I held his hand as we walked into the restaurant. Clung to it, really. As the mother of three children it is a rare treat to share an outing with just one. I wanted to savor every moment. As soon as we were seated he dug into the box of crayons the waitress had placed on the table and began to color on the children's menu. Without feeling hurried, or having to corral his younger brother or listen to his older sister's endless blather (eight year olds never seem to come up for breath!) I silently watched my middle child color. His small, china white hands clutched the crayons. His face was serious as he concentrated on staying in the lines. When he tired of coloring he attempted to put together the cardboard prize that came with the menu. He carefully folded and applied the stickers that would transform the piece of cardboard into a real toy car. Then he promptly announced that he was going to save the creation for his little brother.
The waitress arrived to take our order and he rattled off a long list of the foods he desired; to me, not to her. Having speech apraxia meant that his words were still often hard to understand and he didn't feel comfortable talking to strangers, who often respond with the quizzical "what?" I am privileged to be one of the select few who he lets into his own little world of speech, blessed to be able to understand my little boy when he struggles to get out the words he knows so clearly in his head.
His eyes lit up when I asked is he wanted to add a sundae to that order. His face beamed with a bright smile that reached his brown puppy dog eyes when I asked the waitress to bring the sundae first, before our meal. Before the waitress left she announced "I'll bring that sundae right out, Jacob."
"How did she know my name?" he asked after she disappeared to the kitchen.
"Everybody knows you, You're famous!" I answered. In reality, it was likely the hospital bracelet encircling his slim wrist that probably clued her in, but I didn't tell him that.
He grinned with pleasure before returning to coloring. Soon the sundaes arrived and we ate them greedily as we discussed movies and toys, particularly any related to Star Wars, his new favored obsession. We planed some fun games and a movie night for the coming week.
The waitress soon returned, set the plate of sizzling onion rings and a giant hamburger in front of him. I joked that he wouldn't be able to eat half of it and he smiled as he bit into the burger that was almost half the size of his down-covered head; grease dribbled down his chin as he took on the dare to prove just how much he could eat.
He wiped his plate clean over talk of the sister and brother left at home. Even with the one on one attention he missed them; those two young people who are such a daily part of his life, his best friends. He is quick to forget how annoying his little brother is when he gets into his things or how his older sister always craves attention. He is happy to sit back and let them have their way. Content would be the word that describes him best.
As I paid the bill he clutched the toy car (for his brother) with one hand and the crayons in thefist of the other (for his sister, he informed me) and we slowly headed back to the car. I was in
no rush, dragging my feet as he skipped beside me. It was the beginning of July and the heat was stifling as we walked across the parking lot. Grey clouds hovered over us, with the sun valiantly attempting to peek through; I felt as though I was in a sauna. The heat pressed down on me, like the weight of the world on my shoulders.
Grasping for any way to extend our date, I asked if he'd like to stop at a grocery store for a treat. Once there I threw frozen meals and shelf-stable foods into the cart as he chose his favorite things: pistachios, watermelon, beef jerky, pickles. They all went into the cart. Enough food for the two of us; nothing like my usual shopping trips for my family of five. These meals would be just for us. It felt strange to be a mother of three but only shopping for one.
As we loaded up the car with groceries my movements slowed. I felt as though I was in a slow motion movie, wanting this time in the outside world to last longer. Once that was no longer
possible, I buckled us both in the car to head back to the hospital. Back to the cancer treatment he's been enduring off and on for the past year and a half. Back to the isolation unit where he would begin a stem cell transplant that evening in an attempt to rid his small body of the stubborn beast called cancer.
Back to the battle.