A mother's mortality; how much do we tell our kids?
Today I went, with my three boys, to my obstetrician's office. We weren't there for fun. I was undergoing a LEEP procedure to shock off some shockingly bad cells from my cervix. After one bad pap smear prior to becoming pregnant with Everett, the more-common-than-I-ever-knew-at-22 cervical "pre-cancer" had returned.
Dr. Kehoe was reassuring and spirit-cheering. She'd told me that I had nothing to worry about, really; we'd get rid of the bad cells and I'd still have a mostly-intact cervix and an ability to birth babies. I said something to Everett, who's now 10, about the aim of the appointment several weeks ago when I went in for the biopsy procedure. This time, though I skimmed over it (I think I might have said exactly, "cut some bad cells out of me so I'll be healthy") I didn't give as much information.
"Why do you seem so worried?" asked Everett as we locked the door on our way out of the house.
"I don't think it's going to be very much fun," I said. "It's going to be very un-fun."
But at its core what I'm worried about is the very real exposure to my own mortality. As sole caregiver to my boys for the next year -- and, as I sometimes worry, the only one so equipped to love them in the particular way they seem to need -- the idea of them having to live without me is too stark to face, for me, or them.
"Forever?" I asked Dr. Kehoe later, as she sat there with her tools and her mask and her gloves. "5-10% chance forever?"
She laughed. "I suppose, but it's hard to know what forever means," she said frankly.
That's it. I don't know. I biked home with the boys without any comment on the procedure -- they, concerned with the snack bar and the wild route to skirt Barack Obama's motorcade on the way home, had other things on their minds. I worried, and when Monroe (he's five) made a joke about people dying, I winced. I've corrected him before when he confidently asserted that I was going to live always. "No," I said. "Mothers die. But after a very, very long time."
It's not my time. But also I'm filled with the knowledge, right now, that it's not always true -- that many mothers die young. And I don't know how much I want my kids to know.
When you have had brushes, however glancing, with your own mortality, how have you described them to your kids? When is old enough to be frank and up-front: "these are cancer cells but it's really easy to take them out and you don't need to worry," or something? When do you think all should just be bared and you should share your worries with your kids?