Sissyboo has a bit of an Apple fetish. She is almost as obsessed about I-products as her Dad. And that’s saying something. If she’s not trying to watch the latest episode of The Dumping Ground on the iPad, she’s got my iPhone in her hand so she can pull Talking Tom’s tail or watch Annie in Portuguese (I’m not kidding, this has happened more than once). Her latest favourite hobby, though, is trying to watch that YouTube video where a talented American guy sings about what happens after the happily ever after for Disney heroines Ariel, Jasmine, Belle and Pocahontas. In case you haven’t seen it (look it up, it’s great!) all I’ll say is it involves BP oil spills, Guantanemo Bay, accusations of beastiality and STDs. That’s why I said trying to watch. We turn it off, much to Sissyboo’s consternation, when she gets to the juicy bits.
I love the video and not only because it’s a great antidote to the Disney Princesstastic world we live in as parents to a 5-year-old girl (don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of these films, just not always what the merchandise turns them into). It also speaks to the cynic in me. I often struggle to buy the supposedly happy endings of films or great novels and sometimes struggle to believe their scriptwriters or authors believe them either. Take Jane Austen, for example. Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility would never be happy with Colonel Brandon. He’s not really Alan Rickman, after all, whom I would marry in a heartbeat. No: Colonel Brandon is a gouty old man wearing a flannel waistcoat for heaven’s sake. She’s a teenager with an overactive imagination and sexdrive. This is not what she wants and I’m never convinced by arguments it’s what she needs either. And don’t get me started on Lizzie Bennet and Darcy. He’s not Colin Firth, lest we forget.
But for all my cynicism about the endings of books and films, I’ve found that my attitude to endings in life is rather different: somewhere between the sanguine and the downright optimistic.
Since having Mr Boo I’ve had to get used to people (including ourselves) talking about our life like the contestants on a reality show. We don’t have a life any more, it seems. We have a ‘story’; we are on ‘a journey’. And of course, stories end and journeys are supposed to conclude, one way or another. (As an aside, I think this is why I’ve been so totally seduced by the messiness and unfinishedness – I know that’s not a word, by the way – of blogs.)
The possibility that Mr Boo’s story would not end well was brought home to us early on. As I’ve written about before, it never really occurred to me until Mr Boo was a week old, and succumbed to meningitis, that he might not survive his premature birth. But I soon realised that everyone else had feared this right from the start. After he was born we received so few cards celebrating his birth compared to the days following the birth of his sister (and we have a whole lot more friends now). People who did send cards often wrote a note saying they would send a gift when he came home. I soon realised they meant if, not when. Don’t get me wrong, people were caught on the backfoot when Mr Boo was born (as we were) and I didn’t covet gifts for him. But it felt as if the (non-)contents of our letterbox were writing him off every day. People didn’t expect him to come home. That hurt. It still does.
But all’s well that ended well and we got out of the NICU. In 6 weeks. 5 weeks before he was supposed to be born. We were so thrilled. We thought, in our naivity, that the biggest hurdles were overcome (and to an extent, we were right). We had our happily ever after. And it was heavenly for a few days. And then we had more headscans. And then Mr Boo didn’t start doing things he should. We were just starting out, it turned out.
I went back to work this week and to ease the transition and to avoid having the same conversation I’ve had with so many well-meaning people since Mr Boo’s birth I sent an email round to my colleagues explaining precisely what had happend in the 13 months since I dashed out of a meeting to phone for an ambulance. I was candid and went into enough detail in the email to give people a clear picture of what our life was like now. And I’m so glad I did it. But even so, friends still wanted to know the same thing when I chatted with them in the corridor yesterday: ‘He’ll recover won’t he?’ ‘Will he be OK?’ And they tried to reassure me: ‘It’ll be alright in the end, I’m sure.’ When is this mythical ending day, I wonder? When did life become a Disney film?
Of course, I’m touched that people want the very best for Mr Boo and for us. And I am so grateful for their love and support, which has carried me through much of the last few months. But I find that I can’t really answer their questions or address their comments. I just smile and thank them. Why? Not because we don’t know how things are going to pan out (and of course, we don’t know how extensive Mr Boo’s physical and cognitive development will be impaired by his brain damage). No: it’s because I think we’re speaking at cross purposes.
Will he recover? No. He has permanent brain damage and brain plasticity, while marvellous and utterly beguiling, can never fully repair what’s been lost. But will he be OK, will it be alright in the end? Well if this means (as I think it variously does) will he walk or go to mainstream school, the answer is: maybe; or then again, maybe not.
But will he be OK? Of course. He is OK and he will be OK. He is the most lovely, contented yet determined baby I’ve ever met, and he loves and is loved so much. It will be alright in the end because it’s already alright. It has been from the beginning actually.
Our life isn’t perfect. Whose is? I have cried more in the last year than I have in my whole 36 years to date and I would do or give up anything to get a better start in life for Mr Boo. But at the end of each day I am more genuinely and deeply happy than any Disney or Jane Austen heroine.
Happiness, I’ve discovered, is a state of mind, not an objective reality. End of.
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