Taking My Space

Yesterday Cortney took care of the last of the blog bugs that were keeping me from writing in this space.

I have lots to write about. For the almost thirteen years that this blog has existed, I have always written birthday letters to my kids. Since the blog was down, I wasn’t able to do that for Alice and Charlie. So those are in the works.

We are doing the whole self-quarantine thing with the rest of the country and that is…interesting for someone who has anxiety and a child with anxiety.

I miss my job. I miss my students. I miss going somewhere that my children are not.

(Listen, I love them and time with them is a blessing and all that, but it’s also exhausting.)

I opened a new post earlier today with all the possibilities swirling in my head and then was side-tracked. I was just about to come back here when my dad called.

My grandpa died last night.

There is lots to say about that too.

I’m happy to have this space back.

Grandpa in the Memorial Day parade.
Thank you for your service, Gramps.
And for a life well-lived.
Rest easy.

This is a test…

We moved my blog over to a new server. This is a test post. Also this is what Coronavirus has done to my house.

What I Read: 2019

Typically my last post of the calendar year is a list of what I read. I’ve already admitted to neglecting this space, so we shall take Elsa’s advice and “let it go.”

Here we go.

My 2019 goal was 45 books and I read 48. I bumped 2020 up to 50 for funsies. Here is what I read last year.

The ones in BOLD are the ones I recommend the most. The ones wit (YA) are young adult lit, (MG) are middle grade books, (P) are novels that are written in verse/poetry, (N) are nonfiction, (CB) are children’s books (aimed at an audience younger than middle school), and (C) are comics.

  1. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (YA/P)
  2. Super Diaper Baby 2: The Invasion of the Potty Snatchers by Dav Pilkey (C/CB)
  3. The Best Class You Never Taught by Alexis Wiggins (N)
  4. For Everyone by Jason Reynolds (P)
  5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (MG)
  6. Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow (YA)
  7. The Elements of Academic Style by Eric Hayot (N)
  8. Naked by David Sedaris (essay collection/humor)
  9. Emily Hamilton and Other Writings by Sukey Vickery
  10. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (N)
  11. Contending With Gun Violence in the English Language Classroom edited by Shelly Shaffer, Steven Bickmore, and Gretchen Rumohr (N)
  12. Graduate Study for the 21st Century by Gregory M. Colon Semenza (N)
  13. The Size of the Truth by Andrew Smith (MG)
  14. From Student to Scholar by Steven M. Cahn (N)
  15. Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes (MG)
  16. Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters by Michael S. Roth (N)
  17. The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater (YA/N)
  18. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmin Ward
  19. Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
  20. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
  21. Dig. by A.S. King (YA)
  22. Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts
  23. The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden (MG)
  24. Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson (YA)
  25. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  26. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (MG/YA)
  27. Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson (MG)
  28. Every Note Played by Lisa Genova
  29. None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio (YA)
  30. El Deafo by Cece Bell (MG/C)
  31. The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens
  32. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  33. Epic Fails: Race to Space by Ben Thompson (CB)
  34. Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
  35. Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler (YA)
  36. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (YA) (audio is awesome)
  37. The Dark Fantastic by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas (N)
  38. The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline (YA)
  39. Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction by Grace L. Dillon
  40. House of Purple Cedar by Tim Tingle (YA)
  41. Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds (MG) (another awesome audio)
  42. Lunar Braceros- 2125-2148 by Rosaura Sanchez
  43. In the Middle by Nancie Atwell (N)
  44. Wishtree by Katherine Applegate (CB)
  45. Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall (YA)
  46. Redwood and Ponytail by K.A. Holt (P/MG)
  47. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (MG/YA)
  48. Dogman: For Whom the Ball Rolls by Dav Pilkey (CB/C)

I think I enjoyed almost all of the books I read this year that I chose for myself. Some of the ones for class were good, but maybe not ones that I would recommend as my favorites.

This year, I am counting books I have re-read (something I didn’t do before and then was scolded on Twitter about) and audio books–something I have gotten into at the end of 2019. I marked the two I at least partly listened to in 2019, and I downloaded my library’s app for audio books to my phone, so look out 2020!

My current grad class is one on Refugees/Immigrants in Comics, so I am excited to dive into more comics than before which will hopefully help me to add to my classroom library and connect to my students.

Here is the link to my students’ wish list of books.

Year in Review

I still can’t add photos, so a bunch of words it is!

(Cortney has told me he is working on this though, so hopefully in 2020 we will have a fully functioning space here again).

Because I’ve been lame about getting over here and updating things, I thought I would write out a quick month-by-month review of 2019.

January

  • Cortney had jury duty. He didn’t mind it.
  • I finished radiation.
  • I started on tamoxifen to block estrogen to try to avoid a repeat of breast cancer. I get to take this for 10 years. Almost one down!
  • Eddie started basketball.
  • Charlie’s behavior at school required multiple meetings.
  • Cortney bowled in the State Bowling Tournament (he’s a bowler, did I ever mention that? Like a good one. With 300s and stuff)
  • I started my 3rd PhD class.

Februrary

  • We had a Sluiter family reunion.
  • Ed finished his basketball season by earning the Most Improved Player award.
  • I met with a neuropsycologist about possibly having Charlie tested.
  • I had my port removed–no more treatment foreseen!
  • Eddie participated in the Pinewood Derby with Cub Scouts
  • Cortney bowled in the City Bowling Tournament

March

  • Alice turned four!
  • Charlie turned seven!
  • Eddie did a Saturday class called Theater Games.
  • I turned 41!
  • I had a mammogram that came back clean.
  • We saw Book of Mormon with friends for my birthday.
  • I saw Laurie Halse Anderson do an interview, reading, and book signing for Shout.
  • We continued to have meetings with school regarding Charlie.

April

  • Spring break!
  • Bowling is done!
  • Charlie went through testing for a variety of neuro-issues as well as mental health issues. The results came back later in the month letting us know he was on the autism spectrum by a fuzz and that he has pretty severe anxiety.
  • Swimming lessons started for all kids
  • Baseball started for Charlie.
  • Charlie’s testing at school wraps up and he gets and official IEP.

May

  • We go to the Tulip Time parade and eat a bunch of junk food.
  • Swimming Lessons wrap up.
  • I get a thumb’s up from my surgeon for all my great healing.
  • Mother’s Day was celebrated.
  • Memorial Day was celebrated.
  • My grandma died.
  • I finished the 2018/19 school year.

June

  • The boys finished up 1st and 4th grades.
  • My mom and I took Alice to Princess Day at the Zoo.
  • Baseball finished up.
  • Eddie advanced in cub scouts to his final year.
  • My nephew, Harry, was baptized.
  • We took the boys to a Whitecaps Baseball game (local minor league team)
  • Cortney and I celebrated 14 years of marriage.
  • Alice had two weeks of gymnastics.
  • Eddie turned 10!
  • The kids help me move from my classroom across the hall to a new, bigger classroom.

July

  • We celebrated the 4th of July
  • We swam in pools with friends.
  • I went to Nerd Camp.
  • The kids do more swimming lessons.
  • We saw friends from far away.
  • I made lots of homemade ice cream.
  • We played on the beach with cousins.
  • The kids all spent a night at “Granny Camp” with Cortney’s mom and stepdad.
  • We went to the cottage with my parents.

August

  • I get two thumbs up from my oncologist.
  • I start year 17 of teaching in my district.
  • Eddie starts 5th grade.
  • Charlie starts 2nd grade.
  • We go to preschool openhouse for Alice.
  • We take the kids to Chicago for Labor Day weekend and go to the Lincoln Park zoo.

September

  • Alice starts preschool.
  • I start my 4th PhD class.
  • Charlie starts soccer.
  • We start the month with a pool party with friends and end it with a fun family night with same friends.
  • There are scouts and soccer and bowling and grad class and ALL THE THINGS.

October

  • All of the things continue and we are super busy.
  • Charlie’s great start to the school year starts to crumble.
  • Soccer wraps up.
  • Eddie goes to Scout survival camp…and survives.
  • Alice does more gymnastics.
  • Cortney and I get to help our friends warm their new home.
  • Halloween is a mess.

November

  • 75% of our nieces and nephews have birthdays.
  • We warmed another friend’s new house and celebrate her strength.
  • Eddie did basketball camp.
  • Charlie did a pitching clinic.
  • I went to the NCTE and ALAN conferences
  • Charlie’s mental health plummetted.
  • Cortney’s uncle died.

December

  • Basketball camp wrapped up.
  • My grad class ended.
  • First semester of the 2019-20 school year wrapped up.
  • Charlie started medication.
  • Cortney turned 41!
  • The kids participated in the annual Children’s Advent Service at church: Eddie as a reader, Charlie carried the star, and Alice was an angel.
  • Alice and I participated in the 3rd annual Granny’s Girls Bake-a-thon with my mother-in-law, sisters-in-law, and my nieces.
  • Cortney’s best friend was in town from Denver.
  • Christmas!

and tomorrow is New Year’s Eve.

Somehow typed out like that, it doesn’t seem as traumatic as it was. But man. We had some emotional poop this year in the middle of all that.

But look at all the fun we had too.

Here’s to more fun and less emotional stress in 2020.

The Unquiet Year

2019 has been pretty quiet here on the blog since I finished my cancer treatments. But the year has not been uneventful. It seemed like conquering the Big C would mean everything else would feel simple, right?

Not at all. In fact, I would argue that the rest of what we have been going through has maybe been harder on me than chemotherapy or radiation.

The blog went quiet in October. I never shared the Halloween photos. Or Thanksgiving photos. Or any of the ones in between. My blog is being weird and needs updates that I don’t know how to do, and I’ve been entirely too busy to do it. So no photos. Which makes me sad.

But that is not what has made the first semester of this school year so difficult.

I’ve thought often about how or if I should talk about this, but I found that I would be a massive hypocrite if I didn’t. I spent years in this space talking about the importance of telling our stories about mental illness in order to get help and destigmatize.

But that was my story. This one is not wholly mine to tell. The problem is, I don’t want to wait until it is mine to tell–when it’s too late–to share.

Charlie has been struggling.

It seems my little mini-Cortney has inherited his mother’s brain.

The school year started out fantastic. Charlie was doing so much better than last year in first grade and we were really hopeful that the rough times were behind us. He was playing soccer and participating in school. Around mid-October–when I stopped blogging–he began to slip.

Charlie has gone through lots of testing both by an outside psychological resource and by the school. He has been placed on the autism spectrum with a very hefty load of anxiety. This fall I watch that anxiety trigger depression in my little boy.

I watched, with a broken heart, as my little guy walked the same path I did almost 10 years ago: paranoia that he wasn’t good enough, rage, and even thoughts that life was too hard and it would be easier to quit.

I sobbed with him.

We have taken several steps since then. It’s been about three weeks, but things are looking a bit brighter.

Being on break from school–a place that he loves and hates at the same time–I think will be good. It will give him the opportunity to let some of the strategies and steps we have taken to work without the pressure of school, and then start over in the new year.

As you can imagine, this has been so difficult for everyone, mostly for Charlie. I see Cortney in Charlie in every possible way, and then to suddenly see the worst trait he could have inherited from me take form was very triggering to me. While trying to be the one who “gets” him, I’ve also been falling apart.

Cortney and Eddie have been worried. It’s hard to understand if you don’t have the depression voice whispering lies in your ear. It’s hard to get why just doing your work can be impossible. It’s hard to understand how someone can go from fine to wishing life was over in about 10 seconds. It’s just hard to watch someone you love struggle so much.

Alice, who seems to be unaware, is anything but. She craves attention. Her brother needs attention. She has been seeking it in very screamy, demanding ways. While she doesn’t understand what Charlie is going through, she does understand that he is getting a LOT of one-on-one and “extra” love lately. In her 4-year old eyes, it is not fair.

The worry affects every bit of life. My brain has been completely elsewhere since October and my lesson plans and grading and relationships with students and co-workers and friends and family show that. Even my classwork for my grad class dipped in November. Nothing felt like my best.

The first half of this year saw the end of my cancer treatments. I had radiation burn and a bald head, but I was cancer-free.

Going into 2020 we are holding fast to each other and fighting another illness. Mental illness is just as real and life-threatening as cancer. And we need to be able to acknowledge and talk about them both. We need to advocate for treatments and cures and research for both.

We are extremely thankful for all the resources we have and all the people who have shown up for both me and Charlie and the rest of the family this year. It’s been rough, but we know we are not alone.

Thank you for being part of our team.

I Don’t Even Know

I have let this space just gather dust. I don’t know how to navigate it anymore. What do I write about? Do I tell stories? Do I post “updates?” Who am I updating? To whom am I writing?

Honestly, I didn’t even teach narrative writing very well this school year to my 8th graders. My 100-word memoir fell flat to me and I just couldn’t muster up the energy to write another personal story.

It’s not like things aren’t happening over here, but I wonder what is mine to share?

I could talk about my current grad class and how I love it, but feel like I am holding on by the thinnest thread. That anything that throws me off routine will mean I won’t have my assignments completed for class that week (like sitting here writing about nothing. That is not helping the homework get done).

I could talk about how I love my new classroom (same school, bigger classroom) and how I feel like a better teacher in that room, but at the same time how I feel like I am somewhat flailing because I can’t stay caught up with the grading.

I could talk about how the NCTE and ALAN conferences are coming up in a month and I am a respondent for three different round-table sessions and a presenter at one. How I get to moderate an author panel at ALAN. Or how I’ve been invited to a few exclusive author events while in Baltimore. And how I am not prepared for any of it.

I could talk about how I had a chapter proposal accepted and my draft is due in March and I haven’t started it yet because when is there time? And I a bit feel like an impostor, but want to do this to prove I can.

I could say that I just submitted a book review to a scholarly publication and I am terrified of rejection.

I could go on about how I’m taking Teaching Multicultural Literature this semester and next semester I get to take Immigrants and Refugees in Comics. I’m hoping to be able to use what I learn and read in both of these classes with my 8th graders next year, but I am afraid the rest of my 8th grade ELA team and/or my administrators will say no.

I could tell you how Halloween gives me hives because I never feel like I do it right. That by not really liking it, I am somehow depriving my kids of something fun in their childhood that everyone loves. How anticipating the crazy busy-ness of that day makes me feel nauseous for days leading up to it.

I could tell you that I worry every day about Eddie being a 5th grader and that he will stop telling me things. That I worry every day about Charlie and wonder how he is doing while at school. That I worry about Alice in school and making friends and how girls can be so mean and weird compared to the friend stuff I’ve experienced with her brothers.

I could also talk about how self-conscious I am of how I look. How I fret over my hair and how I feel like I look older than I am. How I wish I had time to have a gym membership and actually GO. How my eating habits were really good and now they are not because I have no time to be picky. How I am afraid my kids are eating too much garbage simply because I don’t have the time to devote to meal planning, reading ingredients, and spending time finding healthy options they each enjoy. I was walking and eating better and now I am just surviving…and maybe not even well.

Maybe what I am saying is, I haven’t written because I have a whole lot of negativity occupying my brain. I didn’t realize this until I just wrote it all out, so you know, irony and stuff.

I constantly question how my life choices affect the people I love most and if I am doing the right thing.

It feels selfish and sluggish, for instance that I am sitting at the kitchen table right now surrounded by grading and homework and empty vitamin water bottles while all three of my children stare mindlessly at TVs.

What am I modeling for them? How do they see me?

Or do they at all since I’m hunched over a book or a laptop whenever we are together?

I don’t know the answer to any of these. I do know that this kid still likes to come sit by me and that she has memorized a bunch of nursery rhymes and she thinks letters are super cool. I mean, it’s pretty distracting when I am trying to get work done, but it’s also awesome.

I also know that my group of 8th graders this year are voracious readers. Maybe some of the most readery readers I’ve had since being at the junior high (which, by the way, this is my 6th year there. My first 8th graders are college freshman this year. OMG). Anyway, I can’t keep up with their requests! They want so many books that I don’t have! So if you are looking to donate this season, maybe consider us? Here is our link to our classroom library Amazon Wishlist (they love audio books too, so we added some of those too. Seriously. SO MUCH READING!).

The Back to School Post

School started a month ago, and I’m just getting around to writing about it, which should be all I have to say about that.

Four out of the five us are now in school. It’s as crazy as it seems when you throw in two full-time jobs, cub scouts, soccer, and a bowling league.

Eddie started 5th grade this year and I have feelings about it and it’s proven to be emotionally hard, but super fun at the same time.

He got the teacher he wanted–the one who is funny and outdoorsy and has done ALL. THE. EXCITING. THINGS. IN. LIFE. I love that he started his elementary years with a funny, great guy for his Kindergarten teacher and is ending them with a funny, great guy for 5th.

This doofus loves that their class will get to have a real sturgeon to take care of this year!

This year is off to a great start academically for Eddie, but dang if 10 isn’t the age of HORMONES SURGING because EVERYTHING is a big deal and OMG we are always making his life AWFUL.

But then the next minute he is arranging his sister’s breakfast in the shape of a heart for her.

I don’t know, but I do know he is almost as tall as me and his feet are bigger than mine.

Charlie started 2nd grade. I think I have been holding my breath for 4 weeks. My therapist told me this week to go ahead and exhale and live in this new normal of Charlie LOVING SCHOOL.

New Year,
New Bird

His teacher is the most perfect match. Eddie had her too, and she was great then, but she is made for Charlie. She is quite motherly and doting and she has the most even-keeled personality. It’s exactly what our little firecracker needs–calm encouragement.

He has come home and done his homework with no complaints, he is proud of how much his good choices are being recognized at school, and most importantly he feels happy and competent to do the school work.

His favorite parts of school remain recess, PE, and math, but this year he also gets to see his Grandma since she volunteers on Wednesdays. She may even slip him a Werther’s candy when she sees him. Allegedly.

My baby Alice started PRESCHOOL this year. Like Eddie I have feelings and excitement and whew. This year is brutal on my mom heart so far.

She was so ready it wasn’t even funny. Ok, it was a little funny.

We already knew we loved Alice’s teacher because she is the same teacher Charlie had and I graduated from high school with her. Alice was so excited to be a school kid. Backpack! Lunch box! Water bottle! YAY!

When Alice is super tired, she babbles non-stop. Every bedtime since school started has been a chat-fest. She has to tell me ALL THE THINGS about who did what and what songs and skipping and drawing and games and ALL THE THINGS that happened.

She still goes to her in-home daycare two days a week, which is good. She needs that “rest” and to see the friends she has grown up with. But dang if this girl isn’t ready to conquer the world! Makes me so proud while wondering where that little floor sleeping baby went.

Of course, I’m back to school too. As my job, yes, but my fall semester grad class started too. I’m taking Teaching Multi-cultural Literature this semester and it has a focus that is a bit sci-fi. If something was going to challenge me, this is it. Sci-fi is not my genre of choice, so reading Afro-futurism that past few weeks as been interesting.

I feel like with all the things going on, maybe we are hanging on by a fairly thin thread. I look around for ways we can “relax” our schedule, but there is nothing. We are all doing school/our jobs and we all have an extra thing too: scouts, soccer, grad class, bowing, and soon gymnastics for Alice.

This is just the chapter of life we are in: The Madness of School Kids

Next Generation Cottage Life

As I attempted to roll over quietly–a futile move on my part due to the sagging mattress I was on–I crashed into Cortney in a valley in the middle of the full-size bed. We both muttered “ope. sorry,” and wiggled around making all sorts of ruckus in pursuit of the least offensively uncomfortable position to catch at least a few hours of sleep.

Even with Tylenol PM, sleep eluded me. I started doing some math: when did my family first start coming to this cottage, and how many years have I slept in this ridiculously lumpy, flimsy excuse for a bed?

My parents and I had been talking about cottage vacations that afternoon. Cottages Up North (Michigan talk for anything in the state that is north of where you live) were our family summer vacation traditions since before I can remember until I was going into high school (which means I was 14 and my brothers were 11 and 6). We took a few years off from cottages and went on “real” vacations: Sea World, Disney, Cedar Point. But after a few road trips, we realized we are cottage people.

Cottage with friends means UNO!

My family has been going to the same cottage on and off for 25 years. The mental math I did while I couldn’t sleep (and rechecked when I was well-rested) showed that my youngest brother (the little wiener kid in the photo above) was Charlie’s age when we first rented that cottage in Pentwater.

While some things have changed–our friends have also become adults and have lives of their own and no longer “cottage” with us–others have very much stayed the same. For one, the cottage means playing cards: Uno (of course), Go Fish, and Old Maid. There is also a LOT of time for pleasure reading.

I always bring a suspenseful read with me. This was this year’s pick, but in high school I flew through many Mary Higgins Clark novels up north.

Other things are quite different. As kids, we would spend the afternoons lying on the dock with a book and flying around the lake behind my dad’s boat on the tube.

My dad’s current boat is really too big for the small lake where the cottage is located and it’s a bit of a pain to trailer it all the way up there too. So he brings his little fishing boat and takes my boys fishing. This year with the high waters in Lake Michigan, our small lake was ridiculously high too, so there was no where to lounge on the deck without getting constantly wet from boat wake, so the boys fished there too.

Eddie and Charlie fishing with Grandpa while Grandma watches. 20 years ago that dock had a bunch of teenagers lying all over it.

And because we had the boat and tubing and a larger area on the dock when we were kids, we didn’t go to any beach even though there are two very close. Now, our kids will sometimes swim off the end of the dock, but we also pack up and head to the state park beach on Lake Michigan.

Charlie can spend HOURS in the sand.

We spent over three hours each day at the state park beach. Our kids almost can’t get enough of the sand and waves. My parents came too, but we gave them permission to leave before us if they were sick of it (my dad was probably sick of it before he got there).

Seriously. I think Eddie spent both days in that same spot.
Being able to be on the beach this year has been AWESOME. I love being close to Lake Michigan in the sun.

When I was a kid, my parents would encourage long walks/hikes and riding bikes, but as a whole the teenagers did a lot of sitting around, eating snacks, and being lazy.

Badminton with Grandma

My own kids have no lazy in them when we are at the cottage. They want to take walks and ride bikes and go fishing and take a boat ride and play badminton or whatever other outdoor games Grandma packed in the “Bag of Fun.” We had to bring their electronics along just to give the adults and hour of peace!

Tossing bags with Grandpa
Sweet quiet thanks to his “ear muffs” (head phones + cheap MP3 player loaded with Queen, Imagine Dragons, and Kidz Bop) and a stick he can whittle with the tab of his soda can.

We have all become much more inventive and flexible as cottage-goers too. Twenty years ago we slept, ate, played cards, read books, and played in the water. Now we have little people to entertain. No fire pit? No problem! S’more on the charcoal grill!

Want to play baseball, but there is no diamond? No problem! Tree stumps can be used as bases and Grandma makes a great catcher!

And of course, when we were kids, my parents didn’t take us and our friends for ice cream because that would have been insane. But my dad LOVES ice cream…and he loves to spoil his grandkids. So ice cream each day from Grandpa it is!

Peppermint Stick for the eldest
Moose Trax for the middlest
And Strawberry for the littlest.

Cottage life with little kids might even be more fun than it was as a teenager…well…maybe not. But it’s different and that is awesome.

Are the beds uncomfortable? Yes. Yes, they are.

Does the water smell weird? Yes, so we bring bottled water and avoid full showers for a few days.

Do we feel gritty and greasy and gross by the time we leave? Absolutely.

But man, we make the best memories at the cottage.

Grandpa and Grandma with Eddie, Charlie, and Alice

Thank you to my parents for helping us have ridiculous fun and for bringing the awesome of the cottage to another generation.

Special Friends Called Cousins

Alice was talking about her friends last week.

“I have friends at daycare and friends at church and I have special friends called COUSINS!”

I was reminded recently how very lucky we are to have all of our parents and siblings and their kids within a 45-mile radius of our house.

Sluiter Cousin Beach Day

A couple weeks ago we were able to get all of the Sluiter side cousins together (there are 10 including Eddie, Charlie, and Alice) for a fun afternoon on playing at Cortney’s sister and brother-in-law’s house on a little lake. The kids had a blast!

And if that wasn’t enough fun, Cortney’s mom, whom the kids call Granny, set up her backyard as a campsite and had three nights of Granny Camp last weekend.

The first night, she had the three oldest boys. Since Eddie (10) is the oldest, he was in round 1.

The second night, Granny had the two middle grandsons which included Charlie (7).

And the final night, she had all four of the girl cousins which included Alice (4).

They all had SUCH fun! Granny lives just a block away from Lake Michigan, so each evening she took the campers to the beach to run on the dunes and play on the playground to get them good and sleepy.

She had different games and activities each night. Eddie’s night included water balloon fights, Charlie did a scavenger hunt in the dark, and Alice told me they “laughed all the time.”

There was a campfire for s’mores, naturally. And staying up way later than their parents would normally allow.

There were morning s’mores and Grandpa making pancakes on the griddle outside.

Everyone came home smelling like tent with droopy eyes and grumpy attitudes. Which means they definitely had FUN! Oh, and they are all already talking about next year at Granny Camp!

Alice was also invited to her first sleepover last weekend! My brother’s daughter asked her to come spend the night, so we packed her up and off she went.

They both wore their Frozen jammies and slept in their Frozen sleeping bags. Alice had so much fun!

It was while I was bringing her home from her sleepover that she declared cousins are special friends. She is right. They are often our first friends. Like Alice, my first sleepover was with my older cousin too.

It is my hope that my kids always call their cousins “friends”.

Being a Statistic

One in three women will get some sort of cancer in her lifetime.

One in five women will get breast cancer.

Last summer, those numbers swirled in my head constantly. I remember waking up from 12+ hours of comatose, chemo-induced sleep thinking about them. I started doing Katie Math:

I have four sisters-in-law; I am one of five.

I had four roommates in college; I am one in five.

I have four female cousins on my mom’s side; I am one in five.

I have three female cousins on my dad’s side; I am one in four (even better, right?)

I kept doing this sort of math with all the women in my life, and my conclusion was: I am the statistic. At first that was depressing, but then I got it in my head that maybe, because I was the statistic, they would not have to be.

I convinced myself of this. By getting breast cancer, maybe I somehow “saved” those I loved from having to go through what I did.

Less than a month after my yearly mammogram came back clear (yay!), a friend and colleague disclosed that she just had a biopsy come back as breast cancer. Then a month later, a college friend texted me that she had just been diagnosed as well.

I was consumed with sadness for them. My sleep became disrupted. I felt helpless, and some how guilty. Why had this happened to them? Wasn’t I the statistic in everyone’s life? I was the one in three, the one in five.

My colleague’s cancer did not spread to her lymph nodes, and they got the tumor with surgery. She does not need chemo. I thought my reaction would be jealousy, but it was unbridled relief for her. I actually cried when I saw her message. Radiation still sucks: it’s a pain to do, plus there are some pretty stupid side effects. But it’s not the life-sucking awful of chemo.

My college friend is undergoing chemo right now to shrink a tumor before having surgery. Having gone through it before, I wish there was something I could do to make it all less scary and horrible.

I had a couple friends who have gone down this path before me, and they both looked at me the same way–a way I couldn’t figure out at the time. It was different than everyone else. Everyone else looked at me with sympathy and pity, but their look was different–more urgent somehow. I get it now: they were giving me the look of recognition and helplessness. They saw their journey in me and there was absolutely nothing they could do to prepare me or make me less afraid.

They were wrong though: seeing them thrive after going down this path helped more than anything could, I think.

Being a statistic is not saving those I love from also becoming a cancer statistic. But by talking about what my journey was like, by listening to how theirs is similar and different, and by just being a regular, boring human after it’s “over,” I hope that I am giving them that light that it will not always suck.

It will not always be this hard.

It will pass, and then you will be a statistic too: one of the 90% of women who survive.

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