The consequences of this question came into clear focus recently when I was invited to babysit my grandchildren while their parents were out of town. I confess to being a doting grandmother (a.k.a. Mimi) with a noodle spine and jumped at the chance to spend a week with these two boys, ages 5 and 2. Being three years apart gives the older one a sense of authority and he is very protective of his little brother. Of course the usual sibling rivalries exist, but the biggest problem is keeping little Carl from destroying big brother Paul’s Lego creations. Paul is a bit of a Lego genius, and we’re all very proud of his inventions.
As luck would have it, one night Carl was allowed possession of a marvelous little Lego forklift. He was lost in his own world of make-believe, with all the appropriate sounds and capabilities of this wondrous new acquisition, but it was just about bedtime. Under strict orders from Mom, I watched patiently as the hands on the clock marched forward, aware that I was in danger of losing my “Mimi license”. No amount of coaxing or cajoling could persuade Carl to start brushing his teeth. Finally I had to make a move. Holding him by the arms, I dragged him kicking and screaming into the bathroom.
Suddenly, Paul began shouting, “Mimi, stop! You’re hurting him! You’ve gotta use your patience. He’s just a little baby”. I watched in amusement as Paul tenderly wrapped his arm around little brother’s shoulder, and with a lilting voice soft and sweet, gently led Carl into the bathroom. “Now Carl”, he whispered, with a reverence saved for someone very fragile, “its time to brush your teeth”. You could have knocked me over with a feather. Carl went quietly under the protective wing of his brother, with big brown eyes looking over his shoulder to see my reaction.
Naturally, when it comes to exercising authority with children, you’d better let them know who’s in charge. The simplest daily routines present an opportunity to struggle for authority. Many parents are stymied by the frustrations of the bedtime ritual. They read books, converse on the internet, and attend workshops about how to conquer the demons that possess their children at this witching hour. What is the mystery of this ritual that makes every child rebel?
As a career cancer patient, I suspect this may be an early sign of the basic human survival instinct. To a small child, there is no tomorrow – only this moment, here and now. They don’t want to stop and go to bed. They don’t want to give up their toys, their games, or fantasies.
When faced with a cancer diagnosis, most people possess a healthy survival instinct. We naturally rebel, refusing to easily give up this game of life, our accomplishments, and our dreams. As a professional artist, for many years I have used my passion for art as a valuable survival tool, refusing to give cancer authority. But so many people don’t want the job of fighting for their life, and give the responsibility to someone else – their spouse, the doctor, etc. In other words, no one is in charge. If there was ever a time when you should take control of your life, it is when you are faced with a health crisis.
As an artist, I see the similarities between life and art. They both require the same hard work, discipline, and focus. Life itself is a blank canvas. You are the artist and you are holding the brush. Put color and texture on your canvas, or otherwise there could be nothing. Remember that you are in charge, and if you aren’t paying attention – no one is.
by Fran Di Giacomo, PHD
(Perpetually Hairless Dame)
Fran Di Giacomo is an artist, and author of I’d Rather Do Chemo Than Clean Out the Garage: Choosing Laughter Over Tears.