February 5, 2012

My Birthday Boy

Posted in AMT's Faves, Fun Stuff, Life's Little Moments tagged , , at 9:20 pm by autismmommytherapist

Dear Zachary,

This morning, as I sat with your half-slumbering five-year-old body in our glider chair, I had to smile, because I know my days of waking you up this way are numbered. It won’t be that many years before the mere thought of needing a hug from me to cajole you into consciousness might make you retch slightly (five years, four years, perhaps one?), so I know I’d better enjoy this now. I wish I had pictures of these pretty little moments (maybe when Mommy completely learns how to use her Smart phone, I will), the ones that make that forty-pound weight gain while gestating you completely worthwhile.

You remember the moments I’m talking about, right?  Like spontaneously telling me I’m your best friend (Justin was so five minutes ago). Announcing to fifty people at your pajama book fair that “This is my Mom!”, and expecting all of them to be as dazzled as you were. Begging me to “be with you” instead of Justin, which means rejecting the far-more-fun twenty-one year old sitter so you can spend the afternoon with me. You know, those brief moments in time where hanging out with your mother was actually cool.

In my mind, I envision future Zachary shuddering, complete with formidable eye roll.

I am aware, because I saw this happen all too often with my students and their parents during my teaching career, that in the near future I will know less than nothing. Not too long from now our days of snuggling under the “picnic blanket”, me making up stories in which you are invariably the hero, you changing the endings because you get bored, will soon cease. Down the road, upon learning I will be going out for the evening I will barely earn your guttural goodbye, rather than the teary scenario that usually ensues (the one giving that funeral scene in “Steel Magnolias” a run for its money).

In a few years, I will merely exist to serve.

You will prefer to spend time with your friends, or alone, or anyplace in the house where your father and I are not. I am certain you will think we are too old to understand anything (and perhaps, given my current memory lapses, you’ll be justified in that thought). You will not take kindly to my suggestions of how much you once liked us, will regard with great disdain any photos I may have figured out how to take, or anecdotes I’ll use to remind you of your early childhood. After this rejection I will retreat with my remembrance arsenal and eat more chocolate (and drink more wine) than usual, securing my mementos away to be brought out as evidence another time.

Perhaps, for fun, that time will coincide with the arrival of your prom date.

No, my days as “Mommy-Goddess” are limited, which is a new phenomenon for me, because I’m pretty certain I’ll still be “Justin’s girl” when I’m eighty. It’s a bittersweet knowing, tinged with regret that this time will recede so quickly, and relief that eventually, your days of mommy- worship will disappear. Your brother’s life will have a different trajectory than your own, one which I will try my damndest to infuse with as much happiness as possible. You, my sweet boy, will have choices that your brother will not.

I hope you will occasionally make the wrong ones (as long as they don’t involve jail time, we’re good). I wish that you will struggle sometimes, because it toughens the soul, which is a good thing, because sometimes life is a bitch. And as I inevitably watch you wield your charms on your love interests, please remember to treat those girls with respect, because if you don’t, you are so grounded.

Forever.

You’re starting kindergarten this year, and I’m told the time from now to graduation feels like a blink of an eye more often than it does an eternity, so for now, in this moment, I’ll gather you to me. I’ll whisper in your ear to remember to love yourself, and I mean all of yourself, because that’s the only way you’ll ever truly love another. I’ll quietly remind you that a great GPA is nice, but you’ll make me most proud if you’re known as a boy who’s kind to others. I’ll sweetly suggest that when you grow up you should remember your mother, the one who wiped your butt, disciplined you even when she didn’t feel like it, and nourished you not only with mediocre cooking, but with all the love in her considerable soul.

In a few minutes you’ll invariably start to whine that you’re tired and I’m mean for waking you, and the magic moment will be pierced through with our daily reality. I will beg you to get dressed as you flop yourself on the floor, and eventually, as I bribe you with reminders of your friends waiting for you at school, you will comply. I’ll feel that soporific sweetness start to slip away, and as we busy ourselves with our daily routine, only one thought will remain.

Happy 5th Birthday, my big and little boy. I love you.

May 12, 2011

Dream State

Posted in AMT's Faves, Life's Little Moments tagged , , , , at 9:03 am by autismmommytherapist

The alarm goes off, that damn clarion call to consciousness, and I am abruptly jolted out of a dream that managed to incorporate Conan, dinosaurs, and classmates from high school (not that I’m implying we’re dinosaurs, these are just my DREAMS, people). I toss off my sleep-deprived musings and shuffle to the bathroom, making a quick stop at my bedroom door that’s always slightly ajar so my husband and I can hear Justin should he need us in the night. All is quiet on the western front, and as I prepare myself for the day, running through the twelve things I need to do before my offspring even make it onto their respective busses, the thought hits me.

Oh my God. All is quiet on the western front.

You should know that along with death, taxes, and the imminent broadcasting of a new reality tv show in Jersey, Justin is certain to herald his wakened state to the world well before 6:00 AM every day. Jeff and I take shifts, he taking the middle of the night/wee early hours (this usually involves a trip to the bathroom with Justin followed by hugging, singing and a cajoling back to bed of Kumbaya proportions), and me taking dawn and onwards so my tired spouse can return to slumber. Zachary, thankfully, seems able to sleep through the Apocalypse, so it’s really just the three of us to contend with when the moon salutes us in the sky, and for that I am grateful. Neither I nor my husband is really in full family mode at 3:00 AM. We have our limits.

And usually, when it comes to sleeping in, so does Justin.

Although it’s rare that morning arrives and affords me an unconscious child to spy upon, I’ve still managed to perfect the art of avoiding those creaky floorboards just adjacent to his room, and mastered the technique of turning his doorknob just enough to gain entry to what I like to refer to as his womb with a view. It takes a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the almost feral darkness we’ve created for him to promote sleep (not just for him, for all of us), and I take care to wait until I can safely avoid the littered landscape of his carpet successfully. I wait silently as my ears acclimate to the soothing sounds of white noise and air purifier, the machines that manage to drown out the cacophony of Justin’s younger brother as he talks his way into the night next door.

And then, I spot him.

His head and feet have made their own attempt at trading places during the course of the night, his torso splayed smack in the center of his mattress so that his body forms an almost perfect half of an “X” under his sheet. Justin’s pillow is dangling precariously from the footboard, straining to safety on the floor below. Somehow he has managed to cocoon himself within every soft piece of linen available to him, from his cousin’s sleeping bag, to the three blankets we provide him both for warmth and comfort. All I can see of him at this moment is his little face inching out of the “fishy throw” created by Grandma. He is completely at peace in his sonambulance, quiet save for a slight snore, a gift provided by those dreaded spring allergies. He is remarkably still.

And I wonder, how I wonder, what he dreams.

I am fully aware of the content of his sibling’s nocturnal wanderings, which invariably involve trains, presents, and bossing us around. I ask Zach about them every morning after he’s completed his lengthy rouse from slumber, and he is happy to regale me with his nighttime reveries, in which he generally presents as the hero. Once, he said he dreamt that Christmas was coming four times this year, and I quickly squashed that hope, grinding it into dust with the heel of pragmatism, as clearly Santa can’t make a trip around the globe each season.

Never too early to inject a little reality into a pre-schooler’s day.

The truth is, I am unlikely to ever know what events and thoughts infuse my eldest son’s dream state. I’m not certain if his musings focus on equine pursuits or popcorn, pretty girls or unlimited computer time. He may never be able to tell me.

Hell, I’m not certain he remembers his dreams at all.

One thing I am certain of however, are my dreams for him. There are those practical ones, which involve a stable as a full-time job, and a safe residence during his adult life. I envision for him a continuation of what I hope he feels is an engaging childhood, and a deep wish that his crush around the corner will never move out of her home. These are, of course, the realistic goals that haunt me daily, and sometimes have a strangle-hold on my dream state as well.

But I have more ethereal wishes too, intangible to touch, yet every bit as compelling as those I can actually see. I dream for him a life in which those who interact with him extend him only their empathy, and kindness. I dream for him a community in which he is viewed as just as human as everyone else, a complete person capable of the full range of human emotion. I dream for him a world in which not only are his gifts utilized to their full potential, but that his presence in it is seen as a benefit to all, not a hindrance to be endured.

My internal clock ticks, and I cease my musings and tiptoe backwards to the door that remains slightly ajar, his stale-sweet breath lingering in the air around me. I will return here soon to cajole him into our universe so that he may greet the day, but for now, I permit him rest. I allow myself one last wish for my eldest, my boy, my heart.

I dream he will always be loved.

Happy Birthday to my beautiful eight-year-old (!) boy!

March 25, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me

Posted in AMT's Faves, Life's Little Moments tagged , , , , , at 9:11 am by autismmommytherapist

“Where are your presents, Mommy?” my four-year-old inquires with breathless anticipation, because he’s been waiting for this moment ALL DAY, and he’d better get his fix. It’s my forty-fourth birthday (yup, I’m well into the mid-life years, out and proud), and my youngest knows this means gifts will be served to me after a meal I thankfully did not make, and pre-consumption of the deliciously rich chocolate cake I mercifully did not attempt to bake myself either. Birthdays, (particularly my own, a tradition since childhood), are a month-long celebration in this household, and since I’ve been discussing mine for the better part of two weeks, Zach is excited by all the hype. He knows his father purchased “thanks for being born” accoutrement both for he and Justin to bestow upon me, and for my husband to shower upon me as well, and he can’t wait until the big hurrah.

By the look on Zach’s face, I’m hoping his father did a REALLY good job shopping this year.

In no time at all our dinners are consumed (Justin heartily prefers to pick from my plate, and although I’m happy to share, if I want a full meal I need to eat fast), gifts and cards opened and savored (Jeff came through), envelopes and decimated scraps of brightly festive paper quickly creating a faux carpet around us. It’s time for the highly anticipated denouement of the evening, the accapella tune that my youngest is known to sing around the house in hopes it will usher in his own day of birth that much sooner. Zach is happily immersed in all of the pomp and ceremony, from assisting my husband in procuring our lone candle which has been relegated to the back of a cluttered drawer since my last holy celebration, to begging his Daddy to light this illuminata (said request was adamantly thwarted).

We are moments from igniting our two-inch torch when the synapses in my brain thankfully kick in, and I remember that Justin’s school has sent home his new iPad today, customized through the diligent work of his speech teachers solely for him. He grinned at me when I freed the slight black square from where it was carefully nestled in my son’s backpack, was gleeful when I turned it on and he requested potty, snack, and juice in rapid succession. I was particularly delighted with myself both for remembering how to turn it on, and for being able to locate Justin’s most precious app, Proloquo2go.

As my son proceeded through his post-school pee, I quickly surfed through the myriad screens his dedicated staff members had contrived for him. I reminded myself that his asking for specific activities, his ability to express emotions, hell, his desire to receive a hug, no longer required the complicated machinations of his prior augmentative device. He could simply touch a screen, deftly maneuver the tips of his fingers over a myriad of buttons, and allow them to speak for him.

And because of this technology, during the traditional rite of passage most families engage in automatically, this year my eldest boy could finally wish me a “happy birthday” too.

I raced to the family room for the machine, activated it, and searched for the “holiday” button I was certain existed within the multitude of lettered grids. After a false start or two (I’m sure Justin would have found it immediately) I located it, pressed down upon the cool square promising celebration, and was rewarded with a child’s voice exclaiming the words to me. I walked over to my eldest, brimming with anticipation to show him.

I knelt down, and gently turned his face toward mine so I could garner his full attention. “It’s Mommy’s birthday, Justin”, I said quietly, “and you can participate in the song this year just by pushing the ‘Happy Birthday’ button right here.”  He smiled at me sweetly as I made certain he’d seen the icon, and I reluctantly disengaged my fingers from his face, not sure how much he’d comprehended of what I’d just shared. My husband slid over and hovered behind him, waiting to gently prompt him if necessary. As I dimmed the lights, two voices, one in particular for which I am forever grateful, entwined in tune to sing to me. At the end of the last chorus, the crescendo of “dear Mommy” distinctly relegated to the past, my eldest pushed a button with a smile engulfing his entire face, and participated fully in our first all-family birthday song.

And as I huffed and I puffed for dramatic effect for my youngest who appreciates the effort, our candle’s tiny flame was extinguished, wishes sailing out to what for this family has been lately a far gentler, and far more benevolent, universe. In keeping with tradition I won’t tell you what those wishes were, although I wouldn’t be surprised if you guessed. I can tell you for certain, in that specific moment, that one of them had already come true.

Happy Birthday to me.

March 15, 2011

Gratitude Attitude

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 9:04 am by autismmommytherapist

Today’s Gratitude Attitude goes once again to the “Divine Miss M”, for our last session at the movies this weekend, which had spectacular results (post on this to come!). Thank you Miss M, and we look forward to seeing you again this summer!

(And a special note of gratitude to my mom for giving birth to me on this date forty-four years ago, during a blizzard in Rhode Island. Clearly, I appreciate it mom, and thanks!)

February 15, 2011

Gratitude Attitude

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 10:04 am by autismmommytherapist

Today’s Gratitude Attitude goes out to all of Zachary’s family members and friends who helped make this fourth birthday so incredibly special for him. He is still talking about his multiple celebrations!

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.

May 14, 2010

Make a Wish

Posted in Life's Little Moments tagged , , at 10:13 am by autismmommytherapist

My son will soon turn seven. He will be one-third of the way through his childhood thanks to IDEA, a federal mandate which enables Justin to be educated in the public schools until his twenty-first birthday. It is difficult for me to believe, as we conduct the multiple celebrations which herald any birthday in the McCafferty household, that technically one-third of my parenting him as a child has passed. It feels like just yesterday I carried him, painfully post C-section, up the unforgiving brick stairs to our humble Virginia abode, where I recall I stepped over the threshold and immediately wished he had a manual to accompany him. One third over and done, no returning to rectify past mistakes, only moving onward to further challenges, and successes. It’s been both endless, and the blink of an eye these past seven years, to be his mother.

During his early years I felt my life was conscripted into thirds as well. One third of my existence was devoted to child care, that endless round of meals, laundry, cleaning, and removal of bodily fluids that accompanies the raising of any child, disabled or not. The second third of my time I spent in research, endlessly analyzing yet another website, article or book with helpful hints to alleviate the more dramatic symptoms of the manifestations of my son’s autism, namely his inability to speak, his giftedness at spinning, and his seemingly permanent stomach afflictions. The last third of my time I endeavored to spend conducting therapy with Justin, six hours a day, most days of the week, trying relentlessly to solicit the slightest reproduction of sound, encourage the tiniest attempt at imitation, or entice the briefest moment of happiness. His happiness, not mine.

For months after his diagnosis I banished happiness, at least the pursuit of my own. It somehow seemed wrong to covet it, those halcyon days prior to the knowledge there was indeed, something incontrovertibly, irrevocably, wrong with my miracle baby. It wasn’t that I felt guilty he was autistic. Short of ingesting crack cocaine while I was hosting him, nobody could ever make me feel guilty for passing on a genetic disorder, with or without the possibility of environmental triggers.

No, my need to preclude happiness from my own life stemmed from the fact that my child suffered, day in, day out, with gastroenterological symptoms, frustration at his inability to communicate, and the onslaught of sensory overload that assailed him constantly, every second of his conscious moments. Quite honestly, my moratorium on euphoria wasn’t just that he was my son, I loved him, and he was in pain, either. I suppose I felt his suffering more strongly because he reminded me of myself as a child, with his love of books, sand and surf, and when his parents allowed it, chocolate. He was my best self, with the addition of autism. Underneath the many layers of discontent was a child who yearned for constant affection, and a deep connection to those he trusted. He, like me prior to turning thirty, desired to please those he loved. He wanted to be a good boy. And those qualities we shared, in addition to our own inviolable connection, made what had happened to him so much more painful for me to deal with, to understand, and to accept.

I didn’t think it was fair, back when I still believed in the concept of fair, that I should allow myself to mentally escape for one minute from what he was forever immersed in within his world. But as the months wore on after his diagnosis and we approached his second birthday, my embargo on pleasure began to wear thin. As May barreled nearer and nearer to us, I wondered how his father and I could ever enjoy the event, much less celebrate it with friends and family when I personally was still in mourning. I finally realized I’d better take a day off from grief, or I would go crazy. Jeff’s and my birthdays had passed in a blur, I couldn’t even remember how we had commemorated them, and they had just recently concluded. I reminded myself this was Justin’s day (or rather, his month, as that’s how long birthdays are experienced in our family), and he shouldn’t be gypped because his parents were still reeling.

And so, within the confines of childcare, research, and therapy I permitted myself the possibility of happiness, even if only in preparation for one day. I went a little overboard on party planning (Elmo cake, cupcakes, and party favors galore, and I would have forced Jeff to dress up as the red furry friend if a costume existed for a 6’4” Elmo.)  Slowly, over the course of a few weeks, my life expanded into quarters, with the added promise of diversion from grief and drudgery, repetition and questioning becoming a permanent staple in my repertoire.

I have read numerous essays by parents who lament their disabled childrens’ birthdays, and I understand completely what lies behind the sadness. Those days are supposed to be a celebration of milestones achieved and surpassed, joy and discovery, love recognized and rewarded. Often, at least when autism is a party guest, there is only agita, fear, and the cleaving away of the last vestiges of “normal” that every family hopes for at least one day of the year. Sometimes, despite the best preparation, these holidays are just painful reminders of what should have been, and perhaps what will never be.

I have decided however, that no matter what is transpiring in our everyday lives, whether it’s potty training issues, sleeplessness (Justin’s or mine), or simply the myriad annoyances of having an autistic child, that this one day – the day I, his father, and nine months of highly skilled ob/gyns and fertility doctors, brought him into the world – will be sacred. We will celebrate, and we will celebrate well. I now make time every spring to recall past birthdays, to note his accomplishments, to appreciate his own passage to happy. I remember how he mastered his first sign, “music”, and used it to persuade his parents to replay his favorite Wiggles tune over, and over, and over again at his second birthday fete. I recall how on his third he finally overcame his squeamishness and dove both hands into a corner of his Winnie-the-Pooh cake, gleefully freeing fistfuls of chocolate and butter cream in his triumph. In my mind’s eye I particularly revisit his fifth celebration, for as we came home from our mid-day outing he recognized the streamers and decorations as a portent of what was to come, and I realized he finally understood, at least in part, that this was a day about him.

I welcome his birthday now, as a reminder to enjoy him for who he is, not to dwell in who he could have been, and what my life would have been without autism firmly entrenched into my family’s existence. I strive constantly for more days like this, where my life is not constricted by fractions, where happiness permeates all the disparate denominators of my days.

I also know, on this birthday as in all birthdays past, when those who love him gather to make our collective wish for his well-being and extinguish the flames of seven dripping candles, my boy will reach for my hand as we sing his song to him. And that, to me, is happiness.

April 7, 2010

My Real Birthday

Posted in Fun Stuff tagged , , , , at 9:23 am by autismmommytherapist

Children. First they consume you. Then they destroy you.

This isn’t a perfect quote from the excellent play “God of Carnage” that I got to see in New York City a week ago Saturday, but you get the gist. I can’t remember the exact wording because I was laughing too hard, but this is pretty close. Why, might you ask, was I even in NYC in the first place, shamelessly (and gleefully) ignoring my children?  Because the travesty of a holiday that had occurred just ten days prior on my actual birthday necessitated a do-over, so this year I have deemed March 27th as my “real” birthday (by the way, I’m 43, out and proud).

Birthdays are serious business to me. After my parents separated when I was nine, the holy day quickly extended itself into the entire month of March, because I knew how to work that whole guilt/divorce thing. There was the celebration of my actual birthday, and then subsequent fetes at each grandparent’s house, then, of course, the culmination of the celebration of moi which ended with the mandatory sleepover/pizza/Ouija board extravaganza. Although I shared the month with two of my grandparents and an aunt, they were just bit players in my birthday world. I, of course, was the star.

I kept the tradition going into adulthood because it reminded me of my childhood, and because it was an excuse to treat myself well in multiple ways. It’s something I think we as women forget to do too often for ourselves, and God knows we need to, whether we have a disabled child or not. I even continued the thirty-one days of glory after I had Justin, because if there was ever a time I needed a little fun, it was after having given birth to that little boy. Honestly, from then on, I should have made it my birthday year.

For the most part Justin has been respectful of the ritual, particularly on the exact day in March in which I officially inch closer to death. He has generally slept well the night before, chosen not to become ill on my special day, and overall, has acquitted himself well. He gets that I brought him into the world, and he owes me, well, everything.

Somehow, my other child missed the memo.

When I found out I was pregnant naturally with Zachary, which was rather surprising since my other child took up residence in my womb only after marinating in a test tube for three days, I was thrilled. After all the miscarriages and years of infertility, I had given my husband a deadline if he didn’t want to pay for a kid. He had to knock me up by June of my 39th year, because I don’t do babies after 40. It’s not that I have a problem with older moms. If you feel it’s in your best interests to push one out at 65, go for it, you have my blessing. It’s just that after all the fertility drugs, needles and surgeries my ovaries were begging me to “just say no”, and I had to respect what they’d gone through. I left conception up to Jeff.

My husband loves nothing more than a bargain, and indeed, the man came though. I quickly figured out that, like many men, he had left the job until the last-minute, which meant my second child was due exactly on my fortieth birthday. This, of course, would not do.

I wasn’t too worried however, as Justin was a planned C-section, and I was determined to continue the tradition. My firstborn was a ridiculously huge fetus, I was a fairly ridiculously tiny woman, and he was so far ensconced up my uterus my ob said he might qualify for Canadian citizenship. If I wanted him out before he turned eighteen, they had to cut. I figured we’d do the same for #2, which because C-sections are planned, gave me a little leeway to control things. Yes, I’d have to share my MONTH, but not my DAY. I could live with that.

Unfortunately, although we had picked out a lovely date in early March where nobody we loathed had been born, nor anybody we liked had died, my son decided to make an even earlier debut. I’ve been told neither I nor the baby had any control over when my water broke, but still, I think he was pissed. He wanted to steal my thunder.

And he’s been doing it ever since.

On my 40th birthday, when he was five weeks old, he decided it would be great fun to spike a 103 fever and land himself in the hospital for a week with strep. Believe me, nothing puts a damper on your birthday more than watching your son get a spinal tap.

He cut me some slack for 41, but last year he gave me bronchitis, while he himself recovered just in time to watch me hack and heave over my birthday cake. I am confident he was greatly amused.

This year was the final (I hope) coup de grace. I was worried about the other one, as a trace of green snot had made its appearance in Justin’s nose just 24 hours before the holy day, and as my husband was leaving for DC that morning I knew if he missed school, I was screwed. Justin rallied however, and I got cocky. I made it to Barnes and Noble for an hour (even got my favorite chair!), had a lovely lunch with one of my dearest friends, and felt triumphant. The curse was broken. This, in fact, was truly the Me Decade.

Alas, my triumph was short-lived. When Zach awoke from his nap he greeted me with a cough that conjured up Sammy the Seal, and I was immediately aware my youngest had contracted croup. ON. MY. BIRTHDAY.

Fortunately my youngest son’s pediatrician has insanely late hours on Mondays, and I was able to bundle him up (in pouring rain, OF COURSE!), get him to the ped, drop off the scrip that would hopefully prevent us from a repeat of last year’s croup (where due to my son’s burst lung capillaries I looked like an extra in Carrie), get him drugged, and contemplate the taking of my own mind-altering substances before Two and a Half Men started. At least I salvaged something.

Clearly, this was an unacceptable attempt at celebrating the day my mother foisted me upon the world, and as soon as everyone (including me) was stable, I planned a do-over. This year, my birthday was on March 27th. It involved only two hours with my children (balance people, balance), two meals I didn’t have to create or dispense with, a play that made me forget about autism and made me laugh, and perhaps most importantly, two five dollar hurricanes with extra maraschino cherries.

It’s the little things.

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