They were just three words uttered over a bicycle in my driveway on a sunny Saturday afternoon. But those three words brought it all back to me.
I had reached into the back of my friend’s SUV to retrieve her son’s bike, which they’d brought across town for a play-date at my house. Danielle’s son, Justin, had positioned himself inside the truck, figuring he’d have to help me lift it out. Instead, I simply picked it up and pulled it out in one swift motion. As its tires landed on my driveway, Danielle blurted, “God, you’re strong!”
I almost said, “In more than one way,” but I let it go. Perhaps the cancer references are getting old now that I’m almost 2 1/2 years in remission. Old, at least, for everyone else who put “that whole thing” behind them long ago. For me, it never gets old.
But later her comment came back to me: “God, you’re strong.” And I thought, Aren’t we all? At least, when we have to be. Aren’t all parents strong?
Certainly any father who has heard the word “autism” pinned on his son. Any mother who has studied the image of a brain tumor on her toddler’s MRI. Anyone who has held a two-pound baby, born 13 weeks early, in one hand. These parents have to be strong because they can’t afford to fall apart. And their children can’t afford it either.
But what about the rest of us? Are we also strong simply because we survived potty training a reluctant pooper, or agonized over how to deal with a bully who has targeted our child — and his diorama of the White House? Are we strong because of the things nobody tells you you’re strong for, the things we all take for granted? The moments that so many of us go through, stomachs churning, wondering if we’re doing right by our kids?
The Internet is full of these very moments. The working mother second-guessing her decision. The mom who found out a few days too late about the yogurt that had spilled in one of her six children’s backpacks. The mothers who showed up 12 hours late to the kindergarten orientation. The divorcee who’s trying to pass off her family as intact in public. The mom who confesses that she wants the girl she never got. The mom trying to navigate the places where it appears no children are allowed, or at least, welcomed.
It seems to me that it requires a certain amount of strength — perhaps extra strength — to deal with any of this (especially the three-day-old spilled yogurt, right?) Strength that goes beyond the normal work-a-day stuff you endure, like traffic, rain when you forgot your umbrella and the supermarket running out of butter right when you need it most. It’s that resolve presidents are always alluding to, that old adage that parenting is like being pecked to death by a chicken.
Last week, a friend told my son that I would agree that parenting is the toughest thing I’d ever gone through. I bristled, pointing out that cancer was no walk in the park. But later I realized that cancer was that much harder to endure because I was a parent. Surviving cancer was never really about me so much as it was about my children — thus proving his very point. And for a man who’d recently lost his son to cancer, he ought to know something about strength.
Whether you’re scraping yogurt out of your kid’s backpack or returning an oncologist’s phone call, parenting requires strength. And you, too, are strong because of it. All of us are.
But if you can lift a bike out of an SUV in one swift motion, you just might be a super hero.
Share, share, that’s fair: Do you think parents are strong?