I'll be turning 31 come October. The end of the calendar, they say. I am not at all anxious that I am growing older which means not anymore in the exciting vivacious 20's, and hello lines and cellulite. Nor should I be anxious, worried or scared. There are tougher questions to face and this is one of them: Am I a better person than I was 10 years ago, five years ago, or even last year?
For all that our family has been through for the past 6 years, I have learned to accept things that are beyond normal, beyond convention, and even the most absurd.
Garret, whom I tirelessly call my Little Prince, is one beautiful boy who is physically healthy. He has no physical disabilities. But when you ask him a question, he will not answer you. And to get his attention for him to look you in the eye, he has to be prompted to look at you. He does not play with blocks like other kids creating a castle or a house. He lines them up according to color, shape and size. He fiddles with them with his hands flapping in delight. He does not play with toy cars for the purpose of racing them. As the wheels turn, he lifts it up and is mesmerized by the quick turning of the wheels until it becomes a blur to him. He does not like to get into the swimming pool. But with his plastic tub of water he brings it to the bathroom, fills it with water from the shower and splashes in it for hours on end. He does not eat fried chicken or spaghetti. He prefers crunchy, crispy meals such as crispy pork chop, bacon or spam. When he sees a bottle of water, he does not look at it as a medium for drinking. It is a thing of amazement for him as he side gazes it and turns it to the light making the water glimmer in his eyes. When he wears his shirt, the tag must come off. It scratches his skin and it is painful for him than most kids. When he sees a candle, he is simply excited, stimulated and cannot stop looking at it even attempting to hold the fire. When bubble playing, he does not want it to stop. Literally. When he wants something and I do not understand what it is he wants, tantrums come, sometimes in exponential levels and most of the times now in manageable ones, for which we are all grateful. When his favorite cartoon is on, he just watches it for a while and plays with his spring slinky, making it go round and round or beating it on the bed, again, for hours on end. He does not attend regular school. He goes to Sped School, Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy. He screams and cries and whines whenever we go to his doctor because he clearly remembers to the last detail his last vaccination shot and that it was painful. No amount of explaining such as "no injection today" will do. When going to the dentist, we have to desensitize him by letting him visit a few times just to feel the place, his teachers have to dress up like dentists and we have to procure dental materials to simulate the tooth extraction. All these so we could have a successful tooth extraction. And when I say successful, I mean not too much kicking or screaming. During birthday parties, he runs around not joining the game or prefers to stay in one spot where the light is beautifully reflected on the leaves of a plant or when there's a water puddle. And if given a choice between running around and staring at that water puddle, he chooses the latter in a heartbeat. He follows a fairly fixed schedule 6 days a week. Sped Class in the morning, joy riding in the afternoon, Occupational Therapy Thursdays, Speech Therapy Sundays once a month. Holidays are difficult for him. He doesn't understand the "no-class" possibilities of play and sleeping late. He questions in his own way why no class when there should be. And during this time, we have to get out of the house and take him joy riding, or else...His bag is packed with Graham Crackers. He prefers this brand of crackers. Period. He does eat eggnog biscuits but prefers Graham crackers. He lines up our slippers and shoes if they are scattered or simply hides them especially when he sees that it is not in symmetry. When relatives come, he does not greet them, "Hi or Hello." He cannot sense danger like most kids. When he is in pain, he just cries and says, "yayay" but when you ask him where his yayay is, he cannot tell you or point at the "yaya". He does not say "Papa" or "Mama", but he can say the numbers 1-20 over and over and hums in perfect tune Twinkle, twinkle or Incy Wincy spider. He does not comment on things that interest him. But when he likes the blouse I am wearing, he never stops gazing at me, smiling at me and kissing me, showing his appreciation, again in his own way. He does not say "I love you" to me and his papa but when the rare magical moments come, he holds my hand, interlocking his fingers with mine, sits on my lap, faces me, puts my face on both his hands and smiles at me eyes twinkling, then embraces me with the warmth that erases all doubts and fears and hurt and anger.
Garret is 6 years old. In the normal setting, he should be doing this and that, more of this and that. He should be speaking and attending Grade 1. He should be having best friends who turn into boxing partners in a second and back to best friends again. He should be many things by now. In a normal setting. But his world is beyond normal. His world is different. Garret is different, unique, special, unconventional and his way of life is for some, absurd, even scary. To meet his everyday needs, physical, emotional and psychological needs, we have to be up and running and on alert almost all of the time. Our patience is stretched to the limits, and when we reach the limit, we find out we still have that extra stretch within us for our Little Prince and Feisty King. "Normal" is not in our vocabulary. And Autism has taught me that it need not be. It is not a bad thing. Sure it maybe stigmatizing for most people in the normal society. But I think I may have come to this place of peace that what matters in the world is that Garret and Morgan is in their happy place. Nothing more and nothing less. Autism has taught me that I need not live my life according to the unnecessary pressures of normality. In fact, everyday is a break from normality, a reveling in the extraordinary.
Autism is reminding me everyday of the most important things in life and all that really matters in the end-- Garret, Morgan and Andro. To love them with a love that goes beyond human understanding, to accept who they are, what they are and what they are to become-- all their frailties, insecurities, pain, joy, accomplishments, their eccentricities, beliefs, their character, all of who they are. I have learned to embrace everything with an open mind and an open heart. There is only more to be gained. And as with the unpredictable outcomes--good days and bad ones, that we experience everyday with Garret's Autism, I have learned one very important lesson of all--to love without requiring anything in return, to give without expecting, and most of all to appreciate, and just be grateful for what is given.
So when the middle of October comes, maybe I can answer the tough question I am confronting myself with now, Am I a better person now than 10, 5 years ago or last year/ Here's my answer:
For all the things Autism has taught me, for all the things that my 3 boys have taught me, I would like to think I have become not necessarily better but a different version of myself. And I like this version better.