(This was the first post at The Lilting House, the ClubMom blog I published in 2006 and 2007, now archived here.)
“Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry…”
—from Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas
Eleven years ago, my husband Scott and I brought our first baby home to our cramped Queens apartment. I looked at her little face, so serene and new, and I knew that what I wanted was to give her a childhood as happy as the grass was green. The nights above our urban landscape were rather more neon-lit than starry, but still I had a conviction that a child could be young and easy under the city trees, and a second-floor walkup could be a lilting house. If retro is hip then I am the hippest of the it-doesn’t-get-hipper-than-this hip because the life I envisioned for this child was pulled right out of the pages of a hundred years ago: I wanted to give her Green Gables and Plumfield and the Secret Garden all in one. Okay, so technically all those places were make-believe, but I had a stubborn sense that what was good and beautiful about them was real and could be poured into any setting, even a city apartment with faulty heating and evil, shoe-sized cockroaches.
This conviction was put to the test when, a few months before her second birthday, this little golden child of mine was diagnosed with leukemia and we found ourselves transplanted to a Long Island hospital. We lived there, in-patient, for the better part of a year. During the first terrible week after she began chemotherapy, I remember praying over and over for one thing. It wasn’t, as you might expect, for her to be totally healed—that particular bone-deep yearning was such a given it hardly seemed necessary to articulate it. No, the words I found myself thinking incessantly were: Please let whatever time she has here be filled with joy. I had an awful fear that her carefree toddlerhood would be stolen by nausea and misery and pain, and I prayed desperately for the opposite. Let her be happy and lighthearted, let her have fun. What with the needles and the vomiting, “happy and lighthearted” seemed like a pretty tall order, but I figured that’s what miracles were for, and a mother can hope, right?
I quickly learned that if I wanted my little girl to be joyful despite her trials, it was up to me to supply the joy. No toddler can be happy if mama is sad and worried all the time. And so it happened that my prayer for her rebounded on me, on us. Scott and I discovered that happiness is a decision. The hospital nurses probably thought we were certifiable, the way we howled over supremely unfunny things. Like, say, being thrown up on four times in one night, and then being told there was a three-hour wait for the respite-room shower over at the Ronald McDonald House. Hey, my hair is crunchy! Hahahahaha…
I won’t be so disingenuous (or corny) as to say that laughter is the best medicine, because when it comes to cancer I’m a big fan of the heavy-duty chemo. But the laughter helped a lot. Sometimes, now, Jane will ask me to tell her “funny stories about when I had leukemia.” She doesn’t remember the bad stuff, just the ginchy band-aids and the little yellow car she used to tool around the halls in, with me (hugely pregnant with her sister Rose) panting along behind her with the I.V. pole.
After Jane got better, we left New York—Beanie had joined the party by that point, and the apartment was bursting at the seams—and moved to a place where the kids could be young and easy under the apple boughs, “under the new made clouds and happy as the heart is long.” Wonderboy came along two years ago, with his own set of challenges, from motor delay to hearing loss; and just six weeks ago we welcomed our little Rilla to the lilting house. Scott and I both work at home, writing: comic books (him) and children’s novels (me). Early on, we decided that homeschooling was one way to give our kids days as happy as the grass is green, which means the house may indeed be a lilting one but it is nearly always in a state of noisy disarray. My kitchen floors are a disgrace. My walls look like the training ground for a forensics lab. My furniture—well, let’s just say it would really class up an unfinished basement. I have no fashion sense whatsoever but fabulous taste in books.
And that, I suppose, is why ClubMom asked me to add my voice to their blogroll: to share the ups and downs of our homeschooling/freelancing/ rolling-with-the-punches journey. I’ll talk a lot about books because I can’t help it. I’ll talk a lot about Wonderboy’s challenges because ditto. I’ll talk about weaving (literally) and juggling (metaphorically) and sign language and writing and Latin and physical therapy and math and poetry and teatime and did I mention books? So welcome to our little house (I hope today is a lilting day). I hope you’ll drop by often. Just please don’t look at my floors.
Five Golden Rings
“He felt he had no choice but to side with the pencils.”
Color Us Proud