This is GB and her birth father, J. J has been stable on Geodon for 6 weeks now. He wasn’t stable the last time she saw him. GB has responded well to J’s stability. She has asked him a number of hard questions and he has been able to give her factual, truthful answers. Right now, they are having lunch at Ruby*Tuesdays. GB is one happy girl. I am happy that they both are feeling good about their relationship.
GB sat me down for a heart to heart talk over the weekend.
GB: Mom, you know I am growing up, right?
Me: I know that. You can do a lot of things now that you couldn’t do before.
GB: That’s not what I mean. I mean my body is growing up.
GB: I am getting hair down there. (pointing)
Me: That’s called pubic hair.
GB: I have hair in my armpits now. I have real breasts growing.
Me: You are growing up.
GB: I NEED real bras.
So GB and I went “real” bra shopping. We went to Penney’s and had her measured and fitted. She was a 32A. I remember getting my first bra at thirteen and it was a 32AAA. GB is not nine yet. We bought 7 bras- some white, some tan and three with bright patterns.
On the way home, GB and I discussed the etiquette of wearing a bra, mostly along the lines of if you are old enough to need to wear one, you are old enough not to tell or show people. As we had this conversation, I was wondering how many times I would have to repeat it. This is a child who won’t let anyone walk in on her getting dressed, but thinks nothing of walking nude around the house, looking for a particular item of clothing. She still thinks bathroom humor is hysterical. Developmentally, she is somewhere around 5, heading for 6.
I am not ready for puberty yet.
I have had children in my house for over thirty years. By society’s judgement, each child was broken in some way. I never questioned that assumption. After all, I was very busy meeting the needs of these children and fighting schools, social groups, and neighbors, trying to make a place for them. When society’s opinion was thrust into my consciousness, I would look at my kids and see why they were considered broken and then move on. There was 9 year old Ralph, who sat and talked to my car’s headlights while he snacked on my flowers. There was 14 year old Vernon, who in anger set more than 30 fires in his home town before he came to me. There was a 5 year old who didn’t know what a broom was and hadn’t ever heard the word no. I was only mildly surprised when he tried to beat up his soccer team… the whole team. I had children with TBI, schizophrenia,and trauma histories that were beyond anything I could comprehend. Yet these kids went to regular schools and were expected to meet ordinary expectations. It was inevitable that these children, and my others, were considered broken. Yet, even in the beginning, I was aware that “broken” was only part of it.
My kids made me laugh, could be kind, and were frequently creative. They found joy in the ordinary and let me come along for the ride. They had compassion for those weaker or more disadvantaged. Everyday traditions could make their eyes shine. This was my life for a long time. I stopped taking in kids in 2002. My kids were older, had graduated from high school and I enjoyed a year of a social life with friends whose children were also more grown up than not.
GB is my granddaughter. She went to the NICU directly from the birthing room. I took custody of her at two months and her parents were gone before she turned six months. GB didn’t smile at all and missed her early milestones. She started EI at seven months. I didn’t know what was wrong, although I knew there was a problem. Like all my earlier kids, society considered GB broken. But I was different, I had changed. At 11 months, I found out she was FAS. By the time she was four, I knew she was bipolar. At seven and a half, autistic was added. Each diagnosis felt like I had been blindsided. Intellectually, I understood them and knew they were right. Emotionally, I was equally sure there was nothing broken about this child.
It has taken a year of contemplation to come to term with these incompatible ideas. GB is not neuro-typical. She is also not broken. She is exactly what God made her to be. God knows her gifts and her challenges and has given me the honor of being her mom. I love her smile. I love watching her dance as she is carried away by the beat of music.I share her joy as her garden blooms with color. I enjoy the pride she has in her cartwheels, in her ability to swim, and the food she cooks for us. I know it can take GB several minutes to be able to verbally express a thought. I see that she is able to relax and share real communication with only the few she trusts. I know that I have to check for minefields before I put her in any new situation. I am responsible for making sure she gets enough sleep and that she eats when she needs to. She can’t tell me what hurts or why she can’t cope. It is part of who she is.
GB is not broken. She is exactly the person God made her to be. She is my gift from Him.
I am fifty-three tears old. Old enough that you would figure I had the concept of “me” down. I don’t. Dealing with the changes raising GB brought into my life, losing my brother, father, and mother over eight months, and leaving tenure behind to quit the workforce and go back to school were changes I coped with, still able to keep “me”. And then there is Hope. I am still GB’s Mom, but that no longer defines me. With Hope home, I am no longer actively working on my dissertation. I may get back to it, and if I do it may or may not be obsolete. I haven’t a clue. My goal of working with Head Start kids and giving them an even start that they keep may not be reasonable. I have never done things halfway and can’t see myself starting now. Yet, Hope’s Mom does not define me. We have had Hope going on 8 months and have still only scratched the surface of who she is. I can’t even reasonably claim to know what she needs in a mother. The RAD, which is in every breathe she takes, every word she says, every action she takes (or doesn’t) is all consuming. It has left very little room for “Hope” to show herself. I am a therapeutic parent, but that is how I force myself to act. If it were really “me”, it wouldn’t be so hard, take so much out of me, or in some moments, just leave me completely. Physically, I have neuropathy and a white matter disease both of which will only get worse. I refused to be defined by any disease, so my “me” really can’t be physical.
Fifty-three is old; really too old to start a journey of “who am I?” Still, since that is where I am, I guess that is the journey I need to take. If I had known it was a journey that would be repeated multiple times in my life, I wouldn’t have taken it so seriously as a teenager. Back then, I didn’t realize how many times I would start this journey over.