Life’s Rich Pageant

December 14, 2011 at 3:23 pm (Uncategorized)

I’m in recovery from the annual Christmas pageant at Andrew’s elementary school.

I don’t mean to sound snarky. I’ve grown into my Mom skin so much that I now find “Rock and Roll Snowman” and a rap version of “Little Drummer Boy” downright endearing, especially when the performers are wearing Santa hats too big for their little heads.

No, my recovery process is a physical one. Sitting in metal folding chairs in the school gym for nearly two hours did some damage to my sarcoidosis-induced arthritis. At least I know there’s a good reason for all my aches—and all the squirming I had to do to make it through the program. At a doctor’s appointment yesterday, I learned that the sarcoidosis-related arthritis in my joints is indeed back after a couple years’ hiatus. The latest X-rays of my hands, ankles, and knees are showing clear signs of arthritis and joint damage. My team of doctors is scratching its collective head about what to do about this. There are no exciting new sarcoidosis drugs on the market (or in the pipeline). The cocktail of immune suppressants I’m on is pretty much the best they can do. The only hope for now is that the kick-ass (or ass-kicking) dose of prednisone I started last week will—at some point—do its thing and reduce the inflammation and disease progression.

I got this bad news yesterday afternoon. I really wanted to freak out, take to my bed, have a nervous breakdown, or something. But Jay was in an all-day meeting. Andrew needed to get picked up from school. I had promised to go to a school board meeting. The recycling needed to get to the garage. I needed to deal with holiday presents. There was dinner to get on the table (even if it was reheated pizza). Towels waited in the dryer to get folded. The cats certainly weren’t copacetic with giving up a feeding for my mental health. And there was a school Christmas pageant to attend. Andrew was excited for me to be there. When he couldn’t fall asleep last night, he said, “Mama, I just can’t wait for you to see the wonders of our show.” If I had been half-contemplating flaking on going, this comment banished any lurking inclination to stay in bed and feel sorry for myself.

It hurt like hell to get out of bed this morning. All my joints freeze up in the night. But I didn’t fall over. I drank my tea, took a shower, and even managed to mascara my eyelashes. It took me an extra few minutes to lurch, Frankenstein-like, into the school, but I slid into a folding chair next to Jay at exactly 10:00am, when the program started. We listened to “The Little Snow Flake” and “Sleigh Ride.” We smiled at the kids we know from YMCA sports and my volunteering in the school. We marveled at how big the 5th graders seem, and how little the kindergartners. Through it all, I squirmed in my chair. I rearranged myself. I squeezed Jay’s hand whenever it got a little overwhelming. I’m sure the people sitting around us thought I had ADHD.

Andrew looked proud as he walked to the stage with his class. He searched the crowd, squinting through the bright lights, to locate Jay and me in the audience. When he did, he relaxed a little. He sang with gusto. He kept up with his classmates with the clapping, smiling, ear cupping, and other gestures that accompanied the music.

I wanted to thoroughly enjoy this extravaganza of song, timed hand motions, and holiday cheer. But I hurt way too much to kick back and have fun. I started to get sad–“Poor me. I can’t fully appreciate Andrew’s 2nd grade songs.” But I caught myself. Parenting isn’t always about liking the process—or even feeling capable of enduring the process. It’s about showing up for your kid, with your worries and aches in tow (but hopefully temporarily out of sight). Looking around the dimly lit gym at all the other parents’ faces I saw boredom, tiredness, and anxiety. Sure there were a few of the super Moms who looked lost in rapt glee and total enjoyment (and probably already have their holiday shopping done). Most of us, though, clearly had our share of reality sitting with us.

I don’t think I could survive in Chronic Town without Andrew. I would veer towards narcissism and self-pity. He keeps me grounded in what needs to be done—this day, at this moment. He pushes me to show up to the life I have and to focus on living it, even when I’d rather not, or when I’d rather resort to histrionics.

I made it through the pageant. Sometimes that’s enough. There are days when reveling in the beauty and complexity of life around you just isn’t possible. There are mornings you just have to gut it out. This is life in Chronic Town. This is life.


  1. Allyson said,

    Great look at mindfulness, thank you.

  2. Rebecca Stanfel said,

    Thank YOU, Allyson.

    It’s always such a treat to get comments from you. Makes writing definitely worth-while.

    Hoping all is well,

  3. Rayna said,

    Your writing is so beautiful and descriptive that I can perfectly picture Andrew standing up on that stage—singing his heart out—wearing a too-big santa hat. So adorable! The amount of pride you feel, even when laying flat on your back, is still “fully appreciating Andrew’s 2nd grade songs.”

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Thanks, Rayna,

      They were so adorable. And so excited. These shows are also such a powerful reminder of how quickly time passes and how much our kids change and grow every year. It feels like just a couple of weeks ago that Andrew was lisping out his kindergarten songs. I’m just trying to enjoy the journey, even on those days when I don’t feel my best.

      I really appreciate your kind words and for another wonderful comment.


  4. Martha Kohl said,

    “Most of us, though, clearly had our share of reality sitting with us.” So very true, and important to remember.

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Thanks, Martha. It is important to remember. It’s so easy as middle-class parents to get caught up in competitive parenting (at least it’s easy for me), even to the point of worrying about not enjoying slightly atonal Christmas pageants. I need constant reminders that every Mom is grappling with her share of worries and troubles.

      I really appreciate you taking the time to comment and for being such a loyal reader.


  5. Leanne Shirtliffe said,

    Rebecca, this is beautiful. Sentiments. Writing. Heart.

    Thank you.

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Thank you so much, Leanne. I really appreciate your compliments. It means a lot, coming from you. I’m glad this post resonated with you.

      Thanks for reading.


  6. Marianne said,

    I agree with Leanne. Andrew just wanted you there; that was probably part of the wonders of his show!

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Oh, thank you, Marianne. It was good to be there–for him and for myself. Last year I had to miss the Christmas show because of my defibrillator surgery.

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