The little engine

At the end of last week I was finally feeling good and like things were settling down; my life was reaching a more ideal pace. That didn’t last for long! Yesterday I was totally overwhelmed. Sylvie broke her leg on Sunday (and I was trying to be hopeful that the sitter would be able to manage taking care of three kids while I was at work), my left breast looked super weird and deflated, the exhibition I’ve been working on at RISD is mid-instal and it was super hot out. For some reason that combination got me down. The day turned out ok- the babysitter did pretty well (she’s amazing, by the way), work was smooth and productive, and Sylvie loved scooting around on the skateboard I borrowed from a friend. Phew. But it still feels like I’m running in a marathon.

At dinner time today the kids were playing on the floor in their bedroom so nicely. Sylvie was sitting in front of the bookshelf and asked if I’d read The Little Engine That Could. I remember the copy I had growing up and wonder what happened to it since I have almost all of our (mine and Nick’s) others. The copy we have now I bought at Borders in Arlington, VA in early-October of 2005. At this point my mom’s health was really starting to decline. She was clearly in pain, her clothes hung off of her, and her spirits were not as high as she’d previously been able to keep them. After work one day I went shopping and bought her some clothes that were a few sizes smaller (she’d confided that even though she’d been trying to loose weight for her entire adult life, having her clothes be so loose made her really feel like “a cancer patient”) and The Little Engine That Could. The following weekend when I was back at my parents’ house north of Baltimore things weren’t great. On Saturday morning I helped my mom get dressed in her new clothes and she could barely stand. She sat down in one of the wing-back chairs in her bedroom and actually complained about her pain- the only time I remember her doing so. The cancer had spread to her bones and was taking its toll.  She was rubbing her legs and started to cry. As I’m typing this I can vividly recall the feeling of my heart sinking. I cried too. I told her I’d give her my legs if I could and, of course, she said she’d never let me. I would have happily given my life for hers because I didn’t want to imagine a life without her. Honestly, I still can’t imagine my life without her and I’m living it. It was then, sitting on the floor between her aching legs that I read her the new copy of The Little Engine That Could. It seemed a little silly and trite, but I was out of ideas and still wanted to believe that if we all focused our energy she could conquer this enormous beast.

This evening I read the book to my kids and was overcome by how happy they make me. They are both simply delightful. These little daily obstacles- two year olds in full-leg casts, museum exhibitions, lumpy breast implants- are tempered by the weight of so many things we’ve already survived. I was reminded that during busy, sad or dark times there is always joy and love if you look for it.

The last ten years has been punctuated with loss and illness, and this one is no exception. My family lost a seven month old baby to SIDS, an uncle was diagnosed with lymphoma, and a life-long friend lost his father suddenly a few days ago. At these times I am always at a loss for what to say, wishing that I had some sage advice or thoughtful bit that would help ease their pain but I am still figuring out what to say to myself! As I’ve gone through this breasty process, I have realized a few things. The first is that I am simply happy to be alive. I am most grateful for my friends and family who haven’t given up on supporting me over and over and over again as my life continues to weirdly and sometimes painfully unfold. And, that the very best thing that I can do to honor the memory of the people I’ve lost is to not squander my very blessed and healthy life. Needing so much help for these past few months revealed many lessons about who to trust, how to live in the moment, to accept my life as it is, to not get overwhelmed in minutia and to give back anytime I can.

Now it’s time to stamp all my thank you notes! I’m sorry they’ve been a long time coming…

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5 Responses to The little engine

  1. You are really baring your soul in this post. I have a feeling it made you weepy to write, but maybe I’m wrong.
    Anyway, I am sorry about all the losses…so many. More than your fair share. But glad your daughter is okay. For what it’s worth, it’s supposed to be a little cooler tomorrow.

  2. Mim says:

    You are beautiful Kristen inside and out. You are one strong young woman, mother, daughter that would make any Mom and Dad proud. Your children are a reflection of you too. Both are beautiful, loving, well behaved and two little engines that not only could, but DO like their Mom.
    You have not only made some tough decisions this past year, you did them, ran a household, remained loving, caring and a role model to your children as well as your many family and friends praying and practically holding their breath for your updates. You are well deserving of a happy ending/ beginnings.
    I feel and really do understand the pain you feel about losing your beautiful Mom too soon. I dont know a soul that knew her that didn’t love her and still feel a heavy heart about losing her too soon.
    Kristen you are a beautiful reflection of her. When I see you, I see a young Lisa who inspires the many.
    You’ve been proactive and followed through on some well educated and tough decisions. You are still healing and continue to demonstrate just how strong your little engine is! Sending lots of love and well wishes to you and both of your little engines that can and will with a great Mom like you. Choo choo! xox

  3. Pam Jones says:

    Your mom was with you as you read that book to your children. She was there to guide you through that not-so-great day and help you focus on what is good. Thank you for sharing your thoughts so eloquently and truthfully. Hugs to you!

  4. Donna Collins says:

    Kristen: What a beautiful tribute to your Mom. It made me sad to visualize her in pain like that because none of us ever saw her down. But her strength has become your strength. You keep going, sweetie! You’re gorgeous. Good luck with Sylvie’s leg, the weather and everyday life. It’s wise of you to look beyond the daily bumps of life because it is fun! Love Donna

  5. Kate says:

    Your kids are delightful! And that’s because they have a delightfully thoughtful, kind, passionate Mom. You’re amazing!!

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