I have been thinking a lot about my recent interview with Christine and have decided to write about it. Please read this brief post first.
In previous interviews, each of the subjects has had the luxury and benefit of time. Their ‘coming to terms’ happened long ago, and now each of them are able to discuss the evolution of their focus from medical issues to social issues to access issues and beyond. Their concerns now are more broad, and in many ways more simple.
The hustle required to meet the complex demands of early childhood seems to give way to a realization that they’re running a marathon, not a sprint. Older parents move a little more slowly, respond in a more measured way and have more context in which to assess their current situation.
Christine hasn’t had that distance yet and is still working hard to figure out her new life. Her daughters’ challenges are largely medical, although their hearing loss brings the question of language delay. And their extreme prematurity (born at 24 weeks, less than 2 pounds each) means she’ll need to watch for developmental delay. Combine this with everyday financial concerns, preexisting health issues, busy family life. . . I really felt for her.
Owen has been gone for 4 years and as I’ve said before I feel grateful that I was able to witness his complete life, from beginning to end. The part of our journey that resembled Christine’s felt very long at the time – 5 years or more of not only having to do all that shit but also a time in which I felt boxed in by a particular identity and way of being, which deep down I knew I didn’t want and certainly hadn’t signed up for. “Look at how hard this is,” I would say out loud, as I reeled off the number of appointments we had per week, how much weight he’d gained, whether he was bringing his hands to mid-line. “But I wouldn’t change a thing!”
Wouldn’t change a thing? I’m not sure I was convincing anybody but myself.
Now, that period of time seems so short. In fact I rarely think about it. I don’t connect to that time as being anything other than the time before I started to figure stuff out. (Even though of course I thought that what I was doing at the time was figuring stuff out.)
I feel compassion for my old myself, and for Owen, who had to look at my worried, exhausted but determinedly over-achieving face day after day – and who had to perform meaningless therapy-related tasks to my endless encouragement and clapping. I’m so very glad he stuck around long enough for me to emerge from this stage and work on transforming our lives into something else.
My visit with Christine triggered a flood of memories and feelings. In light of these reflections, I am reevaluating my own position on whether or not new families would benefit from mentors, an idea I have written about here at various times. Are new parents ready or are they in too much shock? What experiences do they need to have before they can be open to questioning everything? Is this early stage I’ve described a prerequisite, like a summer course or boot camp?
I suppose I’m coming to terms with the idea you can’t teach experience, or help someone skip stages by simply explaining. I should know better than to think otherwise – this approach never worked on me.