I have been parenting for eight years now, but only have one four year old. In essence, my husband and I have parented two kids, back to back, at four year intervals. ‘Groundhog parenting’ is how I have come to think of it. Thanks, Cancer! The beast that keeps on giving. Sigh.
It’s hard to know how to describe it. On a guttural level, it’s just really odd. There is a sense that after all these years, we should be further along, you know? Like we’ve been given a do over or something. Except, obviously, life is never a “do over” and losing a child to cancer and parenting another child you have been blessed with is about the furthest thing from a “do over” that I can imagine.
In just two months time, Mary Tyler Son will have reached the age Donna was when she died. I can’t stop thinking of that. Will that event be what breaks us out of Groundhog Parenting? Will Mary Tyler Son turning four years and three months be the tuning point that will shatter the time loop of our life?
There is no question that the boy is his own person. I used to worry and worry and worry over that when he was a baby. His sister was such an extraordinary child and so widely recognized for her qualities and wisdom and strength — would Mary Tyler Son grow up in the shadow of a sister he didn’t remember? At Donna’s memorial service, my Dad, in his eulogy, made a point of saying that the person he felt the worst for was Mary Tyler Son, who would grow up without his sister.
Gratefully, I don’t think we have saddled him with that burden. Nor have our close friends and family. Mary Tyler Son has a lot of what Donna had — he is bright as can be, has keen verbal skills, and is as silly as his sister was. But he is different from Donna in many ways, too. He is more physical. And less timid. He doesn’t like to make art, but he loves to work on Legos. And he prefers encyclopedia type books over stories. In dance class he just kind of flops around and looks at himself lovingly in the mirror where his sister was laser focused, working hard to follow teacher.
It’s not lost on us, either, that we are hoping and working hard to add to our family through adoption at this point. Back into the Groundhog loop we go (we hope). More diapers, more gear, more bottles . . .
So what’s my point? I have no freaking idea. Honestly. It’s just something I think about. A lot. Maybe I should be smarter, wiser, better prepared than I feel. When my boy acts the fool and does something so shocking, showing his age and normal development, I think — WHAT? Well this never happened with Donna! What the hell am I supposed to do here?!
I managed home chemo and surgeries and hospitals and hospice. I managed all of that, and as sad as it made me, I always felt that I understood my role — what I needed to provide my daughter. I look at my son sometimes and I am mystified by his actions, his intensity, his typical four year old behavior. “What the what?” is something I have thought to myself frequently.
He might do something I don’t approve of and my first response is, “NO child of mine is gonna act like that!” And then I realize, it sinks in, that the only way my boy will know better, do better, is for me to teach him. Lovingly. Except I don’t really know how. I need to remember that parenting a healthy child is significantly different than parenting a child with cancer.
Light bulb moment!
And this is where my whole Groundhog Parenting theory falls apart. I have much to learn. I need to learn. I will learn. I will stop looking backward thinking the answers lie there, in my earlier parenting. This is the point I need to look forward — eyes on the road ahead. As with Donna, Mary Tyler Son will be my best guide, or the Mary Tyler Son I want him to be — a happy, healthy, developing, empathic, compassionate, loving boy.
Alright, then. Eyes on the road ahead. Groundhog in my lap. Here we go . . .