yeah, i know; there’s a typo
In other words, it looks as though we’re entering yet another “new normal,” one that I know that many of you already live. The news came right before we sat down with Dr Dreamy, Brooke’s neuropsych, to hear the results of her yearly evaluation. The timing of the meeting was merely coincidental, but as it turned out, it could not have been more fortuitous.
It seems that we saved Dreamy the difficult task of suggesting that we look into the possibility of seizure activity. He could not come up with any other plausible explanation for just how much ground Brooke has lost since his last evaluation. Last year, her language fell in the 37th percentile. This year, the 1st. By the time he ran through the numbers, Luau and I were numb. We’d been convinced that we’d seen progress. That her language was expanding, that it was becoming more colloquial, more functional. That’s music to my ears, he said, but it’s horizontal expansion. At just shy of ten, she has the language of an early six year-old. Neither of us could protest what we knew to be true.
We talked about what to do. About school. About how and where we might offer more support for her as we move forward. We talked about how difficult it must be for her to sit in a fourth grade classroom every day with the language of a kindergartener. We talked about her anxiety, and how it seems to have peaked again, and how given the tremendous disparities between her and her peers, that shouldn’t be surprising.
And then he stopped. You’ve taken a lot in tonight, guys, he said. Let’s take this one step at a time. Addressing the seizures comes first. And it may have a dramatic effect on everything else. So we’ll focus there and then come back to the rest. We can meet as many times as we need to, he said. Let’s not overwhelm you right now.
It was a good thought, but of course it was far too late.
I walked out of the meeting steeped in guilt. How did we – how did I – miss this?
My dearest friends had answers. I missed it because I’m her mom, not her doctor, they said. I missed it because I’ve been focused on my *daughter* not a list of challenges or a grouping of skills, they told me. I tried – am trying – to let their words sink in.
After the meeting, the girls asked to go to McDonald’s for dinner. Actually, Brooke asked to go to Dunkin’ Donuts for dinner, but was quickly swayed when her sister mentioned the Golden Arches. I can’t remember ever having McDonald’s for dinner. But neither Luau nor I had the strength to say no. I’m grateful that no one asked for a pony.
We sat at McDonald’s and the kids did what they do. Katie chatted about school and regaled us with stories from rehearsals for the upcoming play. Brooke hummed and beseeched us all to participate in her various scripts.
I felt like I was watching it all from underwater. It made no sense to me that nothing was different when I knew that everything was different.
We talked about the invitations for Katie’s twelfth birthday party and how she wants the girls to come to the house so we can all drive together to the party location. We talked about American Idol and we played Max and Ruby. I asked Katie how much homework she had left and we talked about today’s geography exam.
I thought about telling them – but telling them what I wasn’t sure. So I said nothing and we carried on as though things were as they’d been an hour before.
A few days ago, I wrote the following. I’d planned to post it today, but that was before.
I nearly balked. It felt wrong, given that it’s so wildly off of the topic that looms so large right now. But then I realized that it’s actually completely right. Because life marches on. There’s homework and school plays and birthday parties and geography tests. There’s Valentine’s Day and singing lessons and gymnastics class. And there’s no pause button while we stop to figure this out. And no matter what else is going on in our world Katie should never, ever be ‘wildly off topic’ for her Mama.
So, I give you my letter to her. Which is no more nor less important than it was yesterday.
My Dear Katie,
I love you so much, baby girl. You know that, don’t you? There has been no greater joy for me than watching you blossom into the beautiful young woman who I see before me now. Not a single day goes by, my love — not one — that I don’t wonder how the hell I got so lucky. I could only be your mother by the grace of a God in whom your birth convinced me to believe. There’s no other explanation because there’s not a thing I could have done to have earned the job.
It is an overwhelming honor to help to guide you into adulthood, and it is a ceaselessly startling privilege to learn far more from you every day than I could ever hope to teach you.
Adolescence is not an easy time, sweet girl. I know that. As much as you think that I don’t — that I can’t — understand, I swear to you that I do. Everything is changing, expectations are growing and multiplying and the pressure is coming from all angles and by God, it happens at the speed of light, doesn’t it?
And you’re one of the few who gets the cruelty of the joke — who so acutely feels the magnitude of what is lost for what little is gained in growing up. I try to convince you that it isn’t so — to tempt you with lists of all of the glittery, shiny things you get to do now that you’re older. You see right through me. Through all of us. It’s a cursed talent that.
This is the time that we’re not supposed to get along, you and I. It’s the time when hormones flare and moods shift like the winds and Mamas and their girls, no matter how close, become enemy combatants. And, God, I remember that. You know, from the childhood that you’re convinced that I’ve forgotten. I haven’t, Katie. Not even close. No, the memories loom large. It hurt like hell then and the scars linger still.
But we made each other a promise, remember, baby? We promised each other that when the waves started coming, we wouldn’t let ourselves get sucked into the undertow. We plotted and planned for how we’d do it. The answers were simple, really. We’d keep talking to each other. No matter what, we’d keep talking. And we’d remember Love First. When frustration raged and tempers flared, we’d stop and remember Love and Patience and Faith In Each Other and the Bond Between Us That Nothing Can Sever.
And suddenly, I blinked and here we are. Standing ankle-deep in the water as the waves crash against our legs. This is it, my baby girl, this is go time. Each wave comes with a different threat – Distance, Resentment, Frustration, Sadness. Each one screaming You Don’t Get It and You Never Will, You Can’t Understand and It’s Different For Me. And they threaten, threaten to take us — in.
You called me on something the other night; do you remember? Look at yourself, you said. You do exactly what you are telling me not to. Look in the mirror, lady. (Not those words. You would never use those words. But that was it — Look in the mirror.) And I did. And you were right. When you hit me squarely between the eyes with insight like that, you’re nearly always right. It’s delightfully infuriating. And terrifyingly familiar.
And when you turned my pointed finger around, as pointed fingers so often need to be, you hit on an ugly secret truth of this whole messy business of parenting. You see, it is the undeniable evidence of our own frailties of which we are most afraid. And when you show us the living, breathing proof of our own weaknesses, we respond with an ire far too big for you — because it’s not meant for you. It’s meant for us. And while our frustrations with you are filtered, our anger at ourselves is not. And there’s nothing more raw than the anger that comes from the fear that we’ve failed our children.
So you were right. Right to hold up the mirror, right to say, But Mama, you do that too. And I’m sorry that the anger at me got mixed up in the frustration at you. I’m doing my best, kiddo. It’s not always perfect. But we’re human, you and me, so our best is all we’ve got.
In the meantime, the waves aren’t going to stop coming. So remember the game plan, okay?
We’re going to keep talking. We’ve going to keep listening. We’re going to admit when we’re wrong and learn from our missteps. We’re going to be gentle with ourselves and each other when we screw up.
And above all, we’re going to remember Love First.
Because there is nothing more important to me than my relationship with you. You have – and in so many ways you ARE – my heart.
So what do you think, kiddo? Do we have a deal?
I love you, sweet girl.
Even more than salty french fries on the beach.