Through a Mirror, Darkly

“…it does deepen you to be dark-minded…if you’re lucky or if you come out of the other end of it, it also brings you to compassion, I think, for other people.” –Mary Karr

The other day I had the thought–much like Carrie Bradshaw in her series finalewhat if this had never happened? The “this” in question was TK’s diagnosis, almost exactly three years ago. The denial afterward. The ache for so long about what it meant, what he and we had lost. The scramble to find a school and therapists for him.

The school we found for him. The therapists who came into our house every week. The people we met in waiting rooms and therapy centres. The school where we landed here in Sydney. The therapists who have become like family. The friendships we’ve made, deeper because of what they know and how they help.

Would I take it away, I wondered, knowing what I know now? Three years down the road?

A friend called last week during the wreckage that was the start of school for TK and Little Brother, in the midst of my guilt and anxiety and nausea, the ups and downs of an adjustment period knocking us all flat. She told me that she had spoken to TK’s teacher from last year about what a wonderful class it had been, how special it was and how they missed it, how it had been different from other classes. Why was that, my friend wondered.

The teacher spoke TK’s name. She said that sometimes “different” can pull apart, but sometimes it can establish. Bring together. Call out the best. That, last year, it–through TK–had done the latter. I put down the phone and cried: my boy, seen. Known. What could be better than that?

Differences can tear apart or mend. So, I think, can likenesses. Sometimes, when I look at my children, I think that what can piss me off the most is when they resemble me.

LB with his fiery demands, the latest being a line of PJ Masks figurines lined up just so before he does ANYTHING: using the toilet, brushing his teeth, BREATHING. His bottomless need for affection (“sit by me” meaning “let me sit on top of you”) doing battle with his independence and need for space, all on his terms. TK and his curiosity, reflected in a million whys a day, constant background sound doing battle with his occasional reflection periods, a processing going on beneath the surface that can be so easily missed. His anxiety raising my own, or maybe it’s the other way around?

I’ve had a voice inside my head my whole life, a constant narrator who serves as judge, and I’m only recently learning how to turn it off. Then TK shows up to replace it, or wrangle with it for preeminence in the moment, and I want quiet even while remembering the years of silent aching, hoping he would speak. The same friend told me that her daughter came home the other day, telling her, “I heard James on the playground today! His voice is so cute.” And I thought about that all week, this voice that I ached for and now could use a mute button for, how it can be all things at once–but yes, mainly very, very cute.

I like my kids better when they’re a window rather than a mirror: when they open up new ways of seeing things that are easier to write about in blog posts or capture on Instagram. When they crack jokes rather than whine, when they hug rather than pull, when they smile rather than cry. I want them to be better than I am in the moment so that the moment will be easier for me. That’s really ugly, and a hell of a demand to put on a child. It’s also being human, and it’s bound to happen within five minutes of my picking them up from school today.

Would I take it away? The hard parts, the things I didn’t want to hear, the diagnoses and the adjustments and the pain? Three years ago I would’ve. And in so doing would have erased everything that makes us who we are, who we’re becoming, who we’re meant to be.

Today at school drop-off, one of TK’s friends came up and tried to hug him. He tried to escape the embrace, but she wouldn’t let him. Despite his running and pushing, she kept on (#neverthelessshepersisted) until, finally, her tiny arms wrapped around him and he was still, his No turning into a Yes, the acceptance of a love that wouldn’t let him go.

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