“Mamma, it’s hurting me!” he said, burying himself in my arms. I was amused, excited and sad at the same time. The last of my children had reached this precious childhood milestone – the first loose tooth.
All of Hamza’s firsts are bittersweet for his father and I because he is our last child. We don’t plan on having any more children (although God knows best), as these three munchkins are quite enough for us. In Hamza’s first year of life, I anxiously charted all his developmental milestones, comparing them to Lil D’s first year of life.
With Autism Spectrum Disorder, you hear of ASD usually developing on two tracks: a child is slow and doesn’t progress from the beginning, or he is progressing fairly normally — learning to talk, reaching all his milestones — and then something happens (whether it’s vaccine-related or something else) and he immediately regresses into an ASD diagnosis.
Lil D was track one.
When Amal was born, I monitored her to make sure she was hitting all her marks on time, but not as close as I wanted to. Her first year coincided with that first horrible, crucial, agonizing year of Lil D’s autism diagnosis. And so, as she did everything like she was supposed to – rolling over at four months, smiling, making eye contact, reaching out for us, pointing and finally calling us Mamma and Baba, I sighed with relief while focusing like a madwoman on Lil D.
When Hamza came along, we were set in our path. I was more well-versed in autism speak, and we had things (more or less) in place for Lil D – school, therapy and other ongoing interventions. So I had more time to obsess over our youngest, who’s early months were plagued by eczema, rashes and suspected allergies. All of that made me worry about his development, and if ASD was in his future.
He’s not smiling, I would wail to my husband. He doesn’t seem to recognize me! He’s upset all the time.
We’ll figure it out, my husband assured me. It’s some sort of allergy, and we’ll figure it out. But still I worried, until a non-important-but-oh-so-monumental-moment that happened when Hamza was five months old.
After nursing him and burping him in our upstairs bedroom, I handed Hamza to my husband. He walked down the stairs with Hamza propped upright on his shoulder. I stood at the top of the stairs watching, and Hamza followed me with his eyes, all the way down. At the bottom of the stairs, he reached up to me and smiled.
Did you see that? He sees you. He wants you. He knows you, my husband said. Shukar Alhamdulillah.
As the months progressed and we figured out Hamza’s allergies (some of which coincided neatly with Lil D’s gluten-free/casein free diet) and put the whole family on a Hamza-and-Lil D-friendly diet, things definitely improved for the Little Lion. Hamza hit his milestones on schedule, and his speech progressed beautifully.
Many of his “firsts” were cherished because they were (more likely than not) our last “firsts.” And whereas with Amal, we did feel bittersweet at times about her physical, emotional and intellectual growth because she surpassed Lil D so quickly, we learned not to put that damper on ourselves with Hamza.
Live and let live. They are each individual children with individual paths to travel.
Still, Hamza’s loose tooth yesterday brought me back to Lil D and his loose teeth over the years. When our children cut their first teeth and when they lose their first teeth are one of the few things they share in common developmental-wise. Apparently ASD has no hold on when teeth come or fall in our family.
A child’s first loose tooth can be a sweet experience for parents and kids. That gap-tooth smile is something every parent I know loves to see. Or when adult teeth come in and kids’ smiles look so funny with gaps, big adult teeth and baby teeth. Each tooth Amal lost was an event, with her informing us on every step, from the barest of a wiggle to freaking out over what she could eat (it’ll hurt my tooth!) to pushing it with her tongue, to fears that she would swallow the tooth, to her father teasing her to let him tie a string to the tooth and pull it out, to finally when the tooth actually came out.
I see Hamza being the same way, starting with his dramatic, tear-filled exit from my husband’s car yesterday.
Lil D — well the only indication I got that he had a loose tooth was when I would see him put his hands in his mouth. But even that wasn’t the best of indications because he’s always been an oral child – a child prone to putting things in his mouth, including his fingers. His first loose tooth, when we finally discovered it, was an unnerving thing for him. As much as I explained what was happening, I didn’t know if he understood me. For a long time it dangled, just needing a gentle tug to get it out. But he wouldn’t let anyone touch it.
One morning, I picked him up from the preschool where he was spending time with a “typical” kindergarten class as preparation for his transition to public school from his private autism school, and his aide met me with a beaming smile and handed me a wrapped tissue.
It was Lil D’s tooth.
He seemed so uncomfortable and I could see him playing with it, but not wanting to pull it. So I asked him to let me see, and he let me touch it. I just gave it a tug and it came out! He was very happy and hugged me, she told me.
His first tooth, in the palm of my hands. He spoke no words about it. Just poked his tongue in the gap for the next two days as he got used to the new feeling in his mouth.
It was a typical loose tooth experience, but as with everything else it was not.