Eleven

Eleven August 15, 2014

Amal and BluebellYou came into my room the other day, voice strained and your face barely masking your frustration, holding up a chewed-up Lego piece for my inspection.

He chewed it again, you said. I put a rubber band tight around the knobs of the glass cabinet where I keep my Lego things, and still he got in and ruined what I built. And he chewed this piece. He ruins everything. My first instinct is to say, really? Really? It’s just a Lego piece. And he does not ruin everything. Nor does he do any of it on purpose.

But that’s not going to cut it with you. You need comforting, you need assurance, you need me to acknowledge that it sucks for you that your older brother messes up your room and messes up your stuff. Even though it’s because Lil D’s autism makes things very difficult for him, and he does what he does without realizing that what it upsets you and your brother.

And, it isn’t fair to you. I need to cut you some slack.

I expect you to be mature and handle the cards we are dealt, but I also must understand that this stuff is hard on you, too. And you are just so darn beautiful about it all.

I always haven’t been the best at that in the past. I’ve expected you to suck it up to some extent, to cut Lil D a major swath of slack, and to give him the due respect of being the elder brother while in fact you fulfill the duties, role and responsibilities of the eldest child. There is a lot expected of you that is different from the expectations placed upon your elder autistic brother and younger goof-ball of a brother. And that’s tough for you. I need to remember that. I need to acknowledge that.

…..

You are 11 now, nearly as tall as me. A young woman looking to emerge from a young girl’s cocoon. You are alternately mature and immature, a lover of American Girl magazine and a connoisseur of goofy homemade videos that you make with your younger brother.

You’re a writer in the vein of your mother, and I cannot tell you how much joy that brings me. Words are your friend and tender is your heart. And that worries me, because it is a tough, no-holds-barred, world out there, and I don’t want your feelings to get hurt. But they will. And we will tell you to stand tall and be tough, but we will also always provide you with a safe place to retreat and find your way again.

You are upstairs playing with a girlfriend, and in that moment you are both little girls. Why do I worry about your immaturity? Let me enjoy it as long as it lasts. Because you are entering middle school, and it’s all about to change.

…..

It was Fajr time when I felt pains, three days away from my due date. I think we need to go to the hospital, I told your Baba. And so we went, with half my brain worried for Lil D and half of me worried for your arrival. It took a whole day of laboring hard, feeling the pain wracking my body until you were placed in my arms.

A daughter. A most precious daughter. And then it hit me. How was I going to do this? How was I going to mother a three-year-old who was just diagnosed with autism, who couldn’t talk, who was so withdrawn, and you – a tiny, beautiful, demanding baby?

Days later, when we were in Maryland at Nanijan’s house, with your brother crying incessantly, I held you in my arms and looked at your Nanijan and said, how will I do this? How can I give them both what they need? How will I do what’s right for them? You just will, she told me. And this one, she said, taking you from my arms, will help you.

…..

It’s the middle of third grade, and you are working hard to stay on track to get into the gifted program at your school. Diligently doing your homework, studying hard for your tests, you are dedicated to the goal. I marvel at how you manage.

At home our world is falling apart. Lil D is in such an awful tailspin of nonstop self-injurious behavior, anxiety, aggression and everything else that breaks our hearts. I am a mess, trying to stop him from hurting himself while attending to yours and your younger brother’s needs.

How is your homework getting done? How are you pulling A’s on your tests? How is it that you gained admittance into the gifted program when there was so much stress, chaos and sadness in our home? There is something special about you. You are grace under fire. You are the coolness of my eyes. You hold it together like nobody’s business.

…..

Leave the jahnimaz (prayer rug) down, you tell me as I go to fold it up after Maghreb prayers. We can pray Ish’a on it later. I am overwhelmed in that moment. This girl, this girl who I used to have to call so many times to join me in prayer, is at a point now where she is reminding me to come to prayers. When I sit on the sofa after dinner is done and the dishes have been cleared, tired and worn out by the day, you come to me and say, want me to make you some chai?

This girl. This sweet, tender, caring girl. You are growing up too fast, and yet I cannot wait to see how your story unfolds. It’s already been such a compelling read thus far. What will the next chapter bring?

Happy Birthday, dear A.


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