Posted by GIRL'S GONE CHILD | Friday, January 05, 2007
The clouds recede as we enter the park and Archer quickly hides between my legs and covers his ears at first sight of playing children. After several moments in a ball at my feet, he untangles himself from my shoelace and takes my hand. We walk together toward the jungle gym and every few seconds Archer looks back over his shoulder to make sure we aren't being followed. We wander through the playground, toward the outskirts. Where the fences separate grassy hills from paved streets. Away from the other children. And other people. Until we are alone.
Every time we take a trip to the park, to make an effort to socialize we end up failing each other.
Some children don't fit in.I didn't. Neither did my brother or my sister or my parents when they were little people. And Archer is certainly different from other children. Some children don't fit in. Some parents don't fit in, either.
I follow Archer out of the playground and to the shady place behind the tree and I watch events unfold from a distance. Archer does too. We sit and we watch and Archer babbles (in his own language that I am slowly learning to understand) and I babble back and feel invisible. In a good way. In a bad way. Invisible. I look out at the mothers, folded neatly beside each other on wooden benches, watching their children throw sand and climb the monkey bars. Archer watches the children run around him in circles and he pulls his fingers from mine and puts his hands over his eyes. He is hiding. I understand.
The other day, when Archer and I crashed a Mommy & Me Holiday Party at the gym, I had a panic attack. Who has a panic attack at a Mommy & Me Holiday Party? I did. Major. I hated it in there. I couldn't breathe with all those Percocet-tweaked voices singing ROWROWROOOOWYOURBOAT with glazed eyes and French manicures, their children bumping into one another, all dressed in the same Gap kids hoodies. In the same Ladybug Robeez. In the sameeverythingsamesamesame.
I started to shake, and pretty soon I couldn't breathe. Archer turned around in my lap to face me. His eyes went wide before jumping out of my lap and running to the glass window, banging and scratching and flapping his arms like a caged bird.
We left immediately, tripping over crossed legs and hand puppets on our way out the door. I caught my breath in the hallway and we quickly made our way to the car where I gathered myself and drove home.
I only get anxiety attacks when I feel claustrophobic. In a stalled subway or an old elevator. In a controlling relationship. In an argument I cannot win. In a depression I cannot escape, but in that room at the gym, surrounded by homemade Christmas cookies and Mommies and Daddies and Nannies and songs about spiders down the spout I felt lost. And alone. And trapped. Like I was going to have a heart attack and die and everyone would know that my final moment in life was sitting in a stupid room singing that stupid fucking song about the spider who's livelihood depends on being washed down the drain, drying off and climbing back up the spout. And for what? Why? Doesn't he know? Down will come the rain to wash the spider out! It doesn't change. It's always the same story. Why does he keep coming back for more?
"I do not want to be like that. Like her... Or the spider. Or the Gap sweatshirt with its zillions of Gap sweatshirt brothers and sisters" I think to myself. Because it's scary. How suddenly everyone shares a brain. Becomes the same.
Repeat after me! And no one even knows what they are saying. Or singing. And everyone's faces start to look the same.
Sometimes when I look at something or someone, all I can see is what surrounds them. All I can see is the grass and the sand and the playground. Their faces have blurred and blended and I cannot focus on their features. My depth of field is off. Maybe Archer's is too. Maybe he inherited my inability to sit neatly on a bench or play quietly with the other boys and girls. Maybe he just wants to watch. And think. Maybe he doesn't want to talk to anyone. Maybe he speaks his own language because he enjoys being in his own world. And so do I. Even if people hate me for it.
"Earth to Rebecca. Come in, Rebecca."
"Earth to Archer. Archer? ARCHHHEEEER?"
"It might be hard for a boy like that to make friends," people tell me.
It might be hard for a girl like me to make friends, too. REAL friends. The kind with flesh and blood and hair who do not disappear or blur or get lost.
If Archer would rather play in the corner and talk to the wall, I cannot blame him, or turn him toward the children. I too feel more myself in the corner sometimes. And seriously? When no one's looking? I'm talking to the wall, too.
"...Not like other children."
And why should he be? Why should any of us want that of our little ones? Of ourselves? How is that one suddenly becomes a mother and has to trade it all in? Or even worse, hide the fact that she has?
"I need a drink," I hear them say. As if to convince themselves they are still wild. Buttoned up to the neck. Pour a stiff one. I've got kids. Mamma needs a Martini. Or a Mai Tai. Or something to take the edge off. But there is no edge. The edge has been sanded down and remains a smooth curve, polished and covered up with floral wallpaper from Bed, Bath and Beyond.
How about a mind? How about REAL thoughts? How about knowing something else beside the lyrics to Wheels on the Bus? How about redefining what it is to be a mother? What it is to be a woman? What it is to be?
To be or not to be in the back of the bus, that is the question. To be or not to be in a fold-out chair in the sand with a cold beer and a stack of gossip magazines Because I just don't have time to read a real book right now. What does it mean to be social? As a parent? As a child? What does it mean to be a misfit? A loner? "Special"?
Every day I look at Archer and am able to better understand myself. And I wonder if perhaps his idiosyncrasies are as much my own. His hyper- sensitivity to his surroundings. His apprehension. The way he hides when he is unable to respond.
Because sometimes when I look at Archer I see my own lost truths, bold as the stripes in his eyes.
When we left the park today, I had barely said a word to anybody. A few mumbles to Archer in his language. A couple of head nods, a smile, and that was all. The clouds had gone and the sun was out and Archer grabbed for my sunglasses to put them over his eyes.
And when I finally got the car packed up and started the engine, I pulled the visor shade down to block the sun. And the mirror was open and there I was, my face completely out of focus. My eyes and nose blurred, my mouth smeared across my chin.
Maybe it was the sun in my eyes or the fact that I left my glasses at home, but suddenly, there I wasn't.
The clouds return as we pull out of the parking lot and I feel for my face to make sure everything's still there- that I haven't gone crazy. After several moments of adjusting the visor mirror, I refocus and start to recognize myself again. But just in case, I look back over my shoulder to make sure we aren't being followed.
And we drive through the back streets toward home. Where iron gates separate unmanaged yards from managed ones. Away from the other children. And other people. Until we are alone.