QUESTIONS, always with the questions.
“What’s your name?” Amelia asked me for approximately the hundredth time that week.
I am forever* patient. “My name’s Melinda. What’s your name?” It’s always quid pro quo with us.
A shy smile. Amelia answers, “I’m Peter Pan … and I can fly!” She took off then, milky-white arms aloft, reaching for the sky. Well, the ceiling, anyway.
My six-year-old daughter is Barrie’s boy who wouldn’t grow up. And she can fly.
The meaning of this fantastical claim was not lost on me. I have carried heavy facts about Amelia around in my head for years, details that told me she was very far from flying.
From walking, from talking. Hearing. Learning. Connecting. Growing apace with her peers.
My Peter Pan was tethered to the tarmac by words like “abnormality of development”, “lower border of the normal range”, “limited”, “requiring substantial support”.
Those were the diagnostic words. Deaf and autistic was the poster copy.
It’s one thing to be told harsh things about your child’s development but it is quite another to absorb them. To believe them as the natural order of things.
Her cognitive test scores painted a bleak picture of her abilities when she was four. But who’s to say that was the whole story of who she would turn out to be?
Not me. I just held my breath and waited to see what would really happen.
Time has passed and Amelia’s progress has stunned us and all the people who love her and work to support her.
She can read. Read! By herself in her room, she reads out loud and asks for help with the tricky words and then goes on. “I can do by myself.” Yes, you can.
She can learn, about numbers and rules and abstract things thought beyond her grasp. She is interested in the patterns that shape her world and how things work.
She can sign and speak and tell us a little about her fears and feelings. She can express herself in two languages and through ribald jokes that make me laugh like a drain.
She can listen and hear enough with her hearing aids to learn, to recognise our voices, to feel present in the world. She asks me to sing and holds her ear close to my mouth. Be still my heart.
She can run and jump and do forward somersaults in mid-air and suspend herself in a handstand on the front wall of our house. She is strong and confident in her body, as she proudly tells me with flexed arms, “Me muscles!”
She can, in a quiet voice, ask other children to play with her in the park. Take their hand and show them how to climb. Watch out for the little ones on the slide. Join in.
She introduces herself thus: “My name is Amelia and I wear hearing aids. I’m deaf.” Just like that.
See, she really can fly.
I love her unbridled passion for Peter Pan and all of the whimsy and magic that his story entails. He is brave and so is she, so the velvet-green cap with the feather truly fits.
But part of me wants to tell her that she is better than him, that fictional boy who fears growing old and who is trapped in the arrested development of the endlessly immature.
Peter Pan lives in Neverland, which is a wonderful place for feisty fairies called Tinkerbell and curious children to dream large, but it has its limits, as Barrie himself discovered. Never say Neverland, I reckon.
My Amelia lives in a more wondrous place than that, unimagined when she was two and four and dark limits blocked the sky from view.
Last week she said to me, “Mum, I can’t wait to be older.” Because life is exciting. Growth and development are a cause for happiness and celebration.
For now she is content to play at being Peter Pan, flying high around the lounge room and leaping from the couch launching pad to the stars.
But in Amelia’s ever-expanding world, growing up is the real aim. As time goes on, my quiet faith in this girl grows louder, more insistent. I don’t believe in fairy tales anymore, but I do believe in her.
As Barrie wrote so beautifully, “The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.”
* This statement is caffeine and sleep dependant