Being An Only

An acquaintance asked about my brain tumor and how my husband and family were dealing with it.

It was an entirely unexpected question and caught me off guard.

I said that Paul was simply the right guy for the job and that he has been a stable rock with an optimistic heart. She then asked about my family.  

“I’m an only child.” Her eyes got large, she nodded and said, “Wow”.

It’s complicated.  But what isn’t, right?

As a mother I’m grateful and thank god everyday it’s me and not one of my boys facing this diagnosis. Yet, this emotional negotiation that I have with myself fails to take into account the fact that I too am someone’s child.  I know that what my parents think is what I’m thinking. They are thinking what I and any parent would; you want to take away the hurt your child is bearing and carry it as your own.

As an only child I’ve lived an existence knowing all the bets are on me. There are no back-ups and no other children to focus on if all else fails. Right or wrong, being an only child has become somewhat of a burden since my diagnosis.

Yes, I know I shouldn’t carry such a burden. But I’ve always been like this. Intense, driven, independent, and harder on myself than anyone could be on me.   

I’m blessed thus far. I am stable, clean and free from new tumor growth. My prognosis is good and I’ve got orders from the good Doctor to live life and move ahead in life. Nevertheless, beyond the general updates, summary bitch fests about headaches, new hair that grew back far more curly than the rest of my hair and random crap; I’ve spared my parents the sobering statistics that come with a brain tumor diagnosis.

I suppose one could argue I never brought it up. But neither did they. I’ve coasted along with the assumption that if they wanted to learn more they would ask, or look it up themselves.

Can the elephant in the room pass the carrots please?

Close friends have said I put a ridiculous amount of pressure upon myself and that this is not my burden to carry. Worrying about how upset my parents are, were or will be is not my responsibility. They are all correct. Through this I’ve maintained an atmosphere of avoidance or absurd optimism so I wouldn’t have to deal with over-reactions on their part or palpable fear. I’ve felt an immense sense of responsibility and guilt for what this has done to them; a disappointment of sorts that I, and this piece of shit tumor, messed up the vision they had for me in life. I’ve just wanted to protect them.

It’s complicated.   

Navigating this unsolicited adventure with this piece of shit has challenged everything that once made up my former normal life. It has challenged everything and everyone in our life. I have a healthy respect for this piece of shit and I can only hope it has a healthy respect for me too. We’re stuck with each other after all. Through thick and thin, good and bad, ’til death do us part. Like a marriage, this piece of shit and I are in it for the long haul.

So in the end, I told her that each of us are dealing with this piece of shit differently, in our own way, on our own terms. I am coming to terms with the fact that I need to let go of feeling the need to carry everyone else’s burden, shield and protect them. I can only be responsible for myself and of course my tribe of chaos (aka: boys, dogs and husband). What I know for certain is that this piece of shit can never define who I am and certainly can never define what my life and future is about.  

Because for now laundry gets first dibs on defining my future with keeping the bottomless, always hungry pits full, a close second.

7 thoughts on “Being An Only

  1. I adore you. You know a friend of mine stopped folding/ putting away laundry, it all goes from the dryer to the basket it came from. 5 kids, 5 baskets. There’s a certain amount of Thelma and Louise to that cavelier plan, but… She’s always winning the battle against laundry, and I like that. Why are you awake at 3am, and pretty please, don’t say laundry!

  2. Jenn – you are a truly amazing and inspiring person. I just read some of your posts and my heart goes out to you & your family. I’ll be praying for you daily.

  3. So when reading about the “tribe of chaos,” it struck me that the order was boys, then dogs, then me. I hope that’s because I am the least chaotic of the three?!?!


  4. Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your writing. Your attitude and humor towards life and what it throws at you are inspiring. Keep posting!

  5. Jen- I am always amazed with your selflessness, and candor. Thank you for my bi-weekly inspirations! Happy Easter chickie!


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