It’s the same with every new group of people–and life has been full of those for the last few years. There’s the getting-to-know-you awkwardness, which my social anxiety allows me to feel keenly. There’s the wondering whether I should reveal all the sections of me that are a hot mess, which is to say, ALL OF THE SECTIONS: my history of pre- and postpartum depression and anxiety, my childhood quirks that have largely been resolved due to coping mechanisms (WINE) but which will always familiarise me with feeling a part of the “weird” kids, the outcasts; my American accent, which carries its own baggage (I promise I won’t shoot you and no, I didn’t vote for him); and, over dinner tables and in schoolyards, over classroom desks and social drinks, the spectrum diagnosis that somehow defines us and doesn’t, colours every day yet can be even forgotten in the monotony of just life.
There are people who wouldn’t have even known, they tell me, had I not told them about The Kid’s special Apple brain (our current preferred work for autism, thanks), and this begs the question: when’s the time, if ever, to admit we’re different?
I find that I’m drawn to the people who do admit it, so maybe the answer is…always?
My friend said it over the phone the other day: “Why do our kids always have to expose us?” And my thoughts were multi-fold: 1) Damn right. 2) Because they’re assholes. 3) Because that’s how grace works. Rudely, and effectively, because we need it. 4) I cannot wait for people to read the book CG and I are writing because this kind of stuff is all over it.
Because it turns out that it’s not so much about TK’s social challenges, or Little Brother’s struggle with not screaming “HELP!” at school to make his presence known, or the way that other kid picks his nose, because they’ve all got something, because we’ve all got something, and it’s really about that. About my stuff. About everybody’s.
The local grocery sells banged-up produce at a discount, but I’m wondering if that might be the best kind.
Last Monday, we were walking down our suburb’s main road, fresh off a trip to the toy shop, when an older kid passing in the other direction did a double take and stared at TK. I glanced at TK myself, wondering if he was standing out in any way and prepared to fight, then the older kid smiled. “Hi James,” he called out, and I relaxed as TK, predictably, glanced his way and ignored him for his new toy. But I turned to the kid. “Hi!” I compensated. “Do you know James?”
“Yeah, I went to his school last year,” he told me. “I’m at the high school now.”
I asked his name, thanked him for saying hello, and walked the boys to the car with tears in my eyes: we’re now getting stopped on the street. Sometimes–often? Always?–things aren’t what they appear at first.
Later, a girl who lives a few houses down knocked on our door and asked for a play. We headed to her front yard, populated with toys, and she pointed out a car to TK. “That’s a beautiful car,” he proclaimed, and she looked up at me and grinned. It wasn’t the response either of us expected. It was better. It was him.
And this past weekend, we were sociable every day and somehow are still alive. We connected with new friends and older ones over things happening to our kids, which are of course things happening to us, and there was frustration and anger and joy and laughter and all of it. We strategised and questioned and planned. “Here’s to not having it all together,” one of us said, and I exhaled a breath that I didn’t even know I was still holding. The kids ran around us, torches lighting up the sky and house, and a knock at the door revealed a policeman. He told The Husband he had been called by a neighbour who, because of the lights bouncing around, was worried we were being robbed. “I’m a bit embarrassed really,” he finished, “Now that I see what’s actually going on.”
After speculations were proffered in the hope we would end up subjects of this week’s crime section in the local paper, I thought about it again: all the first impressions that don’t have to persist, but can only be broken through the awkwardness, through the revealing, through the sticking around and not having it all together. This opening, like flowers to the sun, the light being the thing that both hurts, and keeps us alive.