Last night was the spring concert at the girls’ elementary school. It had all the makings of a community event, where each class sang one song, 4th and 5th graders played “Ode to Joy” on recorders, the music teacher and principal were appreciative to all those who attended, and cookies and cider followed. It was a sweet community event, and my Sylvie wasn’t there. She’s got her monthly crud, and we’re hoping it doesn’t develop into pneumonia again and throw her back in the hospital. Her papa, sister, and I left her at home with one of her Personal Care Assistants. Leaving Sylvie behind has become somewhat common place, and while it’s more “convenient” it feels horrible. Our family isn’t complete when my two girls aren’t together. Yet it’s feeling more and more difficult to include Sylvie in things, and I suppose it’s prudent that we didn’t drag Sylvie out on a cold, rainy April night into a loud and chaotic gymnasium of little people. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help feeling a bit blue that Sylvie wasn’t with us. Much in the same way I feel just a little remorse when I see two able-bodied twin siblings dressed alike and/or playing. It’s a quiet twinge that doesn’t rear its ugly head much anymore, but it’s still there. Last night was one such night.
As I watched the various little people with their families, I also couldn’t help but think about all the hidden lives we don’t know about that were congregated in that one crowded gym for an hour. What does that family eat? Who is that boy’s mother? Is that child abused at home? What terrors and joys does that little girl hold inside? What type of adult is that child going to grow up to be? Where is that handsome family going for April break? What is like to have family living in the same town as you? Has anyone else left their child at home because he or she is too sick to be out in the world? My mind wandered as the children sang, thinking of all the secrets, hardships, mysteries and daily routines that we don’t see of our neighbors. It’s not that I assume we’re all the walking wounded; I just take comfort in knowing that things are never as clean as they appear on the outside. This helps me avoid having a constant pity party for myself and family.
Another reminder that we all have hidden lives: I read a story earlier today about a local Vermont man who has autism, and with the use of facilitated communication has written a screenplay about his life. He has an active mind, yet his limited speech has restricted his ability to communicate with others. Yet it is clear from this story that he is someone who is very inquisitive and thoughtful, even as others have not always acknowledged or known of his intelligence. It’s a good reminder for me that my little Sylvie may actually have a very rich internal life (to which I may or may not ever be privy). I hope she is having big, wonderful thoughts and dreams in her little head. A hidden life indeed!
Kirsten is the mother of 6-year old twin girls and works as a professor of Communication Studies at the State University of New York.