Jane Roper

Writer. Blogger. Hater of Olives.

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Family Bear Night and Other 8-Year-Old Delights

FullSizeRender-7I love having 8-year-olds. I mean, yes, the number itself sort of makes me cringe, because MY BABIES! Where have my babies gone?!! They’re about to move from the k-2 grouping, which still has a toe in little-kid-dom, to the 3-5 realm, which is solidly big-kid territory — and the last gasp of childhood before (gulp) adolescence.

But for the moment, they’re at an age that straddles the imaginative sweetness of early childhood and the feisty independence and intellectual blossoming of later childhood that totally rocks.

Case in point: Family Bear Night.

Clio came up with this idea a couple of months ago. I think maybe it was on a Taco Tuesday (or Wednesday or Thursday, as our taco nights tend not to stick to a certain night). Tacos are a new addition to our dinner meal rotation. The girls had them at a friend’s house a while back, and begged me to make them, so after hemming and hawing a bit, I did, and you know what? Tacos are awesome. Old school with the kit and those hard shells and everything, just like Mom used to buy, with the modern twist of grass-fed sustainable blah blah blah beef because the environment. (Don’t start telling me how great tofu and kale tacos are or whatever. Seriously. Give me this one thing.)

Back to family bear night. When Clio brought it up and we said, “huh?” she explained that Family Bear Night meant having gummi bears for dessert, and “other bear stuff.” Our endearment for Clio has always been “Clio-bear” or just “bear” so I think she feels a special bond with these animals. But this Bear Night concept was pretty hazy, and we thought it would kind of fizzle out.

It didn’t, though. Clio kept pushing us to set a date, we kept pushing for details, and eventually it all came together.

Elsa created the decor, and a game of Pin the Fish in the Bear’s Mouth, which was a big hit. (Note natural leaf-crafted holder for the paper fish.)



After that, we played the Bear Board Game Clio had made. We each chose a bear pawn — Joe Bear, Bob Bear, Fred Bear, or Steve Bear — and whoever’s bear got to its cave first won. The fact that each bear’s path had a slightly different number of spaces only added to the fun of this lively and unpredictable game.



The dinner menu, which I’d planned with Clio’s input, included salmon (Obviously), a salad with blueberries, and gnocchi on the side, because Clio says it’s the pasta that most resembles bears, since it’s round. I noted that gnocchi also look a little like Winnie the Pooh’s honey pots. (Work with us here, people.) There were gummi bears and Teddy Grahams for dessert.



Alastair had gotten some movies from the library that featured bears, and the girls chose the movie Bears, which we watched after dinner. Along with some bears from the girls’ overBEARingly large collections of stuffed animals.



I think it’s fair to say that a BEAR-y good time was had by all.

See, I don’t think Family Bear night would have happened when the girls were six or maybe not even seven, given the complexity and forethought it required — not to mention the energy and enthusiasm, which Clio was shorter on while she was in treatment.  But I’m not sure it’s the kind of thing that will happen when they’re sophisticated, bear-weary ten-or-eleven-year-olds, either.

Meanwhile: There are kid-built fairy houses in the little strip of woods behind our house, occasional “restaurants” in service in the living room, serving plastic pretend food and accepting play credit cards or cash, and scenarios being played out in the dollhouse with squinkies and Littlest Pet Shop figures.

But there is also pop music on the radio in the car, middle-grade chapter books being devoured during reading time each day, Pokemon cards being compared, swardrobe preferences being expressed. When friends are over to play, I’m barely (Bearly) involved, except when I’m needed to supply snacks or hook up the sprinkler.

This is what it means to have eight-year-olds for us: A delightful mix of whimsy and imagination, ingenuity and creativity, and growing independence, with a touch of tween. There’s also still plenty of whining and talking back and intra-sibling-bickering and everything else that comes with having kids. But there are fewer headaches and hassles than there used to be, it seems. And a lot less stupid dumb cancer, too, which is a nice touch.

Here’s to a few more sweet years before they hit puberty and start hating me. (Sigh.)



So, my kid had cancer recently, and…

Nothing to see here. Just your typical, all-American family vacation.

Nothing to see here. Just your typical, all-American family vacation.

One of the odd things about life post-cancer-treatment, I’m finding, is navigating when and when not to reveal what our family just went through to people I don’t know well.

I mean, it was always a little tricky to know how or if to drop the C-bomb. But when Clio was in treatment it was such a big part of our lives that it was hard to avoid. It was part of what we did and who we were, so if the fact of Clio’s cancer was relevant to the conversation, I didn’t shy away from mentioning it. And, obviously, I blabbed about it willy nilly all over the internets.

Now, though, it’s less clear. Is bringing it up worth the explanations and reassurances (“she’s doing great!!”) it requires? Is it worth the potential discomfort for me and/or other people? Do I need to say something about it, or do I want to? And if so, why? (Or why not?)

Anyway, it leads to funny internal dialogues with myself.

Example: Recently, we were at a social event with families of kids our girls go to school with — people we’ve met just this year — and people got to talking about trips they’d taken to Disney World. As you may recall, we also took a trip to Disney World not too long ago — a trip we almost definitely wouldn’t have taken if Clio hadn’t had the opportunity to wish upon a star and alla that.

So I’m sitting there sipping my beer, and something kind of like this is happening inside my head:

Me: Should I join in this fun and entertaining conversation about Disney World that people are having?

Also me: Why shouldn’t you? You guys went to Disney World, right? Continue reading



A house in our neighborhood, last month. Spring is inevitable.

A house in our neighborhood, last month. Spring is inevitable.

A couple of weeks ago I took the girls to the poster decorating party for the Dana Farber Marathon Challenge partner program — the program through which Clio’s ass-kicking partner runner Katelin is running her fourth marathon this year to raise money for cancer research. (Help her reach her goal!) We’ve gone to the poster party the past couple of years, and it’s fun for the girls, and there’s cookie decorating (which should really be called put a cookie under a giant hunk of frosting and sprinkles and candy and jimmies).

But we skipped the other event — a partner “meet-up” party — that’s part of the whole DFMC partner program, and are skipping the next one, too: a big banquet the day before the marathon to honor the runners and the patients and the partner patients who have passed away  — which includes a slideshow of the faces of now-dead children. I guess it’s supposed to  make people feel fired-up and verklempt and resolute in their commitment to raising money and running 26.2 miles. But you can imagine the effect it has on the many parents of children with cancer — both still here and not — in the audience. The first year I went, while Clio was back at the hospital, I spent most of that slideshow staring at the napkin in my lap. (And, you know, then the finish line got bombed the next day. So there was that.)

We are, however, planning to go watch the marathon at mile 25 again, and give Katelin hugs when she runs past. I’ve always loved watching the marathon, for as long as I’ve lived in Boston, and Elsa loves it too. (Clio, honestly, could take it or leave it, but she’s a good sport!)

But back to that poster party: There was a little girl there, decorating her poster next to us. A little girl with a fuzz of post-chemo hair and a turned up nose and chubby steroid cheeks and a sweet smile and she reminded me so much of the Clio of a year or so ago. I got tearful, and I had to go to the bathroom and collect myself.

What is that surge of emotion about? I can’t quite put a finger on it. It’s a strange mix of nostalgia (how sweet and resilient and brave she was through all of it; what a sense of purpose and clarity we had) and sadness and pain.

I think now that we’re farther away from it all, no longer in the high seas of our crappy little boat trip, it hits me in a way that’s almost closer to the way it hit when Clio was first diagnosed. The fear isn’t there the way it was then, but the pain and even a little shock are. A feeling of: what the f— just happened??

It rises up in both expected and unexpected moments. Yesterday we were over at Children’s for a follow-up meeting on neuropsych testing Clio had down (more on that later), and as we were waiting to go in, I looked out the window and could see across to another wing of the hospital, and saw crayon drawings and words on kids’ hospital room windows; saw toys sitting on the sills. Little kid scribbles and stuffed animals; teenage peace signs and books. I saw a couple of parents through the windows. I remembered what that was like, living in those rooms — the worry, the tedium, the paradoxical sense of powerlessness and determination. The grieving for life before.

Before, before, before.

Continue reading


Having a kid with cancer is enough to worry about.

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 8.25.52 AMOn and off over the years, I’ve volunteered as a writer for an organization called Small Can Be Big that helps connect individual families in crisis with short-term funding, often for things like rent or repairs. I hadn’t done a story for a while, but just last week I offered to do one and totally by coincindence, it happened to be a request from a family whose young son has cancer. The mother has had to stop working to take care of him, the medical bills are stacking up, and they’re now behind on their mortgage payments. (You can read their story and help them here.)

This is an issue very close to my heart.  Ever since Clio’s diagnosis, I’ve been acutely aware of just how “best case” our scenario is, in terms of what our life looked like going into the ordeal: We were all healthy (not counting the cancer, I mean). My depression situation was and has remained (amazingly!) stable.  Our marriage and home life was good, and our finances were, too. We both had flexible jobs, and could still keep working to some degree. We had a large, loving circle of friends and relatives to support us.

We’re also lucky enough to live in Massachusetts where (thanks, Mitt Romney!) we have an excellent health insurance system. Any co-pays or expenses related to Clio’s care that our private insurance wouldn’t cover have been covered by Medicaid.

We had all this. All these advantages. And it was still so goddamned hard.

I can’t even imagine how much harder it is to be dealing with a seriously ill child and serious financial strain. Or other health issues. Or addiction. Or abuse. Or any of a million other things that regularly complicate people’s lives.

I can’t imagine it, but I try to. In fact it’s the scenario at the heart of the novel I’m working on right now: What it would be like for a very dysfunctional, very unstable family to have a child with cancer.

But I swear it’s not a completely depressing book! Honest!

Anyway, if you can, go pitch in a few bucks at Small Can Be Big to help a family who could use a hand right now.

And if you’re feeling further inspired, check out Pinky Swear — an organization with a pretty amazing story that’s dedicated to providing financial assistance to families of kids with cancer.  They reached out to me recently* after reading my post for Dana Farber on ways to help families facing childhood cancer. And they are doing excellent work.

It’s good to know that there are folks out there trying to make things easier on families going through what we did.




*I’m choosing to take Pinky Swear getting in touch, and the Small Can Be Big thing, as signs that I’m writing the novel I should be writing. Or something. Right? (Work with me here, people.)


Four feet and counting


Tubular Elsa

No, that title doesn’t refer to the amount of snow we’ve gotten in Boston in the past month. (That would be seven feet and counting.) It’s about something far cheerier and that — bonus! — doesn’t cripple major public transportation systems. Not that I know of, anyway.

So. Last week was February vacation (because we totally needed more time off from school after 6 snow days in less than 3 weeks), and we spent a couple of days up in Maine, visiting my parents.

On one of those days, we braved 17-degree temperatures to take the girls snow tubing – something we’d never done before. I’d previously toyed with the idea of taking them somewhere for a skiing lesson, but once I tried to actually imagine it (dealing with rentals, dealing with the girls freaking out at how the boots felts and how hard it was to walk in them, dealing with the immense expense) I said screw that. I’d be doing shots in the lodge by 10 am. And I don’t even do shots.

With tubing, there are no rentals, no crazy moon-boots that are impossible to walk in if you’re a human being with ankle and knee joints, and little to no risk of tears of frustration – just big rubber tubes, a little magic carpet to ride up the hill, and a bunch of lanes to zoom down from the top. AND it was less than $80 for the four of us.

We also got to enjoy a mini-milestone for Clio: The deal at this place was, if you were under 4 feet, you had to go on a double-tube with an adult. But if you were over 4 feet, you needed to go on your own.

Guess who’s finally made the 4-foot mark? Continue reading

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