The surgery to remove my brain tumor was over two months ago. I’m halfway through my radiation sessions. This whole experience has been unpredictable — which, according to all my doctors, is predictable. Some days I feel exhausted. I might look like all is well, but people who are close to me recognize how my smile changes, how my eyes become a little dim. I might wake up nauseated. Then I nap for hours.
On other days, I’ve had energy — responding to emails, reading various things, sometimes being able to do some writing. And because of this extra time, I’ve discovered something that’s soothing to me as well as. It almost allows me to feel functional.
I make muffins.
Unlike pies, muffins are easy to make. You mix dry ingredients and wet ingredients, then you mix them together (not much, only enough to get all the dry parts wet). You put them in the muffin tin and bake them. And there they are: muffins.
So far in muffin-experimentation I’ve made blueberry muffins, pumpkin muffins with pecans on top, doughnut muffins, coffee-cake muffins, cheesecake muffins, and chocoholic muffins. Then I tried a different pumpkin recipe to compare it to the first. Hard choice. Today, we had bananas that were turning significantly brown and buttermilk that was running out, so I made banana buttermilk muffins. Later this week, I’m going to try a batch with cranberries.
I eat a couple of muffins after I make them, but my delight doesn’t really seem to be about eating them. It’s about making them, smelling them, watching them become more solid in the oven, appreciating how they look sitting on the kitchen counter.
My delight speaks to me about where I am right now, how my life is. I spend most of every day in my house, which smells delicious. Maybelle spends her mornings and her evenings with me, but I’m in no way cut out to be a single parent right now. Things are changing little by little with what a day looks like, but not in some easy straight line. Things aren’t changing dramatically. Healing is a process.
And although my desire is to roll my eyes at that statement, I have to recognize it’s accurate. This is a process I can’t push my way through. And in fact, I’ve recognized that it can be a sort of gift. Many things in my life have been pushed away for now. I don’t have the energy to teach classes, or to be the administrator for College of Charleston’s Women’s and Gender Studies Program (fortunately, the person who’s doing it is amazing). Some days I don’t have the energy to make rational plans: how many yogurts does Maybelle need? Are we out of toilet paper? Sometimes it’s exhausting for me to read things that are difficult — so I’m reading romance novels, fun! I find it odd, but true at this moment, that I’m not outraged by all the shit that’s out there in the world. I’m not even reading those accounts.
Because I have people living in my house, taking care of all the necessities, the lack of certain patterns in my life don’t feel like problems. They feel like opportunities to identify what really matters to me. My life has focused.
I love the people whose care surrounds me virtually all the time. Letting them know what I need is often a struggle for me, but one good friend has been coaching me on this process. She’s encouraged me to be a person sitting, drinking coffee, while someone else is making food and cleaning up the kitchen or scrubbing Maybelle’s smelly underwear. I’m allowed to take it easy. I’m allowed to let Maybelle watch all the TV she wants. After all, she says, “It is better for you two to watch TV together than have her watching and feeling you bathe in guilt back there on the couch. Enjoy her little, snuggly self. Enjoy watching her talk to the dinosaurs. That is the kind of parenting you could do.”
My friend explained that my need for care from babysitters, for live-in help, for Maybelle’s wonderful kindergarten class, could cause me to feel that I’m not a good enough mother. She suggests that I try to see this differently. All the other folks should be caring for the house, offering Maybelle the challenges that I think she needs (eating a variety of foods, for instance, or learning to ride her bike) and that I should take it easy and do the fun things with my daughter. And I do.
I’m able to sit on the floor with Maybelle and play with her dolls and sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” I sit on the porch with her early in the morning. These days, with the sky still dark, she looks for stars.
I love the opportunity to talk with friends when I can, often at meals. We talk, but not in a manner that is deeply controversial, particularly when these controversies relate to the world in ways that aren’t connecting with me. I sit quietly then, or I’ll switch the topic to something I do care about: How was your day? How are you feeling? Do you want to hear what I want to write about when I’m able to?
And when I’m able, I offer them a muffin. Right now, that’s an ideal activity.