Sometimes the world seems against you
The journey may leave a scar
But scars can heal and reveal just
Where you are
The people you love will change you
The things you have learned will guide you
And nothing on earth can silence
The quiet voice still inside you
And when that voice starts to whisper
Moana, you’ve come so far
Do you know who you are?
“What will you be for Halloween?” I asked her, when her grin had greeted us on the school grounds. “I’m not very excited about it,” she answered, and I asked her why. “Because if I’m bad today, then I don’t get to go out for Halloween!”
I laughed. “Can’t you just be good then?” I asked.
She considered it for a moment, glum. “But being bad is my THING!”
There are days like these, when the boiling heat of yesterday has given way to cool breezes, and The Kid holds my hand on the way into school and, hours ago, sidled up next to me on the couch, placing his hand on my back and smiling conspiratorially at me over the antics of Little Brother. Days when life feels easy and light and full of promise, and I notice the blooms on the trees and tell TK and LB about them on the way to school, mentions of spring in the air directing our conversation.
Then there are the days that are supposed to be easy: the weekdays I’ve claimed for myself that instead become reclaimed by stomach bugs and sick kids. The weekend days that are claimed by birthday parties that end up becoming existential crises.
Saturday was one of those. Birthdays and their parties have been dropped across our year like gifts, invitations extended in a gracious series of welcomes into other lives. For me, though, they are fraught. I gear up mentally, coaching myself: Let him be him. Don’t hover. Just relax. Meanwhile, I stay clenched and sweaty for the two-hour duration, monitoring his social involvement and snack consumption while ruing over my own unavailability for adult conversation or just the sheer exhaustion that leads me to the periphery with him, gritting my teeth at his need for me expressed in a constant pulling of my arm even as I know what it feels like to be an outsider and want nothing more than to be his safe harbour.
These social events are full of kind people, one of them asking me in typical Australian phrasing, “How’s he going?” And I replied in positive terms. Later, I wished I had been more honest: That during the week, when he’s with his therapist at school, he’s going great, the reports are uplifting, his involvement certain and comfortable. But now, in this non-structured environment with a Batman entertainer who looks like he just stepped out of a bar and would very much like to go back, TK struggles to find his place, and it’s often right beside me. That this worries me and takes me years into the future, wondering how he’ll fare socially–whether the kids will continue to be kind and embrace him, or if they’ll leave him behind. I want to say that when I compare him to himself, he’s doing phenomenally well, but that when I watch his classmates climbing trees and interacting easily, I feel like crying. At how each step forward for him is a victory but also a battle. I forget sometimes about the battle part. I want that part to be done.
I don’t say any of that, because six-year-old birthday parties aren’t the place to empty your heart and guts in polite company over deep talks about identity. So I smile, and save it for later.
And there is, thankfully, a later. There is prayer and there are talks with The Husband and voice messages sent across the sea and there are chats here, around tables while our kids are playing, with friends who fight their own battles and who dive into the depths with me. There is another Aussie phrase–“Ah yeah, but look”–a preface that I’ve grown to love because real shit usually follows, not the polite Southern cliches of my youth. This particular day, over morning tea, I mentioned to my friend a story I’d heard recently, of a young mom with an awful diagnosis, and when I told her that comparing my life to hers made me aware of how grateful I should be, she said it:
“Ah yeah but look, you can’t go comparing to everyone else.”
And it didn’t end the conversation, but started it, the talk turning to how we take inventory of our own existences in comparison to others, and how there must be room to vent, to grieve, to talk about all of it. When we went to a movie later that week and I felt tempted to sneer at the neatly-wrapped ending, she had a different take and suddenly, I was free to shed my cynicism.
I am the sentimentalist and the cynic, the one in denial and constantly confronting, the warrior advocate and the one at the edges wishing to curl into the fatal position. I am all over the place, my fears and grief and love and anger and faith and lack of it propelling me over an emotional spectrum that leaves me exhausted and wondering:
Will we all be okay?
LB showed up to soccer ready this week, his lack of participation last week eclipsed by a near over-participation this time around, as he responded to every command from the instructors whether they were addressing him or not. My on-the-periphery TK suddenly arose and turned to me. “I want to go out there too,” he said. “I want a soccer team.”
We can all bring out the most surprising things in each other.
And after a birthday party that amounted to psychological warfare for me, TK and I walked out hand-in-hand before he bounded ahead, my fears eclipsed as he skipped, superhero cape trailing behind him, and smiled back to me conspiratorially at the secrets only we share.