Sarah Jessica Parker—our guest designer editor and mom of three—honors Mother’s Day by shining a spotlight on Tracey Early, an inspirational mother and friend. Tracey graciously shares her story and chats with Sarah Jessica about parenthood and the importance of family—especially in the face of adversity.
I think we have all met extraordinary and inspiring mothers. I’ve found that one of the many joys of parenthood is how much I learn from other mothers, how comforting their shared experiences can be and how frequently the advice and examples of others teach me to be a better mother, especially at the most challenging times.
As we celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend, one particular mother comes to mind. Her name is Tracey. Her daughter, Lily, and my twin daughters have been classmates and dear friends for the last two school years. When we first met Lily, she was just coming back to school after a fairly long absence due to a diagnosis that required hospitalization and time apart from other children. I want to honor Tracey because she has shown and shared such courage, humor, grace, dedication, optimism and love through scary, exhausting and unthinkable days. We can honor all those unnamed mothers who share stories of challenges and struggles—not unlike Tracey’s—and remember them this weekend with love, respect and our very best wishes.
A little background from Tracey: Just over two years ago, we walked through the doors of Mt. Sinai’s Pediatric Oncology Clinic for the first time. Our daughter, Lily, who had just turned three, was fighting every step, begging us to take her home. We desperately wanted to, but we needed to figure out why she was suffering from severe knee pain and a high fever. We thought we were seeing an oncologist as a precaution to get the unlikely possibility of cancer “off the table.” My husband, Brian, and I prepared ourselves for what we imagined would be one of the saddest places we could visit. Little did we know but that very same clinic would become a deeply familiar place, one of comfort and hope, for our family. Our worst fear was confirmed later that day: Lily was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). She immediately began treatment, which involved eight intense months of chemotherapy infusions and steroid pulses, followed by 18 months of maintenance chemotherapy during which Lily could resume some of her normal activities. Now, over 26 months after her diagnosis, Lily has completed treatment and remains in remission. In five years, we hope her doctors will be able to deem her “cured.”
When Brian and I became parents, we never imagined that this would be our journey. I still struggle with the pain and discomfort Lily has faced, and suspect I always will. As Mother’s Day approaches and I think about myself as a mother, it is impossible to separate my journey from that of our entire family. I am beyond thankful for Brian’s unwavering positivity and nurturing spirit, our son Oliver’s ability to make us laugh and warm our hearts with his amazing smiles, and Lily’s incredible strength and good health today. Days like Mother’s Day are special because they let us pause, reflect and acknowledge all the things we are thankful for every day. As our family celebrates Mother’s Day this year, we will be celebrating more than me. We will celebrate our family, the friends who have been there every step of the way believing in us and supporting us when we thought we had nothing left, and the path we have traveled together. These are the things that have defined me as a mom, and I am grateful.
SARAH JESSICA: What inspires you?
TRACEY: Lily and Oliver inspire me. Lily’s courage and strength of spirit never cease to amaze me. Oliver’s ability to adapt and find joy in every adventure makes life so much brighter. They embrace their experiences with vigor. Thinking of them in times of weakness, fear or sadness changes my perspective immediately and inspires me to be stronger, braver and more positive. They certainly deserve the best version of “mom” that I can be.
What is the hardest part of being a mother?
For me, the hardest part of being a mother is accepting that making my children happy in a particular moment is not always what is best for them. My most extreme example is holding Lily in her hospital bed while she begged me to save her from the “scary monsters” and take her home. I had to remind myself that the “scary monsters” were doctors and nurses saving her life, and stop myself from unhooking her and taking her away from all the pain and fear. While the circumstances during her treatment were extreme, my internal process is not so different when making myself step back when she needs to sleep on her own or step in when she needs a boundary she doesn’t want to accept.
What is the most rewarding part of being a mother?
Getting to know these amazing little people. Lily and Oliver both have unique, dynamic personalities, and I feel so privileged to have this place in their lives. I am endlessly moved by Oliver’s sweet humor and Lily’s perceptive thoughtfulness. They fill my heart with laughter, pride and love.
What is the one thing you would have done differently as a mother?
I still feel like a new mom figuring out what works and what doesn’t. I don’t feel as though I am at a point where I can take the necessary space to see the one thing I would have done differently. I hope I will always feel this way, because I want to be able to bend and grow as a mom as my children go through new stages and experiences. At this moment, I wish I could have approached boundaries differently. I found it very difficult to “parent” Lily and Ollie through the intense phases of Lily’s illness. I desperately wanted to make Lily as happy and comfortable as possible since her illness and chemotherapies brought her so much discomfort. I also wanted to give her control whenever we could because her little body was subject to so many procedures, transfusions, infusions and treatments that were scary and completely outside of her control. I wanted to indulge Oliver as well, because his infancy and first year were overwhelmed by the upheaval of Lily’s diagnosis. He was only three months old when she got sick. I was pumping at the hospital or pediatric oncology clinic instead of breastfeeding him, and I felt tremendous guilt for my absence. I still feel inclined to “make it up to him” by relaxing boundaries even though I know that is not the best choice.
What do you do to pamper yourself?
I pamper myself by making time for a run, spin or swim every morning before they wake up. This provides me with the time and space to release my anger, worry and sadness. It also enables me to fearlessly embrace my happiness and appreciation for good news. During my runs, I am able to tap into my emotions and work through the ones I don’t want to face in stillness. I enjoy it so much and always feel strong, centered and capable afterwards.
What are some parenting tricks you’ve learned from your own parents/caregivers/other parents?
From you (through your interactions with your children and mine too!) I have learned the power of being completely present when I’m with my children. Whether having a conversation, reading together or just trying to get from one place to another, meeting them in the moment is meaningful and effective. I often find myself planning and organizing in my head as we go along, and that is usually when things start heading in the wrong direction. On the other hand, focusing on Lily or Oliver—their words or needs—almost always results in a much smoother path and creates more rewarding experiences for everybody.
What is your happiest memory as a mom?
I hope we continue making them every day! Right now I am thinking about watching Lily dance to Katy Perry’s “Firework” in our living room while Oliver clapped and cheered, “Yay, Ninny!”
What advice might you be willing to share with other’s who are parenting children who have health issues, and what did you find most helpful?
I appreciate that we all have our own unique journey, but our concern for our children’s well-being is powerful regardless of our situations. Facing an issue with your child’s health can be shocking, terrifying and devastating—especially at first. I am grateful for the advice that Lily’s doctor gave us when Lily was diagnosed. It anchored us and prevented me from getting lost in the fear and pain. She told us that Lily would look to us for an emotional example, so if we remained relatively calm and positive, then Lily’s treatment would not necessarily be a horrible, scary time for her. It would just become her “new normal.” This was incredibly motivating, and it provided us with a guidepost as we navigated unexpected turns. Brian and I vowed to make Lily smile each and every day of her 26 months of treatment. The fact that she did is a tribute to her, not us, but those smiles—of enjoyment, pride or pure silliness—carried our family through a very challenging time.
Share your Mother’s Day stories with me in the comments below and have a lovely Mother’s Day this weekend!
Until next time,