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Birthday Boy

You’re turning twenty today.

I still find it impossible that you now tower over me, but at my 5’1” height, maybe that’s not such an achievement after all.

Even with your added inches, you still nestle into my right shoulder for comfort, the exact same spot you always went to as a baby and toddler.

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I don’t think things have really changed that much between us since those days.

But the quality of our relationship has changed immensely.

Those early days my son, I was not at my best. Younger and with more energy (some days) yes, but so worried about you. Worried when you didn’t nurse well. Worried when you didn’t sleep. Worried that you spit up almost everything you ate. Worried that you seemed so unhappy all the time.

When you were six months old, worried about the spinning.

So much spinning.

We worked through everything together, you and I. The initial challenges of infancy and toddlerhood, then diagnosis, therapies, moving to another state, starting a school program. You eventually learned to embrace the world, were excited to go places, ate a greater repertoire of food, and to my everlasting gratitude, began to sleep.

Our relationship forged in fire, we moved on to other challenges.

Autism issues are cyclical. We had whole years of relative calm, but then some aspect of your disorder would rear its ugly head and dispel our tranquility. A few times it was aggression. Sometimes it was not wanting to leave a place, or never wanting to go there in the first place. Six years ago it manifested as terrible bodily movements and an erosion of your mostly positive personality as tic disorder came to call. Eight months of doctors’ visits in four states, and as many possible diagnoses, until we found help.

We pushed through together, and came out the other side.

Now at twenty, with one year left to go at school which I regard as the end of your childhood, you are in such a better place.

When I asked your principal if she would consider you for their adult program next year, she replied, “He is mostly compliant, happy, and likes to go places, why wouldn’t we?”

It was like you won an Oscar. Honestly, as satisfying as your little brother’s future college acceptances (hopefully) will be.

I love you Justin. I love the man you’ve become, and I treasure those moments with you where you give me the gift of gaze, and we smile and connect as we did all those decades ago when I was lost and scared, but loved you so.

I will always love you so.

Happy birthday my son!

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