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Thursday, August 16, 2018

On Janey being 14, and a day when I was 14.

The birthday girl
Janey is 14 today.  She seems to be having a good birthday.  Both she and her brother Freddy, who shares her birthday (he is turning 21), like best the lowest of low key birthdays, so for once I am totally honoring that.  No parties, no presents, just a little singing of Happy Birthday and later, a candle in a tiny cake.  For Janey, a good day means lots of rides and lots of food she likes, and lots of us honoring her most used phrase lately---"Go away!"---so she can watch her shows without our annoying presence.

As Janey gets older, I seem to do more and more comparing of her teen years to mine.  I mostly enjoyed my teens.  I liked high school, I made some great lifelong friends, I was fairly happy.  That's how it is in my memory, anyway.  I think about Janey's life and feel sad that it's so limited.  She doesn't have friends.  She doesn't do anything with anyone but family.  To her, a big day is one with a car ride and a Happy Meal.  I want more for her.

To get some real world perspective, I decided to dig up an old diary and look at what my life was actually like at Janey's age.  I didn't write anything on my 14th birthday, but I found the next entry after that, about two weeks later.  It was interesting to read.  My life was not exactly a stream of exciting events.  I wrote that in World History, we played "new games" with Jud the Jester.  Who exactly Jud the Jester is is lost to history, although I sort of remember that new games were a thing for a while, non-competitive games, but what that had to do with world history is unclear to me.  I almost fainted in Health.  I do remember that---and I almost fainted again remembering it, how we were learning about compound fractures, complete with a photo.  I watched an After-School Special.  Although I didn't note which one it was, a quick bit of research showed it was "Where Do Teenagers Come From?"  My sister Carrie had her friend Ruthie over.  That was my day.  It sounds about typical for my earlier teens.

The most interesting part was what I wrote after I wrote about the day's events.  Here it is---"There are a lot of things that happen that I don't write in my diary.  Just mostly because I want to forget them, not remember them.  Nothing awful, you know, just not remember-type things."  That hit me.  Not that I remember what those things were, so I guess not writing about them worked, but it hit me that we do edit our memories.  A lot of life is just---living.  And some of life isn't great, not for anyone.  Somehow, realizing that made me feel better about Janey's life.  It's not a typical life, but I think most of the time, she's happy with it.  If she were able to write a diary about today, or about a school day, as I did, I imagine that it wouldn't be that different than mine---what happened in classes, what she watched on TV, a few things that get stored in long term storage memory like the almost fainting, and other things that get purposefully or not kept out of memory.

Janey is not me.  She wouldn't be me, even if she wasn't autistic.  She is her own person.  She doesn't hesitate to let us know what she likes or doesn't like.  I am glad of that.  She's happier today than I remember her being on any other birthday, because she is doing the things she likes.

And so, as Freddy joins his brother William in full adulthood, I'll keep trying to give Janey the best teenage years I can---her own version of good years, not mine.

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