Long-Distance Parenting

Parenting through tough times

It’s not easy to parent when one team member is critically ill and both parents are thousands of miles away from home.

My cell phone let out an angry buzz that reverberated through the sticky Naugahyde, rousing me from my one-eyed slumber. I grabbed for the phone and checked the time, then the number. Home. Where exactly was I?

I punched the green button, took in the IV poles, antiseptic smells and insistent beeps in one breath. “Hello?”

“Mamá?” Laura’s hesitant voice came over the airwaves.

“What’s up, Sweetie?” It was nine o’clock in San Francisco, an hour later back in Bozeman—way past bedtime on a school night.

My voice triggered a series of sobs and snuffles. My heart broke. All I had was the power to listen, to sort, to try to make sense of the garbled story gushing through the earpiece. If only my arms were a thousand miles long and I could hold my baby in my lap, rock her gently and soothe her troubles as I had kissed her boo-boos when she was little.

I checked on Pedro, who appeared to be asleep, although it was always hard to tell because his eyes didn’t close completely any more. My mind multitasked while I murmured questions meant to help Laura calm down and speak coherently, and breathed gentle pats of compassion with my voice.

“She said what?” What I thought I’d heard Laura say couldn’t be true. How could anyone, even a twelve-year-old, be so cruel? My voice hardened and my hackles rose. “Tell me again what Susie∗ said.”

“She said that if my dad died, then you could marry her dad, and we’d be sisters.”

I did the only thing I could think of in a situation like this one. I conjured up a laugh and said, “Wow! Susie must really want some more sisters to suggest a thing like that!”

“But is Papá going to die?”

“He’s breathing right now,” I answered. “And the doctors say he’s doing better than he was yesterday.”

I could hear relief wing it’s way into my ear from a thousand miles and a time zone away. “That’s good.”

“Sweetie,” I assured her, “God is watching out for us, he hears our every cry and prayer.” My words felt empty without the closeness of my arms around her shoulders when I whispered words of faith.

“I know,” Laura whispered back. “But promise me, you’ll never marry Susie’s dad. Ever!”

“Now that’s a promise I can make, honey.” I started to giggle. Susie’s dad was twenty years my senior, divorced, and just the thought of being married to him…well, it made me giggle.

“O.k., that’s all I wanted to know.” Laura sounded better, more confident.

“There is no, no, no, no, no WAY!” I swallowed a snort and fought to gain control. Breathing out, I managed a hearty, “I love you!”

“Me, too,” she answered. “Bye.” I prayed that was a chuckle I heard as the connection died.

“That Laura?” Pedro turned to look at me, his face frozen expressionless by the lymphoma cells, his eyes dulled from the drugs. “O.k.?”

“She’s o.k.,” I assured him. “She just had to tell me something that happened at school today.

“Good.” His eyes smiled briefly, then he drifted off to sleep.

Author’s note:  Today, Pedro and I celebrate 25 years of marriage.  We survived both cancer and caregiving and are the proud parents of two lovely young women who have also survived and thrived.

What parenting challenges have you faced on your caregiver journey?



‘Together’ Means “Just the Three of Us”

Crazy (in love) after all these years!

Crazy (in love) after all these years!

When Pedro and I started falling in love in October of 1986, we thought ‘together’ meant spending every spare moment with each other in between classes and work. When we stood before family and friends two years later and vowed to love each other and stick together through the good and the bad, we thought ‘together’ meant we didn’t have to say goodbye each evening. When our firstborn arrived four years later, with a hole in her heart and a propensity to never sleep, we started to understand that ‘together’ meant teamwork—all the time.

Together means you argue things out—but you still love each other because you’ve made a choice and a commitment. Together means change—I had to learn parenting skills and how to say ‘No’ and carry through and work as a team with my husband—and it wasn’t always easy—but together, we worked hard at parenting.

When Pedro received a diagnosis of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, we jumped into research, decisions, treatment and trying to keep our family together despite the long distance between our home and his treatment.

Shortly after remission, came relapse with a vengeance. But we knew we had two beautiful reasons to fight. And so we fought. When he recovered, we knew without a doubt it had nothing to do with medicine, and everything to do with miracle.

The years have continued to march along, and together we have weathered trials and triumphs, sickness and health, arguments and disagreements, job changes, career changes—but always, always, a sense that someone else holds us together. We can’t do marriage on our own.

Ever since we said our vows before God and men, we’ve known that we had a solemn duty to stay together—to work things out (I can’t promise that I’ve never gone to bed angry, but I’ve never gone to bed angry two nights in a row).

Now, after almost 25 years of marriage our nest only shelters one baby bird in the summer time (the oldest has started her own nest), and we’re looking forward to another 25 years of together—and whatever those years bring, whether sickness or health or trials or joy, we know that God will continue to hold us together.

Treasure It!

Hospital time hangs heavy--but treasure it, nonetheless!

Hospital time hangs heavy–but treasure it, nonetheless!

News of loved one’s cancer diagnosis hits me hard. It always has. But in the last nine years, it REALLY hits! I want to rush in and fix everything for anyone affected by this disease, but having been through this, I realize each person has to script his or her own journey. So, all I can do is offer help and then wait.

Recently, I knew I’d be in the same town as my newly diagnosed friend, so I called her and offered, “I’ll be in town this weekend. Is there anything, anything at all I can do for you while I’m there?”

Her response triggered tears and memories, “No, we have time this weekend. My work has been busy, so while he’s in the hospital, we’re just going to BE. Just sit together and value that time.”

Wow. If there is any advice I can offer a cancer caregiver it’s exactly that. Don’t pass up those moments to just BE. Cherish those moments together. Hospital time presents difficulties, frustrations and frights. But it’s time.

My boy spent the most time in the hospital between the ages of four and five. Yes, we went through way too many Dora the Explorer programs and Veggie Tales movies, and if I never hear the Lion King songs again, I’ll be happy. But we also created stories – stories that still bring him comfort even though he is bigger than I am now. We played countless games of dominoes, Old Maid, Go Fish and I Spy. We sang songs, we read books, and we told corny jokes. We drove Hot Wheels all over the bed and hospital tray. We rigged roadways from the tray to the floor and held Hot Wheel crash car derbies. We built Lego houses with garages and tunnels, and colored in countless coloring books. We cuddled and giggled and sometimes just stared at the ceiling, only talking when something occurred to us.

Time. I would never wish cancer on anyone, but those memories I created with my boy? I’ll treasure those moments forever.