On Friday night, Vivi walked into the den in her pink penguin pajamas. Her fist was wrapped around a stack of four quarters. She leaned against my knee and held out the money. I opened my hand and she poured the coins in.
“What’s this, baby?”
“This is for my slice of cake. I want to help people with leukemia.”
In that moment, I couldn’t hold her close enough to show her how much I love her. I buried my face in that curly head of hair that smells like chlorine and hugged her as tight as I could. I breathed in my daughter, the first person in my life whom I’ve loved with every cell of my being.
In that moment, I felt joy that she has a generous and loving heart. I felt proud that she wants to contribute. I felt sad that she knows so much about leukemia because I am her mother.
I had organized a big cake auction and bake sale at work that day for the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society. This is the eighth year of the “Thrilla In Vanilla” and we raised $2435 in four hours. So for days, Vivi has been hearing about the Thrilla. She knows that I work with LLS because of Richard. Vivi knows that Richard’s blood stopped working and it couldn’t be fixed.
Thursday night, my neighbor and friend brought over a vanilla cream cheese pound cake to donate to the auction. It was still warm from the oven. The divine smell permeated the house. Of course, Vivi wanted a slice right away. I told her it wasn’t for us–it was to raise money for the Leukemia Society. She nagged, wheedled and puzzled about that cake for an hour. Friday morning, when I woke her up, she opened her eyes and said, “If I give you some money, can we eat that cake?” She was SERIOUS. And she’s sitting on a nice wad of cash from the Tooth Fairy, so I took her seriously.
I kept my eye on the pound cake during the auction and had to outbid a couple of folks, but I won “Vivi’s Cake.” When I picked her up from school, she asked if I had gotten the cake. I was happy to be able to say, “YES!!!” As we drove, I gave the kids some molasses cookies for a snack (sugar rush Friday at our house!). Vivi asked me who had made them. I said, “My friend, Denise. Her husband got a blood cancer but he’s better.”
“How did they fix it?”
“They gave him medicine and his blood went back to being healthy. The money Mommy raises helps pay for the scientists who discover the medicine.”
“Did your friend’s husband have leukemia or lymph-i-oma?” I didn’t correct her pronunciation.
“He had myeloma–it’s the other kind of blood cancer.”
Vivi thought for a second and asked, “Is he…the same color as us or a different color? Is he black?”
“He’s the same color as us. White people get myeloma, too, it’s just more common in African Americans.”
That’s when when my heart sank because I realized that this six-year-old can name two blood cancers and remembered that myeloma was more prevalent among African Americans….jeez. She knows way too much about this stuff. I felt bad that the only reason this information has entered her consciousness is because I brought it into her life. That’s some advanced Mom Guilt right there.
A few hours later, when we sliced into the pound cake after dinner, Vivi called the end piece with all that golden crust. Carlos learned to say “poun’ kek!” It was delicious–sweet and dense and rich.
But even sweeter was that moment when my first-grader, who may know too much about blood cancer for her age, paid one of her dollars for that slice of cake–to help people with leukemia.
The sad scary parts of life will come to her as they will. I can’t stop that, no matter how hard I try. But it’s my privilege to teach her that we can keep hoping, and giving, and believing.