Thursday we went to see Princesses on Ice. It's exactly the kind of show that, even two months ago, would make me roll my eyes, slump in my seat, maybe even scowl a bit.
I was happy to take my kids. I'm the one who sought out the tickets. My girls, like an estimated 87.3 percent of 3-year-old girls in America, are into Disney's Princess factory now, and so I thought they would love it.
(My 5-year-old son wasn't so sure. I thought he would love it, but he asked me before we got in the car, "Are there going to be other boys there watching? I reassured him that there probably were going to be other boys there. I saw one of them about his age walking to the doors. I pointed him out. I'm glad I saw one early on. There WERE boys there, but let's just say at the break that the line for the boys' bathroom to the girls line was like comparing the New York Marathon's to Idaho's Potato Run).
(I really don't know if Idaho has a potato run, but it probably does, and if it does, you can probably assume it's less than the NY Marathon. Sorry, where was I?)
So sure, I'm always happy to take my kids to crap like this. But that's how I saw it. As events to endure, not necessarily to enjoy. We take hits like this all the time as parents. We have to watch Care Bears in the car and Wonder Pets at home, even though I'd rather be watching Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead or, this time of year, college basketball (Go Kansas!). Occasionally you get lucky and a new Pixar movie comes out. Most of the time, you are sacrificing your own thirst for something enriching for your children's sake.
And then I met Delaney Wadsworth.
• • •
Delaney was a 3-year-old girl from a nearby town where I lived with a brain tumor. She was exceedingly popular. She would have been head cheerleader and homecoming queen for sure later in her life. Her Facebook page was followed by 35,000 people at last count, or twice the population of the town where she lived.
Yet I stayed away from any kind of a story, even though I'm usually the one at the Greeley Tribune who does them. The human interest beat, they call it, though I prefer to approach it as the kinds of challenges we all face and how normal people beat them or at least cope with them.
Journalism is full of what we call — rather cynically, I know — diseased kid stories. I did approach our photographer earlier in the year and ask if maybe we should be doing it. He said he didn't want to do yet another story on that and watch a kid die. I agreed with him and left it alone.
Only, after meeting the parents for another story, a friendship they struck up with another family who lost their 18-year-old girl to the same very rare brain tumor Delaney had, I was impressed with Jason and Brenna's approach. They had decided not to treat her illness. They weren't selfishly trying to pump her full of chemotherapy just to keep her around a little longer. They were choosing to fill her remaining days with activities, like raising baby goats and going to Disney World, instead of hospital visits.
I saw this as a story about life rather than death. I ignored it for a few days, then finally listened to my urging instincts and approached my editor, who initially had the same reaction I did until I told him about my angle.
Granted, this kind of tumor, DIPG, leaves little hope that any treatment would work, anyway, so their decision was a little easier. A little. At least at first. Ironically, just as Jason and Brenna said they would welcome me into their lives, they got the news that Delaney had less than two months to live unless they did a round of radiation on her. That miserable treatment might give her another month.
I spent as much time as I could without ignoring my other duties at The Tribune, my family or wearing down their patience (which, to my amazement, was infinite, at least with me and our photographers).
I am proud of the package as a whole, the photos, the video I made and the story. I think it's important.
It also killed me. When I would see Delaney, I would see the faces of my 3-year-old girls. I saw pain in Jason and Brenna's eyes that hit me like shots to the kidney every time I interviewed them. I knew in some way, at least much more than I used to, what they were feeling. I was there the day Delaney slipped into a coma. It was heartbreaking and traumatic not just for the parents but for me. I was a wreck the rest of the day.
I in no way pretended to believe that I was suffering anywhere close to what Jason and Brenna were feeling. But it did hurt me.
It changed me a bit too.
• • •
The story, of course, is a sad one. Gut wrenching at times, in fact. But there's hope in it, I hope, as well. I won't give away too much. You'll just have to read it.
Still, what hurt me more than Delaney's death was the little moments. There was a day when Delaney wanted to go swimming. They took her, of course. I talked to Jason about it later.
"For a while," he wrote me back, "it almost felt normal."
Everyday, little fun moments, the kind that parents, including me, especially me, not only take for granted but view as necessarily trials to kill the days and wear them out, were rare treasures to Jason and Brenna as Delaney weakened. They did their best to do those things every day, but eventually, those moments became less frequent, until they completely disappeared.
It made me think that life is not only trips to Disney World or contained in fun things that we like to do as adults, like Vegas. It is, in fact, in trips to the pool, which I'm planning to do as soon as I finish this post. It is in the moments that we look on things to endure, like a Princesses on Ice night out with the girls and Jayden, when we walk past 75 souvenir booths (seriously) and lemonade stands and pizza spots all meant to make our kids beg and stay up too late and then wake up at 5 a.m. to run 10 miles and spend the rest of the day tired and yawning.
I am beginning to understand that a bit more thanks to Delaney. And during the performance, when Snow White came out to the pre-recorded dialogue and canned music, the smile on my face was almost as big as the girls'.