The little voice from the backseat sent a big message.
“No offense but...why am I the one going to therapy if YOU are the one who’s bald?”
My daughter’s comment echoed through the car, loud and awkward, like a loose piece of luggage in the trunk. As a parent, I had made it clear that the phrase “No offense but...” is not a license to then say anything. Feelings will still be hurt. Tempers will still be ignited. Hearts will still be broken.
“No offense but your haircut is ugly.”
“No offense but that’s a stupid answer.”
“No offense but we can’t afford to pay you during cancer treatment.”
Delete the conditional phrase preceding the transition word and there’s the actual message:
Your haircut is ugly.
That’s a stupid answer.
You will not be paid during cancer treatment.
But there was that language hanging in the car...a dependent clause stemming from an honest desire not to hurt someone’s feelings. Followed by an independent clause that functions as an insult in disguise. I let the comment go. After all, she made a good point.
The 6-year-old piped up from her booster seat. “Can we get an ice cream when Julia goes to the doctor?” Before I had a chance to respond, before I even had a chance to breathe, the 9-year-old retaliated.
“THAT’S NOT FAIR!!! WHY DOES SHE GET TO HAVE ICE CREAM WHILE I HAVE TO GO TO A THERAPIST!!!!” In a flagrant demonstration of sibling rivalry, Sienna flashed a mischievous smile then stuck her tongue out at her sister.
“MOM SIENNA STUCK HER OUT AT ME!!! Julia reported, as if I was unaware of the shenanigans percolating in the back seat. Which would make sense because I was driving.
“No one’s getting ice cream with this behavior.” I said calmly. “Besides, we don’t need to be blowing money on ice cream before dinner.” As soon as I spoke the words, I could feel Julia chewing on this thought, folding it into a larger context.
“Does it cost money to talk to a therapist?” She asked.
“Yes.” I stated. “We have to make a what is called a copay. A copayment is a fixed amount of money that is paid when...”
“Then I definitely should not go.” Interrupted Julia. “You lost your job and so we should not spend any money on me talking to someone that I don’t even know.” She punctuated her claim and supportive evidence by poking a demonstrative index finger in the air.
“First of all, I did not lose my job.” I said, defensively. “I was put on unpaid medical leave. Second, the fact that you are 9 worrying about insurance copays warrants a therapeutic intervention.”
“I’m not worried about that.” She reflected, leaning back in her car seat. “I just think that I should not have to go. I don't see why I can’t just talk to you.”
“Because you need someone to talk to about me. A sounding board. A trusted, well educated adult that will listen to your thoughts and frustrations. At some point, you might feel angry with me because I have to go through cancer treatment.“
“Which is why we should get ice cream.” she pointed out.
“Please!!! PLEASE!!! Can we PLEASE get ice cream??” chimed in her sister. They chanted in perfect unison:
“ICE CREAM!! ICE CREAM!!! ” WE WANT ICE CREAM!! I whipped off my wig and chucked it towards the backseat, causing giggles to fill the car.
“So you have a job but you just don’t work or get paid money while you have cancer.” Concluded Julia, now wearing my wig. It was the red one that I would bust out on days that I felt sassy. We named her Roxy.
“Something like that.” I said.
“But how are we going to pay for the house if you don’t make any money?” she asked.
I gasped. Damn her precocious nature. Always connecting the dots. Always gluing together bits and pieces of adult conversations to build her own conclusions. Which were usually spot-on. But years beyond what her age should be worried about. My cancer was sure to screw her up, possibly for a lifetime. Good thing I found her a decent therapist.
“No worries.” I said swatting the air as if such details were flys. “Dad and I have it all figured out.”
“Are we going to have to move?” she asked. The car was silent. I shot her a look through the rear view mirror.
“I don’t want to move!!” cried Sienna. “I love my room. I love Mrs. Mercier’s room (her teacher). Would I have to go to a new school Mommy if we moved? I love my friends.”
“I don’t really need the ice cream.” commented Julia.
“Nobody's going anywhere.” I said, pulling into a parking space. “Expect for Julia.” I opened the backdoor and escorted her out of the car. I wrapped her little hands around my waist then bent down so I could hold her beautiful face in my eyes.
“Listen to me.” I whispered, pressing my bald head gently against Roxy, which sat lopsided on her head. This nice lady is going to give us sound, research based advice on how to cope with our challenges. We are going to figure out how we can become stronger, kinder and more compassionate human beings because of this cancer experience. We just need a little guidance. I took Roxy off her head and popped the wig back on mine. “Now off you go.” I said, tapping her on the bottom. “Take one for the team." I gave her a wink from an eye that was missing its lashes.
“Then can we get ice cream?” she asked.
“Absolutely. “ I said. As I am not above bribing my children in the spirit of progress.
“With sprinkles.” added the voice from the back of the car.
“Yes, “ I said. “with sprinkles.”
Crescentia Healy-True founded On-Belay, an adventure based program that fosters resilience, friendship and connection for children who have a loved one touched by cancer. After researching programs she determined that none were the right fit for her animated, active and adventurous girls. So she created On-Belay. Check it out: https://www.on-belay.org/