I always write a letter to each of my kids on their birthday. It’s a nice way for me to tell them about all of the things they like to do and eat and say, and to describe how much they’ve grown and changed over the course of the year. I keep them in a small journal on the bookshelf in my office.
This is Jack’s. Today is his birthday.
You know what? I really like writing you letters. I like being able to tell you everything I’m thinking and feeling.
I know if I were to sit next to you on the couch or at the kitchen table and try to tell you these things, it would be as though I’d released a thousand bees into the room. Your ears would just buzz and buzz with noise and you would get frustrated and overwhelmed.
Today you are twelve.
You were born on Mother’s Day, three days after your due date, on a rainy, cold Sunday morning in Buffalo, New York.
My labor—the process women go through so their bodies can deliver a baby—was pretty fast. You weighed nine pounds, three ounces, which is pretty big. You were healthy, and strong, and very, very cute.
Two days later, on the ride home from the hospital I remember looking out the window of the car and noticing all the little green buds on the trees. Seemingly overnight, it was spring.
Your feet are bigger than mine, and you stand taller than your older-by-one-year brother Joey.
You like your hair short, almost in a crew cut, and you never, ever take your glasses off except to sleep at night.
People find you very charming, I imagine in the same way they find a grumpy old man in a button-down sweater charming. You are eccentric, and rigid, and you say whatever the heck is on your mind.
You began planning your birthday party back in April. You wanted the invitations to go out to exactly four friends on exactly Friday, April 22nd for a party on exactly Friday, May 6th, from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm.
And then on Thursday, April 21st, you decided to cancel the party. You didn’t want it anymore. You kept saying “Spread the word. No party,” over and over.
I don’t know what that means and you wouldn’t tell me why and I felt sad and frustrated and unsure. All you would say is, “The party. It is off.”
And when I asked you again why, you said, “It is just for my birthday. It for me. To decide.”
“Okay, then, what do you want to do?”
“For Dairy Queen. We will go to Dairy Queen.”
When I think about you being twelve, I want to say I don’t know where the time went like all the regular moms with regular kids do, but the truth is I know exactly where all the time went. It went into social stories and therapy and trips to Redbox and arguments about cake mix.
See, Jack, time is a different thing for you and me. Time is more than a ticking clock or the second hand on a wristwatch. It is alive, and it is running away from us like a house on fire.
Part of me wants to speed it up so I can know what you will look like and think like and be like in the future. I have always longed for a crystal ball to predict the preschooler, the elementary-schooler, the adolescent and teenager and man you will become.
Will you have a job, or live on your own? Will you find someone to love you exactly as you are?
Will you be lonely?
And yet I want time to slow down, so I can look at you and love you and dry your tears and sing you songs and hold your hand.
Speed up, slow down, speed up, slow down.
Oh, my Jack-a-boo. You were just the cutest baby. Even though a lot of my memories are cloaked in the dark, velvety robes of sleep deprivation and worry, I do remember how cute you were.
I regret. Oh, how I regret. I regret all the times I begged you to use your words even though your tear-stained face told me the story.
I regret all the times I reminded you to look in my eyes if you wanted milk, to grip the pencil the right way, to go to sleep even though autism’s complicated rhythms left you wide awake. I regret all the times I left you in the dark, because I was in the dark myself.
A lot of times I think I forgot—and still forget—that all I have to be is your mother. All I have to do is fold you in my arms after a long day at school, and smooth your worried brow, and tell you everything is going to be fine, just fine; even if I’m not so sure.
It was never about changing you, Jack. I hope you know that. I never wanted to change who you are. I still don’t.
It was about watching a toddler throw a dish clear across the restaurant and sobbing because the lights were too bright, the chair too squeaky, and the voices too loud. The world was too much.
It was about looking around at so many stricken faces and confused expressions and pitying looks, and knowing I can’t change you and I can’t change them and that only left me with one choice; to begin building a bridge.
I guess what I want is for time to stand perfectly still. I want to hold it in my hand like a rare, precious, sparkling jewel. For one single day I don’t want to think about autism awareness or academic goals or speech therapy.
Today is that day. Today, as you told me, is for your birthday. It is a day to celebrate the person you are; my funny, rigid, smart, tall, complicated Jack-a-boo.
Maybe you’ll find this letter one day, and if you do, I hope maybe you’ll realize how very hard this was for me; for all of us, and how I struggled every minute of every day to make the right decision.
I hope on paper, you discover that the loud, buzzy bees are actually gentle, luminous butterflies.
Mostly, I hope you can read between the lines and know that I loved you all along.
I took a picture of you this morning when you walked down the driveway to the bus stop. I don’t even think you knew I was behind you. It was a rainy, cold Monday morning, and you walked with your arms crossed and your head down.
Later, after you left for school, I looked at the picture and I saw, in the upper right-hand corner, the hint of a light blue sky amongst the white clouds. Seemingly overnight, it is spring.
Happy sweet timeless birthday, my Mother’s Day baby, my springtime child, my Sunday sun.