The thing about growing up being the oldest in your family is that you expected to know just about everything.
All four us sat around on the edge the bed. The kids were aimlessly watching television and I was having a conversation with their mother. Emily, Ashley, and Eli (my favorite kids) sat in a group pretending to be engrossed in the animation on the screen.
“Next week is my dad’s birthday,” I told their mother pointing to the calendar with x’s marked across a majority of the dates. She was Facebook, messaging friends and online browsing through expensive Michael Kors bags.
“Oh, the 11th? That’s nice,” she replied still scrolling through her device.
All the kids turned their heads unison.
“Your dad’s birthday,” the middle child, Ashley, yelled.
“I’m so sorry,” the eldest, Emily, sympathized shaking her head slowly.
I gave them a baffled look. How is it that a ten year old and a nine year old can feel so apathetic?
“Sorry for what?” I quizzed them, my finger to my lips.
“Your dad…he’s dead remember?” Emily stated throwing her arms up as if I didn’t hear of the news.
Ashley nudged her to stop talking out of turn as she normally did. Emily was the open mouth insert foot type of child.
The four year old, Alexander, the baby of the group shouted, “dead?”
“That’s enough,” their mother, my aunt, stated as she scrolled through her cell-phone device. She barely acknowledged that they were kids intruding on a conversation that did not belong to them.
The kids stayed quiet. All but the eldest retreated to the television crisscrossing their legs on the tiled floor.
The eldest stated my name.
“What?” I answered.
“How do people get cancer?” she asked quizzically, her long eyelashes batting heavily down her almond shaped eyes.
Part of me wanted to backhand her. It was a sensitive subject and I felt like she deliberately asked it.I started to panic a little; my arms were sweating, my heart slightly racing as I tried to maintain my composure. This little kid wasn’t about to have me shook. I paid bills around here too and if I wanted to put a switch to her behind, I would gladly do it with confidence.
“Emily,” her mother stated her name firmly and she ignored it.
“Well, everyone has cancer,” I began clearing my throat as it sounded a bit shaky.
“What?” Ashley turned around just in time to catch the lowdown.
“You mean I have cancer?” she continued and pointed to herself.
“Mommy, I don’t want cancer,” Eli stated. His shrill voice resonating.
“Mommy, I don’t want cancer,” he kept repeating until she finally responded that he didn’t have the disease.
He rejoiced and she sighed out loud.
“So only he doesn’t have cancer right?” Ashley stated.
“He does,” I responded.
“I do not! My mom says I do not” he tapped my leg with his little dirty fingers that a just moment ago was inside his nose. I quickly moved my leg and he still followed suit.
He was smarter than both those girls combined. At the age of four, barely off the ground, he already knew that the word cancer meant a negative connotation.
“We are born with cancer cells and our body is constantly fighting them off or the cells kills themselves,” I demonstrated by moving my arms around a fashion that emulated cell growth and death.
“A healthy immune system keeps them at bay,” I finished off with that sentence.
Now if you could image the faces of three children staring at you in awe as if you’ve shattered their perspective on life you would get in a good laugh.
They all looked lost in translation.
“What does at bay mean,” Ashley titled her head slightly to the left, the way she normally did when she was baffled.
“It means away,” Emily stated matter-of-factly.
“Guys, what are you going to eat before you go to bed?” their mother finally put down her phone. I found it amusing that she referred to her kids in such a casual manner.
“I want donuts,” the baby stated.
“Can I have a honey bun?” Emily remarked.
We waited for the middle child to speak.
“I don’t want anything,” Ashley replied.
“My stomach hurts,” Ashley said as she touched her forehead with her arm and her stomach with her other hand.
“Maybe you have cancer!” Emily added.
Their mother scolded them.
The next day when I got home from work, I learned that Emily got a bad note from school in her agenda stating that she had told her classmates that they all had cancer. That didn’t look too good on my part. I couldn’t punish her for speaking the truth. In the case of being the authority figure for three small kids, it’s vital to know just about everything. I mean, everyone does have cancer just maybe not active cancer.
I should’ve explained to them that I was not a doctor. They should’ve have been more compelled to ask someone else…. like a medically trained professional or maybe their mom, the nurse.