Reinvention and watching the grass grow

Reinvention.

Defined as changing something so much that it appears to be entirely new.

I’ve been thinking about reinvention lately in a number of ways. I always think of it in the late winter when the Toronto grey and dirty snow starts to melt, revealing grass and sleeping gardens underneath. The world reinvents itself each year, and each year we watch this with relief and a certain degree of awe. There hasn’t been a single year, in the 40-something years I’ve been around, that I haven’t stopped to marvel at a green bud pushing through dirt, mud and melted snow. And yet, it’s not that the world around us is doing anything completely new each spring. It’s doing that same wonderful thing it did the year before, and the year before that. The same bulbs you planted four years ago in that corner of your garden are right now, hopefully, working away to push up through the cold ground colourful tulips and daffodils, a new flower every year. The grass, as it does, will change from brown and muddy and as dead-looking as we might imagine – to being green and lush and full of dandelions, as it too does every year.

People like to talk about reinventing themselves. I’m not sure at all how you do that, and I’ve often wished lately that I could just figure it out already. I’m at a point in my life at which I imagine that many other people at similar points might also be thinking about how to reinvent themselves, how to find new meaning in old habits, and find something fresh, crisp and beautiful from within a kind of placeholder of fatigue and skepticism. Sounds probably way worse than it actually is. But I look around at many of my friends and colleagues with a rich variety of successes and challenges, personal sorrows and joys, and hidden wishes for themselves not yet realized. Add to this the inevitable age-related realization of the limited time we have in life to make things happen and a tiny tinge of urgency colours the entire picture. Find true happiness? Figure out what really makes me happy? Reinvent myself? Must get moving on that.

I do feel a kind of nagging desire to think about reinventing myself but I’m not sure what that means unless it’s a grand gesture. I’ve read about those who have “given it all up” and move to the beach and teach yoga. Enviable, but not at all realistic for me. So what does it look like then to reinvent myself? Is it enough to go to yoga more often, visit the beach when I can and just work to try to think differently about my day-to-day world? Is it enough to look back and see myself so changed over time and take comfort in knowing that this will continue and that my evolution is not yet complete – and that more change and growth, while incremental, is wonderfully inevitable?

Can I still think I’m reinventing myself without changing what I do on a day-to-day basis? This is the question – and believe me, life with Georgia means that much of what I do on a daily basis is almost exactly the same. Does reinvention require that one necessarily makes a grand gesture of transformation, or can the little changes actually suffice? Can that possibly be enough?

Out of these questions I’ve also been wondering about whether or not reinvention is also part of Georgia’s trajectory. Part of the reality of Georgia is that much of what she does and what she learns is repetitive and needs to be. The uniquely wonderfully and yet incredibly frustrating aspect is that she also thrives on repetition. With Georgia, growth and change are incrementally incremental – but astounding when realized.

balloons old

She’s been learning, since about age 5, to dress herself. This has not been a small task. We’ve enlisted, over the years, various occupational therapists, teachers, personal support workers, and family members to help make this a reality. Ten years later, she’s still learning, sometimes getting stuck, and often not able to figure out how to deal with the unforeseen, unanticipated challenges that come with getting dressed – challenges that you and I probably don’t even notice in any kind of appreciable way. Sweaty feet are so much harder to put in socks. A double zipper (almost always famously badly made) may hold up a process of getting dressed by hours. Jean buttons result in much frustration to this day. (On that note I just want to beg the quality control people at the jeans factory to please begin to triple check that the button holes actually fit the buttons perfectly, which will buy me an additional good ten minutes of free time every morning). An arm thrust through the wrong hole of a tank top being pulled on over one’s head can be a point from which there is no turning back. Georgia has almost learned about how to pull an inside-out sleeve out of a hoodie before putting it on but can’t even begin to put her watch on by herself.

I admit that I now do find myself feeling weary, each and every morning, helping to coax socks over too-sweaty feet, adjusting the misplaced waistband of underwear, persuading the jean button to get through the buttonhole, and fixing the watch on at the exact correct tightness. All with the kind of encouragement and explanations that, well, do get tired over time. One can only explain how a jean button works in a positive, upbeat way so many times over ten years before you start to feel a little lost for words. I can say that I now experience my wish for Georgia to be independent in dressing as almost a deep physical yearning, or one of those genie in a bottle “you can have only one wish in the entire world and this is it” desires.

But I must force myself to rise just a bit above my own weariness to remember the marked differences between five-year-old Georgia getting dressed and fifteen-year-old Georgia getting dressed.

Getting five-year-old Georgia dressed was something I did to her rather than did with her, as I do now. The ability to choose clothes was a pretty abstract thing to be honest – so while the choices were offered and encouraged, more often than not, I chose what she wore, every day. Putting jeans on five-year-old Georgia required me to actually straighten her legs and point her feet to allow the jeans to be pulled on. I lifted her arms to put them in a t-shirt and zipped up all the zippers each day. Making the little adjustments in our clothes that many of us typically make in an absentminded way as we walk from the bedroom to the kitchen for breakfast was an actual and conscious step in the process. Back then, there wasn’t much back-and-forth conversation. There was plenty of idle chatting on my part – a constantly one-sided cheery and educational dialogue – naming pieces of clothing and body parts, excitedly cheering for an arm raised in connection with a t-shirt being put on.

g shirt old

Getting fifteen-year-old Georgia dressed involves letting her choose between “retro” music t-shirts in one pile (She is the only 15-year-old I know with twelve Bob Marley shirts), Blue Jays t-shirts in another pile and the good old miscellaneous pile (there’s a bit of Mickey Mouse themed t-shirts here, a few minions and some cool animal graphics). While she still needs help getting the jeans on, she mostly has the motor planning moves down pat and can (with prompting!) point her toes and shove her feet through the leg of the pants. By the time the jeans are on and we’re at the button, well, she’s usually forgotten about that step and needs to be reminded. Socks are still a scourge – with the often too-tight cuffs and her sweaty feet, she needs help. Between my sore back and her difficulty with raising a leg up, you can typically find us at about 7:45 am in the bathroom, with her sitting on the toilet seat, one foot outstretched in front of her (while she distractedly gazes out the window saying good morning to the CN Tower) and me sitting on the floor, half dressed and wet hair, coaxing a stubborn sock on a sweaty foot. T-shirts are put on, mostly independently, but the “arm in the wrong hole” phenomenon remains a dangerous and ever-present possibility. She still needs to be reminded, every day, that once a t-shirt is put on over your head, there’s still work to do in pulling it down to cover your torso. Regular zippers are triple easy, but double zippers still make us grumpy. But through it all, we talk. We do tend to talk about the exact same kinds of things every morning, but we talk. We talk about the day ahead, about how hard it is to get out of bed in the morning, about the bus driver, about Friday night sushi, about Matt Galloway, about Rob Ford (truly, yes, just ask her), about the Ossington bus, about the weather. Mixed in our conversations are plenty of verbal prompts to keep her on task (“okay, put the other leg in now!”) and to remind her of the things you probably stopped consciously thinking about when you were able to dress yourself at age 5.

When I think about Georgia, day-to-day, she is less about reinvention, I think, and more like that lovely green grass waiting to grow under the tired snow in your yard. This may be part of the answer to my questions about reinvention – that the grand transformations and the teeny tiny small changes are far less different than I actually think. You can water and weed your lawn, then sit in your yard in your lounge chair with a glass of something well-deserved and cold in your hand, and make a very pleasant task for yourself of watching the blades of grass grow – for hours – without seeing any change. Yet, one morning soon after, you’ll pour yourself a coffee, take a sip as you casually step into your yard to smell the morning air and you’ll stop short – awestruck – at a yard full of grass so full and so tall you can’t imagine it was the same yard you saw, why, just a few days ago. Wonderfully lush and tall and green, it feels at once complete and realized and yet also now in need of plenty more cutting and weeding and caring for.

I sit and watch Georgia every day, with a kind of weary watchfulness and I experience daily the weight of the many tasks not yet learned, the reminders of how far she has to go, the million more times that every skill need to be practiced and the sameness of the tasks I have had over fifteen years and for many years to come as far as I can see, of teaching, guiding, and repeating. Yet there are those other moments when I absentmindedly stumble upon her as she is, all seemingly complete and realized in her own way – carving out her own little piece of independence, singing the lyrics to Hey Jude perfectly in tune, handing her transfer to the bus driver with a confident flourish, forgetting to wave good-bye to me as she heads to her first semi-formal, doing those (exact) same wonderful things she does year after year or just putting her arm through the right holes in the t-shirt – and I find myself awestruck.

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2 thoughts on “Reinvention and watching the grass grow

  1. Love this column Nancy… you always make me stop and think… then reach for a kleenex…. almost always that…

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