His first foray into the kitchen that is currently my classroom is around lunchtime. “Mom, can you bruise a bone?” He stands just out of the camera’s line of sight, poking at his ribcage. “Yes,” I nod and he heads back to the living room, ostensibly to do more school work.
He returns around 2. I’m still online – now in a meeting. “Can you mute yourself?” he mouths. I do. He pushes at his ribs. “What do bone bruises feel like?”
Oh! I briefly ask about his concern and learn that he has a sore bump near the bottom of his right ribs. If the light hits him just right, I can see the bump. I remind him that he spent much of the weekend practicing flips on a neighbour’s trampoline and then went to his parkour class where he hurled himself up and over things. Repeatedly. I suggest that the bump/bruise is probably from that. He nods and wanders off again.
He lasts about 5 minutes. When he comes back this time, he’s obviously in distress. Tears threaten to fall over his bottom lashes, and the bump is a little red, probably from being pushed repeatedly since he’s doing that right now. I leave my meeting.
“Does it hurt?”
“No,” he shakes his head. “Well, only when I really press on it.”
“Do you want a Tylenol?”
His head shakes again.
“I’m sure it will go away if you stop pressing on it, love,” I soothe. At that, the tears spill out and run down his cheeks. He’s not sobbing, just silently crying in front of me. Then I know. I scoop him up in my arms – thank goodness he’s still small enough! – and whisper in his ear, “Are you afraid it’s cancer?”
He nods and begins to cry into my shoulder. Oh, my sweet. Oh, my love. I hold him and rock him and wipe away his tears. He has every reason to be afraid, though we haven’t shared all the details of our friend’s diagnosis. Still, he’s been to the hospital; he’s seen what chemo does; he knows that the grown ups are sad and upset.
“Do you want me to call the doctor?” A quick shake of the head. “Are you afraid of what the doctor might say?” He nods tentatively. “What if we call Grandma Donna or Grandpa Dave?”
He’s unsure of what, exactly, his doctor grandparents can do from a distance, but I have an inkling. We make the call. Grandpa Dave listens very seriously and asks us to send pictures. We hang up, and I sneak onto the back porch to call again and explain what’s happening. I hang up again. Back inside, we wait for Grandpa to call back. This time, he speaks directly with Eric. I’m not exactly sure what he says, but I know it involves Tylenol and ice and follow-up phone calls from Grandpa at least once a day for a few days, maybe the whole week.
That seems to do the trick. By dinnertime, the bump – now largely left alone – is smaller and less red. At bedtime, I remember a technique that Grandpa used on me back when he was just my dad: I draw a circle around the bump with a ballpoint pen so we can see if it grows smaller overnight. Eric seems content, and he reminds me that Grandpa will call tomorrow, just to double check.
Oh, my love, how I wish more things could be fixed with a photograph, a ball point pen, and a few calls from Dr. Grandpa.