Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Elsa's Mother

Trust me, it's good.
Recently, I got a haircut.  Unlike most adults of my age, I do not have a "regular" hair stylist or salon.  I have a tendency to get two haircuts a year and in so doing, I have never been one to schedule these things.  What happens next varies as much as the people who have trimmed my tresses.  Sometimes both the stylist and myself are quiet, talking only to gain approval for length and layers.  Other times the stylist begins talking before the cape is secured over my shoulders, ceasing only to check-in other customers or when my new version of the same coif walks out the door.  Mostly, however, it falls somewhere in between; small talk.  Small talk goes through the "What do you do?", "Are you married?", "Do you have kids?" flow that seems to be somewhat universal.  Once we've established that I have two children the usually dominate the conversation.....as their personalities demand.

This most recent haircut, the stylist asked the ages of my children and when I said my kindergartner is six years old, it prompted more questions.  Sweet Girl is a year older than most kindergartners and this intrigued my stylist.  I decided to shorten the inquiries by saying that Sweet Girl was on the autism spectrum and so she was not the same developmental age as her "typical peers."  I could have started with that, but autism has a tendency to hijack a conversation.  Some people say "Oh, I'm sorry." and quickly move on to something else.  Some people say "Oh, my (fill in relative or friend) is too." and then the conversation moves on to the varying degrees of the challenges and rewards autism presents.  And again, there's that somewhere in the middle; curiosity mixed with some prior knowledge.  For my last haircut it was this: "Oh, really?  That must be hard.  But what's her 'power'? Cause you know they all have one."  Um......where to begin?

First, I'm not going to address the many things that are incorrect about her statement and the sweeping generalizations and assumptions which helped form that statement.  I'm not going to do that because her intent was better formed than her question.  Second, my Sweet Girl does have powers-  as does every other person on this planet.  I could write a book on how I get annoyed every time someone tries to "silver line" my girl's challenges.  I don't need you to point out how this girl has made me a better listener, or more compassionate, or less judgmental (hopefully), or tougher, or leaky-eyed, or kinder (see less judgmental).  I don't need you to tell me how I am better now at knowing what things are truly important, how to really see blessings for what they are, or how to revel in the miracles of successfully completed minutiae.  I don't need you to do that for me, because I KNOW.  And even if I don't really comprehend or grasp these things while living in the moment, I damn sure know better than you; person who is not living my life.  More importantly, I don't need you to give me reasons to appreciate my daughter.  To me, that girl is strength, courage, light, and laughter personified so don't tell me where to find solace in something where I find no sorrow.  Yeah, I could write a book but I'll leave it at that for now because this post isn't about that.  It's not even about haircuts.  This post is about Sweet Girl and her power.

I've talked before about how Sweet Girl could sing before she could really talk.  Sweet Girl doesn't
The cold never bothered her anyway.


just hear music, she feels music.  When music is on: words aren't difficult to form; limbs become graceful and fluid; emotions are mastered and controlled; the world is hers to control.  She can remember lyrics and tunes.  She can crescendo (decrescendo too, but let's be real, crescendo is where it's at for a six year-old) and match rhythms.  When the song is out of her natural range, she automatically drops it an octave finding the matching pitch easily without even knowing she did something kind of amazing.  Music does more than wash over her, it goes through her and when it does she uses it: that's Sweet Girl's power.

I wasn't surprised when she loved the movie Frozen (I swear Disney is not paying me to write about how my kids love their movies.  It would be awesome if I were, but alas, I am not that cool.).  The story is pretty great and the music is amazing.  We have seen it three times - three times so far.  I reserve the right to see it again, as I'm happy to watch it a fourth time and I know both Sweet Girl and Little Man would be thrilled.  We downloaded the soundtrack and thus began Sweet Girl's current musical obsession.   She knows every word and what she has with one hundred percent accuracy is every emotion.  Her power allows her to take the music and use it to express every emotion the composers hoped it would, and there's some pretty heavy stuff in this movie.  And so it was, that on the fifty-seventh run-through of "Let It Go" in an afternoon, my ears heard her better and my heart understood her better as well.

If you haven't seen the movie (what are you waiting for?), here's a very quick recap.  Elsa and Anna are sisters.  Elsa was born with a power to create frozen things.  She can create snow and ice with the wave of her hand, but she can't control it very well.  After an accident, Elsa is isolated to her room and Anna is left not knowing why her sister no longer wants to hang out.  Tragedy occurs (it's Disney, so naturally the parents die) and Elsa and Anna inherit the kingdom.  On the day of Elsa's coronation, the sisters argue and Elsa accidentally puts the kingdom in an untimely winter freeze.  She runs away from the frightened and accusatory crowd and the rest of the movie centers on Anna's quest to bring Elsa back to thaw out the kingdom and heal their relationship.  There are several themes that run throughout the movie.  Sisterhood is definitely one, but loneliness is another.  "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" chronicles Anna's attempts to get Elsa out of her room to play.  We hear Anna's voice and see her boredom and loneliness, but as we watched the movie I thought more about Elsa.  How lonely it must be to have something-something which you did not ask for- you can't control that requires you to stay away from the people you love.  Elsa's parents coached her to try to conceal her power, like a good girl, rather than trying to help her learn to control it.  How lonely to feel that a part of you is essentially wrong.  How lonely to feel that you must hide something unique about yourself to be a part of everyday life.  How lonely to not be able to talk to anyone about it without fear of judgment.  How lonely.

I often bristle at using terms like "good girl" when talking to Sweet Girl about behavior expectations.  This life she leads is not always within her control.  There are days that her skin seems to not fit her correctly, and there are days when control of her emotions is as far away from her as the moon.  If I send her the message that she isn't a "good girl" because she tries to find a way to navigate these days - no matter how ugly that attempt may be - then I'm telling her she's not "good."  This is a part of her that she shouldn't feel she has to cover up.  I don't want her to feel like she has to conceal any part of her personality to be "good" to me.  When I hear her sing "Let It Go" at top volume from the basement, I know why Sweet Girl's version sounds even better than Idina Menzel's to me.  Sweet Girl knows that loneliness.  She lives it everyday.  Of course she understands the desire to find a place where there is no one to judge your powers.  Sweet Girl knows what it's like to be able to create something amazing but have the world question it - to have the world ask you to put it away.  Tonight she found a You Tube version of the song in a foreign language.  Sweet Girl didn't miss a beat though.  And that's because it's not the words that are important to her, it's the meaning.

That's not to say that there isn't a time and place for powers to be used.  Elsa's emotional outburst put her kingdom in a deep freeze in the middle of summer.  Sweet Girl's emotional outbursts disrupt her learning and on some days it disrupts her, period.  So while I long to give her a North Mountain where she can create a beautiful ice castle where she can be her true self, I know that I have to do everything I can to help her gain control.  I want to help ease her loneliness and help her make connections with others so she can come out of her room and build a snowman.  It's hard to figure this out.  It makes me tired and some days I feel as though it is an insurmountable task.  Then I remember that this is probably similar to how Sweet Girl feels every day and I screw my courage up for another attempt at finding the right balance.  And I cue up the music one more time because Sweet Girl has left enough power there for the both of us.  
  

1 comment:

  1. Four has perfect pitch, always has. The words and music enter his brain in one whole piece and come out pretty near perfect moments later. Two and Three, both singers who must WORK at it, are very jealous of his power. And they encourage me, often, to sign him up for a choir or acting lessons and I think about it but then I get scared. I don't know if I hesitate for him or me, because it's exhausting, the worrying about fitting in, wanting people to accept and love him. And then I'm annoyed that I have to make him fit into the world instead of the world bending for him and I want to move to the middle of nowhere and just let him do what he wants.

    But we are here. So, every day I kiss him and send him off and tamp down the worry and do the best we can and wish I could do more. And it makes me leaky-eyed.

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