Friday, May 20th
Tristan and I drove down to the city on Monday of this week for his chemo on Tuesday, and we stayed at Family House — in its new Mission Bay location! — both Monday and Tuesday nights. The new set-up is…incredible. The non-profit’s phenomenal fundraising team found 43 million dollars for the project and, from the looks of it, they made every cent count.
In its previous set-up in the Sunset District, Family House could house thirty-something families each night. In Mission Bay, where crane silhouettes decorate the skyline in every direction and shiny new buildings sprout daily from the grounds of the former industrial zone, the new Family House can support 80 families on five floors with ten kitchens.
But it’s not the size that’s so jaw dropping. Indeed, the need is so great and the UCSF hospital social workers are pointing so many new patients families in the direction of the expanded Family House, that the new building will soon be at capacity every night. No, what’s so phenomenal is the careful consideration put into every detail. In the row of brand new orange B.O.B strollers parked along the wall of one hallway, in the Scandinavian-design wooden high chairs in each dining room, in the cushions on the steps of the central staircase that encourage a sort of “hanging out on the stoop”, and in the beautiful shiny new cooking pots hanging above each kitchen island there’s a message that’s something like this: Even though you’re staying here for free, and maybe you lost your job because you had to move here to be near your kid in the hospital, and your life has turned to shit one way or another since the diagnosis, that doesn’t mean you deserve the crummiest of everything. No, in fact, we love you and we think you deserve a little beauty and some comfort and maybe even the best of some things.
The place is beauuuuutiful. Nobody EVER stays at Family House for a good, happy reason. No woman ever stayed there to recover after delivering a chubby, cooing, healthy baby, for instance. Really, I can’t think of a single joyful medical event that would bring somebody there. But maybe in this beautiful place, those of us who stay there might be able to forget for just five minutes why we’re there. Maybe a mother sitting in the sunshine streaming through the tall family room windows will forget for just five minutes that she hasn’t yet found on the internet any other parents who can say their kid with an aneurysmal bone cyst has been cured. (I met that mom on this trip.) Maybe a teenager listening to music in the big kids’ lounge will forget for just a few minutes that his bone marrow transplant to his little sister doesn’t seem to be working. Maybe a husband and wife frying pork and onions for enchiladas, chopping tomatoes and chilis for salsa, in the bright, clean kitchen can stop worrying for a few minutes about the scary surgery one of the kids waiting at the table will have tomorrow.
Maybe none of us ever really forgets, but there’s something about the love that was put into this building that will help. It simply feels good that these folks care so much.
I have to also mention that when Family House moved, they took along their housekeeping company. This is so touching, so important. In the old place, one of the housekeepers sat down every morning to have tea and a comfortable conversation in Spanish with the mamas living on that floor. It would have been terrible if that had ended with the move, and I was so happy to see that kind woman at the new place.
Tristan and I had an excellent sleep on Monday night after our long drive, and we had a slow morning on Tuesday. We walked with the stroller to meet Susan and Noah, who were at the hospital for bloodwork, for lunch. Noah was feeling great, and the boys got along fabulously at the restaurant. After we ate, Susan and Noah walked back to Family House with us to see our new digs. They were duly impressed. Then we all headed back to the hospital as we happened to have simultaneous appointments at the clinic.
Tristan was a superstar at the clinic. A+++. Not a single tear rolled down his cheek. His lip didn’t even quiver. He played on an iPad with Noah and chatted with doctors and nurses. What an incredible difference from the previous port access tantrums! I’m so proud of him.
Tuesday evening we had dinner with Dudley Carlson, who, as the children’s librarian for the Princeton Public Library back in the 70s and 80s, was my personal book recommender and supplier throughout my childhood. Dudley, now living near Palo Alto, has stepped into that role for my kids. To supplement the three or four cardboard boxes of AMAZING kids books she has sent since Tristan’s diagnosis, she handed over to Tristan a stack of beautiful books, as well as a plastic crayon piggy bank, which was an instant hit. I very much enjoyed our dinner over a bottle of Chianti.
Wednesday’s drive home was smooth, and early, as Gary left that morning for a business trip to the UK and I wanted to be sure to be home before the school bus arrived at the top of the driveway. We managed to make it to the kids’ karate class that night, where Tristan, dressed as Captain America, defeated a second degree black belt in hand-to-hand combat. Ok, not really, but it’s a great photo and the guy was a real champ for letting it look that way.
On the first Sunday of the month, five women Kneeland friends and I ran a half marathon at the Avenue of the Giants. The weather was perfect, the friends were fabulous, and it was loads of fun. The only downside was when, around mile 9, my left knee began to complain, but we got through it. Gary and the kids were there to meet me at the finish line. In running the race, Team Kneeland raised over $2000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
The last few weeks were filled with all kinds of…normal things for us, especially for Tristan. We went to the Discovery Museum a few times, and to the kids gym. The latter was tough for me, as he and I were last there the morning of his diagnosis. I remember sitting with him to do the warm-up stretches, which he was happy to do. But then, when it was time to get up and run around, he had only wanted to be held. His pediatrician had called while we were there to give me the results of his blood tests; my phone was on silent in a locker and I got the message to call him immediately when we left the gym. This time, Tristan was again running around and swinging from a rope. Good times.
Next trip in 26 days…