For most people, life goes on. The years are punctuated with transitions, but for the most part time seems linear. Day by day, month by month, then year by year, time passes. Not so for us. Developmental disorders play tricks with time. Some things are s-l-o-w-e-d right down, for better or for worse. There is truly something magical about witnessing childhood in slow-motion. Every breakthrough is a special gift. And just when you think you start to understand, you’ll find yourself living through something that you thought was left behind. Then suddenly your kid is catapulted through progress, and a new phase of development begins.
Cubby is the exact age that Pudding was when we noticed her language difficulties. So many of the things that we noticed in Pudding at this time are emerging in him. It becomes impossible to tell which things are sensory processing challenges, which are behaviors imitating his sister, and what might be autism. Time will tell, but time moves slowly haunted by these ghosts.
Foreign Service life plays tricks with time too. The line of time becomes a series of connected cycles. Move, adjust, live, prepare, move. Somewhere between prepare and move, the whole process takes you back to the beginning. Right now I’m living through an almost constant feeling of déjà vu: the same events, places, people, and emotions from two years ago. I say that I don’t know if I’m coming or going, but they cycle moves on even if I feel trapped in time.
Cubby’s IEP meeting took place in the same place as Pudding’s first one. The same school and the same room. I sat at the same table. So I wasn’t present for that meeting. My mind was somewhere two years previously. Afterwards I’m finding it hard to forgive myself for not pushing harder for more services for him. Of course, we are moving, so Cubby won’t go to school there. Things will be different for him, but when I flashed back, it felt eerily familiar. Defeated and voiceless.
On Thursday we drove by the apartments I talked about here. I still remember sitting on the couch next to Pudding, trying to see if she would look at me when I called her name. Like time paused back then, the details are so vivid…the fabric of the sofa, the taste of salty tears, the too-bright orange of goldfish crackers that she could eat back then. I’m bracing myself for our return; we’ll stay there for a week before we leave for South Africa. I snapped out of my reverie to tell the kids that we would be going there soon. Prepare.
Pudding looked out of the window as we passed by. “It’s got a swimming pool.”
I can’t speak. Does she remember? It was two years ago, she was only 2 1/2 years old…how can she remember?
“And a playground.”
I wonder what else she remembers. At the time she didn’t seem to pay attention to our distress. I thought she didn’t notice when I cried, and I cried there a lot. I know better now. I know she is always taking everything in. Maybe she can’t respond appropriately, maybe she doesn’t have the language to tell us, but she remembers.
If I think I’m having flashbacks, I don’t know what it must feel like to her. We may be going through a cycle, but that doesn’t mean we can’t change it. Record some good memories over the painful ones. So in these last few weeks, I’m winding down the therapies, easing back on commitments. Making the time about them. Celebrating time, instead of fearing it. So when these flashbacks return, as they will in another cycle, we’ll welcome them.
Before we know it, we’ll be flashing forward to something new.