I decided to take Mason out for a special breakfast a few weeks ago. I wanted to go somewhere he has never been to before, so I took him to...wait for it: Denny's. Not a big deal, except for the fact that I almost had a breakdown inside the restaurant. When the hostess took us to our seats, Mason threw his jacket on the chair and ran around the corner to another room. I called his name, and he looked utterly confused as to why we were sitting down. This was strange, but I brushed it off. I began reading the children's menu to Mason, but he wanted everything. When I told him he had to pick one thing, he asked, "Oh. So do you pick something, and when you're done, you can pick another thing?"
This is where I realized what the problem was: he doesn't remember how things work in a restaurant!
Since he began treatment in 2010, the only restaurant Mason has been to is Chuck-A-Rama--where I started taking him at the end of last year because I felt guilty about how hard the treatments were hitting him. Chuck-A-Rama became an almost weekly indulgence for about two months, because I figured out that it's the only place where he will stuff his face full of food. So what if I had to pay, when he only eats the macaroni and corn? That same meal, eaten at home, would only have a few bites taken out of it.
So after over a year of being cooped up inside, that is the only memory Mason has of eating out, despite the fact that pre-cancer, we went to other restaurants all. the. time. When I realized that, I realized why he had run into the other room (to find the buffet), and why he wanted everything (because you can have anything at buffets)...and I couldn't handle it. The startling difference of our 'before' lives and our 'after' lives, hit me in that moment, and I had to take a few seconds to calm myself down before I cried.
This huge difference was made even more clear yesterday. My brother has been coming by the house lately and inviting Mason to go places with him, like the store, the park, on a walk--anywhere outside of the house. (I fully admit that I'm still having a hard time taking him anywhere, even though I know it's now okay. I think this has to do with the fact that I don't really believe it's okay until I hear the results from his next scan. Stupid cancer. It messes everything up.) Each time, Mason has said no.
It's strange that he hasn't wanted to go to the store, or for a walk, because he loves both of these things--at least, he used to and he says he still does. But what really worried me, is that he didn't want to go to the park each time he was asked. This is astronomically huge, because Mason LOVES the park. Once there, it is almost impossible to get him to come home willingly. And he even declined MY offer to take him to the park! But he finally said yes to my brother's offer to take him to the park yesterday, and boy, did he love it! I heard his shoes pounding on the floor as he ran to me in excitement when he got home. His eyes were huge, and he was short of breath, but he was practically yelling with surprise as he said, "Mommy, that was SO MUCH FUN!"
I honestly think he had forgotten what it's like to play at a park. Cue another breakdown.
I've been thinking a lot lately, about all the sacrifices we've had to make. Mason has not been able to have a normal childhood while in treatment, and has missed out on a lot. He's a child who didn't remember how much fun you can have at a park. He's a 5-year-old who is starting over in learning how to act in public, or how to order in a restaurant. He doesn't have friends to play with (good thing he has cousins), and he's missed so much school.
But while these things seem so terrible, I can't say that I would trade this past year for the chance to have it filled with 'normal life' memories. Mason may not have spent the year doing things other kids get to do, but he did spend it gaining confidence, patience, knowledge of his body, compassion, and tolerance for things he can't control. He's not afraid of doctors, and when he gets sick now, he knows the feelings that give him enough warning to throw up in a bucket, instead of on the bed. What's more, he knows how to comfort others who are in pain, and he speaks from experience when he says, "Hold my hand, it will be okay."
I'll take him having that knowledge, over anything.
And just for the record, what prompted this post was Mason's tiny voice as I got up this morning, saying, "If Uncle Vili comes to see if I want to play at the park, I will go."