Madeline shuffled into our bathroom this morning, her cheeks marked with creases from the imprints of her sheets, rubbing the sleep from her eyes with her fists. She squinted in the bright lights of the bathroom, and then her face lit up with a smile when she saw me standing there, putting on makeup. She moved in close, wrapped her arms around me, and squeezed tight.
She woke up rather quickly after that, and the words started pouring out.
“Mommy, I went to the ballet with Erica and I loved it! And there was a mouse king but he was bad, and then I had lasagna. And Erica flat-ironed my hair and I got to slice the birthday cake Aunt Bee ordered. And Daddy let me try my new rollerblades on and he pulled me around the house twice.”
She paused momentarily to catch her breath. “And can I have a bounce house for my birthday party this weekend? Or maybe can Magic Mike come? Oh, and I took cupcakes to school yesterday, for my class, and Daddy let me keep four of them at home so we could have them for treats. And Aunt Bee is sending me some books to read for my birthday. Did they come yet?”
This is what I was greeted with this morning, and I loved every frantic minute of it.
Shortly after my last post – in fact, less than a week after — I headed to Arizona for three days for a work meeting. I got home on a Saturday evening, and in less than 36 hours later, on the following Monday, I was back in the hospital for four 12-hour days on our cancer floor, caring for the inpatients and seeing patients newly diagnosed with cancer. Less than 24 hours after that, I headed to Atlanta for another work conference. And finally, after a 3 hour delay in the Atlanta airport, I got home last night, well after the kids were asleep.
I haven’t seen my kids much since Thanksgiving, and it has seriously affected my mental well-being.
While in Atlanta these past several days, for the annual hematology conference I attend, I shared a room with my good friend and fellow oncologist, Julia. I’m pretty sure that I was a crappy roommate to have. During the down time between meetings — sessions on the diagnosis and treatment of various lymphomas, prognostic factors of chronic leukemias, and other such exciting topics — I lamented missing Madeline’s first competitive swim meet this past Saturday. I worried over missing her ninth birthday on Sunday, a birthday Madeline had been looking forward to and talking about for what seems like months.
I was homesick, and I’m certain it showed.
But now I’m home finally. Finally.
And as I write, I sit on the sofa, my feet propped up on the coffee table, with Oliver pressed against my left side, snuggled in his red blanket, and Madeline, hair still wet from her shower, nestled up against my right side. A Tinkerbell DVD, one of my daughter’s birthday presents, is playing on the television while I write this. And it feels as if I’ve been here this whole time. Exactly where I belong.
It’s a good feeling, being here with them, snuggled on the sofa together.
The past couple of weeks have exhausted me, physically and emotionally. And tonight, here with my kids and my Sam, I know that I’m home.
And home is a very, very good place to be.
* * * * *
Banana bread has nothing to do with this story, except that it’s cozy, like a warm hug from your children after too many nights away. Trust me on this.
Chocolate Banana Bread
Cook Time: 60 minutes
A sweet spin on my super-moist banana bread, this version is more dessert than snack. Regardless, you won't regret making it. It's guaranteed to be a success, whenever you serve it.
1-1/2 cups (6.75 ounces; 188 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 ripe bananas
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) butter, melted
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup sour cream (light or full-fat)
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place rack in the middle of oven. Butter a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda.
Use the back of a fork to mash the bananas in a large bowl. Add the melted butter, sugar, beaten egg, vanilla, and sour cream, and mix well. Add in the flour mixture and stir until well-incorporated. Stir in the chocolate chips. Scrape batter into the buttered loaf pan and bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Serve warm or at room temperature.