It’s been nearly a week since the party. And yet still, I haven’t managed to write about it.
There’s the easy part to write, of course. The good stuff. Even the huge, really momentous stuff.
There’s the fact that my girl sat through an entire movie. In a theater. For the first time EVER.
There’s the fact that she calmly asked for breaks when she needed them. And that she needed only three of them the whole time.
There’s the fact that when a baby cried in the theater her only reaction was to ask me to take her out into the hallway where she said no more than, ‘I don’t like the babies.’ (Unlike her mother’s reaction, which was more along the lines of Who the hell brings a baby to a movie theater?)
But that’s not it.
It matters. Of course it matters. The fact that she was able to attend a birthday party at a movie theater matters. It matters a lot.
But if that were the whole story, it wouldn’t be taking me a week to write this post.
You see, as much as I want to offer up the victory of making it through the movie – as much as I want to celebrate it and score yet another one for sheer determination, I can’t bring myself to do it.
Because as proud as I was of my girl that day, it’s just not the whole story.
Because the story, like all of them, has a context.
And the context of this story was difference.
It was the lack of comfort on my baby’s face.
It was the other little girls dancing and chatting and jumping and giggling together.
And my girl.
There, but apart.
It was the gaggle of girls at the cake table sharing secrets and comparing camp cheers.
And my girl. Eating her cake. At the other end of the table. Alone.
It was the look on her face as she tried to make her way into the gaggle and failed.
So open, so joyful.
As she tried to get them to mimic her putting her chin to her chest in a move that simply didn’t fit in.
As she simply turned and quietly walked back to her seat.
It was the fact that none of them seemed to even notice her attempt to join in.
It was the way that her expression changed as she sat down again.
It was the way her face went blank, into a wan half-smile.
A smile I’d never seen before.
Her eyes – the eyes that light the world on fire when she laughs – were nowhere to be found in that smile. They were somewhere else. Far away.
That smile scared the hell out of me.
Because it was the first time that I have ever seen my baby girl look like something other than herself.
She looked like she’d donned a mask. A vacant, half-smiling, socially acceptable mask.
It was terrifying.
It scared me for the future. It scared me for the days ahead as these same girls start talking about boys and clothes and music and gossiping behind each other’s backs like I know they will. Like Katie’s classmates do just two years down the line. Like some of these girls already do. It scared me for middle school when the rules no longer make sense and the social scene becomes unwieldy and treacherous for even the most savvy of players.
It scared me for that moment in and of itself. The one unfolding right in front of me.
It scared me because she just looked so God-damned different from everyone around her and because for the first time, I truly wondered if perhaps she knew it.
And then scared turned to sad. And that is where I lived.
I watched a little girl from her class approach her as they ate their cake. She spoke slowly and exaggerated her words.
“Brooke,” she asked, “what was your favorite part of the movie?”
I watched as Brooke took her time to answer and then finally said, “I liked the jelly beans!”
I watched her friend trying to process what she might have meant. I even watched from somewhere else as the voice that helped explain that the ‘jelly beans’ were Brooke’s way of describing a group of characters in the movie turned out to be mine. I watched myself from afar – a mother stepping in with a well-rehearsed prompt to get her daughter to ask her friend what her favorite part had been. And then I watched that little friend, so sweet for coming over, walk away awkwardly as the conversation inevitably fizzled. I watched the mother smile at her. Her smile was tired.
I watched the real story unfold. The one beyond the great progress that my girl has made. The one behind the daily celebrations and the happy horsesh*t that I spread here every day.
That’s real too; don’t get me wrong. It’s very real. And it matters too. More than anything, it matters.
But the backdrop stays the same.
No matter how much we focus on all of the positives, the fact remains.
My baby is different.
And no matter how hard I try, or SHE tries, or we ALL try, her life will be hard.
It was all there, right on her face.