I'm borrowing both the title and the concept for this post from a book I read last year called The Council of Dads by Bruce Feiler. Feiler had bone cancer. He was also a father to two young twin girls. He worried about his girls if he didn't survive and so carefully set up a group of adult male friends to act as their stand-in dads in the event he died.
If you're a parent, I'm sure you've played out / toyed with this scenario in your mind: Something happens & for some reason, you can't be there with your child every hour of every day. You look at your partner/spouse, you look at your family, you look at your child's teachers, you look at your child's friend's parents, you look at your own friends. Who do you want there for her when it can't be you? Bathing her, feeding her, dressing her, combing her hair, entertaining her, teaching her, disciplining her, comforting her, talking with her & answering her serious questions, driving her around, showing her new things/experiences / people, keeping her safe, maybe even putting her to bed?
Having cancer, I've had to take a big step back in the amount of hands-on time I have with Nia. And in so doing, I have had to put a lot of trust and faith in my community. This is a big change for me. BC (before cancer), I spent a couple solo hours with Nia each day in the morning, then she'd transition to Joe & I would work for 4 hours (in the house), and then it was back to me for more one-on-one time till Joe came home from work (7p some days, 10p others). So, roughly 8 hours a day it was happily just me and Nia, mixing it up with some play dates that we'd both go on.
But now, like I said, I can't do the 8 hours, especially straight, either because I'm physically tied up at chemo or another doctor appointment, or because I am physically and/or emotionally exhausted and MUST rest. The new norm: Nia spends even more time with Joe, but now Joe is frequently with me at doctor's appointments and he still has his regular work schedule over the hill. Next on the list are Phil & Pam, right upstairs. Nia spends a lot of time with up there, either formally because we planned it, or informally she'll run up there on a whim for an hour looking for someone to read to her, or play a game, or even for a snack. (Often, she says she isn't hungry downstairs but as soon as she's in grandma's kitchen, she's hungry. :) )
But Phil and Pam can't do it all either. So where does one turn?
In this way, a Council of Moms (and Dads) begins to take form. Unlike Bruce Feiler, the author mentioned above, I'm not building my council (Nia's Council?) for the big, What If I Die. Rather, I think children can benefit from a council of wise, compassionate adults from different walks of life without the loss of a parent. Nonetheless, though, I must admit I didn't really actually consider the idea until now, when I too am sick.
And so, being sick we've very literally had to ask people to volunteer for play dates. These people have been carefully selected (beggars can be choosers!). They must be people that Nia is comfortable with, they must be people who share similar parenting/discipline beliefs as Joe and I -- and if we are on different pages when it comes to discipline, they have to be people whom I know won't do anything with Nia I wouldn't approve of. They have to be people that can offer Nia a safe environment to play, explore, cry, be angry, talk, etc. She's working through a lot, my little one, and I want her to be with men and women who can nurture her. See? A Council of Stand-in Moms and Dads.
We may be born to or raised by one "mother" and/or one "father" but the truth is, we all have many mothers ad fathers. But especially mothers. We all have been touched by and influenced by many women, other than the one that we called Mom. I have many mothers and I'm delighted that Nia will, too, through my friends, her friends' mothers, teachers, neighbors, aunts, and her grandmother.
Parenting with Cancer Rule: Select Your Council of Mothers & Fathers
In this extraordinary time of need Nia's Council members (whether they realize it or not) have stepped up:
~ Extended family (George, Anna & Sean, Dale)
~ Nia's Friend's Parents (Zoe, Jackson, Maya, Izzy, Irene for now with new friendships to develop)
~ My Pre-Nia Friends (With & Without Kids)
It's the pre-Nia friends contingent on this list I'm most surprised by and excited about nurturing Nia in this time -- and setting the stage to be her Council of Mothers in the many years and challenges of her life to come.
These are my girls: Megan ~ lives in San Francisco, no kids yet, friends since kindergarten; Michelle ~ lives in Los Gatos, 3 kids, friends since 7th grade, past roommate, current colleague; and Erin ~ lives in Moss Landing, no kids yet, friends since college, past roommate.
These three amazing women have lifted me up time and time again over the years. Lifted me up, dried my tears, and made me laugh like no one else can. We've talked about absolutely everything and experienced a whole lot of life together, too.
And now, when I face the biggest challenge of my life, here they are again. Lifting me up. Drying my tears. Making me laugh. But this time around it isn't just me. Now there is Nia, and they are doing the same for her in a gentle, subtle way. Distracting her. Making her laugh. Listening when she needs to share. Playing tag and chase when she just needs to burn off some energy. Cooking with her.
I'd like to think that had I not become sick, I would have thought to urge my pre-Nia friends to spend time with Nia one-on-one, but I don't know if I would have. Being sick has made this a necessity: I need to rest and in order to do so, I need to know that Nia is occupied. Also, Nia hates to see me napping so it is essential that someone play with her. But it is more than that. They are stepping in when I have to step out. Isn't that the most basic definition of true, lasting friendship? Stepping in and providing her with all that a mother does: Love, compassion, understanding, joy, redirection... I couldn't have hoped for a better group of women to be me when I can't be.
Thank you to all the Council members! This is no small thing. We will be forever grateful to you for your help now -- and I truly hope that as Nia grows even after the cancer is a distant memory, if she ever needs a fresh perspective, she'll feel comfortable turning to another "mother" or "father" for support.