It’s a Friday night, and I’m doing one of the things I love most to do – watching your little legs pump furiously up and down the field as you chase after the ball with your teammates, playing the kind of crazy, legs-a-flying soccer that only five- and six-year-olds can play. There is a cloud of legs and dust wherever the ball goes, and finally, after four seasons of playing, your “one shining moment” has come:
You run down the field and leap into my arms, pumping your fists and yelling in excitement. Oh yeah, oh yeah, I did it! Last game and I scored! To me, this feels like one of the greatest moments in my life, because I get to share in your glory. Because nothing can be more exciting than celebrating a six-year-old’s first goal, right?
I’m about five months pregnant and about to find out if you are a boy or a girl. I prayed over you and dreamed about you so much, even before I started expecting you. You were wanted so very badly, even though life is already tough and complicated, with your older brother being severely affected by autism. When I had your sister, she was born when your brother was being diagnosed. I had no time to think. But you – you I thought about. I harbored a fear inside that you could also develop autism.
I am praying that you will be a girl, knowing that the rate of autism is higher in boys. But your Nanijan, Dadima and Baba all tell me I need to be strong in my faith. Your Dadima is praying for a boy. And when the doctor gives us the news, we are excited. But I’ll admit to you now – I am scared for you.
We are approaching your first birthday, and never did I imagine that you, me and Lil D would be following the same gluten-free, casein-free, so-many-things-free diet. Never did I imagine what a wonderful and worry-filled first year I’d have with you. I spent the first six months scrutinizing everything you did, looking for signs of autism, though your Baba kept reassuring me you were fine (He’s making eye contact! Look, he’s smiling at you. He recognizes you. He’s pointing. He responds to his name …)
But I am hard to reassure. I thought third babies were supposed to be easy. But you’ve been plagued by eczema, itchy rashes, indigestion and trouble sleeping. All these things make me worry about your future. I try eliminating various things from my diet, as I am nursing you. But the rashes persist.
Finally at the age of seven months, your pediatrician gives us the ok to get allergy testing done on you. And boy does your back react to so many pin-sticks. Egg, wheat, dairy, garlic, mold, dust, pollen and other triggers show up blaring red. I sit stunned in the doctor’s office. You can’t eat or be exposed to any of these things. Nor can I – if I want to continue nursing you.
Your rashes clear up. Your crying, difficulty paying attention and general uneasiness are replaced by a much happier, healthier baby. You begin sleeping much more peacefully.
I weep with relief.
You’ve grown into the role of the third child with happiness and gusto. After the first two years, when you clung to me and rarely left my arms, you are a running, tumbling, Disney Cars-obsessed, laughing, crazy, clown of a boy. Your toy cars overrun our house, and you provide never-ending smiles and laughter with your hilarious observations and classic little-brother methods of teasing your sister.
Perhaps my favorite thing is to see the developing relationship between you and Lil D. It has taken awhile for you to figure him out. At seven years your senior, he is physically much bigger and intimidating to you. You spent much of your youngest years bolting from the room when he would come bounding in – all unencumbered, loud and sometimes falling into a meltdown.
But you’ve spent a long time watching how your sister is with him, and how we are with him. And now you’re figuring out your own relationship with him. You see that he is different, that he has difficulty communicating, that he struggles to find his happiness and that he interacts and plays with you in an all-together different way. Your love for him knows no bounds, and you feel more sure of yourself around him now.
You say to me, Bhai is happy! I’m happy that Bhai is happy. One day you want to go into the basement and play, and you ask us, one by one, to come downstairs (since you don’t want to admit you are afraid to go alone). But we are all busy with some task. So finally you turn to Lil D. Bhai! Come to the basement and play with me. As I look up from my computer, I see Lil D bound down the stairs. You happily run after him.
I think to myself, you have found a way to make Lil D be a big brother to you.
What do you want to eat on your birthday, I ask you. Do you want cake? No, you say. I want brownies. And palak and chamal (spinach curry with rice). A boy who knows what he wants. I love that.
I love seeing your interests develop, your childhood passions change, your first-grade playground humor. (I tell you I dislike the constant fart and poop jokes, but when I turn my back, I’m laughing too.) I love how your personality is developing into this easy-going, go-with-the-flow kind of kid that I had always hoped my third child would be.
You make us laugh, even when our moods are their gloomiest. Your exuberance fills the home and my heart. Seeing you recite the adhan (call to prayer) and stand in prayer with your Baba makes me so hopeful for the man I hope to see you become.
Happy Birthday, my dear H. Always keep laughing.