Friday, October 10, 2008

A Good Childhood

Every day when I set out for my walk, I pass the school bus stop where we used to stand and wait for Cathy to arrive in Bus 68. Cathy is an experienced school bus driver who loves kids, and stands for no nonsense whatsoever. She knew exactly what was going on in her bus, and she took care of our kids in a way that I had never dreamed a driver would. She was devoted to David and Katie. Cathy even remembered their birthdays. She is a real gem.

We would walk up the steep hill of our driveway and across the street, then walk down a short distance to stand by the side of the road and wait. We did it every day, from the time that Katie was in kindergarten and David was in the 3rd grade, until David went to junior high (he was in a carpool), and Katie started 6th grade in a private school (no bus service).

At the bus stop, the boys liked to throw small rocks across the street, into the woods on the other side, or take a stick, throw a rock in the air, and try to hit the rock into the woods, as if they were players at home plate in a baseball game. The girls preferred to play "Red Light, Green Light" or "Mother, May I?" while one or more of us moms watched. It was a sweet transition time between home and school.

Once the bus arrived, the kids would climb up the steps and take their seats, Cathy would turn the bus around, and I would wave and blow kisses to the kids until they were out of sight. When David got too old for this, I still did it for Katie. We had our family sign language, too, for messages of love.

I wish I could have one of those mornings back again. I'm so thankful that I was able to send the kids off to school like that every day, and that I have the memories of it.

One of the important consolations to me about Katie's life is the fact that we intentionally made many decisions about the kind of childhood that we wanted to provide for our children, and we have shared a good life:
We live about five miles away from both sets of grandparents, and near aunts, uncles and cousins.
Gregg and I agreed that I would stay at home when that became possible. I worked two days a week until the children were 7 and 5 years old, and then I "retired."
Gregg works at a job that allows him to be at home most evenings at the same time, without having to "bring his job with him." When he is at home, he is present and helpful.
We invested the resources that came our way in a home that has woods and a beach on the property, so the kids would have lots of room to play outside safely and use their imaginations.
Our cars are both "pre-owned" (used), and not fancy. We have a lot of hand-me-down furniture.

I'm not saying that we are big scrimpers, because we are not, but we have made some conscious choices, and we have had help from generous relatives (who provided Montessori pre-school, piano, tennis, golf and swimming lessons for the kids over the years). Our biggest extravagance is probably going out for dinner, on dates (as a couple), and as a family...but I think that is good for all of us.

What we have had in abundance is lots of time to spend enjoying each other as a family; we love being together. I was able to volunteer in the kids' classrooms, go on field trips with them, stay at home with them if they were sick and be involved in community service. I could write letters, advocate for them, and be present when needed. Gregg is a "hands-on father." We love our family life.

Being a close-knit family is part of what made our decision to move from our home to Ronald McDonald House in Seattle an easy and unanimous one. We wanted to be together as much as possible, and we wanted to give Katie our full support. That meant that one parent would sleep in the hospital with her, and one would stay at Ronald McDonald House with David. If she had to go through cancer treatment, we were going to go through it with her; she was not going to have to do it alone. When she was well enough to leave the hospital, the four of us lived together in one room at RMcDH, and we shared one bathroom. It was not easy, but it was a good experience for all of us to live together in such close quarters. I treasure the memories of the time we had together (though some are traumatic, and I have to deal with them); I don't regret one thing that we "gave up" to do it. It was well worth it, to spend that time as a foursome...something we don't have anymore.

The fact that Katie had such a good life before she got sick gives me comfort. We gave her and David the best childhood that we could design, given our character, resources and circumstances. I am thankful for that. It doesn't change the fact that the last 10 months of her life were mostly hellish; it just helps me to hold that in perspective with the rest of her life, knowing that she loved her life, and she knew that she was loved. It's visible in her eyes in our photographs (click on them to enlarge them if you want to see that smile).
It was two years ago today that Katie was admitted to Seattle Children's Hospital, when her tumor was discovered. Thank you for remembering, Fiona, and for your comforting presence at that time.


Suz said...

Karen, you and Gregg provided the BEST childhood for your kids. If a great percentage of the children in our country could be raised like this, the world would be a different place.
You and your kids are so blessed to live so close to your extended family….not too many kids get that these days.
The fact that you were and are so conscious about all your choices as parents is so fabulous.
Katie did not have a long life, but I can see from all that you have showed, she had a wonderful life. And her next one will be even sweeter.
The Pics of Katie and David are wonderful. Just beautiful, happy children. You did a good job.
At the end of the day, just know that. You did good. You are still doing good.

Laurie Keller said...

This is an awesome fact to focus on ... you two made choices that show in her smiles, and everyone elses. I am nutty about the black and white photo of Katie in her wet suit with the pooch. It's wonderful. Have a good weekend. I am working on 7 for 7 for tomorrow as today is opening day of Pheasant Hunting Season !!!

Anonymous said...

Katie has the BEST SMILE EVER. What a beautiful and happy girl. I am so sorry for your loss. Sending love from an anonymous Mom from across the country on Cape Cod...

Kay said...

Love the great pics! What a perfect post! : )

Anonymous said...

What a sweet post, Karen. Your family has been in my thoughts. I absolutely love the photos you chose to post here!

Anonymous said...

This was so sweet, Karen, thank you for posting. I think the time children are little is just too little - I have been watched old VHS movies of my girls when they were little and it makes me miss who they were. I don't have as many movies of my son since technology changed and I didn't quite GET the new camera. Daniel's Seattle Children's checkup is in January - if you are over during that time, I'd love to meet you! *Ü* L in Alaska

ChiTown Girl said...

What a beautiful post. God certainly chose the perfect parents for your children!

Jennifer said...

Indeed, their childhood sounded nothing short of idyllic. Katie just shines in her pictures -- so sparkly and full of zest. And I see a contentment too, in her eyes. I admire how you and your husband seem to balance, so well, a beautiful closeness to both your children (an overall tight-knit family) and also an ability to give them room to be themselves and live out their "David-ness" and "Katie-ness." It's unusual to find a family situation where both of these elements are balanced and in harmony. Lovely and inspiring to see. Thank you for sharing it.


Smileygirl said...

I love these photos! The smiles on all your faces are so genuine and warm. You have such a beautiful family. You are all surrounded in love, always.