Usually you have the third row of the car all to yourself, but with your Nanajan (maternal grandfather) catching a ride with us, I’m sitting with you in the back, encroaching upon your space. But you don’t seem to mind. You are unexpectedly happy to have the company.
So this is the perspective from where you sit every time. It’s bouncier back here, and though the people in the front – usually me and your Baba – are less than seven feet in front of you, somehow we seem far away, our voices muffled like adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon. Is this what it feels like to you? Everyone close by, but also far away from your depth of scope and understanding, like you are treading water underwater while the rest of us make noises and create disturbances on the surface?
I lie in the hospital bed. It’s nearing 11 p.m., and I’ve been here since early morning, waiting for the scheduled C-section to begin so I can finally meet you and see if you are a boy or a girl. I’m tired, I’m anxious and more than anything, I’m nervous – I don’t know what the heck I’m doing, and this pregnancy has been tough, with twice-daily injections, bed rest, weight-gain trouble and too many visits with the peri-natologist. But we are finally here – we are so close to seeing you, so close to becoming Mamma and Baba. God, I can’t wait to hear you call my name.
Your Baba has said all along that you are a boy. He even has your name picked out. But I keep telling him to wait and see – that we won’t know until we know. We are young, barely married one year, and though I’ve had time to grow accustomed to you growing in my belly, neither of us are ready for what’s to come – the beautiful, the sublime, the panic, the worry, the tears, the helplessness, the pride, the love, the wonderment of it all.
It’s time. Finally. They are wheeling me in. Here we go. It’s August 4, 2000, and I’m about to meet you for the very first time.
The note from school is finally one that makes me smile instead of cry. You aren’t crying when you go on the bus anymore, and your teacher says you weren’t crying when you got off. Two horrible months since you started school, at least we have this – you aren’t crying. But wait, there’s more. She says you can say the two syllables of your name on two hand-claps.
Really? Are you freaking kidding me? You’ve NEVER said your name, my name, or anyone’s name for that matter. I sit down in front of you and frantically model what your teacher has written. You are three-and-a-half years old, four months out from your autism diagnosis. “Say, Lil-D!” I say in an exaggerated voice, clapping my hands on the syllables of your names.It takes a few tries, but I get your attention and some fleeting moments of eye contact – you clap your hands and repeat in your sweet, sweet voice as you emit two hand claps – “Lilllllllllll … Dddddddddddd!”
It’s a God-given miracle.
We all walk into our apartment in Midtown Manhattan – your Dadabba and Dadima (paternal grandparents), Nanajan and Nanijan (maternal grandparents), me and you. Your Baba, now starting his second year of his medical residency program, literally dropped us all off outside the apartment and had to rush back to the hospital. I’m exhausted after the past few days of giving birth to you, dealing with the utter pain of nursing (how come no one told me it would HURT?), the sleep deprivation and everything in between. I’m a mess. You are a tiny red lobster in my arms – all arms and legs.
I mean, they actually let me take you home? I’m supposed to do all this now? I have no clue, and I mean NO CLUE what I am doing. We enter the apartment and I collapse on the armchair. Someone puts you in my lap. And, right on cue, the adhan (call to prayer) starts up on our computer. And, I can’t hold it in any longer.
I made it through the initiation – through the pregnancy that took us all by surprise, the miscarriage scare that occurred on the first Eid-ul-Fitr your Baba and I spent together as husband and wife, all the high risks and potential complications, through navigating this all while your Baba was up to his neck in his internship year and we were learning how to be a married couple, through everything. The tears start, unabated. Your Nanijan hugs me tight and asks what is wrong. But I can’t speak.
There is only immense relief and gratitude. I am a mother, you are our son. We are finally here together – you and I.
You are 14 today. Fourteen. I mean, sheesh – when did that happen? We came to your school with cake and candles today, and there was a party going on in there. You seemed happy. No, check that. You were happy – happy in the birthday chaos, happy that we came by, especially happy that your Baba, who hadn’t been able to come to your school on your birthday in many years, had taken the day off and was there.
Here we are, 14 years later, and still I’ve yet to hear you call me “Mamma” with meaning. But you know what? It really doesn’t matter. We know who we are to each other. Autism, nonverbal, severely autistic, vision impaired, speech and language delay, fine motor skills delayed – these are all labels that are a part of you, but by no means define you. You are so much more. You are un-definable, unmoored, unencumbered, untethered and free from the social and physical parameters that define this world.
You are Love. Joy. Hope. Faith. Truth. Strength. Wisdom. Patience. You are a seeker of Peace and Calm, learning to live in this world on your terms. And I celebrate you, my darling boy.
Happy Birthday Lil D.