A few weeks ago, while we were at C’s physiotherapy session M wrapped her arms around me and said “Why are C and B different?” I couldn’t think of a quick answer, but M is nothing if not persistent. “Why are they different????? WHY???” I can’t remember what I muttered, but I didn’t do a very good job since we were in a session with three therapists, and two cranky babies. When I tried to return to it later that evening she seemed to have forgotten.
I’ve been open with the kids about C’s brain injury. We tell them that part of her brain that helps her move got hurt. It’s possible that her cognition or vision or other things are affected as well, but we don’t know that, and so we haven’t gone there yet. To me she seems as intellectually aware as any other baby, and that’s how I treat her and wish her to be treated. Sometimes I wonder if I am too open, as P happily blathers about it with random strangers. Other times it comes up in a nice way – like we watch a show called Signing Time. I explained to the kids that the lead little girl’s sister also has an “owie” on her brain like C, and that she appears in lots of the segments. M was very pleased by that. Sometimes I wonder if “owie” is an appropriate way to describe it, but it is an injury and I’m not sure it’s useful to get overly technical.
Last night as M was brushing her teeth, and I was putting one of the twins down, I heard her ask “When will C’s owie get better?” Then I overheard a very calm, patient and lovely explanation of neuroplasticity, aimed at a four-year old. The broken part won’t heal over. Other parts of her brain may try to take over what the injured part would have done, but they might not do quite as good a job. P came up from the bath spluttering “NEVER?” “But won’t skin grow over it?” asked M. “How big is the part that’s hurt? Show me on my hands.” The truth is we don’t really know, and J never saw the scans, but I think he went with “thumb.” Probably more, but thumb is good.
“You mean she might never run as fast as I do?” Probably not. “Even whens she’s SIX?” We hope she’ll walk by then, but maybe she’ll need a walker, or even a wheelchair if we’re going far. But she might be very good at other things. Then later, M putting on her pyjamas, she was singing, “But I want a wheelchair. I want to be the one in the wheelchair.”
These are the questions adults don’t ask – but kids get right to the heart of the matter. These are surreal conversations, and they are difficult ones. But they are very healing in their own way.