A few weeks ago I had a scare of epic proportions. I thought I had lost all my digital photo files from 2004 through 2008. That thought made my stomach hurt and my heart ache and I couldn’t concentrate on anything until my hero husband found them on a back up drive. Oh, how I love having a former IT guy for a spouse! After the photos were recovered and put in the home they belonged in, I spent a good portion of my day just looking through them.
In 2004 we took a great family vacation to Durango, Colorado and Taos, New Mexico and a few points in between. I cherish the memories of that vacation and I adore those pictures. My kids were 9 and 12 and I remember thinking how big they were at the time. Looking at their abundant smiles in those photographs I would say they enjoyed that vacation as well.
The pictures of my son from May 2005 through July of 2006 were a lot different. Looking through those photographs made me realize just what a difficult time that was for him. The smiles were a lot fewer and even when there was one it very rarely reached his eyes.
Taylor turned 13 the Saturday between my Wednesday diagnosis and my mastectomy the next Tuesday. A couple weeks before that he had been crushed when we told him we were moving from Arkansas to Pennsylvania. After all, when you’re in 7th grade you pretty much have your entire life planned and it normally does not include moving away from all your friends.
The following year was hard on everybody and maybe especially Taylor – a 13-year-old boy who only got to see his dad every weekend at best and whose mom had cancer. Not only that, but he knew once I finished treatment we’d be getting back to our original plan of moving.
Our family was blessed beyond measure during that year. We had so many people taking care of us, including friends who would come get my kids and take them to the pool or the movies or the water park or just to their house for some normal, ordinary fun. Katie had an awesome support system at school, Taylor had a great support system in his junior high youth group and both were bolstered on Sunday mornings and really, I think they both did a phenomenal job that year. They loved on me and took care of me and very rarely gave me any problems. But those pictures tell a little bit different story than what I perceived during that time.
I think it’s safe to say that the teenage years for any kid have their challenges. Add to those typical strains several life changes and it makes for a pressure cooker. So which is it the pictures reflect? Just the usual teenage angst or a kid with the world bearing down on him?
When we finally did join Todd in Pennsylvania after a year-long separation, Taylor was both relieved to be a family again and disappointed to move away. While his sister had made a friend practically before her feet ever hit her new driveway, his friendships took a little longer. But before too long he met a couple of guys in the youth group at church and once he started the 9th grade three months later, he met some kids at school. By the end of that first fall he told me he hoped Dad didn’t get transferred back to Arkansas because he really liked it here.
When I look at pictures from mid-2006 on he looks happy. His smile reaches his eyes. Five years later he’s a freshman in college and instead of the world bearing down on him, he’s taking all the world has to offer. Not only is he very happy, he’s fulfilled. He sends me and Todd texts just to say “I love you”, and when we get to see him (not enough to my way of thinking) he hugs us both like he’ll never let us go. I miss him terribly and yet I’m so full of joy and pride. What an incredible young man he’s turning out to be.
I won’t sugar coat it. That was a horrible year. As all the moms who write for Mother’s With Cancer will tell you, our ceaseless concern is what this life crisis is doing to our children. Don’t we all want to protect our kids and make sure they’re safe and happy? Unfortunately, life doesn’t always work that way.
I am proud of both my kids and have come to the determination that they are who they are not in spite of our catastrophic year, but because of it. Not that I don’t think they’d be spectacular individuals without that experience; however, I do believe it played a part in developing their character. While the pictures of a forlorn teenage boy break my heart just a little, the knowledge that he’s better than okay today soothes my soul.