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Treasures of the Heart


The question most asked by people is,"How are the kids coping with all of this?" When we first learned of Jaymun's cancer, it was the foremost concern on my mind as well--after the obvious worry about Jaymun's health. It is still my biggest struggle, having to keep a constant barometer on the physical and emotional well-being of our four other children. It's not just Dave and I who have had our world turned upside down...our kids have had to adjust to their life being altered as well. So, the question remains--how will all this affect our family?

I wish I had a great answer. All I can say is that if ever there was a time to be proud of my little "herd", it's now. They don't pout about the attention given to their baby brother or whine about all the trips being made back and forth to the hospital. They never complain that life isn't fair, that this sick baby is consuming their mom and dad's energy. They help their dad out with chores at home and do well in school so we don't have to worry about their grades on top of everything else.  When it's time to leave the hospital, they don't cry or cling or do any of the numerous things that would make their mom feel horribly guilty. They have realized in such a mature way that life is not all about them. These kids have rolled with the punches.

I have a few theories about why they've eased into the whole medical situation. One thought that jumps out at me is that they're used to the idea that sad things happen to everyone. We usually work all summer in the Dells at an Easter Seals camp for the disabled. If that doesn't put your life into perspective, nothing will. The kids are comfortable around medical staff and disabilities because they've grown up since they were very little seeing the things that life can dish out to people for no apparent reason. We've had hundreds of conversations about birth defects and diseases and disabilities--they understand that sometimes, bad things happen to good people. In fact, when Jaymun was born and we had to break the news to them about his leukemia, Devon softly said, "So this is our bad thing, huh, Mom?"

My first instinct is to shield them from the sorrows of the world, but it's a sad fact of life. This detour from our plan for our family is indeed a "bad thing". We can't hide it from them, we can't sugercoat the painful truth about their baby brother, we can't make everything better with a magical wand. I don't want them worrying about whether Dave and I are trying to gloss over Jaymun's treatment, so we're just honest--we talk about things and in doing so, I think they trust us to always include them in what's going on. I hope we're doing an okay job with them. We try so hard to make their life as normal as possible at home and protect them from becoming resentful or scared. It's why Dave is working from home, to provide them with a sense of stability. It's why I make tons of phone calls to talk to each one of them personally. It's why we try to bring them here for visits, so we can include them in Jaymun's life. There is no manual on this kind of thing, so only time will tell.

The only thing I know for sure is that this summer has changed all of us. We can't pretend otherwise. My sweet children are growing up without me--I keep thinking I will never get the time back that I'm missing. All of you who are struggling with discipline issues or frustrated with communicating with your children, be grateful you can be there to even worry about these things. Forget about the daily parental problems of bickering children or picking up their clothes and toys off the floor--just thank God for the privilege of being able to do so.

I miss just being in the same room with my kids. I want to be the one to send them off to school, to give them a bath, to bake them afterschool treats, to braid Kirsten's hair, to count Devon's freckles, to read Sean a story, to talk to Ben about girls--that's all precious "mom stuff", and I'm missing out on it. I miss their voices and their chatter and even their little boy arguments.  I miss their happy smiles and the smell of their sweaty little heads when they've been racing around outside all day. I miss folding their laundry and picking out their clothes for church and school. I miss answering their endless questions. I miss tucking them in at night. I miss reminding them to brush and floss their teeth. I miss the noise of having a big family. (Now I know I'm delirious!) I miss listening to Ben hammering away on his drums in the basement. I miss Devon plunking away on the piano. I miss the forty thousand requests for my attention. I miss being able to watch them crowd around Jaymun and make him smile or their excitement when he just yawns. I miss us.

We aren't just the Kaat family anymore. Now we're the Kaat-Family-Did-You-Know-Their-Baby-Has-Leukemia. We're identified by a disease. It gives me an uneasy feeling. You may be surprised to know that I didn't even want to write blogs on this website. Because if I did that, it would be admitting that there is something newsworthy about our family. I just crave being a simple, everyday family. I never wanted all this attention directed towards us. I knew if I had to start writing, I'd have to be honest about how things are going and I'm not good with pretending. So now I have people reading about my family when I never intended to have a spotlight aimed in our direction. It's an odd feeling to have scores of people fascinated by a prognosis of cancer.

My children are without a doubt the best five things I've ever done in my life. The treasures of my heart. I can't explain how it feels to be the mother to Benjamin, who has done massive amounts of babysitting for his siblings to help us out and never complained that his 14th birthday went uncelebrated this summer. Or Kirsten, who does the family's laundry and helps her little brother with his homework when she's only 11 years old herself. Or Devon, who never ceases to amaze me with his cheery outlook on life. And Sean, our little guy who points out he's 4 and a half, (lest we forget that half!), and tells people his baby brother has "zucchini" (his word for leukemia). They all marched into that lab to get their blood tested when Jaymun was only a few days old (and Sean volunteered to have his blood drawn first!). They all wanted to be the one to be the match for his transplant. Now that we know Devon's the match, Sean said, "Since they don't need our blood anymore, it would be nice if they could give it back to me!" That's my gang.

If you think I'm looking at my children as perfection, think again. Perfection takes way too much time and energy. I like the fact that they're just kids, that they make tons of mistakes. It means I have lots of opportunities to teach them things and it keeps us humble and on our knees in prayer. What it comes down to is this--my kids know I'm completely crazy about them. I'm pretty sure that was the whole point in bringing them into the world in the first place. Unconditional, crazy love. I took this photo the day before we returned to the hospital. I love to look at it because it reminds me that I have five little people who are depending on me to steer them through this rocky season. They were definitely cheated of time spent watching their baby brother growing up, but they can still smile during the times they do get with him. I want them to go through the day as normal kids. If you see them laughing and smiling--well then, it just means we're doing our job, doesn't it?

No, I can't be sure how this will all turn out. I'm quite certain there will be some scars left on all of us when it's finished. We're trying our best to minimize the damage. In the meantime, we go on because that's the only thing we can do. So, enjoy your children. Squeeze those little bodies. Tickle them until they laugh. Kiss their "owies". Tell them you think they're terrific--and tell them why. Kids love to know the specifics of what makes them so special to you. You owe it to them to make sure they go off into the world as confident, strong, happy human beings.

There's no secret formula to being a parent. But there is an excellent tool to use along the way. It's called love. Personally, I'm partial to the crazy kind.