Friday, August 26, 2011

Elbow grease

You know what cancer took away?  That extra bit of energy and motivation that defines a midwesterner.  You know who has officially reclaimed her energy and motivation?  Me, right here.

This was one heck of a trying week on the home front.  The adjustment to preschool/daycare is progressing, but not without wounding us.  Thursday was by far the roughest; I think both kids expected this whole preschool/daycare thing to be temporary, and plus they were exhausted from the stimulation and stress of the previous three days.  All of the stress and exhaustion translated to extreme crabbiness and sleeplessness at home.  I needed extra patience, extra empathy, and still more patience.  But there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  Ian is having a ball at the U, which helps the rest of us keep our transitional suffering in perspective.  And the kids are adjusting already.  When I picked Azalea up today she said, "Mom, at first I didn't like preschool very much, but now I LOVE it!"  Eleanor's light is not as bright yet, but she too is turning the corner.  The first few times I picked her up from daycare, she was quaking with fear and half sobbed the chant, "Go home now, go home now!"  This was very hard for me to bear.  But today she was consolable, and I witnessed her having fun before she saw me in the doorway.  Already the wounds of being torn from daddy's care are healing.  The best part is that I don't foresee any scars, but it was a tiring week nonetheless.

Despite the changes on the home front, I totally rocked it on the science front.  I finished a manuscript last Friday and had numerous discussions about it this week.  All week I chugged along on an analysis project that I've been de-prioritizing (isn't that just a fancier and more justifiable word than "procrastinate"?) all summer, and it's almost done.  Also, I had this great idea for a review article and I've already acquired collaborators and outlined the manuscript.  And finally, I'm working with a talented bench scientist to keep the research side  of things moving forward.

In my view, my biggest accomplishments for the week are the things that I was physically unable to do during cancer treatment.  I cleaned the bathroom, INCLUDING THE TUB.  Yea.  Not gonna lie, our tub only gets cleaned semi-annually, but I justify this because it doesn't suffer daily use.  You can judge me, whatever, but the point is that I cleaned the tub this week (so now is the time to visit).  Also, I began a deck-refurbishing project that I had promised in June.  For my mother-in-law's (Lori's) birthday I had said that I'd refinish her deck.  She has been so wonderful, helpful, and supportive throughout our relationship, but particularly during the whole cancer business.  I therefore decided to do something special for her birthday, which I thought could be cleaning and sealing the deck that she hates.  You may ask, if she hates it why would I refurbish it?  Well, it would be a huge project to replace the deck with something else, and it's actually a very nice deck if you can look past the moss and mildew.  So tonight I purchased supplies at Ace (the helpful place indeed!) and scrubbed in the dwindling daylight.  The results were instant, dramatic, and gratifying.  I broke a sweat, drank a beer, sprayed some water, had a ball.

Lori has a mantra about "chop wood, carry water" that means something about the fulfillment and joy that comes from everyday Work.  I really felt that this week.  There is joy to be had in seemingly mundane tasks, and experiencing a health crisis brings this brand of joy to the forefront.                   


  1. Oh Heather - the deck is going to be wonderful. I may even learn to like it! Thank you for that and for your kind words. I'm so touched that you shared my "mantra." It's so poignant that you'd put that saying in your post because I feel that it is YOU who has really helped me more fully understand what it truly means to "chop wood, carry water. It's a Zen saying and the whole thing is "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water." This past 9 months I've changed the saying a bit - "Before cancer, chop wood, carry water. After cancer, chop wood, carry water." No matter how scary and unpredictable things can be, our daily tasks remind us of the importance and sacredness of , well, chopping wood and carrying water. Namaste.

    PS - the ladies were sound asleep before 8:30. A record (for Miss A) at Grandma's house.

  2. First of all, congrats on the tub. I totally understand what an accomplishment that is, although I have yet to experience the enlightenment that makes that particular task = a fuller life.

    Second, congrats on getting through a week of daycare. It breaks my heart to think of poor E sounding so exhausted and confused. I am proud of you for keeping the big picture in mind and sticking to your guns on this one. I am sure she WILL love it eventually. And I'd appreciate it if you remind me of this when we experience the same thing in the next couple years.

    Third, your scientific rigor and motivation is awe-inspiring.

    Must talk soon :)

  3. Oh, Heather is right. I read your post, and thought immediately of Lori reading it and getting teary-eyed from joy and thanksgiving. She is so gratified that you are on the road to recovery and health. Knowing that she was a big part of helping you reach that goal must make her glow inside. I don't have the mantra, but I know what it does for me to do the outside chores each and every day. While at times, I resent the time and commitment it takes, I still get that little secret thrill and contentment from the noise the horses make in their throat when they see supper coming. The smell of the animals; their woolly, smooth, comforting coats as I touch them. The satisfaction that I get from knowing they are all comfy, dry, warm, and fed. Our chop wood and carry water may be different, but we get the same fulfillment and contentment from these chores. I can't even describe to you what it does for me when I hear the voice in your writing that tells me you are home!

  4. Hi Heather! Thanks so much for your comments on my blog. I'm an avid reader of yours, but read mostly from my phone. I always want to comment, but have trouble from the phone. User trouble, i'm sure. It is fun watching you get stronger and getting back into life. Again, i'mv very impressed with your science stuff. Way to go on that! Haircut this week? I'm almost regretting mine, but it had to be done. It's so fuzzy and thick now. Very unfamiliar territory for me. Emily

  5. Take it easy with rocking the science and home cleaning--you are putting some of us who have not had cancer this year to shame!! [casting baleful look toward mold growing on shower curtain...something of a science experiment itself perhaps.]

  6. @Valentine: I even bleached my shower curtain and there's still evidence of mold. It's a losing battle to be sure.