September is always such a beautiful month in Chicago. It's the closest we get to weather perfection. The sun is shining, the air is slightly cool, the sky is a brilliant blue. Everyone strategically inserts pieces of their new fall wardrobe, eager for the change, pulling layers off when it gets a little warm.
Taking full advantage of the glorious weather all the other kids - the ones without cancer - took to their bikes and scooters zipping down the sidewalk. Back and forth. Back and forth. In 2009, I watched them with such envy, wishing that Atia could join in, but she was too sick, too weak.
That's why September 2010 felt like a gift. A true gift. Atia began regaining strength in her legs. The same legs that had been the barer of the incipient pain. They were strong, itching to move, ready to fulfill their purpose – to run, jump and pedal!
Pedal. Pedal. Pedal.
Pedaling became Atia's favorite past time. She was obsessed with her little pink tricycle. Though still in the midst of treatment, we spent almost every day outside. Playing!
In addition to playing, Atia and Asher attended Spanish class at Language Stars. Atia started going when she was 1 year old, but after her cancer diagnosis was forced to take a brief hiatus. Summer 2010, we re-enrolled into the parent-tot class. Asher, being the accommodating little guy he is, joined us and seemed to enjoy the class as much as Atia.
But then September came - the beginning of the new school year - and Atia graduated to the big kid’s class for 3-5 year olds. No parents were allowed. Along with that change, I decided it was only right to start paying for Asher's Spanish lessons, so he and I officially enrolled in the parent-tot class.
So there we were walking into the familiar school, but with a brand new routine – Atia would go to class alone and Asher and I would take class together. I was nervous about it. At least when I was in class with Atia, I could enforce our solid defense system which included shielding her from the coughing kids and runny noses, tracking toys riddled with germs, and incessantly sanitizing her hands. Germs were the enemy, and without me, she would be stripped of that added layer of protection. She'd be on her own…
I pulled the teacher and center director aside to explain Atia’s medical issues. I stressed my concerns. I begged them to pay special attention to her needs. I respectfully implored them to alert the other children’s parents of her medical condition so they’d understand why it was critical, not optional, that they keep their children home when sick.
I was afraid, panic stricken, but the doctors continually reminded me that if Atia was school age, they wouldn’t keep her home. She'd go. That blew my mind.
When I underwent my own cancer treatment, I was on Leave Of Absence followed by a customized part-time schedule. I couldn't keep up my normal routine, and I often thought to myself, how were kids expected to do more than I did? Is it because they can’t speak for themselves? Is it because they don’t know to ask to stay home? Is it because we assume that if a kid isn’t crying, they aren’t hurting? Is it simply because children are so much more resilient? Is it because fear and pain are sometimes psychological and learned and children are still far too pure and innocent to “know” these things yet?
Questions like those plagued me a lot during Atia’s treatment. I looked back to my own days of treatment to gauge exactly how hard I should push Atia. If I couldn’t do it, I had a difficult time forcing her to.
But, in this case, Atia wanted to go and although she was nervous to go solo, her enthusiasm to learn overrode her fear. So, I had to let her go… to school.
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