If You Bungle Raising Your Children…

If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.”

-Jacqueline Kennedy

Ah, how I loved Jackie….and especially this quote. It is something I live my life by both before and after cancer. Just think about it for a minute. It really says so many things on so many levels. It just depends on which level you are living your life, when you read it.

You see, before I went through the looking glass, I thought raising my children well meant making sure they were happy, without anything bad happening to them, well educated, respectful, clean, well fed, etc. Raising perfect happy children. They were going to have all the advantages my husband and I didn’t have, we would “fix” any problems that came their way, and they would live happily ever after, etc. Then cancer came a calling.

I remember telling them, both at different times, and trying to act like everything was going to be fine. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to “fix” this so their world wouldn’t come crashing in. I wanted to be honest but not too honest. I didn’t want them to face anything horrific like losing their mother when my youngest was just turning 10 years old. My children were going to have happy lives, this wasn’t the plan!!!

I remember my 10 year old (15 now) looking at me and my husband as the words came out of my mouth and seeing her face register what I just said. My god, I thought, if I was ever going to have to try and win an academy award for acting, now was the time. With tears in her eyes, not falling, just glistening, she came over and sat on my lap and asked, “Are you going to die?” I smiled and very confidently, a confidence I didn’t feel, (Meryl Streep watch out) and said, “The doctors said I am so lucky we caught this early. They can operate and they can take it all out of me and then I will be fine.” I couldn’t bring myself to say the words, “I wasn’t going to die”, because I am just too straightforward and didn’t want to take a chance. I immediately had a vision of me on my deathbed and her saying, “but you told me you weren’t going to die.” I thought she bought it, that her world would be getting back on its axel after this momentarily blip. Ha!

The day of my surgery she was at her best friend’s house and they were drawing me pictures. She drew a big picture of a pretty house, kids out on bikes, people sitting on benches in a park, kids eating ice cream cones. It was a big idyllic happy scene. At the top of the left corner next to the house, was a big brown oval shaped thing that basically looked like a comet heading straight for the roof of the house. When I got home she gave it to me. I still have this picture saved.

I told her it was a beautiful picture, but asked what the big brown thing was in the corner, and in a very matter of fact tone, her response was an exact quote that I will never forget, “that is a big bomb coming out of the sky and it is going to hit the house in just a minute, but none of these people in the picture have any idea that their world is going to explode,” then she smiled and started asking me questions about the hospital. Talk about art therapy! That’s the exact moment I realize that “raising my children well” just took a completely new turn. Not only did I go through the looking glass, they all went with me. Her world would never be the same.

Telling my 18-year-old (now 23), a college freshman at the time, was a lot tougher. She wasn’t going to be fooled by semantics. So as I told her, I called my internist on my cell, and had him tell her all about it being an incidental find and the chances for my full recovery were really very good. Hearing it from him made her feel better, but she is a very intelligent girl, who seemed skeptical and she had become extremely quiet. Boom, now her world was changed too.

Oh, and two years later on the celebration of his 50th birthday my husband had some serious heart issues. Double boom. So now our game plan to “raise our children well” had changed drastically. But guess what? Instead of ruining their lives, they learned resiliency, empathy, and what was really important in life – love and family. What was really ironic is, so did we. Who would have thought that not having the picture perfect life could be so perfect?!

So now I read Jackie’s quote and realize I had it all wrong. Now, to me, “raising your children well”, means something completely different. I guess sometimes you need to be hit in the head with a “comet” to get it and now we do. It means raising individuals who understand that life usually won’t go as planned it won’t be perfect and that’s ok, because if you value the right things in life you can make it through. They know it is more important that people think of you as nice, good and caring rather than pretty, popular or cool. When you have accomplished this, then you have really raised them well. J

And all this from a woman who among other things could wear a pillbox hat like nobody’s business…

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