Ten years later I still can’t believe I did this.
But, I guess when your mother catches you keeping one of the biggest secrets of your life, you do as you’re told.
Rewind the tape to 2003 when President George W. Bush had declared the United States would invade Iraq. If you remember correctly, he just didn’t say exactly when, which, it turns out, set up my predicament.
Over at CNN, where I was a long-time news anchor, I was one of those on standby to head to the Middle East as soon as we got the word. I had gone through what they call “War School” safety training. My bags were packed. Everything was crossed off my “To Do” list.
Specifically on my “NOT To Do” list was tell my parents.
“Why worry them?” I decided after talking it over with my brother and sister. Sure, I planned to tell them as I was boarding the plane, but why add the stress of not knowing when I would go?
They certainly had enough on their worry plates. Weeks into the waiting game, I found myself in Los Angeles, where my father was in one hospital being treated for internal bleeding and my mother was about to have surgery for her recently diagnosed breast cancer.
That’s how my mom and I found ourselves in a hospital cafeteria, making small talk, eating green jello and bad cole slaw the night before her surgery.
Somehow we got talking about the upcoming war. I thought I was so smooth keeping it to politics and generalities.
That’s when my mother looked me straight in the eye and busted me, “You’re going, aren’t you?”
“What do you mean?” I replied digging down for my best denial.
“When the war starts, CNN is sending you to cover it. Aren’t they?”
I was more busted than a teenager breaking curfew. I spilled everything.
“Yes, I’ve been trained. Yes, I’m standing by. Yes, I didn’t tell you. But if you don’t want me to go, I won’t.”
My mother got very quiet. Paused for what seemed like a century.
“What are you going to wear?” she asked.
“Excuse me?” I said.
“What are you going to wear? I mean what are the ladies wearing to war these days? Blazers? Leather jackets? I know! Let’s go shopping!”
“Shopping?” I said. “Dad’s upstairs in a hospital bed. You’re having breast cancer surgery tomorrow and you want to go shopping?”
“Look,” she explained. “I can’t control what happens with my surgery. God knows I can’t control your father. But I can control what my kid looks like on international television. You’ll do me the greatest favor — let’s go shopping.”
That’s how I ended up in the stores the night before my mother’s surgery. Cancer makes you do crazy things. I still have the khaki pants, leather jacket and bright shirts “for a splash of color” we picked out that night. They were perfect.
It’s been 10 years since breast cancer came into our family. Ten years since I reported the start of the war. My life these days is hardly so glamorous. Jeans and a T-shirt cover 99 percent of my wardrobe requirements as a wife, mother and columnist.
My mom? Ten years later, she’s still at it.
A large envelope arrived in the mail the other day. Inside was a pretty red dress. It’s something I could wear to a fancy dinner party or anchor a newscast.
“Mom, I have nowhere to wear this dress,” I protested.
“You’ll do me the biggest favor,” she said. “You’ll keep it. It makes me happy to think you have something in your closet should an opportunity arise.”
You know what happened.
I kept the red dress.
Gratitude makes you do crazy things.
Ten extra years of having my mom around because doctors caught her breast cancer early.
I’m so glad about that.
And that is no secret.