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The Unbearable Ambivalence of Success

Success is a word that has come to stoke degrees of ambivalence in me over the years of raising Charlie.

There's no denying that we thrill in lauding him for his so hard-won achievements: mastering addition and subtraction up to 20, making it out here to Berkeley on a cross-country airplane flight last Christmas day.

It is the case that big victories for Charlie can seem, or rather are, inconsequential in the general eyes of the world.

And that glorious "you did it!" moments can come trailing clouds of sorrow, that in this new year of 2015, Charlie will turn 18 and be legally an adult and learning addition and subtraction up to 30 may not happen.

It could happen. Maybe not in 2015; maybe the year after. Maybe in 2020, or 2025.

And Charlie, after a year of life-changing total transition and change for him and for Jim and for me in which phrases like Herodotus' "that the things that occurred ... not fade away in time" and Homer's "many turning" and Virgil's fato profugus, "by fate a fugitive," kept running through my mind, is all right. Charlie is growing up.

It is a process in which his being developmentally delayed and having intellectual disabilities becomes more and more, and more starkly, sometimes achingly, apparent. There are gains but they can seem fragmented, and so fragile.

It is why I've ceased anymore to think too much about milestones Charlie has or has not reached. Another good day; a steady bike ride (the first for 2015 was in Richmond, where he and Jim had some of their first adventures out here in the Bay Area last January); the fact that we've stuck together to the point that, a decade after Jim and Charlie started riding together, I just could not but join in -- Charlie keeps learning and trying to learn and we, buffeted about by winds and waves and forces wild, do too. 



These little things that reveal the reality of the world, like slanting sunlight.

Sorrow and also joy. Or joy, and also sorrow.

Kristina Chew

It always seems it is both together and all at once.

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