refuse to accept.

 

And then, incredibly (some would say miraculously) everything calms down. We spend more nights at home in our own beds than we do at the hospital. Austin crawls and plays and laughs and even grows. And by the end of October, a mere three months after the storm that is pediatric cancer blew into our lives, he has another CT scan. And it reveals . . . nothing. No tumors, no growths, no visible signs of cancer. Nothing suspicious or scary or deadly inside the small body of my beloved boy.

We continue to drive down that hill for months to come, once or twice a week for chemo or bloodwork or scans. My eyes are still open, still darting back and forth between the road ahead of me and the cars parked alongside it. I’m always ready, on edge, but I’m afraid to see it, so I don’t look carefully. I’m not actually searching. So a few weeks pass before I really notice that it’s gone, before it sinks in. Could it be? Suddenly I’m emboldened, slowing down, scanning driveways, really searching. And it’s not there. It’s gone.

 

It takes another six months before I mention it to anyone. And when I do, I mention it big. I describe it on my blog to the hundreds of people who’ve been biting their nails and crossing their fingers and crying and praying and cheering for Austin since this story began. And then I wait. One day, then two, thinking for sure someone else will step forward and say they saw it too. Maybe my mom, who walked down that hill almost every day we were in the hospital to take a shift so I could go for a run, shower at home, see my other boy and remind him that he was still loved. Surely she must have seen it but been understandably reluctant to bring it up. Surely someone must have seen it.

But no one has. It never caught anyone else’s eye. And now I have something new to worry about (great, just what I need): Am I crazy?  Was I actually losing my mind?  Could I have been that stressed, that exhausted, that my imagination invented it, made it up out of the clear blue sky? I’ve always been an extremely rational person, a normal person with a normal mind that functions in normal and predictable ways. I don’t make things up, child with cancer or not. I don’t hallucinate, for crying out loud.

And then, less than a week later, my friend’s mother posts a comment. She and her husband saw the car. They were driving on the freeway in a snowstorm, creeping along at well below the speed limit, on the opposite side of the city from where they live, when they pulled up behind it. It was real.

Ah, phew, well thank god for that. It exists and I’m not crazy. But relief passes into anger. Who would do that? Why would they choose that word? And then the pieces of the puzzle start falling into place. Another friend tells me there was a punk rock band in the 70s named The Deadboys who originated in, you guessed it, Cleveland.  Of course.

If only I’d told someone sooner, if I had showed up at the hospital after the very first sighting and said, “Oh my god, guys, you will not believe what I just saw.” It would have diffused all the power. It would have made it just another silly thing to have to bear, a minor distraction. But, who knows, I probably walked into some medical chaos, a new storm swirling, and didn’t have a chance to tell my story. And then one day passed and then another and its importance grew, fed by silence and fear, way out of proportion to what it really was. A vanity plate. Some old rocker pining for the past, wanting to relive his glory days. Come on.

So I did what any typical twenty-first century girl would do and got back online for another search. I had already, months prior, typed “Deadboy” (singular) coupled with “Ohio license plate” into my search engine. You know what I got? An article about how the Columbus Police Department was trying to find the identity of the dead boy using the license plate number of the submerged car in which he was found at the bottom of some river.  Armed with new knowledge (Deadboys plural), new answers appeared. Yes, a 70s era punk band who found their fame in Cleveland before heading off to New York. This went out for a page or two of Google-generated responses, old albums on eBay and concert reviews from the Agora, and then, something interesting, something new: One of the band members was struck by a car while walking in Paris in the 80s. And killed. Hence the singular dead boy. Well, now. That changes things.

This was not some aging rocker trying to recapture his youth. And it was not some cruel sociopath who got his jollys torturing the mothers of sick children. This was a tribute to a fallen friend. Sad, yes, but also positive in a strange way, done out of love, I suppose.

 

I look for it still, we’re not done at that hospital yet even though years have passed. It’s never returned. I have never seen it again.

But it was there. In my very worst days, in my most terrifying moments, that word was there, reaching out through the fog, taunting me from the side of the road right when I thought my child might die.

And then he got better.

And it was gone.

Every time we are faced with a new obstacle, I feel overwhelmed and pissed off and sad and convinced that this one is it, this is the one that will bring us down, that will change who we are, who he is. And every time I’ve been proved wrong. Every time we’ve ended up okay.

I’m hoping the same is true this time.

I am furious right now about the kidney. I’m not mad at anyone in particular, I know it’s no one’s fault, and yet I’m mad at everyone. I’m mad at our doctors for giving chemo and radiation even though I know that is what’s saving my child’s life. I’m mad at myself for not keeping him super-hydrated all the time at home (even though no one ever told me to). I’m mad as hell as the nutritionist who handed me that absurd pile of papers today describing the “renal diet.” I’m really really mad at the renal diet itself, as that is the current source of all my anger and frustration and worry.

I know, silly, right? It’s a diet, just recommended lists of foods to enjoy, foods to limit and foods to avoid. But it is so terribly restrictive and, in my mind, so unhealthy. Take for instance, that fact that I can not give Austin whole wheat anything, but instead have to resort to white: white bread, white pasta — stuff my kids have barely ever had. I’m no perfect mother feeding her children all natural health food all the time; in fact, I often find my self plagued with guilt and worry that their diets consist too much of “kid-friendly” junk food. But I at least give them whole wheat bread!

But no, now he can’t have bananas or tomato sauce or cantaloupe or raisins or edamame beans or even baked beans. And the real kicker is that my Austin, who survives almost entirely on cheese, yogurt and milk, can now have no more than one cup of dairy — including soy — each day. Oh, I cringe when I imagine the battles that are going to take place in front of our refrigerator as he gets used to this.

But we have got to protect that kidney. We have got to do everything we can, even have knock-down, drag-out, biting-mommy-on-the-shoulder-until-she-hands-over-my-muenster fights in front of the fridge to do that. We need it to last two more years. At least, at least, two more years.

I was rereading some of my earlier posts, written in December as we were preparing for chemo, and I was struck by how pessimistic I was about the whole thing, by how very worried I was for all of us, certain that we were on the verge of disaster. And then I was struck again by how much better these past few months have been than we thought they would be, by the fact that we are still a happily functioning family, by the fact that my boy still races around with a smile on his face, full of energy and light and laughter.

Today in the hospital playroom with two cans of shaving cream: pure joy.

So maybe the renal diet will be the same way. Maybe I’ll find new recipes online and we’ll toss the string cheese and Austin will just adapt. And maybe, just maybe, the little kidney that could will do some more.

One of the features on WordPress allows me to see which pages on my blog people visit and each day, there are at least several (presumably new) visitors who read the “About Krissy” page. So I just looked at it and, wow, that sure can’t help anyone! It actually says, in those few brief paragraphs, that Austin has “been in remission since March 2008.” Humph. I wish.

So, for the sake of any newcomers (or any confused old-timers), I’m going to give the Cliff’s Notes version of the past two-plus years, divided into three rounds.

Round One began on July 30, 2007 when Austin was diagnosed with bilateral Wilms’ tumor, cancer in both his kidneys. His treatment lasted eight months and included four abdominal surgeries, the removal of his entire right kidney and 40% of his left, and twenty weeks of chemotherapy. The details of that round are summarized on the Austin’s Story page, which is a seriously shortened version of what I wrote on his Carepage between August 2007 and March 2008. Excerpts from those months can be found interspersed throughout this blog as well, especially in this post.

Round Two coincided with the launch of this blog and took place in March and April of 2009. After thirteen glorious cancer-free months, a CT scan revealed a new mass floating in his left abdominal cavity (not in the kidney itself). A biopsy confirmed that it was indeed a Wilms’ tumor and we were left reeling, certain that his cancer had recurred.  The tumor was removed in yet another major surgery after which we learned that it was actually an old tumor, and instead of a dreaded recurrence, this episode was labeled the much vaguer (but much better) “residual cancer.” The whole thing lasted a mere three weeks and we suddenly found ourselves back where we’d started.

There was another intermittent event between Rounds Two and Three: In October and November of 2009, we began watching yet another shadow, worried that it might be cancer and necessitate the removal of that left kidney. We thought we had resolved the issue when, lo and behold, the shadow changed drastically which brings us to the present, Round Three.

Round Three officially began in December with the decision to go in and attempt to remove this new tumor while also hoping to salvage what remained of the kidney. I won’t go into all the nitty gritties because they’re posted here throughout December, but the surgery was successful in terms of the kidney but not so much in terms of what it showed us about the cancer. Austin had indeed relapsed, his cancer was back and more vicious than ever. After some gut-wrenching back and forth decisions about whether or not keep the kidney, Austin began another protocol of chemo and radiation, which we are currently partway through.

It’s all here, in a crazy and jumbled fashion. These posts are filled with good news and great news, bad news and horrible news. There is hope and laughter and tears and fear and love and lots and lots of living.

I’ve been struggling. Focusing in on the absolute worst possible outcome in any given scenario. Certain that Austin would fall victim to every “rare but serious” side effect listed for each of his drugs (things that range from permanent hearing loss to irreversible organ failure to the big D). Wondering how many children I’d be buying Christmas gifts for next year.

But it’s lifting. I am, yet again, rising. Today has been a much better day. Austin is back, full force. He’s playing and eating and laughing and snorting like a pig (his new thing for some unknown reason). His resilience, his ability to get back up after being knocked down and down and down, reminds me to hope.

It started lifting last night. We’d finished dinner and I was standing there paralyzed by the mess in my kitchen and Mark told me to take some time off. “Stop worrying about whether you and I are putting in equal time right now. It doesn’t have to be equal; it has to be about meeting each other’s needs. Right now, you need a break. I don’t. The tables will turn and when they do, I can break down and you will step up.”

So I left. Went to Heinen’s and Target. Studied food labels for potassium and bought a few last minutes stocking stuffers, along with thermometers, hospital slippers and children’s Tylenol. I wandered around the store in a daze, thinking of my incredible husband and my incredible children. Struck by the goodness and kindness in my life and by the misery and cruelty in my life. The two opposite forces converging all at once, toppling over each other, jostling for position. Wondering which would win out, which would prove to be stronger in the end.

I drove home listening to the “holiday music station,” which is a form of torture in and of itself between the longing of “home for Christmas” songs to the new meaning behind “All I Want For Christmas is YOU” (not to mention the thoroughly annoying “The Twelve Pains of Christmas” which makes me want to shake someone: “Oh really? You couldn’t find a parking spot at the mall??”). But as I passed the twinkling lights on the houses, driving slowly with no traffic around, I was calmed. I pulled into the driveway of my full house and walked in my backdoor to the sound of laughter.

My three boys, one big, one medium and one little, were running around playing hide and seek. And laughing.

Goodness wins.

OK, so it’s probably a good thing that I’ve been far too exhausted and far far too busy to update for the past forty-eight hours because the plan had changed about forty-eight times since then. Well, no, it’s not the plan that’s changed so much as the details of the plan. But now I think we have it and I think it’ll stick, except of course for the unforseen detours we’ll undoubtedly take due to Austin’s health on any given day or week.

The basics: We are not starting chemo or radiation until Monday, December 28. Which means that yes, we will all be home, together under one roof, for Christmas.

We were released yesterday (Sunday) morning after what was an extremely long and scary night (for me at least) in which I felt certain, at several different points, that Austin’s kidney had just up and failed because he wasn’t peeing enough. I was literally lying in bed next to him, with my heart pounding in my chest, checking his diaper for wetness and feeling his belly for an imagined hardness that, in my own sleep-deprived and suddenly paranoid mind, meant he was filling up with fluid because his kidney could no longer filter it out. It took two separate calls to the nurse who then made two separate calls the doctor to calm me down and convince me that he simply hadn’t had a lot to drink that day. Actually he had had almost nothing to drink because he wasn’t allowed in the long and delayed lead-up to his surgery and then was groggy and only sipping in the after-math of anesthesia. It almost seems silly looking back on it except that I can see that these next few months are going to be filled with moments of concern that turn quickly into moments of panic.

Anyway, we’ve been home now for 36 hours and most of them have been spent holding Austin or dealing with a vicious cycle of constipation, cramping and diarrhea.  It seems such a minor discomfort in the face of all that’s to come but I so badly want him to get well and be well and gather his strength that this setback has been both frustrating and heartbreaking. He does seem to finally be doing better and has had some really great moments, especially this afternoon at Braedan’s birthday party.

This party was the single sacred event this week that I told the doctors was completely off-limits. “Start chemo on Christmas Eve if you want, keep us overnight on Christmas itself but give me my son’s birthday party. Let me just be there.” Well, it was more than just me who was there. It was all four of us together, with a slightly dazed and definitely slower Austin enjoying the festivities as much as any other kid.

The rest of this week will be spent returning to the hospital over and over each day for all the necessary tests and appointments leading up to next week. Tomorrow, we have a quick visit to flush his mediport and remove the tube draining out of his incision site. Wednesday, he’ll have a six-hour long “nuclear scan” (I despise that name) to measure his kidney function in order to tweak his chemo dosages to a level his kidney can (hopefully) tolerate. Thursday is a much quicker audiogram to give us a baseline hearing level because one of the drugs can cause permanent hearing loss.  I know, what the fuck, right? Funny the things that strike your heart, but I actually got over that one pretty quickly. We will take the boy deaf if that’s what we get.

And then three days of no hospitals, no doctors, no procedures, just family and feasting and presents and playtime and hopefully (for mom and dad, at least) a little peace and rest.

And then it begins. Monday we return for five days of in-patient chemo and radiation (the radiation is only in-patient because we are). Unlike his initial six months of chemo, which was administered once a week as an out-patient, this kind is administered each day for a series of days (sometimes five, sometimes three depending on which combination of drugs). Sounds to me like the real reason for being in-patient is for symptom control. At first, I thought, “No way, we can handle this at home. We’d always rather be at home.” But just these past two days of being here, when what he’s suffering from is pretty minor in comparison, I know it will be easier to be in the hospital. With people at the ready twenty-four hours a day to help us: change the sheets, clean the puke, make the decisions about what medicine to offer. We won’t have to wonder if a reaction is normal or if it’s dangerous, we won’t have to guess at how to best treat something, we won’t have to juggle the immediate needs of the sick child with the immediate needs of the healthy one.

Chemo will last anywhere from 18 to 30 weeks (sorry to all of you who read that when it accidentally said “months”!), depending on how much Austin (and his bone marrow) can tolerate. We’ll have one week on followed by two weeks off for “count recovery,” which allows his blood cells and bone marrow to multiply before being destroyed yet again. His immunity will be quite a bit weaker than it was the last time and we do expect to pull him out of school. This particular chemo regimen is actually designed to last for 90 weeks but few children are able to make it that far because their bone marrow is so thoroughly depleted. We are committed to 18 weeks and then may add the second 12-week cycle if he’s able and if we all deem it necessary.

So, having a plan is helpful, lets me prepare, both mentally and practically (new meal and playdate requests will come in a few more days). But more than anything, I am scared. Scared scared scared. Scared for how it’s going to be, scared for what it’s going to do, scared for what it might not do. I am trying to look at the one small inch in front of me, just one tiny step, one day at a time. And I know we’ll do it. But I am terrified.

Spoiler Alert: This post is not about Austin’s cancer. I know, you’re thinking, “Wait a minute! You mean there are other things in the world for Krissy to think about, write about, care about?” Actually, yes. So this one is about riding a bike.

You know how people always say, “It’s just like riding a bike,” meaning that once you’ve done it, it’s so easy to do again? Well, that’s not always the case. And this is not some great metaphor or analogy. I am literally talking about riding a bike.

Braedan learned to ride a two-wheeler without training wheels last summer, when he was just 4. We were all pretty impressed with this accomplishment, especially Braedan himself. I would take him on runs with me, which was great fun for both of us (and way easier than  pushing him in the jogging stroller). The only problem was that the bike we bought him was too tall. We knew this was the case, but figured it made sense to buy one he could grow into instead of needing to buy a new one each year. So last summer, when his feet couldn’t reach the ground, Mark or I had to race along behind him and help him stop. He grew pretty accustomed to this and I think it gave him a sense of security knowing that we were there to catch him each time he faltered (again, I mean that literally as well as figuratively).

Who needs a bike when you've got this? May 2008

Who needs a bike when you've got this? May 2008

So now that it’s finally (finally!) showing signs of springtime in Cleveland, we pulled his bike out of the garage, dusted it off and were all set to go. I excitely told him that he’d be able to ride it on his own this year without needing us to stop him every time because he’s so much taller (as evidenced by his pants that keep “shrinking”). He stood over the seat with both feet firmly on the ground while I invoked my dad’s best pre-game coaching speeches. He’d be independent, he was such a big boy, not needing his parents’ help anymore! 

To no avail. He refused to even try. “No. I can’t do it. I’ll fall.” We went back and forth, me encouraging, him denying, never getting anywhere.

“But you know how to ride a bike,” I implored. “You did this all last summer. You were great at it.”

Still nothing. So I switched tactics, reminding him that new things were hard for everyone and we all failed in the beginning but that was the only way we ever learned. Do you know how many times Babe Ruth struck out? I wanted to ask but since he doesn’t know who Babe Ruth is and doesn’t even know what striking out means, I dropped that favorite line of high school counselors everywhere.

And then I decided, without really deciding, that it would be wise to shame my child into doing something that scared him: “It was big deal that you could ride your bike when you were four,” I taunted. “But now that you’re five, everyone can ride a two-wheeler.” All the kids are doing it. Is this really the parental wisdom I want to impart? Do it because all your peers are doing it and they might laugh at you if you can’t?

Oh boy. I cleared my head and dropped the subject altogether. We played on the swingset for the rest of the morning and then I pulled them to school in the wagon. But it bothered me. Why wasn’t he willing to try? What is he so afraid of?

I don’t have the answer, no brilliant last paragraph of resolution, no touching description of Braedan zooming down the sidewalk on his big boy bike, waving goodbye over his shoulder. The bike is sitting in the garage, awaiting that moment when he decides, on his own terms, that he’s ready to try again. I know he’ll be able to do it and I know he’ll be thrilled when he does. And I know I’ll watch him proudly and then suddenly turn wistful and think, “Oh, my baby. Why does he have to grow up so fast? Why doesn’t he need me anymore?”

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