My son’s birthday just passed. He turned six. And although it may sound silly, this was the hardest birthday for me yet. I have seen how much he has learned, grown, and changed over the last year, especially since starting Kindergarten that I cannot help but realize that he is not a little boy anymore.
Some people might say that I baby him too much, and he has not been a little boy for a while now. Others would tell me that this is a good thing. “You should be happy about all he has achieved thus far,” they might say. But the truth is that I want to baby him. I want him to be a little boy. And while I can see the positives of him getting another year older, I am still sad.
My son had some fairly significant developmental delays up until age three. He struggled with both his expressive and receptive language skills, among other things. Essentially, by the time we started working with a team of professionals, he was not communicating at all, and we were told that an autism diagnosis was likely.
I know this was a difficult time for everyone, and obviously the hardest for him, but selfishly, I cannot help but think about how hard it was for me … how hard it still is for me. Even admitting it here makes me feel a little bit vulnerable … in part because of the array of emotions that I still have not completely worked through, and in part because of how alone I felt. I guard that time in my life very close to my heart. And although everyone else in his life has moved on (and would tell me to do the same), I cannot help but feel stuck in that place some days. Looking back, there really was no closure to that period of time.
For the first two years of my son’s life, I did not know with any degree of certainty what he wanted, needed, or felt. Most of my time was spent guessing based on the minimal cues he would give. And literally every second of every day was centered on helping him communicate and progress in his treatment, rather than doing things that we both enjoyed. And truthfully, I did not really know what he enjoyed.
We were always connected by the same deep, genuine bond that mothers have with their children. In fact, in some ways, his connection with me was stronger than with anyone else because I had begun to over-function for him. With time, we learned that he liked horses, and cars, and swings, and fruit, and chicken nuggets. But when I called his name, he did not respond. And he did not yet call me “mommy.” I did not know that he had an amazing sense of humor. And he did not tell me he loved me until he was almost three.
So, forgive me as I take a million photographs of every single thing he does and celebrate every milestone no matter how seemingly insignificant with a post on social media. I did not get to do those things when he was small.
I know that my job as his mother is to foster his ongoing growth and independence, and I am trying damn hard to do those things, even when what seem like little, easy steps in that direction for other parents (and even for me with my younger child), feels like moving mountains for me with my oldest.
I am learning to come to terms with the emotional journey that both brought my sweet boy to me and is also beginning to take him away. And I am learning to focus less on the precious early moments that did not look like I expected them to, and more on the beauty of his story. Our story … A unique story of coming to be for both of us … he as a little person, and me as his mother.
Here’s to another year of growth. For both us.
“We all grow into the beautiful person that we’re supposed to be – some earlier. Some later” – author unknown.