I believe cherishing childhood, in not rushing to become a ‘grown up’. Sometimes life throws such obstacles at you that you have no choice but to remember a time in which there was no sickness, no depression, no consequences, where you only believed that everything would work out for the best, you had no evidence to contradict this belief.
“What?” My face contorted. The consequences, paralyzed, loss of hearing, severe scarring…? This shouldn’t, couldn’t be happening, I knew that soon I would emerge from this cloud that I had somehow stumbled into. The shadowy wisps of doubt obscured my vision. My father had just informed me that my mother had a tumor. She would have to undergo radiation. For almost a year. The ‘choice’ (the word seemed to mock me) carried threatening side effects and created severe reservations on my part.
I held her hand and our roles reversed. I stood over her, my face displaying, for the world to see, the misery within. I would give everything to be the one in the jonnie, to be the one fingering the over-starched standard issue sheets. I closed my eyes and wished it with all my heart. Over the next year I took over some of her responsibilities. My brothers were too preoccupied to remember their mounting laundry piles. So I did. My father is absolutely in-adept at anything even remotely resembling cooking. So I did. Or at the very least tried to. And quite abruptly, while heaving a mess of socks and shorts into the dryer, I knew what my mother was to our family, the glue, the structure.
So what does my mother’s illness have to do with cherishing innocence? Her illness made me grow up, in every sense of the word, it made me aware of the small things my mother does to make a house a home. This incident made me face the truth. And what I found didn’t glimmer and shimmer like the memories of childhood. It placed an enormous burden upon my shoulders and led me to further believe that the attitude you have when you’re a child (slightly thoughtlessly optimistic) serves you for the rest of your life, serves to get you through the times when you can’t remember what optimism feels like.
After my mother had stopped radiation and our family, our lives had gone back to normal, the knowledge of true responsibility remained. I sought a release of tension. While driving with my friend we happened upon a park that we had frequented as energetic four year olds. I sat and saw that my legs, which no longer dangled dramatically, but rather skimmed the woodchips littering the ground lightly. For that moment while I was pumping my legs in that rhythmic motion that is at once so familiar, for that moment nothing else mattered but the wind in my hair and the gentle creaking of the chains. There will be plenty of time for taking on responsibility. That is why I also believe in swings.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.