Wise little owls

They know things, these children, that I didn't know when I was a child. They know all about how the ocean moves, how to get out through the break and ride in on the surf and not get swallowed up in the salty undertow. They also know all about lumps and what they mean.

Last Friday, Rosy noticed the lump on Amelia's neck because it is visible to the naked eye. We hadn't talked to the children about our concerns because it seemed brutal to involve them until we had some answers. Amy was, of course, marginally aware that something was wrong, because we kept feeling her neck every morning. But we hadn't said the "C" word aloud to any of them.

Rosy came running to me with horror in her big brown eyes and told me about the lump, asked me if I knew about it. I reassured her that I did. The tears sprang sudden, and she stuttered out her heaviest question, "Will Amy die as fast as Tally did, Mama?" Our dog, Tally, died just 2 weeks after we learned of her cancer recurrence, and really 3 days after we knew for sure that it was cancer. To the children, it seemed like a very fast death. I held Rosy to my chest, felt her whole body ravaged by the sobs, shaking under the weight of the world no 7 year old should be carrying. I assured her that Amy would not die in 2 weeks. Her sobs ebbed slowly away.

She looked up, this time her face serious but no longer frightened. "Okay. Well, what do we have to do about Amy's cancer then?" A rational question following all that emotion. Alright. If we don't have to deal emotionally with her dying right away, what needs to be done? How many doctors appointments are we talking? Will she lose her hair?

We talked long about the many things that can cause lumps. In her 7 year old experience, lumps are always cancer - they were for Mama and they were for her favorite pet. It was news to her that you could have a lump that wasn't cancer. But she also wanted to know about cancer. What type it might be, what the treatment for it is, how hard the surgery would be for Amy. How often we'd be going to the doctor over the next few weeks, and would Amy lose her hair?

She knows these waves, and she isn't overcome by them. It's an amazing thing to watch, as a mother. I was traumatized when I was just about her age, deeply, in ways that stunted the way my brain grew up. My reaction was to shut off the emotional switch as often and as quickly as possible. I've never been much of a crier. I've been a brooder. It wasn't until I entered counseling at 31 that I started to learn why I acted that way. I lacked a skill known as "Wise Mind". It's the ability to react emotionally and rationally at the same time, using both sides of your brain to respond to a problem. My 7 year old daughter can do this. I still have to practice it.

If you experienced abuse or trauma at a young age, this might be something you need to work on, too. The trick is to allow yourself a modicum of emotional response, followed quickly by a rational list of options for responding to the problem. I actually consciously think, "I need to enter Wise Mind". Then the tears flow for a few moments, and then I get started on solving the problem. It's allowed me to cope better in the moment because I don't bottle up emotions anymore. They come out right away. And I can still view myself as a rational person, just like I always have.

If you'd like to read more about Wise Mind, visit this link to a video walking you through the technique.