Rory has lived with us for 21 months now, and I still feel like I don’t know her. I love her, and I’m charmed by her, and I want to scoop her up and give her raspberries, but I don’t know her.
I’m not sure she knows herself.
I can predict what she’ll do on lots of occasions. If Wyatt pushes her accidentally, she will explode into tears and hollers and shrieks. If Wyatt whacks her over the head with a Thomas train, she will do exactly the same thing. (I can only tell the difference between a reaction to actual, arguable injury and a lot of fuss about nothing if she’s REALLY hurt.) If I have a lengthy conversation with anyone else, she will think of something to interrupt with. If I need a “helper,” she will be right there. She alone will remember to empty her lunch box after school and will almost never omit to clear her plate. She will leave her jacket exactly where she dropped it, no matter where we are, including in the doorway of the grocery store.
But I don’t know which of those things really say anything about who she’ll be in ten years.
With my bio three (and I think this has more to do with how long I’ve known then than with anything bio) I have seen, for so long, how they react to each little thing, the different ways they take a setback, how they are when another kid comes along, or it rains on their parade, to know, I think, at least what their inclinations will be as they’re older. Sam is inclined to be happy. Lily is inclined to see her cup as half empty (in fact, she’s inclined to insist she doesn’t even have a cup) but some of that is just a reaction to Sam, or a habit: Lily rises to real problems and is better at making the best of a really bad situation than she is at accepting that there are no Honey Nut Cheerios. Wyatt is a little uncertain. He would like to be happy, but he would also like to know what’s going to happen next, and whether it will be something to be happy about. He is very ready to take his cues about how to react from someone he admires.
And Rory is … I don’t know.
For so long, I thought Rory was cantankerous. Challenging. Always looking to see how the most disruption could be caused or how to bring a situation under her control. Now, I’m beginning to see those as things she does, rather than the way she is. And I am beginning to suspect that maybe she’s not that way at all.
In between those episodesâ€”in between, say, the time she took the sandwich out of the lunch container I’d put it in, turned it over and put it back in, just so she could do it her way, or the foot-kicking, screaming tantrum she still tosses off daily, usually over something so small that it barely seems worthy of comment to the rest of usâ€”Rory is sweet. Not just occasionally sweet, like Lily bossing Wyatt into his hat and mittens “so you won’t be cold,” but really sweet. Mommy I get ice for your coffee sweet. Don’t worry Wyatt, I bring you your lunchbox sweet. Rushing, frantic, to get a fallen Lily a “boo-boo buddy” for a head cracked on the coffee table. Sweet, empathetic, thoughtful in a way that suggests a whole different person under there than the one I expect to address when I get up in the morning.
And there’s the most important word in this whole post: Expect.
If I expect an ornery, shit-kicking Rory, then I am going to get one, no matter what she’s really doing or feeling or being. I will see the behaviors I expect to see, and I will respond to all the behaviors as though they were what I expect to get. I will focus on what she’s doing that fulfills my expectations rather than trying to see what she really is. Maybe she’ll still grow up into herself. But sometimes I suspect Rory doesn’t know why she does some of the things she does. Sometimes I think maybe she doesn’t even want to. What if I try not to see what I expect, but what’s really there?
Cross-posted at No Hands But Ours.