great expectations


Things are good. They’re really good.

They are, right? Yes, I know they are. I believe they are. So why – why do I keep having to remind myself that they are? Why have I been walking around in this marshmallow haze of a funk since New Year’s? Why am I working so hard to convince myself that I am happy? I am, right? Things are good. I mean, I just said it, so it has to be true. It’s right there on the screen. So yeah, things are good.

I know it. I just don’t feel it. It’s been a frustrating few days. I feel like I can’t get out of my own way.

There have been these awesome, wonderful things happening. Brooke’s Curious Critter party was incredible. I promise to write more about it soon, but it was magic. Brooke has friends. She was a hostess. She took her little posse by the hand and led them to her room. Then to her playroom. She ushered them around the house. They followed. She looked at a picture later of herself with her little buddy and said to the screen, “We’re best friends.”

Amazing, life changing moments. HUGE, watershed moments. And still.

Katie and I have enjoyed some fabulous time together. We snuck out on Sunday to see Bedtime Stories – just the two of us. We laughed, we cried, we cuddled over popcorn. We people-watched in the lobby and made up a name for every single person who bought a ticket. I fell in love with her fifty times over before we ever found seats. And still.

There’s the very real possibility that soon many of you – my dear cyber friends – will be stepping out of the screen and into my my life, my home. We will break bread together, drink, laugh, BE together – and in so doing, we will help one of our own to realize a dream for her child. I’m over the moon. And still.

On New Year’s day, we went out for lunch as a family. We chose an off time and went to a familiar little place at the mall in town. The mall was very quiet and we assumed that the restaurant would be the same. We were wrong.

As the restaurant filled, Brooke became increasingly anxious. As toddlers yelled to their parents, she covered her ears with her hands. When a child cried, she crouched in the booth just below the table, trying to jam her tiny hands more forcefully into the sides of her head, the better to muffle the sound. When it proved futile, she asked for her headphones – a quantum leap forward. She had never asked for them before. They were always something that Luau and I brought out when we needed a big gun. They had been our tool for her. She was making them her strategy for herself.  It was wondrous and momentous. My gut ached as I looked into those pleading little eyes only to realize that we had forgotten them. She yelped sharply, but stifled it quickly. She looked up at me and said, “I would need to go home.”

I was so proud of her. It was so different, you know? It was older, more mature, more skilled, more practiced. She had strategies. She had tools. She knew what she needed. She had the words to ask for it. All the things that we’ve been working so hard to give her. She made her way through her tool box – cover ears, cover harder, ask for music, and finally, use words to pull the ripcord and get the hell out. She was a rock star. And still.

I took her out of the restaurant and we walked through the mall. She was having such a tough time. It was just one of those days. The heart-breaking kind. Everything was spooking her. We found a bench and took a seat. I talked to her slowly, calmly. We hugged and rocked a bit. I gave her some warning and we made our way back – walking slowly, carefully – to try for a few more bites of food. 

And it hit me. For the millionth time, it hit me. Like a ton of bricks, it hit me. Like a God-damned eighteen wheeler, it hit me.

This doesn’t go away. 

She’s not a baby anymore. She’s not even a toddler anymore. She’s nearly six years old, and it’s showing. She looks older, different. She had employed all of the various strategies we’ve worked so hard to give her over time. On her own. There was and is so very much to be proud of. She did it. 

And still.

My little girl is growing up. But this – the fear, the anxiety, the discomfort, the ‘too much’ – it’s all going along for the ride, isn’t it? Because it doesn’t go away. She gets better at handling it. We get better at handling it. If I’m doing my job, even the rest of the world gets better at handling it. But it doesn’t go away.

“January 1st, huh?” I thought as we walked. “2009. A New Year. New hope. I’m not impressed so far.” Everything was supposed to magically be different. Better. Easier. Taller. Thinner. (Yeah, whatever.)

That’s an awful lot of expectation riding on the turn of a calendar’s page. That’s it, isn’t it? It’s the expectation. It’s that feeling that somehow a new day would come in and wipe the slate clean. No, it doesn’t work that way, does it? 

After a big snowstorm a couple of weeks ago, Brooke and I went into town. As I carried her out of the car, over a big snow drift, I said something about going ‘trudging off through the snow.’ As we walked, Brooke gleefully sing-songed “We’re trudging and budging. Budging and trudging.” She had a ball. The white world was her playground. She sought out every mound and pile and drift that she could find. She jumped into every one of them with both feet and laughed each and every time. That hearty, head thrown back, light the world on fire laugh. When we finally got back into the car, she was soaking wet. She couldn’t have been happier as she said, “We trudged and budged.”

And so, the haze will lift. The challenges will remain, because they do. But we will trudge and budge and throw our heads back when we laugh. We will celebrate the victories – the parties, the friends, the stolen time with our children, the progress – each other.

Yes, I welcome ’09. It may not happen in one day, but it’s going to be one hell of a year.

17 thoughts on “great expectations

  1. I like to think that the turning of the calendar is not from December 31st to January 1st but rather from January 1st to January 1st. Our day to day changes are generally very small, but when taken in over the course of a year, they can be much more dramatic, inspiring, uplifting…

    Think of Brooke on January 1st, 2008. Now think of her on January 1st, 2009…

    …now think of her on January 1st, 2010! I am very excited!!!

  2. Drama’s right – this post holiday funk is a little more serious this year. Brooke’s making progress – you notice, appreciate, celebrate that progress. I remember in one of your posts you said something about how no parents know how their children will turn out. I think about that a lot.


  3. Today, I could have written this post. Today, I feel this same ton of bricks. Yes, it’s good, all good, progress, growth, maturity, the Tools. But, no, it does not go away. And sometimes that just makes me so damn sad.

    Sending you a big hug (and a reminder, yes, that it’s Good. All. Good. Even when we struggle under the weight of it.)

  4. And there’s the rub. It doesn’t go away. The thief in the night is here to stay however much we can diminish him, thwart him, beat him back, he is always there lurking. The little bastard.

  5. wrenching, beautiful, brick-falling hopeful reality.
    it’s all hard, and it’s all good. and exhausting and exhilirating, and sometimes just unspectacularly amazing.
    peace and love to all of you.

  6. Sh*t.

    We’re the same person.

    Different coasts.

    In reading Matt’s comment, I agree that thinking of her Jan 2010 is very exciting…but I urge caution on one thing:

    Don’t keep looking ahead, what WILL be, what WILL she be like by _______.

    I do that alot.

    I miss alot.

    I think you’ve got this thing, Jess. I’m detoxing from the holiday a bit. I’m sure you are, too.

    The good feelings come back.You’ll find your footing.

    You can’t NOT.

    You’re a mother.


  7. Unlike your other friends, Jess, I could NOT have written this post. You are just too damn good a writer! I think you articulated something that everyone feels, but not everyone has the ability to illuminate so powerfully! Thank you!

  8. “I feel like I can’t get out of my own way.” How you put that into words – so often *exactly* how I feel – is spot on. That’s what it is, this feeling I have.

    As Maddy (Whitterer) says, it’s a marathon, not a sprint (parenting on the spectrum). And I need to figure out how to get out of my own way.

    Hugs to you . . .

  9. There’s the honesty again . . . and the optimism. It’s hard not to wish it away, when we see our kids struggling through the hard parts (and we struggle with them and for them too), but as your wonderful sage of a daughter told you once before . . .

    “You wouldn’t want her autism to disappear because we love her so much. You wouldn’t ever want to trade her for someone different.”

    I hate the hard times for my son, but I wouldn’t change him for the world. His laugh, just like Brooke’s laugh, is magical. And it probably wouldn’t be quite the same without the autism.

    Keep trudging and throwing your head back with laughter . . . you make it seem effortless so much of the time (even though we all know it’s not).

  10. If it’s true that it never goes away, may it always keep us humble, appreciative, leaning on God and each other.

  11. Trudging, budging, and laughing all the way (well, mostly!). We adults could learn so much from our children if we could get out of our own damn way, no?

    Again, you have captured that “everywoman” quality that we all seem to be feeling right now.

    Damn, I wish I was able to come step out of my computer and into your living room.

  12. He got his first haircut last week. He just turned 4 in December. It took us around 9 months to prepare for that big day. 9 months of planning, warning, repetition…. Tears filled my eyes as I realized he can do anything with love and support! Tears filled my eyes as I took a blow to the soul, its always going to be hard.

    Thank you for voicing your story and making me remember that Im not alone. Thank you.

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