February 9, 2011

Stealing the Spotlight

Posted in Life's Little Moments tagged , at 10:00 am by autismmommytherapist

My baby boy turns four this week.

I know at some point on his special day I will be a mess, which is hilarious considering I’ve never been a fan of the small child. I’ve always found babies fun for about twelve minutes, and back in my pre-mommy days was happy to hold one for a friend, then just as happy to return the package. Long ago when I envisioned my future family I never pictured infants, just kids, preferably of an age when they got my jokes and I could send them on errands for me with the certainty that they’d return. With Justin, although every year he’s grown has brought its own unique challenges, the accompanying maturity has made our family life run smoother, and I’ve welcomed his birthdays. With Zach however, I think I’ll continue to have mixed emotions as he ages, feel exhilaration at the progress he continues to make, coupled with slight regret that he’s moving on, and ultimately away, from me.

I know. Really, I should get a life.

I’m sure I’ll rally on the actual day, much as I did this past weekend when we hosted his family bash. He’d asked us every day for an entire week if it was “time for his party”, questioning us about the guests, the cake, and of course whether or not he’d receive gifts. Jeff took him to the party store and let him pick out his own balloons this year, with the only rough patch occurring when he figured out the mean lady wouldn’t let him have the ones actually residing on the wall. We practiced what to say when greeting our guests (“Hi, thank you for coming” rather than “Where’s my present?”), and kept our fingers crossed that an impending storm would not preclude the attendance of the Pennsylvania portion of our family (it didn’t).

Shockingly, there was no nap that day, and as Justin and I walked in the door upon our return from his equestrian lesson, I could hear Zachary literally bouncing off the walls of his crib. I quickly settled Justin in with a movie and went to retrieve my youngest before he completely ripped the cherry slats from their moorings, and was greeted with an ebullient “IS IT MY PARTY YET?”

Well, it’s always a party around here, but technically no, not quite yet.

The day proceeded beautifully. Since I consider birthdays to be almost a religious experience worthy of an entire month’s celebration I am always happy on these days, am able to table my worries for the present and future and exist fully in the moment, a skill not always that simple for me to attain. Zach played beautifully with his cousins, delirious with joy to have someone to order around who actually responded to his commands. Thanks to the benevolence of my sisters-in-law he was able to open all of his presents without the unwelcome aid of his big brother (said sibling being sequestered unhappily upstairs, with his aunts dutifully “taking one for the team”). After much prodding, Zach finally remembered to thank everyone for their purchases with a mighty hug and kiss. His sole moment of disquiet was when someone mentioned to him that this was technically his uncle’s veritable day of birth, a fact met with a great deal of disdain, crossed arms, and denial. Obviously, it was Zach’s birthday, an event not meant to be shared with any interloper.

He is SO clearly my son.

Eventually the day wended its way to a close, with dinner dispensed, cake consumed with gusto (homemade double chocolate, and not by me!), and candles extinguished with the promise of a secret wish come true. As the subtle signs of impending meltdowns made their presence known I whisked Justin around the house to say his goodbyes, then began the bathtime ritual he loves so well. He was beaming that night, and I know in his own way he was telling me he was happy to have seen his extended family, thrilled to have experienced those fleeting moments of connection he always has with his male cousins.

Grandma soon made a guest appearance to read him a favorite Eric Carle book, an event apparently of such importance I feared he’d actually shake himself off her lap and onto the floor with joy. Moments before the end of his routine commenced, namely the cocooning of his small body into the sleeping bag that seems to provide him with such security, I heard the heavy tread of multiple boys on the stairs. A few seconds later his brother and young cousins burst into the room to say goodnight, and I watched as Justin regarded them all from the comfort of his grandma’s lap. His grin was so large it produced that sole dimple I’ve adored since he was little, and he checked in with Grandma to make sure she realized that celebrities were in the room.

Then he slid to the floor, and stole the show.

Usually the illegal acquisition of thunder seems to fall under the domain of the youngest sibling (at least it did in my family, thanks little brother), but tonight, for a few shining moments, everyone forgot what today’s celebration was for, and focused on the wonder that is my oldest child. It seems my son, who generally has to be wrestled into a stranglehold to embrace anyone other than me, my mother, or attractive teen-aged girls, decided of his own will and volition he needed to hug his cousins goodnight, unsolicited, unprompted, and “unnudged”. He even graced his older cousin with a hug chaser, which elicited another round of “He hugged me by himself, he actually HUGGED me!”, followed by a formidable dive into the soft warmth of his waiting bed.

He even made sure everyone was watching.

In anyone else’s household these would seem like mundane moments, unspectacular in that they would be expected, routine. Here, however, they are not. I am thrilled, and not simply because Justin has sought out the connection on his own. I am at once ecstatic and wistful because these boys were supposed to be his playmates, co-conspirators, and friends. His mother and I had schemed to be pregnant together at least once, and with her last child and my first, we overlapped by seventy-two hours. We’d decided in that matronly manner (which usually never works out) that if they were different genders they’d marry (oh, the wedding!), and if they sported duplicate end-of-alphabet chromosomes, they’d be best friends.

We’d insist upon it. God help them if they didn’t like each other.

And of course, these best-laid plans would not exactly come to fruition. They are lovely boys, so patient with both of my sons, but with the sole exception of our mini-pinball machine Justin’s idea of “playing” is limited to expecting his companion to watch him press fast forward and rewind a million times on his DVD player, an event not altogether thrilling for any child. Justin generally does his own thing at parties, and as I catch glimpses of him through the haze that is hosting any party he is usually sequestered in his world, enmeshed in his own rituals, those routines impossible for anyone else to discern. He seems happy, but always remains an entity unto himself.

But tonight, for a few shining seconds, he was just a boy. Not an “autistic”, or a child with autism, or a son with a label that often overshadows everything. Tonight he was simply a kid saying goodnight to his cousins, proud of their presence, delighted to demonstrate his sometimes secluded affections.

And although it was Zachary’s day, I will always remember this as Justin’s night.

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10 Comments »

  1. Mary Craig said,

    Oh how wonderful! What a blessed year it’s been already! 🙂

  2. Misifusa said,

    OMG! I’m sooo happy and I’ve got tears coming down…thank you for sharing such a wonderful story! xo

  3. Meg said,

    This was simply a lovely post, Kim. I’m so happy it was a blessed day for you all.

  4. Lisa Dickson said,

    How wonderful! Doing the Snoopy happy dance for your great news. 🙂

  5. Shivon said,

    *Bawling* and so happy that you got to experience this night (hugs)


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