This past weekend, I had the joy of visiting my cousins and their lovely families, two groups of people that I don't get to spend nearly enough time with. The reason I went, however, was not a pleasant one. My cousin's wife, a beautiful, strong mother and all around cool lady, has cancer, and the outlook is not great. And really, I'm not getting into that, because really, it is between them: my cousin, his wife, and their kids. It is not a good situation, but they are all pretty amazing people who are dealing with it with more grace and love than I could even muster in my finest moments.
But here's the thing that no one realizes: when a person gets sick, things suck, yes. But shit keeps on happening. Your bills are still due, you still have to eat a dinner that can't wholly consist of cookies and ranch dip, the kids don't stop their growing until the drama subsides. So when we arrived at my cousin's house on Saturday, one thing that needed to be done was for us to go to the nearest mall and buy my cousin's kids some clothes. Money was not an issue, none of that. My cousin just had not had time to turn around, much less go to the mall and buy jeans for a pre-teen girl. And let me tell you folks who don't have preteen girls: buying jeans for them is kind of like buying jeans for a baby elephant. Nothing you are going to find will fit on the first try. I refuse to believe that there is a preteen girl alive who fits in the standard size--this is where you get into slim sizes and half sizes and moving up to juniors and all of that. And the baby elephant that you are trying to dress? It is going to continue getting surlier and surlier the more jeans you have to try on it. You are going to spend a good long time trying to placate the baby elephant while finding it jeans, caving and also purchasing a feather headband and then drowning your sorrows at Cold Stone Creamery. So THAT's the battle my cousin was facing, and he was coming into that battle war wounded and without a gun.
I had my daughter with me, in fact, one of the very reasons we had traversed across the state was so that Gabby could spend some time with her cousin. So, with two preteens in tow, my mom and I set out for the mall. We fought the baby elephant, and we got it into new jeans, four pairs even (!) along with sweaters and t-shirts and camisoles and what have you. And we had a jolly, wonderful good time on top of it all. For the hours we were out, my daughter and her cousin were just two girls in a mall, having a wonderful time, with no worries or sickness or strife to bring them down. We came home laden with packages and headbands and bags and stories about an unfortunate lunch lady affectionately named "One Tooth Wonder". And when we got back, both of her parents had smiles on their faces. Their minds were at peace on this one tiny detail, able to put that small bit of minutiae behind them.
I'm not going to lie and say we made it all better. We didn't. This whole thing is a wound that can't be tidily covered with a bandage, forgotten with retail therapy. And driving home yesterday, I struggled with it a little bit. Would it have been better to leave the daughter at home, to ride out more time with her mom before there is no time left? Why are clothes so important? Was this just me forcing my own little bit of crazy on my unsuspecting cousin and his daughter?
But here's the thing. First off, he asked us to do it. Second off, clothes help. In a mad, mad world, full of crazy and pain and things that just should never happen to anyone ever, the clothes you put on can give you a bit of control. In the small act of getting dressed in the morning, you control how the world sees you. And the right clothes give you a bit more, an armor almost. Bad stuff will still happen to you, yes. Things that suck will hit you like a barrage. But the right jeans can help. It is one less thing to worry about, one more thing to have in your arsenal, one more line of defense in a world that refuses to be understood or contained.
The coming days and weeks and months and years will be hard for my cousin, for all of us as a family for we are a close knit group. My cousin's daughter is one of my own daughter's best friends and they text each other daily, along with trips and family events they plan and drag their hapless parents along with. I hope that I can help in some small way. My cousin has been there for me--it was his face that I so happily saw standing outside the hospital room when my son was laying in the in the pediatric ICU, taking Gabby to his house so that I wouldn't have to worry about her, he and his wife who showed up after Gabby was born to goo and gah appropriately when I felt sad and like a total fuck up. I'd do anything for him. And if that means shopping, if that is the little gift I can give to him in thanks, then by all means, I'm thrilled to do it.