I think there must come a point in blogging where all this introspection (if indeed you have, like me, used it as a tool for some free counselling, and not some more glamorous pursuit like fashion or travel writing) where you start to wonder how people see you. Understand you. Or, more appropriately, read you. During our ‘real’ counselling, as I mentioned in Friday I’m in Love, Wolf and I were
encouraged persuaded had our looks of derision tactfully ignored as we were asked to speak as each other, about ourselves, and each other. It was confusing, but ultimately brought into focus not only our alarming amount of second guessing but also the balance of us. As I wrote on Friday, we were, we are, good together. But it opened up thinking about perspective… How Wolf sees me (he said some very lovely things, eye of the beholder and that). But also how I see me. And think you may see me. And hope you may see me.
You see (yes, unfortunately pun intended) I’m often asked if having Rufus has changed me. I look in the mirror, and I don’t see a massive amount of change. Haircut slightly different, requiring regular dying to hide the escalating greys. Maybe a few more lines. A little more tired. Make up a little more streamlined. And of course recently, a swelling body. I’ve always liked clothes, I still like to make an effort, despite any natural fibre, hand wash fabrics being banished to the back of the wardrobe, marked the ‘unwashables’ and therefore ‘unwearables’ as any parent of a refluxy child knows. I’m still clumsy. I still snort when I laugh too hard sometimes. I always make bad, inappropriate jokes. Class clown, all grown up. Attention seeking middle child. Quick to quip, smart mouth.
You’ll see me in the street, with my boy, making a concerted effort to blend in with the other Mums. My love of clothes extends to what he wears. We probably look like a typical middle class ‘yummy mummy’ and child. Retch. My medicated follower of fashion, I’m proud of him, parade him like a peacock when I know he’s at his most appealing. Turn his pushchair seat in towards me when he’s not. It started in the hospital. Wolf and I pimped his cot. We made sure he was never missed. Maybe in someways a vanity, mark him out to be different, special. But mostly because I wanted the staff to notice him. To remember him. If, you know…
If you stop to chat, I love chit chat. I’m a chirpy chit chatter. Nothing too deep, don’t stare too long, he’s doing fine, yes. Really well. You’re likely to get a Top 5 list of good things, some general moan about what a pain in the arse kids can be. I’ll smile throughout, it won’t be entirely false. I’m never rude, I’ll always apologise first. I enjoy banter. Just don’t probe too deeply, let’s keep it above sea level. And please, please don’t pity me, if I give you a chance to get a word in edgeways that is.
And at work, without the boy, you’ll ask questions. He’s not with me, I can elaborate and exaggerate his finer points. I’ll make reference to his complexity, but in a Grange Hill/Byker Grove way. Nothing too scary. PG rated maybe if you push further, but I’ll still smile. Be on top of that. I’ll still be able to seem as professional as I did BR, Before Rufus. Make of that what you will those who know me in a professional capacity. I’ll show you pictures, ones where you see his dazzling smile. I won’t explain that in actuality getting eye contact is akin to probing a Russian spy. Do you notice that my umbilical cord never detached? It’s invisible, always listening to what may be happening wherever he is. Waiting for the tug.
There are those of you that know me, I know you’ve seen how it’s changed me. But to the general populace, and even to you in someways, I don’t want to look different, for you to know that it’s changed me. That now from time to time I am ravaged by grief, it’s taint leaving an indelible mark. Wracked with guilt, that in some way I am genetically responsible. That occasionally your innocent words injure me so deeply I cry in the shower, so the tears are washed away. That his future feels sometimes like a sleeping bear in the corner of the room, waiting to stir and reveal it’s true beastliness. I know you see my marionette, my pinocchio. He doesn’t look or act like you expect. I’ll no doubt have some quick retort as to why. He’s tired. Unwell. These aren’t lies, he may be, he probably is. Because when he’s good, he is all the things I report in my Top 5.
So why do I feel I can reveal that here? Because you can’t see if the smile has slipped. Because it’s not all the time, and honestly what you see is what you get. It isn’t a false pretence. There’s just some heart injury there, and most of the time it’s me assuming what you see when you look at me. You see? And what I don’t want you to ever start seeing around me are eggshells. Or invite your friends to a pity party. Because we are all human, not superhumans.
I know this, it happened to me today. I was on a bus, a lady got on with three children in a pushchair. My assumption was that they were all under the age of five. The little boy at the front wore a protective helmet and supportive footwear. As soon as they got on the bus, the boy behind him in the middle screamed. Not just a little whimper or cry, a full blown meltdown. Someone at the back of the bus muttered ‘For fuck’s sake’. Things were being thrown from the pushchair. I helped to pick them up, I smiled. But not for too long. I was frozen. I wanted to reach out, to tell her I understood in someway. But I couldn’t. I wanted to cry for us both. I wouldn’t. She was angry, she was telling him to shut up. But she held his hand the entire time. And I turned away. What had she seen of me? Had she assumed judgement where actually there was empathy. And there you see it, Rufus has changed me, but it hasn’t made me superhuman.
In a breathtakingly honest, articulate and moving article in The Guardian this week, which I would encourage anyone to read, although I know that it is one of the parts of me that has been shaped by my boy, one father writes of his son with learning difficulties:
“I’m ashamed to say that as a young man I was completely ignorant of people like Joey and assumed that people as well-educated as me couldn’t possibly father children like him….….Because Joey, in all his fragility and his vulnerability, has opened my eyes to the real meaning of difference, to the tyranny of normality, to another way of thinking about human beings.”