Childhood Memories

My mum and I

It’s funny the things that linger from childhood that whether you know it or not shape who you are. Seven has been a significant number for me since I was seven years old. The day after my seventh birthday my mum went to the hospital for surgery to remove the breast cancer that had been silently growing for years. She held off the surgery so that she could celebrate my birthday.

My brother and I visited Mum once while she was in the hospital. I remember being in the hall outside her room and I know I saw her but I don’t remember seeing my mum. What I do remember is a summer with my Granny. Trips to the swimming pool and the local ice cream shop, “Kid’s,” where my Granny would treat us to sinful delights. She made what was a very unusual summer normal. She surrounded my brother and I with love and routine. Everything we needed and I love her even more for it.
My Granny

The thing is I never thought my mum’s cancer had a huge impact on my childhood. When I think of that summer I remember my Granny’s visit not my mum’s sickness. But I realize that isn’t true. Now that my eldest is seven she is always asking: did you do this at 7 mum? did you go here or there at 7? did that happen to you when you were 7? Honestly, I don’t know because I have blended all my memories from when I was 5-8 into one year – seven. So even though I didn’t really understand what was happening at the time or how sick my mum was, I internalized it by connecting all my memories to that one year.

It’s not just my daughter’s questions that have brought back these memories, it’s being sick now for 7 weeks. I’ve already written about having a cold. Turned out it’s an antibiotic resistant chest and sinus infection. Not a big deal; a nuisance – yes. For a my daughter it turns out it’s been a big deal. She was 3 when our lives turned upside down. Granted I was not nearly as sick as my mother was but for a short time in our lives we lived a very scary, uncertain life where I was meeting with neurosurgeons trying to figure out if I needed brain surgery to remove the tumor on my pituitary gland. We had no answers why I was in such crippling pain, why I was struggling with my short-term memory or why I was so tired all the time.

I spent so much time lying in bed or on the couch unable to play, cranky and miserable. I still feel like I failed my daughter and son as a mother during that year; but nonetheless, I didn’t think she would remember any of it. She was 3, what could she remember. It turns out, a lot. She doesn’t remember or know the details. But she remembers me being in bed, being tired and being in pain. She remembers a sense of insecurity and fear. Fear of losing me. I had no idea.

While I’ve been complaining about being tired, headaches, sinus pain and frustrated with being unable to breathe properly she was worrying, watching me, waiting to see if I was going to get really sick. So when I came home and told my husband I was having some breathing tests done at the hospital to figure out why I am still struggling with my breath control while working out she started seriously worrying. She finally asked me while I was tucking her into bed if I was going to die. For me the question came out of no where with no context until she started telling me why. I felt horrible.

We really have no idea how much we affect and impact our kids and this was one big slap in the face for me. Not only to think about what and how I say things around the kids but to also realize how events leave lasting imprints that will forever shape how they interpret their world.

I reassured her that mummy is fine and that she just has a cold. That mummy can breathe, she just wants to improve how she breathes when she is running and swimming. I swore I would always be honest and up front with her and that she doesn’t have to worry about mummy but I know that last one isn’t true. She will always worry about me, the same way I worry about my mum. It’s imprinted in us to worry. I will do my best to not give her a reason to worry. And most of all, sick or not it will never stop me from living my life and achieving my dreams. My illness 4 years ago transformed by life, making me a better, stronger person and hopefully a better mother.

This week we were both in the pool at the same time. I was half way through my swim set when she came in with her camp group and her face lit up when she realized that she would be swimming next to me in the leisure pool. I finished a 300m set, breathing pretty hard to see her little face two feet away. She was smiling and then scowling. She asked if I was resting enough and taking it easy. I smiled at her and reassured her that I was feeling strong and that I was already getting my breath back. I let her coach me for the rest of swim. She watched the clock, cheered me on and kept an eye on me. She would swim along with me as far as she could go and wait for me to swim back, trying to race me back to the wall. We both had a blast!

I learned two lessons this week. Never underestimate the impact I have on my kids, no matter how small. They will remember. Maybe not the exact event, but the emotion, the feeling will stay. Secondly, to show my kids that life isn’t about sitting on the sidelines. No matter how long or short life is, you seize it with all your might. There is no room for what ifs and maybes.