Sunday, May 06, 2012

Good grief

It was quiet, as it usually is this time of day. Mid-morning on Saturday can be surprisingly slow at the library.

The Champ clamors into the children's reading room, headed straight for the computer. He is pleased to find it ready and waiting for him. In no time he is scrolling through the programs, looking for his favorite: an anatomy game where you can place organs inside a skeleton.

He's already a font of knowledge when it comes to connecting leg bones to the hip bones, and placing the brain is a no-brainer. Even the librarian whistles under her breath when he drags and drops the spleen in the upper left side of the abdomen. “I didn't even know what that was,” she marvels.

His sister thumbs through the stacks of books, looking for just the right one. School has upped the ante. Pictures books aren't enough of a challenge anymore. They're too easy. No danger. She needs to find something with meat and teeth.

She doesn't want my help. The books I suggest lack a certain spark.

I make my way to the well-worn leather chair by the window and take a load off. I put my feet up on the ottoman and just sink in. There's nothing for me to do but wait.

We all know the drill: Eventually the boy will tire of placing innards where they belong and the girl will find a book to end all books. Of course, there's always the possibility that stomachs grumbling for lunch will make short work of such decisions. Only time will tell.

Practice has made me better at waiting.

“Don't rush them,” I remind myself. “There's no place we need to be.”

I watch as she takes a book from the shelf and slips it back. Another. And another.

Before too long she appears before me and hands a yellow hard-cover to me.

My hand floats along its spine, unable to get a firm grasp. The title repels it. It's a book about cancer.

She flips through the pages excitedly. “This is important stuff,” she says with a maturity I always mistake for misunderstanding. “This is stuff I will need to know.”

I take a deep breath … and fall apart.

“That's not for us,” I say. “Put it back. Get something about the solar system. There must be a nice book on black holes or asteroid storms. … Or avoidance. There must be a book on avoidance. How to keep from getting caught in an asteroid storm. Now that would be useful information.”

Truth is, I'd scanned the new books when we'd first walked in the room and noticed the abundance of children's books dedicated to serious diseases and death. I'd averted my eyes.

“We don't need this book,” I begged, hoping that leaving the book where she found it (and performing a complicated ritual based entirely on superstition) instead of bringing it into our house would keep heartbreak from ever stepping over our threshold.

But it wasn't about me, and she knew it.

Talk was all over town.

The primary school principal was recently diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer, and announced to the school-family that she would remain a presence in our children's lives for as long as she was able. She planned on waging a public fight. She was in it to win.

Parents were quietly upset. They want to protect their children from heartbreak. They wanted to have the right to tell their kids their beloved principal had taken a job on a farm, should the unspeakable happen.

I understood that fear even as I tried to renounce it, spinning on my heel three times and throwing salt over my left shoulder (and then my right just in case I'd muddled the old-wives-tales I was trying to wash down with my anxiety).

Not that it helped. Burying one's head in the sand rarely does.

I wanted to pretend we didn't need to do anything, and Ittybit needed to understand if there was anything she could do.

“Hey, what about this stuff you always say about knowledge and power?” Ittybit asks, thrusting the book into my hand.

She was right. And as usual she was using my own words to prove I was wrong.

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