Happy Birthday, Son: You Aren't The Kid I Wanted

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Dear Son,

You're ten-years-old today. Ten years of all the typical parent stuff: worrying over every fever, jumping up and down when you took your first steps, lifting up the covers so you can crawl in next to me, yelling at the top of my lungs when you and your sister won't stop fighting.

Happy Birthday, Son: You Aren't The Kid I Wanted
Credit: Gamma-Ray Productions.

And with those ten years also came the not-so-typical-parent stuff: wondering why you weren't talking, despairing through the tantrums that came with frightening frequency, clutching your diagnosis papers in my shaking hands as the tears fell and I knew. I knew the truth.

I didn't have the kid I thought I was going to have, the one I wanted to have. And I never, ever would.

That's a hard thing to admit, my love, and I'll ask you to forgive me for those thoughts. I know you will, because you just don't have it in you to ever hold a grudge. You live in the here and now, and for you, one apology is always good enough.

The truth is that if someone had told me before you were born that I could pick between a "normal" kid, and a kid with autism, I wouldn't have picked you. I wouldn't have picked you, and my life would have been very, very different.

I wouldn't have had those ten years of explaining to people why you repeat movie dialogue on an endless loop, or why you take them so literally all the time.

Ten years of giving you comfortable routines that make you feel safe and grounded, but riding the fine line between turning something into a routine when you need to branch out and push out of your comfort zone.

Ten years of teaching you to live in a world that isn't always going to accommodate you like I do. Or your sister does. Or your teachers do.

Ten years of explaining, over and over, that the neighborhood friends you used to play with can't play today, when really, they don't want to play with you because you're weird now, and don't play like they do at this age.

It hasn't always been an easy ten years.

I've had friends ask me if I've ever wondered what you'd be like if you weren't a child with autism. I tell them the truth: No, not really. Other than the fleeting thought of what a great football player you would have made or a very real occasional wish that you could tell me what was going on in that mind of yours, I don't think about you that way, much.

Because that boy wouldn't be you. Ten years have taught me that autism isn't a terrible curse. It isn't a horrible tragedy. It isn't a vicious disease that robs you of who you are. It is who you are, as surely as your brown eyes or the chin you got from my side of the family.

I'd like to go back in time and swat those tear-stained diagnosis papers out of my younger self's shaking hands and say, "These are just words! Just words on paper! And you're going to learn how to speak and understand and communicate without all those words! And most of all, you're going to learn that no one can capture this kid with letters and lines and graphs and metrics."

More than anything, I would tell her that she'd pick you, autism and all. She'd pick you over and over and never have a thought for having a son who was anything less than you. Ever.

There's no way I'd miss out on ten years of a belly laugh so loud and grand that no one hearing it is immune.

No way I'd miss ten years of life lessons in patience and communication -- lessons, I might add, that have served me immeasurably in my interactions in the workplace, with friends and neighbors, with family. I've learned to pay attention to more than words, because words can't always be taken at face value, and some people aren't so good with words, but have value to communicate anyway.

I wouldn't trade for one moment all the times I despaired, wondering if you'd ever be able to accomplish a certain thing, only to watch you pole vault over it when you were good and ready, standing triumphant on the other side with that smirky, sideways grin of yours.

Even on it's very worst days, I wouldn't trade a minute of this last decade with you, or give up a single lesson that you so carefully and patiently taught me, between the hugs and fistfuls of bacon and Disney songs sung at the top of our lungs. Lessons about perseverance, about love when you can't even find a way to say the word love, about making your way when the way everybody makes you go tries to trip you up on a regular basis.

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