For most of their young lives, my three boys saw me head downtown every day, dressed up, make-up on, carrying a briefcase. Balancing a demanding career with motherhood was challenging at times. Occasionally, when they had a cold and I had a trial that couldn’t be cancelled, they’d spend the day watching their beloved superhero shows on the sofa in my judicial chambers. I’d settle them in, flap my black robe like a giant cape, saying, ” It’s showtime!” to make them laugh as I went out into the courtroom. They seemed to like visiting the courthouse and my chambers, especially going through the metal detector and raiding my mini-fridge.
They also came with me some Sunday afternoons, while I caught up on writing orders. They played in the courtroom, taking turns being judge and witness, spinning around on the big leather chairs and singing into the microphones while I worked in my chambers down the hall.
Our younger boys, the twins, were in their first year of high school when the breast cancer returned after a ten year remission. Stage four, metastatic. I stopped working immediately to deal with it. By their junior year, the cancer had moved to my brain and I needed radiation. They were busy teenagers now, after school and on weekends. Always with their friends. Even though it was tiring, I began driving them to and from school to capture some moments alone with them. Now I wore baggy sweatshirts and sleep pants, no make-up, flip-flops and a baseball cap over uncombed hair. I just wanted to be near them.
One afternoon, coming home, one of the twins asked quietly from the back seat,
“Mom, we were wondering. What do you do all day?”
This caught me completely off guard. I always asked about their lives–their classes, their upcoming events, their friendships. Regret shot though me as I noticed I’d been wearing the same clothes for two days. I just realized in that moment, how going from a well-dressed professional, to this person driving around in two day-old pajamas might be disturbing to them. I regretted my lack of awareness. I wondered, too, if they were really asking about the cancer, about me dying, given such drastic changes in my appearance along with the loss of my career.
I chose my words carefully.
” Well, after I drop you two off, I make a healthy breakfast and then I meditate. I write for awhile, and answer e-mails. Often I go to the doctor or a healing session like acupuncture. I straighten up the house, eat lunch, read, take a nap and talk to your brother. Then it’s time to pick you up.”
There was total silence back there. I thought I gave a pretty good answer in the moment. I tried to strike a balance: sound productive, be truthful about limitations, don’t overly frighten them. I thought I’d done all that quite well. When I still heard nothing, I looked in the rear view mirror. Both had very serious faces.
There was a long pause.
“We thought you were Batman.”
I burst out laughing. When I looked again, their expressions hadn’t changed.
“Seriously? You guys are pulling my leg here, aren’t you?”
Their heads were tipped down, with sad faces now, as if they had just learned there was no Santa Claus. We finished the last few moments of the ride in silence. This had to be a masterful job of teasing me, didn’t it? Yet they seemed devastated. When we walked in the door, I told their 18 year-old brother what happened, trying to smile about it. He looked at them and said,
“Guys, c’mon, you know better. You’re the superhero experts.
If she was Batman, she couldn’t come out and tell us, could she?”
The twins stared at him, then looked at each other. Their jaws dropped, their eyes sparkled. They high-fived one another and raced upstairs.
A month or so later, on the drive home, they asked how my day went. I told them I did some yoga, answered e-mails and and saw my oncologist. Then I quietly added,
“Oh, and I stopped a bank robbery, saved a plane from a hijacking, and caught a couple of terrorists. But you can’t tell anyone, promise?”
They laughed, slapping their backpacks, shouting,
” Ha! Good one, Mom!”
This time I kept a straight face. That made them laugh even more. As I drove on, though, I sensed my face being tugged downwards, shifting almost imperceptibly into a sad face and I couldn’t stop it. Tears began slipping out of my eyes. I kept driving, blinking them away, and tried to focus on the road ahead to get us all safely home, because that’s what Batman would have done.
This piece was written for an online flash memoir class taught by Melanie Faith, MFA for WOW~Women onWriting.com, summer 2014
Though not a “Batman” mask, while wearing my brain radiation mask I was once referred to as “Badass.” Close enough.