and then she was 20

Some days are a writing prompt waiting for me.  Notions and ideas come from everywhere inside and out and I get lost in the riches of too much. Other days, I get nothing. And then there are days, when a host of mundane tasks call out to be done immediately, and I am sure I should sit and tap on the keyboard.  When the chore is getting Julia to school or a scheduled zoom for either of us, I give in, do it, but then there are days like today.

Showered, breakfasted, clothes from last night’s late wash in the dryer.  Kitchen should get cleaned up to bake Julia’s birthday cake, a run to get the saki to accompany the take out ramen she wants for dinner, a vacuum of the living room that smells like smoke because the wind came down the chimney last night and the supervising that will get Julia’s art homework started.  None of it taking too long but I know those kinds of tasks——They eat up your my soul.  They take longer than I suppose and tiny add-on tasks pop up along the way. I’ll steam along until either it is time to pick up the supper take out or I need a nap.

And so, I decide to sit down.  Leave the dishes and baking and saki run for later.

Today is Julia’s birthday.  20 years old.  If I remember right, Cheshire spent her 20th birthday at college, in a dorm, with friends.  We called.  I missed spending some birthday time with her but she was doing exactly what she was supposed to be doing.  Growing up.  I recognized her pattern.

Julia is growing up as well, but not according to anyone’s pattern, not fitting into anyone’s mold.  I felt that way myself when I was a young person.  I had many friends who felt the same.  Something about them—their vocation, their sexuality, their skin color, their politics, their disability—put them at odds with family or the  peers they grew up with.  We felt out of step with the plan of the world that surrounded us.  We struggled to get free of perceived restraints, eventually found kindred souls and created what we imagined was a unique new life path. Now, to look back at that revolutionary process, I can almost chuckled at the effort.  I, and indeed I am not speaking for anyone else but myself, found a path just to the left of the one I needed so badly to leave.  My life has not been far from parallel to the one I might have had had I conformed to every stricture that my family and peers seemed so comfortable with.  

And then, I look at Julia.  She is 20.  About 15 years ago, when we first met, I expected her life to mirror in some general way what Cheshire’s life was.  When I saw she had artistic talent that was extraordinary, I expected rebellion—tattoos and nose rings or whatever budding artists do today—I could see a room, maybe a basement or a garage littered with canvas or clay, I could see clothes stained with paint.  Maybe she would be up all of her nights editing video or sewing some fantastical creation.  Maybe she would be doing something I could not imagine.  I could make all those imaginings quickly and still come no where near to the Julia I know today.

She is herself.  I know what she lacks.  I still don’t know where she is going.  I don’t know her path.  I have set her feet on what might be her path, but she has skillfully altered whatever I set down. She has veered from the ordinary, she is not on some relatively safe parallel way, she is in a universe of her own.  

Is that okay?

I have no idea. However, I do not underestimate her. 

Julia came home on Thursday ornery and depressed.  We had a family therapy session so it was a good time to get at what was bothering her.  Honestly, I think at times something happens that upsets her and she holds onto the mood and forgets what happened to make her feel that way.  Hard to solve problems when you can’t articulate what they are. After prodding, she finally said that she was upset that she could not do the scratch art project. This is the point when I wonder if I should advocate for her or let her do it herself but considering that we have 4 days off, nothing much to do for 3, and she would forget any prompting to advocate for herself by Tuesday, I  got in touch with her art teacher, found out more about the project—really, where I could find directions and got moving. 

The challenges were easy to recognize. Unclear multiple directions are impossible for Julia. There was a loose paragraph that I had to read a few times to understand the process.  Those were the written directions. I assume typical art students would have grasped it much sooner than I did.  The teacher made a video in which further direction were imbedded.  Again, instructions to be absorbed not actually followed.

Julia’s first response to such a challenge is to say she can’t do it.  That has always been her first response!  Even before she could speak English, she could refuse to try new activities very effectively.  

When I understood the process, I told Julia step by step what needed to be done.  I was happily surprised that she was game to try.  I didn’t even need to write out the directions to look more like a baking recipe.  First, she needed the supplies and those supplies were in school.  No one is supposed to enter the school when it is not in session (Covid rules), and I, as a non-student, am not really allowed beyond the front office.  

But we went to school and finding the front doors open, went where we needed to.

We found the little cups of white paint and black ink with her name on them in the front hall just as the loose paragraph has said.  She need the board she would work on and she knew she had that up in Room 361.  We went up there and the room was locked.  We had no trouble finding someone to open the room and Julia retrieved her board.  

When we got home, she started the coats of white paint.  She painted, waited for the paint to dry and coated again.  Today, she is putting on the black ink and I suppose tomorrow she will begin scratching.  She needed some reminding to keep the process going but she is very happy to do it.  I think she will be very happy to hand in the assignment as well.  

I guess my point here is that Julia’s path, so much her own, still at 20, needs so much guidance.  She needs an advocate and a translator.  We are making great strides in finding services for her—her own therapist, a family therapist, and two mentors at the moment.  I shiver because I don’t know where we go from here.  School is a few months from over.  She will go into a transition program that is still as amorphous as it was five year ago.  I hear that Newton has a good program and that every transition program is different to accommodate that student’s needs.  I want to know what she will be doing—actually doing on some Monday at 10 a.m. or Thursday at 2 p.m.  I don’t necessarily trust this process because I have never found navigating Julia’s path to be without a great deal of effort on my part.  And I don’t know where to put my effort at the present moment.  

So, I need to come back to today.  And breathe.  Julia is 20.  We had some good conversations yesterday about the huge challenge of a scratch art project.  The huge challenge had very doable steps. We asked for help, we did some stuff on our own and asked for help again.  And now the project is getting done.  Once she gets to do the art itself, there is no challenge at all.  And once again, I take great solace in that.  If I can help her get to making the art and then stand back . . . . 

Happy Birthday, Julia!

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