I hope all of you are returning from vacations well rested and ready for 2011. I spent the last two weeks with the Big Man's Family. I completed several good books, enjoyed time by the fire, and kissed the Big Man at midnight.
And yet, it didn't feel like the holidays.
This was my first Christmas away from my family. While the Big Man and I dated, we managed to share Christmas and New Years. The Big Man's aunts and uncles live about an hour away from my family, so I managed to make appearances while still getting a good fix of my own family and enjoying my own childhood traditions. Now that we are married, we are learning to split holidays.
Christmas 2010 was wonderful in that I fully ensconced myself in the Big Man and his traditions. I learned so much about my husband around Aunt M and Uncle E's Christmas Tree.
In my family, we open one gift on Christmas Eve and the rest on Christmas morning. Also in my family, perhaps because we are such a huge Catholic family and each family consists of three, four, or even five children, we really don't exchange gifts with aunts and uncles and cousins. It would get enormous. We do only the immediate family gift exchange.
In contrast, in the Big Man family everyone is recognized with something thoughtful and small, which is really lovely, and makes the gift giving long and drawn out and so sweet. Also, in the Big Man family, all gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve. There is something wonderful about this tradition.
I find something hopelessly romantic about opening gifts on Christmas Eve in front of a roaring fire, and Christmas Day was spent in simple conversation and a large meal, which was just the relaxation I needed after some busy months at work.
But, while I enjoyed the Big Man Christmas of 2010, this Christmas without my family made me feel like I was stranded on that "Island of Misfit Toys" from Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.
I was craving my childhood. I was missing my traditions. I vividly remember the excitement of all four of us waiting on the stairs on Christmas morning as my mother took a picture of all the kids. Mom always insisted on taking a picture every Christmas morning. We were prohibited from venturing downstairs into the toy-laden living room until "The Picture" was taken and until my Dad got his mug of iced tea (neither mom nor dad drank coffee, just iced tea). Dad was painfully slow, wrapping himself in his flannel LL Bean robe and slippers. Sometimes he even made us wait to go downstairs while he took a shower and shaved! I don't know why we didn't dare disobey. We had power in numbers. Four should have easily trumped two. But year after year, even when we were all in college or even graduated college, we all would wake up, stay in our pajamas an pile, in the same age-appropriate order, onto the oriental-carpeted winding staircase and smile for mom's camera.
The digital age actually slowed down the present-opening moment, rather than expediting the process. With a digital camera, Mom could see how miserable her picture was. She could see yawning, closed eyes, particularly bad bedhead. She kept insisting on a second, third or fourth take. And yet, that wait on the stairs was the best emotion of the holiday. More than the elation of the gift-opening and gift-giving, that moment of anticipation was the best part of Christmas morning.
At the same time as my homesickness, holiday 2010 I also had, for the very first time, a so, so very deep desire for my own children. I felt my biological clock ticking for the first time. I felt like I had been hit in the gut as I looked at Big Man holding his newest baby cousin, just seven months old. He was holding the child like a sack of potatoes. He looked petrified and thrilled all at the same time. He had a blissful look on his face and was laughing with his parents, who I could also see were watching this scene with their own desire for a first grandchild. I watched Big Man enjoying his Christmas traditions, I missed my own Christmas traditions, and I wanted deeply to create Christmas traditions of our own for our own little ones. I wanted to see the joys of Santa and Christmas and the first big blizzard of the season through the eyes of our children.
I felt this Christmas like I am stranded between child and adult; stranded on the Island of Misfit Toys.
I don't yet feel fully comfortable in the adult world. Even though I have experienced so much that should make me an adult, even though I am an almost-thirty married woman. Perhaps because my world is a scary one, I still often feel like a child. I deeply and often need my mother and I mourn the loss of my childhood.
The name of this blog, "My Big Girl Pants," actually came out of this feeling. I feel like a child fighting a very adult fight. Whenever I would embark on a scary cancer chapter- be it surgery, chemo, or radiation, scans, results, and recurrences- my mom would hold my hand, stroke my hair, rub my back. I would say to her, "Mom, I can't do it. I don't want to go. I don't want to hurt. I don't want to do this anymore. Why can't this be over?" and she would tell me, "Bridget, you've got to be a big girl again today. You've been through so much, but you've always been my brave one. Did you put on your big girl pants this morning?" We would giggle. Mom would reassure me that she knew I could handle it. At the same time as enjoying the familiar feel of my mother's love, support, and reassurances, I also put on a brave face, planted my feet, stared death in the face, and said, "Bring It."
I am not a fully independent, married woman. A normal, independent, grown woman would look at her husband and say, "Let's make a baby!" The "woman" that I am has been told by her doctors, and realizes herself, that she needs to wait until she has two years of quiet. I need two years recurrence free to have a child or to consider adoption. Two years may seem like a flash in the pan, but I have not had, in my six years of fighting this disease, two straight years without a recurrence. If you ask me, two years is a goal of Everest proportions.
I feel like my life is not totally my own. It might also be exacerbated by the fact that I had scans on December 29th and get the results on January 5th. I'm used to scan-time, but its just too close to the holidays, the timing is so symbolic. I feel powerless to run my own life sometimes.
And so, this Christmas and New Year, instead of feeling content and full of familial joy and anticipation for the future, I mourned the loss of my childhood and I felt like I was living in a no-man's land. Both young and old, both healthy and sick, excited for the future and dubious of its possibilities.
But through all of this self-doubt, another feeling, a very powerful feeling peeped through. I was still very much in love.When Big Man and I returned to our hotel room from Aunt M and Uncle E's, I couldn't help but be swept up in his warmth and joy and hopes for the future. We stayed up way too late talking about our plans for babies and houses and Christmas trees. We talked about exotic warm weather vacations far away from the threat of a Nor'easters. We talked about visions of me in an apron holding a beautiful roast turkey hosting our very own holiday rather than packing up and sitting in the airport. When I look in his eyes, I see the future and I feel so sure of all of it.
As Christmas wound down, I realized I needed, for Big Man's sake, to face the New Year with his same anticipation and hope.
How could I turn my fears upside down? How could I again find the power to face my fear, plant my feet and say, "Bring It!"? I needed confidence. I was far away from my mom and I needed the confidence that she so often brings me.
I lost my hair six years ago while in my first round of chemo. That dreaded pink chemo cocktail took every last whisp of hair and also took my eyelashes and eyebrows. The hair grew back and I was thrilled to find that the short 'do suited me. I am a small person and my tiny little head looked good with short hair. The short "pixie" cut actually brought out my large blue eyes. People commented. My proudest cancer moment came in the airport after picking up the Big Man who was visiting for the weekend when a woman at the baggage claim said she loved my hair and asked for my hairdresser's name. I didn't know what to say. I didn't have a hairdresser. I hadn't had a hairdresser for the past six months of baldness. I gave her the name of my wig-lady.
For the past five years, even though short hair suits me, I have kept my hair long. I have never, ever considered cutting it any shorter than my chin. That would bring back too many memories of baldness. That would bring back that painful memory of sitting in the back room of a salon watching my shocked, pale, tired face in the mirror as a strange woman shaved my head.
So, to celebrate 2011, I stared my fears and memories in the face and I cut my hair. My hair that proudly fell to my mid-chest, the hair that brushed up against my fake breasts. My hair that had some very hip Kim Kardashian like bangs. That hair that I spent hours blow drying, straightening and hairspraying. I cut it. I cut it all.
|New Year's Eve 2011|
I feel like an adult, a grown-up woman. I love my hair. I can air dry it and then put in some product. I don't look like a cancer patient as I had feared. I look like a hip, newly married woman who is choosing not to have kids yet because she's busy taking over the world.
So that's how I'm starting 2011. I'm starting fresh. Even though I am scared to death because I had scans on December 29th and get the results on January 5th, even though I feel like cancer is keeping me from living the life I want sometimes, I am looking forward to the future.
I can't wait for 2011! I hope that all of you feel the same.
Here's a toast to new hair and to new beginnings!