Filing It Away
Well here I sit, another day older and closer to death, eating leftovers at my desk on my lunch break. Here I am with a birthday cake hangover, trying to pound out a blog entry because I’m overdue in getting something posted this week. Here I am, unsure of what to say because I am wondering lately where this blog is going. It seems blogs are, like music, highly genre specific, and yet all I want to do is prattle on about whatever topic floats into view for me that day.
I keep thinking I should write a follow up to the last post on loving my body for what it is and not what I think it should be because people have responded to that message more emphatically, more gratefully than perhaps anything I have ever written. And it is a message that is near and dear to me, one that I have talked about before and will talk about again.
But that’s not where my mind is today. Today, I’m sort of straddling dual mindsets, a Pinterest induced organization mania mixed with a quiet and kind of melancholy nostalgia. So, prattling it will be today, and perhaps next time I will organize a tidy series on body image like a proper blogger would do.
Monday was my birthday, though I have been celebrating since Friday since I have darn near perfected the art of stretching my birthday out for a full week. This year for my birthday, I told Sam that I wanted a sturdy, old file cabinet. It’s a bizarre birthday request, I know, but part of what I wanted was to have a project to throw myself into over the weekend. I found a used file cabinet online, and Sam picked it up for me on Friday.
It is one of those sturdy beasts from 30 years ago. I promptly dragged it into the garage and started removing the hardware and sanding down the gunmetal gray paint. Saturday morning had us at the home improvement store picking out a crisp white paint to give the metal hull of the thing a facelift. Saturday afternoon, I combed through my online inspirations to pick out the perfect design to add, and Saturday night after the boys went to bed, I was back in the garage, paintbrush in hand, to put on the finishing touches.
I love having a project to complete. For some reason, painting is a kind of therapy for me. I always seem to pick the hot months to start these projects, and I have come to love the ritual of bending over a canvas or kneeling in front of a piece of furniture, arms sticky, shirt sweat-glued to my back. It’s like hot yoga meets meditation meets a visit to the shrink for me. By the time I’m done, I’m sore and sweaty and exhausted, but with a sense of release and accomplishment.
Sam says I’m sick. He can’t imagine how anyone could enjoy sitting out in a hot garage in July, breathing paint fumes and getting sawdust stuck to my shiny, paint-splattered legs. And to do it all for the sake of revamping a file cabinet just so I can have the pleasure of organizing stacks of papers into neat little folders? He's starting to wonder if the OCD has finally taken over what was left of my sanity.
Whether it means I'm disturbed or not, I spent the evening of my birthday sitting in front of my lovely, new (to me) file cabinet, cheerfully labeling manilla folders and sliding them in the drawers. A mindless show on the television, the kids each eating a slice of my birthday cake, and mounds of paperwork either put in its proper place or culled and in a heap on the floor beside me: I was one happy girl. At least, I was until I got to what I have been calling The Lincoln Pile.
I was warned about a lot of things that parenthood would bring to my life. I was warned about the pregnancy aches and pains, the fear of SIDS, the difficulty of nursing, the sleepless nights, the death of your social life, the terror of the twos and the teen years. But not one person mentioned that my children would generate an absurd amount of paperwork, paperwork sent home from school, from the doctor, from church. Every time I pick up one of my kids, I am handed a stack of papers. Sure, some of it is the "look, mom, I made this!" kind of thing, but so much of it is this really important, you-would-read-and-do-this-if-you-were-a-good-parent paperwork stuff that is almost impossible to throw away with a clean conscience.
It's beyond ridiculous with our "typical" kid, but it's absolutely staggering the amount of paperwork generated by raising a special needs child. In the last few years, I've gotten more adept at screening the paperwork that comes in and sending unnecessary stuff straight to the recycle bin, but for the first year or so of Lincoln's life, I couldn't throw anything away.
Hence, The Lincoln Pile, the monster that has been lurking in the back of a cabinet for several years. On Monday, I brought it out into the light. It took several trips, but eventually I gathered it all on the living room floor and went through it all, piece by piece. Who knew that thirty different groups produced an information packet on Down syndrome? Or that friends and family would send me articles and calendars featuring people with DS?
Going through booklets and pamphlets and notebooks and handouts, I could feel on these old pieces of paper the sadness and fear that prompted me to keep them all, bundled and stacked and hidden just in case. Just in case it turned out to be like the paperwork predicted. Just in case his eyes ended up being faulty, or his heart. Just in case it turned out to be more than ordinary folks like us could bear.
Yes, it was fear that made me hold on to it all, and it was also fear that made me throw it all into an unseen corner to wait, hulking and menacing, poised and ready to be needed some day. What if he fails me? What if I fail him? Either way, one day, we might need a 300 page binder of resources, so I better hang on to it just in case. I better keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.
While I sorted through those old memories and old fears, Lincoln sat on the couch, eating chocolate cake and calling me every few minutes: Ma! Watch! Ma!
He calls me Ma usually, though occasionally he will break out the more formal Maw-Ma. "Maw-Ma, I need meelk." He still uses the signs he learned, so he will come in to the kitchen to show me the sign for milk, raising his eyebrows and signing it very slowly as if I have comprehension problems. I'm sure he's used to that, the slow, emphatic statement designed to capture Lincoln's attention.
On Monday, he was insistent that he needed one more piece of cake. He would walk up to me, smack my arm, and say, "Ma! Need cay!' "No," I would tell him, "you only get one piece of cake." And yet, two minutes later, he would be back begging for cake again, pointing desperately to the birthday cake on the counter.
And the whole time, I was busy sorting through the paperwork that felt so limiting, so terrifying in our first year as his parents. I was throwing out the baby sign language manual someone printed out for us because clearly his words are dominant now over his signs. I was throwing away the receipts for doctors visits we thought would be earth-shattering but turned out to be just preventative and perfunctory. Every time I would get too bogged down in density of the paperwork, Linc would appear and just be a sweet, insistent toddler. By the end of the night, I felt like I'd shed an old skin. Paperwork that had threatened me for four years was tamed, and the casualties of my battle with The Lincoln Pile were scattered around me.
And as I slid the drawer shut, filing away the remnants of the old fears, it was time take Lincoln to bed. I sang him a song that my father used to sing to me, one that was very hard to sing to Linc in his first few months but has become a favorite of ours since then:
You are so beautiful to me
You are so beautiful to me, can't you see
You're everything that I hoped for
Everything that I dreamed
And you are so beautiful to me