It’s a Bit Different!

I’ve never associated the scent of gardenias with Christmas. But this year…it’s a bit different.

It was the first thing that hit me as I approached the new house we’re renting for the first time since we’d gotten the key last week. The fragrance of the white blooms by the front porch took me by surprise–I’m always surprised when there are things here that also exist in America–and I took it as a welcome into our new home. Much as I did the bottle of champagne waiting on the counter with a note to that effect, left by the owners. “I think we’re going to be very happy here,” I thought, atypically and unabashedly optimistic.

In the past week we’ve packed up one house, moved to another (one street over), unpacked there, and hosted The Kid’s sixth birthday party. The physical and emotional whiplash of such a combination of efforts has been eased by the fact that we love this house, and it’s on a street full of kids from TK’s school. And the party…it was like almost everyone we’ve come to know and love in Australia was gathered in one place to celebrate TK, and it was beautiful. Beautiful enough to bring tears to my eyes. Beautiful enough to give me a hangover the next day. Beautiful enough for me to see how far we’ve all come–like when TK’s friends started singing the Happy Birthday song and he ran around the corner, overwhelmed by all the attention, and when I went to encourage him back in, I was greeted with his grin–then we were greeted by the knowing laughs with, not at, him, the “Oh, that’s just James” acceptance that has been such a touchstone of our experience here. Not long ago, his running off would have wrecked me. Now, I laughed. That’s just James.

Also last week was his school’s dance performance, with each class performing their own routine, and The Husband and his therapist and I waited, not knowing for sure how he’d do. It was our moving day, and I was sweaty and tired and irritated, and then his class came on–and he was amazing. Not because he was perfectly coordinated or didn’t miss a step, but because he was there, doing it. He belonged. And most importantly, he loved it. At both (yes, both) performances. I sat beside TH and friends and we celebrated our kids together, from the one who nailed the whole thing to the one who overcame a history of stage fright to push through.

And his therapist told me later that at school, they had been talking about what makes each of them beautiful, and TK had said, “My brain is special. That’s what makes me beautiful.” Later in the week, his teacher told me about all the other teachers who had commented on his comfort onstage, and she said, “I know what his gift is. He makes people happy.”

It was a different week. It was a hard week. It was a wonderful week.

At another visit, I was talking to his occupational therapist about the adjustment to having a Christmas season in the heat–how different it feels. The beating sun and long days, they don’t feel like Christmas to me, as back in the States the snow falls. That feels like Christmas. Butt sweat does not. She articulated what I’d been trying to–that it lacks atmosphere here–and I realised that sometimes it helps just to name a thing. Different. The simple act of identification can lessen the grief over what isn’t.

So I listen to more Christmas songs to compensate, and stare at the tree a lot. The view from our new home doesn’t hurt, either.

When TK was born, and then Little Brother, they were the first boys in the family since my parents’ generation. I’d always wanted boys but quickly realised that some babysitting in my teens had not prepared me for the difference between growing up around girls and learning how to, for example, dress circumcision wounds. Or toilet train with different appendages. The differences to what I was used to were glaringly obvious, and I wondered what I had to offer this generation of small men. I’m slowly coming to understand that being around women much of my life is exactly what prepared me to raise them–that this is what I can give them, this different perspective, an awareness of who women are and how to treat them. The different, it becomes the integral. It becomes the beautiful.

TK often screeches in frustration, “It’s a bit different!” when he encounters a situation that presents him with the unexpected. It’s a negative commentary, usually. But last week at school, his therapist told me, there was a day where the schedule was chucked and everything was out of the ordinary. And at one point, TK turned and–with a glee-filled smile on his face–exclaimed, “IT’S A BIT DIFFERENT!” His joy at the new and unusual becoming an act of celebration.

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