I put my hands on the steering wheel and tried to fight back the tears. Bella was staring out the open window yelling “Goodbye Kindergarten! I love you so much!”
Kindergarten was over. Just like that. How did we get here?
At one point, I didn’t know if I would see the first day, let alone the last.
I remember watching her crying through the glass door of a daycare. “It’s ok, Marie. She is going to go to school with you every day when she goes to kindergarten, “ I told myself. I spent those days teaching elementary school Art, we moved her to a wonderful preschool and we welcomed our son all in the same year. I happily imagined the day I would see them as kindergarteners, painting in my Art classroom. That thought carried me through many school days when I found myself feeling exhausted. It took everything I had to get up in the morning and stand in the classroom I loved so very much.
That classroom is also where I was standing when I found out I had cancer. I dropped a box of crayons all over the floor. I just stood there and stared at them. How could this happen? I’d always had my yearly exam. I was supposed to be ok…..But I wasn’t. The cancer had begun to spread. Six weeks of radiation and weekly chemotherapy would be followed by three days of internal radiation (brachytherapy) far from home at The Cleveland Clinic.
I remember looking out the window on my way to radiation each day, watching other people doing everyday things. I wanted to be them more than anything. I had suddenly become separate from everyone else. My identity as a Mom, a Wife, a Teacher…all of it was replaced with a patient number. I had no idea how to be the person I once was or how long I would get to be a person at all. I just knew that I wanted to see kindergarten and I wanted to see the ocean again. My husband held my hand through everything and I carried pictures of my children with me every morning when I faced whatever torture was on the schedule. I squeezed them when it hurt. I squeezed them when I wanted to disappear. I placed them on the floor next to me when I was so sick I couldn’t function. Their faces gave me strength. “It’s ok, Marie. You will be with them for a long time when all this is over,” I told myself…But honestly, I couldn’t find the future anymore. It had disappeared. There was only today left in its place and today is where I still live.
When I had my first scan 6 months later, the tumor was almost gone. Around that time, my husband was also transferred 10 hours from everyone we’ve ever known and so began our adventure in Charleston.
Every three months, I still have a follow up and we hold our breath for a few days but I’ve decided that I am tired of watching other people through the window. The first day we got here, I stood in the sand and I prayed. I was so thankful to feel the tug of the ocean on my toes and to hear the sweet giggles of my children. Life is still very complicated but also more colorful, more wonder filled and so much more appreciated. We’ve had our bouts of homesickness but The Lowcountry is filled with opportunities to read under cypress trees, canoe in a swamp garden, dance in a historic town square, roast marshmallows on Halloween at a historic plantation and the list goes on and on. Every area has something special to offer and I love finding it.
Last Spring, Kindergarten sped toward us like a freight train. “It’s not ok. She won’t be with me”, I thought to myself. But Laurel Hill had an Art Teacher for a principal and the authentic work of children lovingly displayed on every wall, told me that this was the place for my Bella. I will always need to know she and her brother are “ok without me” in a way most Mothers can never understand.
Every day this year, I asked Bella how school was and she sang, “Amaaaazing!” She blossomed and grew in the care of two supernaturally wonderful kindergarten teachers. While it hurt me to wear that Visitor’s tag, Kindergarten turned out to be a beautiful year and a new beginning for all of us. I celebrated two years of remission this Spring.
As we drove away from Laurel Hill last week, I looked back to see Bella’s blonde curls blowing in the wind. I smiled and also said to myself, “Thank you Kindergarten. I loved you, too.”