Katie, September 2008
When I first approached Luau with concerns about Brooke’s development nearly five and a half years ago, he dismissed them. Back then my argument was based largely on a comparison of her developmental trajectory to her sister’s.
“Hon,” he said numerous times, “you can’t compare her to Katie. Katie is an incredibly precocious kid. She always has been. So to say, ‘But Katie did such and such at this age and Brooke’s not doing that yet’ – well, it’s just not reasonable to expect that she – or any other kid – would.”
As wrong as he may have been to dismiss my concerns about Brooke, he was also absolutely right. Comparing my children – developmentally or otherwise – was and remains a useless exercise.
On the Ralph Lauren shoot earlier this week, we saw crew members that we hadn’t seen in years. We reminisced about the weeklong shoot in the Adirondacks, scratching our heads at how fast the time has flown since. It came up time and again and I found myself retracing our steps through the mountains three years ago, remembering.
I remembered the ride. The chatting, the singing, Katie reading aloud. I remembered stopping in Saratoga for the night and telling the clerk at the inn that even though their policy was 16 years and over, he needn’t worry; my girl was very grown-up.
I remembered the restaurants – eating with the other kids and their moms – then hanging out at the table to enjoy each other’s company long after dinner had ended. I remembered her holding court with the kids, showing them a trick she’d learned from her dad.
I remembered her ease with the adults – how much she loved to be around them. I remembered her stepping in to calm one of the littler kids who was crying on set. I remembered the kids’ wrangler turning to me in awe when she did, telling me no one had been able to get her to settle down. I remembered her turning to Katie to ask if she wanted her job.
I remembered our shopping expedition in Lake Placid and the oh-so-cool crocheted beanie hat that she just HAD to have. I remembered the bead shop where we made jewelry – for her, for me, for the crew, for her sister.
I remembered her calling Daddy and talking and talking and talking. Ooh, Daddy! It’s soooooo awesome here! I wish you could see it. We so have to come back here together sometime.
I remembered listening ad nauseam to the same two CDs in the car – of all things Neil Diamond and Annie because we’d forgotten to grab the rest. I remembered inventing games when we were bored – creating stories together by alternating lines, then words – laughing at what we came up with.
I remembered pulling over when we saw a stuffed moose on the side of the road because Katie HAD to check it out, then walking through the taxidermy shop, giggling as we fought a case of the creeps and laughing with relief when we finally walked out.
Above all, I remembered the ease and the delicious feeling that I was traveling with a friend.
On the way home on Wednesday afternoon, as we raced to catch the ferry from Orient Point to New London, it hit me. The thought careened into the car at a hundred miles an hour. That trip – that very first trip with Katie – was almost exactly three years ago. Memories twisted and cracked. Splintered shards of where we are now flew through the air.
As fast as the thought had come, I processed its implications in painfully slow motion.
Katie … is … two … years … older … than … her … sister. Three … years … ago … Katie … was … seven. Wait … That … can’t … be … right … No … no … it … was … three … years … ago … OK … yes … three … years … ago … So … she … was … seven.
Katie was a full YEAR younger then than Brooke is NOW.
The wreckage began to smolder. The putrid smoke rose around me and filled the car. Comparison – useless, toxic comparison – hung limp overhead. I refused to give it air – all these years I’ve refused – and yet, there it was.
Three and a half hours later, we ran in through the garage door and bolted up the stairs in search of Luau and Brooke. I found them in the bathroom where Brooke was happily gathering bubbles in the tub. I ran to her, kissed her wet head and told her how much I loved her – how much I’d missed her.
“Hi, Mom,” she said, “the Godspell workers are going to the beach. They’ll need their bathing suits of the one pieces. Can you tell me that?”
I knelt by the side of the tub and launched into our routine. It’s what we do. It’s what she needs. It’s how we connect.
Later that night, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I knew I shouldn’t turn around. I knew, damn it. But there it was. In my house. The cloud of toxic smoke.
Katie was seven then.
Brooke is eight now.
There is no point in comparison. There never has been. There never will be. They are different children, different people, developing radically differently.
Autism or no, they are simply not meant to be compared.
No, I will not give it air.