The Magic of Listen To Your Mother

A fellow childhood cancer/Shave for the Brave momma introduced me to Listen to Your Mother in 2011. She participated in a show (I think it might have even been the first one in her area) and was always posting about it. I kept seeing it in her facebook and instagram feeds so one day I asked about it. She told me what it was and knew that I was beginning to blog, so she encouraged me to submit a piece. Yeah, right!

My #oneword for 2014 was risk. I took a huge one and “auditioned” for the first-ever Listen to Your Mother show in Metro Detroit. I was accepted. I read in front of 400 strangers. For five blissful and completely uninterrupted minutes I got to share my story, Luke’s story. There was a literal and figurative spotlight on childhood cancer. And, I was held. Part of the magic of LTYM is that there’s no judgement. No judgement if you ugly cry (I did in rehearsal), no judgement if you curse, no judgement over content, delivery or tone. You get to own a stage and share your story. It is completely invigorating and uplifting. LTYM helped me heal a little and it gave me more confidence as a writer.

LTYM is also scary as hell. Although blogging is very public, our words and thoughts are very private. Sharing them with the world is risky and deep down, most writers are deeply insecure.

Yesterday was the second annual LTYM show. It.was.awesome. St. Andrew’s Hall was jumping! That place was electric. And the readers and their stories were amazing. They ranged from humorous to dark, gut-wrenching to hopeful. It is an honor to bear witness to such raw emotion. I remember how absolutely terrified I was last year. I was glad that there was a full audience to support me. I am grateful that I was able to go yesterday to support this year’s group. That’s part of the magic, too. All of a sudden you are in a vulnerability/motherhood/writing/performing group that you never knew you always wanted to be in. And it’s not like the clique of plastics in high school. It’s real people. It’s your people. And, you are a member for life.

This morning I commented on the facebook page of one of this year’s performers. I said “Your piece was raw and powerful. Thank you for sharing.” She wrote back to me that my piece from last year was the one that she kept going back to for inspiration.

Wait. What? What the heck? Holy bananas!

First, what a compliment.

Second, that is very humbling and gratifying. That is why I write (I think it’s why most people write) I hope that what I put out there resonates with others. Writing also helps me feel less alone. In LTYM-speak, it’s called the “me, too” moment. Someone shares something from deep within themselves that takes your breath away and you say, “yeah, me too.” This year’s show gave me many of those moments. Very grateful.

Third, thank you for sharing that. That is something else about LTYM. You connect with other writers, bloggers, and artists, and your shared risky experience makes you feel like you know each other and then you take care of each other. She did not have to say anything back to me. I certainly wasn’t expecting her to.

Fourth, let’s spread some of that love around! Writing is risky. Auditioning for something (whether it’s LTYM or something else) is incredibly risky. It’s putting your heart and soul out there hoping and praying that it will be cared for. If there is a writer in your life, support them. Read their stuff. Don’t be stingy with love and praise. All the feels people! ALL the feels!

There are two more weekends of LTYM performances. Do yourself a favor. See if there is one in a city near you. Then, go and listen. Be moved. Be inspired. And then, call your mother.

Making New Memories, Five Years After

My #oneword2014 is risk. I took a huge personal risk by auditioning for the first-ever #MetroDetroit Listen to Your Mother show. I was hesitant to audition with a piece about childhood cancer. I was nervous that it was too serious, too sad. Our story is serious and sad. But it’s true and real. Our journey changed who I am and how I see myself as a mother. That is what LTYM is all about. Stories by, of, and about motherhood.

My risk paid off- I was accepted as a castmember and on May 4, 2014 I had the amazing honor and privilege of standing center stage and sharing my story. LTYM was one of the best experiences of my life. It helped me trust other women and other mothers. It helped me remember that there are good and kind people who will hold you when you need it. And, it gave me a boost of confidence as a writer.

Thank you to my amazing husband Sean for driving 85+ mph from MSU graduation to make it in time.

Thanks, Hubs!

Thanks, Hubs!

And thank you to my friends Heather and Kelley for cheering me on.

Thanks to my cheering section!

Thanks to my cheering section!

The official LTYM You-Tube videos will post later this summer. Eek! Until then, this is the full text of my piece. Thank you for reading.

Making New Memories, Five Years After

“On December 12, 2008, our three year old son Luke was diagnosed with stage four cancer and our lives changed forever.

Many of my memories of diagnosis day are crystal clear:

the emergency ultrasound and MRI,

the ugly green sweater I was wearing,

meeting the oncology fellow who would be with us throughout Luke’s 15 months of treatment.

While my husband Sean played in the waiting room with Luke,

I somehow managed to sign paperwork giving strangers permission to pump my son full of poison,

in the hopes that the chemo would kill the rapidly growing cells inside his little body.

I remember holding Sean’s hand as he drove us home in the dark

and we wept in the deafening silence.

December 12, 2013 marked five years since our son’s cancer diagnosis. Like every year, it was a hard day. I just could not pull myself out of being angry and bitter.

The gray skies and snow on the ground are triggers.

The winter air in Michigan always smells the same

empty and raw.

Sean and I called each other a few times during the day. Family sent text messages saying they were thinking of us and sending good wishes.

Later that same night, Luke and his classmates performed “Betsy Ross and the First American Flag.”

Eighty-four second graders had been rehearsing since the second week of school. There was singing, dancing, and historical lessons about Betsy’s bravery and courage. Apparently, it was quite a coup to make a new flag that represented the new world!

Every single second grader had a speaking part and when Luke came up to the microphone to talk about Betsy buying blue ribbon for her flag, I thought my heart was going to leap out of my chest.

I was bursting with pride.

Surely the mom next to me could hear my heart pounding and see my tears. I wonder if she was thinking, “Who is this woman? What an odd thing to be crying about! Betsy Ross isn’t really tear-worthy!”

As I was sitting there trying to film the square dancing and the Virginia reel, a different movie played in my mind. Snippets of the last five years kept flashing before me.

In the movies, photo montages are usually round and sepia.

Childhood cancer memories are jarring and unsettling.

I remember midnight trips to the ER, fevers, watching my baby lose his curly hair, MRIs and X-rays, bacterial infections, the list goes on and on and on.

I wanted everything to pause,

for the world to stop spinning for Just. One. Moment.

so that everyone in that smelly grade school gym could appreciate my skinny, angular boy and his fight against the odds.

I wanted to stand up and shout,

Stop!

Wait!

Do you see that boy in the middle?

That’s my son! My baby.

He is a CANCER survivor!

He is a cancer SURVIVOR!

You have no idea what he has been through! You have no idea how special this moment is!

As Luke’s mother, I know his beginning, his past, and our hopes for his future.

The audience could only see his present.

The farther out Luke gets from diagnosis and treatment, the less he remembers. I am learning that this is a good thing

and how it should be.

His eight year old mind and body have been through more than enough. If he copes by choosing what memories to keep, that is fine.

I will be his memory.

I will always have one eye on the past, remembering all he has endured and another eye on the future, hoping and praying that he continues to get good news.

Luke’s radiation oncologist once told me, “Your hopes and dreams for him aren’t gone. They’re just different.”

Truer words were never spoken.

December 12th will always, always be the day that our son was diagnosed with cancer.

But, it can also be one of the days that he moved on, that he sang and danced with his classmates,

just like an eight year old should.”

Table Read

This afternoon we had a table read for the Listen to Your Mother Metro Detroit Show. Doesn’t that sound so cool? Table read. Like a TV show. One of the other cast members said, “Oh I love Shonda Rhimes! And now, I feel like her!” Who doesn’t want to be Shonda Rhimes?

We met at Alternatives for Girls in Detroit. AFG is changing the lives of homeless girls in Detroit; and they are the beneficiary of our LTYM ticket sales. You can check out the amazing organization here.   There were 15 women in the room, all there to share their stories about motherhood. We sat in a circle, chit-chatted and ate some lovely donated pastries. Thank goodness I didn’t give up dessert for Lent! Our show’s producers- Angela, Angela, and Jessica– didn’t want us to introduce ourselves too fully. They wanted us to know each other through our stories and to read them the way we did in our auditions. This is also how the audience will experience them at the show on May 4. No frills. Women and their stories will take center stage.

I arrived at the table read today nervous and confident. I was nervous to read my full audition piece in front of my fellow castmates. But, I had been chosen from among 50 other women writers who auditioned so I was a little confident, too. I thought that my story and my writing would be among the best in the group. They were neither of those things. The talent of other writers absolutely blew my face off. The raw emotion that the other women captured using only their words was awe-some. And, I did the ugly cry throughout my entire five minutes of reading. Blerg.

On the drive home and the rest of the evening I have been thinking about the women in my circles. The childhood cancer community is like the PhD community. When everyone else in your circle has what you have or is in the process of getting one (a PhD) or experienced what you experienced (childhood cancer), it is easy to become insular and isolated. Only about 3% of American women has a doctorate. I detest the word “rare” when speaking about children with cancer because I believe it dilutes the power of our message and the need for more research funding. However, the number of children diagnosed each year is small. And with only 350 new cases of rhabdo each year, L’s diagnosis was even more rare. Basically for the last 5 years, I have been with people who are exactly like me. This is not a bad thing. I needed and still need those networks of women, especially my fellow momcologists and student affairs parents. I will always need them. But today I learned that as a result of my closed circles, I have lulled myself into thinking that my story, our story, our journey is unique, or would win some prize for most traumatic or most tragic. Not true.

There is no prize for tragic. There is no hierarchy of suffering or pain or misery or grief. There were women in that room today who shared about infertility, divorce, adoption, losing children, burying their parents. And all of this was going on at the same time I was living my own story. Parallel lives. From December 2008 until March 2010 I kept wondering how the world was still spinning. How was it still going while my baby was suffering so horribly and while S and I were so utterly terrified and exhausted? Turns out, most of the other women in that room today were wondering the same things. About their own lives, their own children, and marriages, and parents.

Jessica, one of our directors, said that this experience has made her more patient and more tolerant. That you really never know what someone else has experienced. That people have reasons for the way they act. Everyone has a story. Every.one.

What a gift, honor and privilege to be in that room today. To my fellow castmates, thank you. You are inspiring. And, I thank you for pushing me to want to be a better writer. I can’t wait for dress rehearsal in April and the real deal on May 4, 2014!