The Middle Ages: Here are some of the ways our children helped their mother cope with cancer

The summer harvest is in. These backyard tomatoes are part of the “victory garden” the oldest boy planted.
(Chris Erskine)

I like the homegrown tomatoes on the windowsill, the way the sun catches their sunburned smiles. Every now and then I’ll pop one into my mouth like Valium.

The older boy grew them, part of the “victory garden” he installed out back when his mother became ill. Tomatoes, onions, peppers and a wall of morning glories. “Take two tomatoes and call me in the morning,” he told her one day.

Children are the best medicine, right?

In distinct ways, each kid has helped Posh through her cancer fight. One daughter moved back from the Midwest to support her, the other put down everything to assist with the house and doctor visits.


And the older boy tended to this backyard garden, growing tomatoes in a land I never could. Too dry. Too blasting hot. You’d have better luck growing clover on your uncle’s forehead.

But somehow, he managed a fine crop of tomatoes for us, the House of Salads.

The other day, our younger daughter, Rapunzel — or, as I sometimes call her, Thing No. 2 — was going on and on about the lunch she was planning with arugula and baby kale cradling an egg white. Which, to me, is basically fried chalk.

The little guy has lived an all-digital life. Never used a protractor. Never been in a bank.

“This dad bod can be no more!” Rapunzel proclaimed, and in order to cinch up her waistline had enrolled in a workout class she dreaded, after which she would eat all this yummy fried chalk.

Her implication is that dad bods are unsightly. I’ll give her that, but to dismiss an entire demographic as flabby and unfit for the beach is simply the sort of stereotyping that this society will no longer tolerate. Besides, it’s almost winter, so who cares?

“Hey, I resemble that remark,” I told Rapunzel when she complained about having a dad bod.

“What’s that mean?” asked the little guy.


“Hey, you want some bacon?” I asked him.

“Sure,” he said.

“Want a bacon, honey and peanut butter sandwich?” I said.

“Ewwww,” he said.




This is how the little guy has helped. By being incorrigible. By being his usual monkey-boy self.

After all, what kind of zoo animal turns down a bacon, honey and peanut butter sandwich? It is one of God’s great little gifts, along with whipped cream and the sound of fluegelhorns.


“It’s not the ’80s anymore, Dad,” the little guy explained.

Which is pretty funny, because he wasn’t even alive in the ’80s. In fact, he wasn’t even alive in the 20th century, so there you have his stupid little frame of reference. He thinks of Pat Benatar the way I think of Beethoven.

The little guy has lived an all-digital life. Never used a protractor. Never been in a bank. Never had a grass stain on his jeans or stolen an apple off a neighbor’s tree. Except to trick-or-treat, I’m not sure he’s ever been outside.

“Whata you know?” I ask him. “You were born last week.”


“Yeah?” he says.

“Yeah,” I say.

As you know, clever banter like this is almost dead in America. Our son doesn’t hear it on TV or see it in the movies, so it’s only at home where he experiences these rainbows of wry asides and witty rebuttals.

Yesterday, Posh and I argued for half an hour in very entertaining fashion. Posh insisted that, on such a miserably hot day, we should “throw a bunch of beer in the kiddie pool and call it dinner.” I argued that her idea was preposterous unless she threw in some limes.


Round and round we went, till she started chasing me across the yard with a shovel. “You win, you win, you win!” I shouted as I sailed over the fence.

Then we discussed contemporary literature.

“Could the kid maybe — just once this summer — read a book?” I asked her.

“I told you, it’s not the ’80s anymore, Dad,” the little guy chimed in.


To be fair, every once in a while the little guy will pick up a book. It’s not a common event. It’s sort of like when a plane flies directly between you and the sun, and for a brief second, a shadow passes over the yard, and you wonder: “Wow, where did that come from?”

That’s about how often he reads a book.

But Posh, to her credit, now has him reading one of the classics: “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” which is like “The Great Gatsby,” except it was written by a bird.

Sure, it’s not like growing perfect tomatoes, like his brother does, or spooning on the couch with Mom on her tough days, like his sisters.


It’s just one book, and by reading it he makes his old man maybe 12% less frantic.

To see him read is my martini. To see him read can be the best medicine of all.

Twitter: @erskinetimes



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