"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."-Henry Davidson Thoreau
Nonconformists have long celebrated these words from Henry Davidson Thoreau. Weirdos around the world applaud the notion that is it a-ok not be just like everybody else, especially if you just can't be like everybody else. Thank goodness for that. When I first read these words in high school I too, applauded. At 15, I considered myself a true nonconformist. I listened to Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam. I wrote introspective poetry on the walls of my bedroom. I dyed my hair purple. I shopped at second hand stores. I was so different, so, so different from everyone else. It was hard. Like Thoreau, I felt like I should go live in the woods, away from others, to better understand nature and to reflect on society. Instead I chose to watch Singles and wear combat boots and develop crushes.
Of course now, as I approach Middle Age (that sounds ominous, like Middle Earth), I understand that developmentally, all teens feel like the odd man out and different from any other person in the world. It's part of growing up. We are defining who we are, and well, we are all unique, so it makes sense that we sometimes feel lonely as we turn into the people that we are. I have turned into a quirky person, no doubt about it. I'm a little funky, sure, but for the most part, I fall right into the mold of normalcy. I fall right into the mold, especially, of being neuro-typical, which means that I think and process a lot like other people. It pretty much comes in, and goes out, typically. Now, imagine, if you will, a world where things go in and get locked up in there, or things come out and they sound and look totally different than what you'd wanted them to look, or sound, like.Imagine your drum really does beat unlike the drum of everyone else. What would it be like to be in a marching band and you're the only one not keeping the same beat? What if you are trying to keep the beat, think you are keeping the beat, but you're not?
When I got pregnant the first time, I really looked forward to delivering the perfect child. I wasn't perfect but I just didn't expect anything other than my baby being God's pure perfection. You can imagine my elation when when I delivered a perfect child. I held her warm, gooey, little body against my own and thought, "Here you are. My perfect little person." Life was perfect, besides the Normal things like painful breasts and no sleep and flabby bellies and poopy diapers.
I can't tell you when Andy or I realized that maybe Caroline wasn't Normal. We were too overwhelmed, and too tired, to know any different. At first, if I would confess to friends or family, that I was concerned she was not keeping pace with her companions, I was comforted by being reminded how competitive and neurotic I can be. Just because Caro didn't come out reading, writing, and balancing our check book, didn't mean that anything was Wrong. I was told that all kids develop differently, and that it would all even out, eventually. I assumed it'd all get ironed out when she went to school and I put those worries into the back of my brain. I had to, I gave birth to Char when Caro was 3 and a half and once again, my focus was on survival.
We experienced all the rites of passage with Caro during the first days of Kindergarten, from putting her on the school bus, getting her a little back pack and lunch pail, and helping her with her first homework assignments. We also experienced other rites of passage, ones that are rites of passage for only some kids and families. Like the first phone calls about Caro's odd behavior at school, like eating off the floor, or stealing stuff from her classmate's backpacks. Letters home asking us to sign off so she could get x, y, or z test. Two hour car rides to various medical specialists who would ask us the same questions (Does she draw a six part person? What was her birth like? Does she have suicidal thoughts?)and we'd get the same answer: something is Not Normal but we don't know What or Why or How or When.
Here I was. All along I thought that I was different and I liked being different. I thought different meant wearing funny clothes and telling dirty jokes or playing with gender neutrality while still being totally and obviously female. Suddenly, I opened my eyes and started seeing people. I had chosen, for all of my life, to pretend that people who weren't like me weren't there. Slowly, I started understanding what it means to be Different, what is means to not choose to have those differences and to question what Different really means.
I am a Tiger Mom and figuring out the What, Why, How and When became a quest for me. Seeking answers was like a Tuff Mudder obstacle race. I was willing to crawl under barbed wire, jump through fire, and climb 10 foot walls to get answers. When I'd think I couldn't do it anymore, someone, a friend, a teacher, a random interaction with someone, and mostly Caro, kept me going. You can try to ignore what you want to ignore, but it always comes back to the surface. Thanks to that fact, we are strong. It happens when you are constantly pushing yourself, doing things you never knew you could do, learning about a world you once chose to ignore. And like any race, you look around and suddenly you realize, there are a lot of other people running this course, too. And like any race, everyone looks different and approaches the obstacles differently than you. But you are all moving in the same direction, hoping to accomplish a similar goal. There is comfort here in the middle of this pain. There are also cheerleaders on the side lines with water and popsicles and music and all those things you needed when you thought you couldn't do it anymore.
What does it mean to be normal? What does it mean to be typical? What does it mean to be neuro-typical? How different are those who are not neuro-typical and those who are? I'm still exploring these questions. I haven't answered them and I'm not sure when and if I will. I do know that Caro is not neuro-typical and that she processes information and communicates differently from others. I know she's got her own beat going on, even if I don't always hear it. I know that we can help her and others can help her. I know that she is going to be ok- she is going to be great. I know that when I look at her beautiful smiling face, when she has a meltdown that she can't get out of, or when she gives me all she can to read her sight words, I go right back to the first day I held her in my arms and looked into her deep, sincere eyes and always, always, I can't help but whisper to her, "Here you are. My perfect little person."