And in the limp through years of bored schooling
She’s accustomed to hearing that she could never run far
A slipped disc in the spine of community
A bloody curse word in a pedestrian verse
Her heart beats like a breezeblock thrown down the stairs
Her skin is thicker than concrete forced to be brave
She was, she was
A broken elevator anthem held between floors
But if blood is thicker than concrete
All is not lostFrightened Rabbit, “State Hospital”
To my boy. When I wrote to your oldest sister, I told her that she was the most like me of the three of you. While I am not conceding that as true, I will tell you that when I look at it a different way- in terms of which kid sees the world the most like me? The answer has to be you.
I’ve sung and read past the lyrics at the top of this blog more times than I can articulate. The entire blog has been framed around and inspired by song lyrics; and especially the lyrics written by Frightened Rabbit. Singer Scott Hutchison- mostly about his own personal demons. “State Hospital” is decidedly different in that it is written about not himself, but another character that he could identify with. And he tucked it away somewhere right in the very middle of one of his later albums.
I relate to it because I have been through years of bored schooling where nobody expected me to “run far.” I’ve felt people speak to and treat me like a curse word thrown in a pedestrian verse. I’ve known what it’s like to feel like an anthem, trapped between two floors. Unnoticed. Missing everything, seemingly, by just a half step. Out of place. Misunderstood. And you, my son, have known what that feels like too. I see it in your eyes when I watch you watch the world.
Your parents are partially to blame for not figuring it out at first. But I saw me in you and I wasn’t about to let your path be like my brother’s. I had to break the cycle. So I found out what was wrong and read book after book about how we could help you. Then we did. All of the outrage, loneliness and fear I felt as a child came out of me. And this gigantic roar was built for nothing else but making sure that the elevator was adjusted in every way possible to make sure you stepped off on each and every floor. That you were able to show off the amazing sensitivities and talents that you have and you could share your anthem as loud as your perceived weaknesses.
Your first grade teacher and principal were free to tell us about the “padded rooms” they had available for the bad kids with bad parents who were far easier to label than to help. Where they successfully “other” children into angry places from which they may never return. And the loss? It’s monumental, not just to these kids, but to society as well.
When Daddy and I were thinking of names for you, I wanted something simple and clean and clearly spelled. We lost my Grandpa Jack (itself a nickname for John), while I was pregnant with you and it just seemed… obvious to us at that point that we were going to name you after him. Grandpa Jack (my Dad’s Dad), who looked like and laughed like the Goofy Disney character with his baseball cap and overalls, and who took me in as a granddaughter with open arms because it was “high time the boy settled down and got serious” with a family. The one with a randy military youth himself, before marrying an outspoken, matter-of-fact woman with a huge heart and then settling down for a lifetime as a practical, responsible farmer. Grandpa Jack who aged considerably after the unexpected death of his daughter before him. Not Jack-son. Just Jack. A great starting name. You could be born with that name and pretty much go do and be anything you wanted to go do and be.
An added benefit to your name is that it rhymes with anything. When you have a quirky Mom who makes a song out of everything this leads to seemingly endless verses to the same tune to remind you to do chores and to not forget things. “Jack to the snack to the back-back pack?” For a boy with adhd? Golden.
I admire my ability to churn away the paragraphs on all of this ancillary stuff, and I’m pretty sure that I could keep going for a while. After all, this is the “good stuff” of life, right? And it is, but I avoiding the deep dives on purpose. I am terrified to go to the center and say the things that I need to say to you, because Mommies should never have to say goodbye to their children ever. It’s the same reason that I put off writing yours for last. Because you will always be the “baby” of all of my “babies.” Because I’ve had to protect you the most. Because you are the one who still needs me the most.
You are the one who sees the world like me. I watch you absorbing it. I heard the message loud and clear when at last year’s parent-teacher conference your teacher told me you said “My family has a secret. And everyone is in on it, except for me!!” You don’t want to be whispered around. You want it straight. You want the medical jargon and the details explained to you. The information and the science bring comfort to you. Because you know what’s going on, you talk about in ways that tend to shock other people, but we have decided that it is healthy. It is a real thing that is happening in your life. You have a right to make it real with words. After all, isn’t that basically what I am doing with this blog?
You talk about how much you love me and hug me often (sometimes you add “more than I love Dad” because you are Jack). Every night, you have to snuggle with me before falling asleep. You soak up the snuggles and I soak up the chance to kiss the top of your head and to stroke your hair. We’ve done this since you were little-little and we called you Jack-Jack.
You have always worn your heart on your sleeve. You love your home base and everything in it and don’t want things to ever change. You still mourn our Basset Hounds, even though you were so young when the last one passed away to barely remember them. I don’t want things to change either, buddy. I think Daddy is going to get another Basset after I pass away. Honor the time that you had with Ody and Penny. Go on to love and have new experiences with (a) new pet(s). Go on new adventures with your family and hold your Daddy tight, because he loves you very much and will always do what’s best for you. Yes, sisters are annoying, but they are YOUR sisters (and actually pretty cool). Stoker siblings unite. Forever.
I don’t get to see you at 16, or 21, or 30, or older. And that sucks. because I know that you are going to pull of some amazing surprises and feats for us, but I don’t get to stick around to see what they are. I will have to be grateful that I got to see you at 10. That you are old enough to always be able to remember me, and to remember how very much I loved you.
I get to see a boy, who (like his Mom) is hesitant to give a high review of anything not fully earned. A boy who picks up and uses big words. A boy who responds to this morning’s First Day of School Question- “how was your summer?” with “Well my Mom’s cancer went down and then went back up again, so that was really bad, but on the good side my Dad got me a game called Satisfactory where you get to build factories and try to make them the most efficient. And I got to learn how to build a manifold…”
I see a boy with an inner core of sweetness flanked by a shell of gruffness. A boy who hugs SO BIG, he can knock someone off balance. A boy who runs ahead to open up doors for others. A boy who will argue semantics ad nauseum just to win the argument or get the last word (yes, we are working on this one 😆). A boy who will unabashedly walk up and play with any other kid his age, and then walk away disappointed that he doesn’t have a new friend because he just doesn’t know how to navigate between too forward or too meek and has no idea how to pick up on social cues. You do know how to use your big blue eyes though. And your dimples. Probably too well.
I see a boy, who at ten has already had his first panic attack. Who developed a habit of chewing on his shirts so intensely that he literally had nothing else to wear. I see a boy who every day is trying. You have already overcome so much, and I know that the next blow to come is going to be a very, very hard one. If I could take it away from you, I would. Mommy never, ever wanted to leave you. But I hope that Daddy and I have done and will continue to do everything that you need to prepare you and to let you know that you are not alone. That we are still Stoker strong with new adventures ahead. And that my love for you is so strong, that it’s not going anywhere. It’s going to live in your heart and in ours and you your future home forever. My love lives in your love. And it lives because of the cycle we’ve broken.
The boy that I see now, even at ten, is already a survivor. He is already resilient. You already know that you can make it through tough times and come out stronger for them. You will fight for others who are trying because you will remember what it’s like to try and to not even be given a chance. That sweet center of everything that is you? Don’t ever let anyone take it away from you. It will help you to make the tough, right choices that will prove anyone wrong who might try to label you otherwise. You are your own superpower. And whatever you become will be amazing.