My daughter laughed today. Genuinely and heartily and, as her face lit up, my heart filled with joy; hope; love. The much-needed reassurance that she still knows how to, and she still can. She’s still in there. That wee girl who laughed and sang her way through the first 10 years of her life. She’s still there.
If you’ve ever experienced darkness of your own, you think you’re equipped to deal with someone else’s. But it’s not always what you imagine it to be. They resent your experience, your relatability. This is their journey, not yours. They don’t want you to say “listen, I felt like this too…” because, in all reality, you didn’t. You can’t possibly have felt the exact or precise thing that is causing them distress. And then you’ve lost their faith. You’ve dismissed their individual pain as common place. And with a troubled teen, this is catastrophic.
8 years ago, when my daughter was 10, life changed in so my ways. As an adult, I struggled to cope with the changes, but I was told repeatedly, when I voiced concerns for Arran’s ability to cope, “children are resiliant, don’t underestimate her and create problems that aren’t there .”
But she wasn’t resilient. She increasingly couldn’t cope with people her own age, with social media, with grown-ups, with loss and grief, with everyone ‘knowing’ what was best for her and, ultimately, with life.
But she smiled today. She laughed and joked with her brothers; she laughed and told us she loved us. She loves us. She is there.
I just wish this was the journey back to ‘Arran’. To the vibrant, funny, intelligent, beautiful and unique person she was always meant to be. The person she hides from the world; The person who takes her brother’s Superman lunch box to work and doesn’t care what people think about this; The person who dislikes her siblings intensely until they share stories of being hurt by the actions of another, then she has to be held back; The person who is selfless, loyal and generous when it comes to friendship (until the first hint of distance, then she’s done). The person who doesn’t know where she fits in in this world. The person she pretends isn’t bothered by anything. Pretending to be heartless, souless and so full of hate so that people will walk away first – saves a lot of trouble in the long run, right?
And I want to remind her of this the next time we have to go to A&E; the next time we have to dress wounds, rub in bio-oil to lessen scars and soothe the self-hatred. But that’s a different Arran. She wouldn’t recognise the person I’ve described. This warm, carefree, hilarious and wonderful individual that she is. That Arran is desperate and alone in the darkness.
Bit she’s still there. Because she laughed today.
People tell me all the time “She’ll get there”. I’m sure she will. But where? How does anyone know where she is going when she doesn’t know herself – did you? We expect so much of our young people, purely because they are young. We expect them to cope with some of the most difficult situations during the most significant periods of their life, arriving unscathed into adulthood. Adults receive:”take as much time as you need”, young people get: “that’s awful…but shouldn’t you be at school?”
I often think I should have done things differently; should be doing things differently. She is angry at the world, at the people closest to her for their inability to change the past, promise the future. I spend time selfishly crying in corners when that is wasted energy and self-indulgent. I was a troubled and dark teen and the irony of the situation is not lost on me. I too felt like a square peg in a round hole, felt ‘different’ to the people I lived with, couldn’t work out what my place in the family was. So I should be a guru for Arran, not public enemy number one. Why are we not kindred spirits? But parent/child relationships don’t work like that.
I see the sons and daughters of my friends on social media celebrating life in all its glory, discovering adulthood like something out of an American ‘coming of age’ film. Trips to the beach, late night drives for ice-cream and ‘spring break’. And I feel a pang of emotion. Sadness? Guilt? Envy? I want so badly for her to have this, this discovery of life, these memories. Friendship. Youth. I get so frustrated when I see her intentionally poisoning the well, limiting her options, wishing she would understand that not everyone needs to be tested, not everyone will let her down. But, on the other hand, there is another emotion. There is pride. She is unashamedly her. She is bold enough to be alone should it be a better option than being where she is misunderstood or undervalued; she is bold enough to say “nah, that’s not me. This is me, take it or leave it” (albeit, usually with painful consequences) She is bold enough to be that girl who turns up to work with her brother’s Superman lunchbox and say “What?” to anyone who gives her a sideway look. Despite her desperate attempts to cease to exist, she is still here. She is bold enough to say “Mum. I’m sorry. I need help. Will you help me?”
And for all the time I say “I just can’t do this. This is too hard.” I will. Because I’m her mum.
And because she laughed today.