Keeping it Real

Posted: November 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Cancer, Friends and Strangers, Manners, Miss Kate, Scary Stuff | No Comments »

I am a Nazi about thank you cards. Sending them, that is.

And like all people with militant beliefs, I work hard to instill them in my children. Call me old school, uptight, or etiquette-bound, but I want writing thank you notes to become second nature to my kids.

As it turns out, I have no need to worry. At least with my oldest child, Kate, who is a great maker of cards. A tremendous and relentless maker of cards. It’s somehow just in her genes, I guess. And I know that my mother—an ardent disciple of Emily Post—would approve.

Not all Kate’s cards are thank yous. No, she whips up cards for birthdays, sick friends, Valentine’s Day, the death of a pet. When she learned that Paige’s teacher broke his foot last year, she immediately dashed off a card. She made another to bid adieu to our dear gaybors the night before they moved. (Just a few blocks away, but we’re all still sick about it.)

The heart-shaped card she enclosed when we mailed Halloween candy to the troops said, “Dear soldiers, thak you for protecting the U.S.A. Soldiers rok! p.s. My name is Kate.”

(P.P. S. I told her how to spell ‘soldiers.’)

Kate made a card to welcome her pet fish, Karen. It’s hanging by the fishbowl in a spot, I assume, where Karen can easily read it. It says, “Dear Karen I hop you like your noo hom! Your onr Kate.”

The “your onr” line still slays Mark.

I admit, Kate’s thank you note routine has been a bit trying at times. Now that she can write—albeit with her school-condoned “creative spelling”—she’s not just doodling on the sea of notes that I churn out. She labors over each one. I’ll have a list of 20-plus gift-givers to get through and Kate will get hung up on one card for 15 minutes, cutting an elaborate snowflake decoration to enclose with it. I don’t want to stifle her creativity, but I do want to get the birthday thank yous out before we get snowed with the Christmas ones.

The contents of Kate’s notes range from the fascinating non sequitur variety—”Thanks for the book. I just had hot choklit!!”—to the brutally basic. To her great grandmother she recently wrote, “I put the muny in my banc akont.”

There are also the times when Kate’s spelling is inadvertently inappropriate. There was the series of cards that said, “Thak you for cuming to my party.”


She wrote a thank you note to a neighbor who gave her magic markers. The pens, it turned out, were permanent ink. Mark and I discovered this after an art sesh left indelible marks on our dining room table.

The first draft of that note went something like, “Thank you for the magic markers. My mother took them away from me.”

I certainly want to encourage honesty, but I asked for a do-over on that one.

Today we were invited to an ice cream party. My friend Lily was celebrating the end of her chemotherapy (yay!), so she invited 60 friends, relatives, kids, and neighbors to her house for an old school ice cream social. It was the perfect fun lighthearted celebration to mark the end of a truly trying and terrible year.

Now, as you may know, I tend to be a rosy sunshiny, hide-the-bad-details-from-the-kids kinda mom. I’m the one who has assured a worried child there are no robbers in Oakland. I’ve gone so far as to brush off the notion that earthquakes could ever take place in the Bay Area. (“Here? Pishaw!”)

But when Lily got sick I didn’t sugarcoat it for my kids. They’d seen me sniffle and weep after bad-news phone calls, so they knew something was up. But that wasn’t why I was so unlike-me honest about it. The situation was so real and raw, I couldn’t fathom pretending it was something else. Something not so bad.

They knew Lily was sick. And I told them she had to take a kind of strong medicine that would make her hair fall out. And that the kind of sickness she had could be really scary and bad, which is why I cried about it sometimes—because I was scared. Because some people die from it.

So this morning as we got ready to go to the end-of-chemo ice cream party, Kate asked if she could make Lily a card. And I said, “Of course. She would love that.”

Then I got really curious to see what she would write. I half-expected the card to say, “Dear Lily, I’m happy you didn’t die.”

But my concerns were unfounded.

The card said:
“Dear Lily: I am igsided thet you dot hef to tace metsin eney mor!!!!!!!! love Kate!!!!”

Of course, I bawled when I saw it. I bawled about three different times before the party, and at least once more on the way home. I bawled because I think that in getting ready to celebrate this bad hard part being over, in giving into relief, I opened some door inside myself and big blasts of how scared I’ve been snuck out too.

I was totally projecting when I thought of what Kate’s card to Lily might say. The thing that I wanted to say if I weren’t an adult and didn’t know better that it was too bracingly honest: “Please please please kick this cancer in keister. I love you so much my dear, and I really don’t want you to die.”

Because the fact is, she’s not totally out of the woods. Today’s party was like a milestone pit stop. A celebration that the end of the woods are now at least in sight.

It was a glorious sunshiny day. There was a Mickey Mouse jumpy house in full swing in the back yard. We arrived early, but before we knew it their big home was buzzing with friends chatting and laughing, kids running past our legs holding cups of ice cream.

Amidst all those people and all their talking I’m nearly certain no one actually said aloud that they’re relieved that Lily is here and alive and nearly almost altogether well. We didn’t have to. Today what we had to do was eat ice cream.

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