Saturday is my 45th birthday. Right between 40 and 50. When the former United States President was in office, I used to tease friends turning 45, you know, because he was the 45th president, and anything associated with that number was bad luck or something. But now that he isn’t President, turning 45 ain’t so bad, right? (Wink, wink.)
Monday I went to a work picnic to send off a coworker moving far away. I saw people that I haven’t seen in over a year. Like, all of us were vaccinated, and we were able to share a space. An open space in a park. Under a pavilion. It was weird and glorious and a lot of fun. In fact yesterday I woke up with a slightly sore throat from talking more in those two hours than I have the entire time in isolation. Or at least it was from talking two hours straight, which I really don’t do.
This socializing probably also contributed to the excellent sleep I got Monday night. Because: introvert energy depletion. (See yesterday’s post.)
Saturday: more socializing! Whoa.
For Saturday, I ordered a cake. We might do games. But we may just end up hanging out. When people I care about are involved, it’s one of my very favorite things to do.
COVID-19 shut your school down the Friday right after your kindergarten IEP, and you didn’t attend school in person again until a year later, just a few weeks ago.
During that isolation period you turned six years old. You were already growing so big. Sorry for skipping your letter last year. Circumstances were a little hectic.
You lost your first tooth just before shutdown, on March 8.
You’ve lost four teeth since then: 10 April, 6 November 2020. 5 February and 13 March 2021. Another one is getting ready to come out. So exciting!
Your hair has grown so long. We last cut your hair just before kindergarten, and over a year-and-a-half later it desperately needs a trim.
You’ve navigated a full school year of online classes: last term of kindergarten and 2 trimesters of first grade. Your teachers accommodated us and took great care to keep everyone safe. At your IEP last month they all said they were impressed with your progress with online school. They were so proud of you.
I am so proud of you.
Seven years. Never have I felt more blessed, so lucky.
Sometimes I wish time would slow down. That I could spend as much time with you as possible. It’s all passing too quickly. We want the world you’re growing up in to be safe, and we want you to be healthy. We’re doing everything we can to prepare you for this world as your eyes widen and your exploring tendencies expand. We desire so much for you to realize your potential. Hopefully the pandemic will get under better control so you can roam more freely.
I’m so grateful you’re in our lives, a part of our family. We love you so much.
Last Monday you turned 5 years old. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this little fact that you truly are a big girl. I look back often at your pictures from your first year, and that Dadda and I have been trusted with your life still overwhelms me in the best possible way.
Look at that smile! Those peeking teeth. You looking ever so thoughtful just after you were born. Standing! You were an expert walker before you turned a year old, and now you strut around like you know where you’re going all the time. Like you own the place. This was the most sleepless year of my life, but thankfully you took to sleep training pretty quickly, and we’re just now feeling we’ve caught up.
You continued learning and growing your second year of life. You were fearless. You had an uncanny awareness of everything in your space. Your energy never seemed to run out, and we were learning that you needed some solid time with your favorite playgrounds and toys and books and splash pads to get you tired enough for the rest you needed.
It’s true that most photos I included in these collages you look pretty dang happy, but it’s important to point out that you cried and were frustrated a lot, too. We shared these emotional states, because we’re trying so hard to learn each other’s language. For the most part we were able to figure out that most of your needs were pretty simple. As long as you were fed and dry and got sleep and enough play, you stayed pretty happy.
I love how much you love to play. I love how much you love to explore, even if it means that we’re constantly chasing after you and telling you what is and isn’t safe. Is this not a major part of childhood?
In your third year, we pursued our suspicions about some developmental delays you were showing. We took you for an autism screening at the University of Utah, and they gave you an official diagnosis. Which, honestly, was the best news, because that meant that we could take full advantage of resources to help you communicate and develop in other ways.
You started ABA therapy the July after you turned 3 years old, and it has made such a difference. And you have been attending an autism preschool, where they reinforce a lot of the skills you’re learning in therapy. AND Dadda and I try to keep up with your programs and encourage all the little ways you’re learning to do so many things. These skills will continue to open the world to you, and you will get to explore all the opportunities available that accentuate your strengths and give your life meaning. This is so very exciting and completely terrifying.
What’s so crazy about these years of growth is so much happens with you physically and mentally and emotionally. As you learn and grow, you’re showing signs of you really knowing who you are. You have a very Z personality; you have definite preferences; a way of speaking; a way of showing affection and manipulating people in your cute way to get what you want. Guess what? We’ve been there, kid. We know those ways, and honestly, some of us have never grown out of those ways.
We have two dogs, but the chiweenie, Sia, and you are true buds. She is your first dog, and you two have a special trust that I can’t quite describe. That makes me smile.
Two weeks ago we went to Florida, and you got to go to Disney World. I dare say you were the most well-behaved big girl in all of the Magic Kingdom on the first day, and at Hollywood Studios the second day. You also got to go to the beach for a little bit, and you also loved every single moment of that experience. The way your senses process your world intrigue me. Just what does the water on your skin and the sand between your toes make you feel?
This past Friday I attended an autism conference at Utah Valley University. The keynote speaker stated as a general rule, the age of autistic people is about 2/3 the age of neurotypical people. In your life, this rings true that you’re about where most 3 1/2 year olds are in terms of speech and social skills. At your yearly wellness check up last Tuesday, you’re in the 60th percentile of kids your height and the 70th percentile of kids your weight. You’re gonna be taller than both your parents in a few years, but that’s where comparisons end. You’ve begun a path to your own life, and you’ll get to a point where you’ll make some pretty important choices that will shape your life the way you want. It won’t matter how other people your age are doing compared to you. Actually, age doesn’t matter at all. Live your life. You do you.
One of the biggest blessings we have from your supposed delays is that we get to cherish these extended development stages. We get to enjoy your childhood for longer: that curiosity, the amazement at the world; the hugs, the smiles, the wonder. Maybe these will continue on to your adult years, but we’re going to breathe it all in right now, in this very moment. We are present for this, this glorious moment of your turning and being 5 years old.
This post was written 10 April 2018, but I’m backdating it to Z’s birthday, 8 April.
Almost three months ago, you and I got sick with fevers, headaches, and congestion. You and I went to the doctor to see if we had the flu. The doctor sent us somewhere else to get a nasal swab to determine the flu. I’m not sure why he or any of the nurses in the office couldn’t swab us. I still might be a little bitter about it.
The doctor’s office wasn’t entirely clear on where we were supposed to get the swabs: do we get them at the hospital, or at one of the affiliated clinics near the hospital? I should have asked for clarification; part of our long day was that I should have gotten better directions.
We stopped by the hospital first. When we were checking in, the intake lady heard you coughing, handed me a mask, and instructed me to put it on your face. This wasn’t going to happen. I knew you weren’t going to keep the mask on. You sat on the floor, keeping mostly quiet, being very good for a sick 3-year-old.
The intake lady heard you cough again, and she reminded me to put the mask on your face. I didn’t do it, because that was a battle I chose not to fight: I’d rather you quiet than struggle to keep a mask on your face. She double checked our insurance and told us a flu swab wasn’t covered. I was irritated. My head was throbbing. I remember half-heartedly asking about the insurance, and the intake lady answered something. I took your hand and quietly walked away.
We eventually found the place where someone would be able to give us the flu test. We ended up both negative. That was a relief, but we’d spent a lot of the day driving around, feeling like absolute junk. I’m so sorry for dragging you all over Orem and Provo that day.
We both tested negative that grey January day, but I can’t stop thinking about my lingering negative attitude about that experience, especially at the hospital. What I wanted was not to have to explain why you wouldn’t wear the mask. What I resented was the assumption that you would wear a mask at all. Maybe the intake lady trusted that moms know the best approach for putting a mask on their children, since no “normal” sick child would cooperate wearing a mask. I didn’t know how to say I was clueless. What I wanted was an acknowledgement–at least from this healthcare institution, in a state that has a higher population of autistic children–or some sort of effort to accommodate, a simple “if your child has sensory issues, then [here’s an alternative].” That can’t be too much to expect at a hospital that probably sees hundreds of children every day.
But guess what? I figured it out. When we were at another waiting room, the receptionist asked me to take masks for both me and you. You started coughing, and I held a mask up to your mouth. Every time you coughed, I covered your mouth with the mask, and you were actually ok with it. I was so grateful for this!
Dadda and I have been your parents for four years now, and we’re still figuring it out. I’m still learning patience, but I’ve appreciated the process of learning to see the world through your eyes. I love how you’re never in a rush. How you give in to adult-perceived distractions, when you’re just enjoying your surroundings. How you run your hands over all surfaces. How sometimes you exercise your curiosity by sticking your tongue on things (which often grosses me out). How you run and laugh and sing–and spin, of course. How you verbalize your feelings even though you don’t have as many words as you’d like.
You’re working on getting more words, though. More skills, more coordination. More understanding. A greater attention span and focus. You’ve developed a liking for coloring and puzzles. You can sit with these activities for at least an hour sometimes. Your teachers have been so impressed with you over the past year. When you began preschool, you weren’t able to sit still, and you had no words. Now look what you can do!
We’ve taught you to repeat simple phrases like, “I’m cool” and “I’m smart”; Lola has taught you, “I’m beautiful,” and on your birthday you’ve been able to repeat, “I’m four.” Four. We can’t believe it.
You are adorable, and everyone loves you. Friends and family, definitely. It’s a little weird when strangers smile at you while we’re out or traveling, but most of the time you’re oblivious and could give zero cares. I need to find a way to live more like you.
It can be so hard being a kid sometimes. So many rules, so many boundaries. It’s been hard for me to reconcile your supposed limitations with your potential. Just thinking of your immense potential makes my heart full. But to you, you don’t have any limitations, other than your parents’ occasional inability to understand what you want or need. Such understanding often requires words. Which you are acquiring more of every single day. Your language–both jabbering and intelligible words–has expanded our minds and blessed our hearts in so many ways, made us better parents. We’re learning as we go. Just like you, we’re figuring it out. We try our hardest to open up the world to you. No limits, baby girl. No more assumptions.
We have you as our daughter, and you have brought us more than we could ever imagine. More love. More happiness. More life.
Happy third birthday, my love! I’ve spent the past few weeks thinking of what to write you for your birthday. I thought I could plan something elaborate and fun and recap the last year of your life with a flourish, because your third birthday is a really big deal. The planning didn’t go so well, but I’ll still reminisce this past year with you. You have grown so much, and the world anticipates all the new things you have yet to discover.
Dadda and I worry about you all the time. We’ll keep worrying about you as the world continues to open up to you. That’s what parents do. We wonder how you’ll play with other kids, communicate your wants and needs. You do express yourself well; all it takes is one look at your irresistible face, and we can tell what you’re feeling.
You want to be independent so badly. You’ll climb the countertops to get what you want. If you need help with it, you’ll bring it to us, at which time we realize you’ve climbed the countertop, which is a big no-no. But you’re stubborn and persistent. These characteristics will ultimately prove valuable to you in this world, if you use them the right way.
Lola and Poppy are in town to celebrate your birthday, and you’re so eager to show them how much you know. Just last night you led Lola to the bathroom, where you brought the iPad, then brought the stool to the toilet, put your potty seat on the toilet and had Lola help you with your pants. You then sat on the toilet and went potty. Lola was so very impressed.
Only recently have you started opening the refrigerator to retrieve one of your favorite foods, yogurt. You’re getting stronger and more resourceful, and if there’s a way to do something without our help, you’ll figure it out.
A few months ago, we bought a house with a back yard and lots of space to play. You seem to enjoy it. You’ve found your little niches where you love to play, but it seems that you can fall asleep anywhere, which is so convenient.
For some reason, you’ve gotten a lot more energetic as you’ve gotten closer to 3. You run, skip, jump, and dance so much more. Jumping on the couch, jumping on the bed. Running from one room to another. Going down your slide while watching one of your favorite movies. Climbing the fence, throwing rocks. Spinning and spinning wherever you are. You’ve also gotten a lot more curious in your old age, and it’s so much harder to keep up with you.
You’re also putting a lot more stuff in your mouth that isn’t supposed to go there. Just the other day I barely saw you eat a giant booger before I could do anything about it. It really grossed me out, and we need to do better at catching you eating prohibited things. We actually need to be better at teaching you not to eat those things. Ah, parenting. Thanks so much for your patience, little one.
We love how you’re participating more at school (daycare). We love how excited you get when you want to show us something. We love how often you sing and how you recognize the songs we sing to you. We love that you like watching music videos, how Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” and ‘NSync’s “Bye, Bye, Bye” are among your top favorites lately.
So much is happening in the world. So much legitimately weird stuff. You’re oblivious to most of it, but we do want to teach you how to navigate all the weirdness in a constructive way. We want to teach you how to give beauty and goodness to the world. I know you’re only three, but you’re actually already three. You’re growing too fast. I would like to stop time just for a little bit, just for today, to really sit back and enjoy remembering the past three years with you.
We’re having a party for you today: balloons, yummy food, family and friends. Toys and clothes and everyone cherishing your life. We hope you like it. Thank you for bringing us so much joy, for teaching us, for making us love more deeply and way beyond what we originally thought our abilities were.
This next year will be very exciting, and we cannot wait to live it with you.
Winter is finally starting to retreat, and the warm weather calls to you every day. When you lead us to the door to go outside, we are excited to help you put your clothes on and let you roam the great outdoors. Two years ago, you were a little too comfy in Mama’s tummy, and we coaxed you so to join us in this wonderful and crazy world.
Two years later you’re taking it all in.
Last week we were watching The Good Dinosaur, and one particularly sad part made me cry. You came up to me leaned your forehead toward me. You do this when we want you to give us kisses. We say, “Can I have kisses?” and make a kissy face. But I didn’t do this last week. I was crying quietly and wiping away my tears because the dinosaur was saying goodbye to the human. When you gave me kisses with your forehead, it was hard not to cry even harder.
In the past year while watching movies, you often laughed at sad parts, but now you also get sad, and you scream when the little girl Merida screams. You are developing a sensibility about other people. You are developing empathy.
At the same time, you don’t like being around a lot of people. You’re still unsure of other little kids. You recognize them; you acknowledge their existence, but you’d rather not interact with them. You appreciate the safe place of family and familiar friends. I’m grateful you cherish this, and I hope you continue to do so for as long as you can, because there will be moments when the world seems a little scary, and we won’t be able to hold your hand or pick you up and hold you. We want to teach you how to handle those moments well. We’ll still be there, just not in the same ways we are now. This makes me profoundly sad.
But I am so exquisitely happy that it’s your birthday. It’s hard to believe two years have already passed, because I was just reminiscing about my constant need to pee, which seems was only yesterday. (Which it wasn’t.) You’re saying a few words here and there. You’re getting stronger and faster. More curious. More mischievous.
You love light switches and doorknobs. And bubbles. Climbing to higher heights. Sprinting between rooms. Squealing during sacrament meeting. Reading your books. Singing your favorite songs; chilling out on the floor for a few moments before another burst of pure energy. Basking in the sunshine. Giving Mama and Dadda hugs and kisses. And mastering potty-training all the while.
We couldn’t be prouder. Or happier.
This crazy world sure needs more people like you.
You are a joy and a blessing, dear daughter. Wonderful Z.
On Mondays I volunteer at a children’s hospital library up in Salt Lake City. Before going down the hallway that leads to the library, I pass through the cafeteria. Sometimes I see parents with their children. They have food in front of them, seemingly going through the motions of eating just to pass the time. As I make my way toward the information desk, I often see parents dreading results in the lab waiting room. Sometimes in the next room there are children and their parents in the sibling playroom. There’s a life-sized cardboard cutout of Elsa, looking glittery and friendly. The hospital is bright with tall, green plants, left-spectrum colors in the furniture and carpet and fun, educational murals on the walls. This effort to cheer patients and their loved ones is commendable, because everything possible needs to be done to raise spirits in a place that can generate so much fear and heartache. The parents especially look tired, probably from waiting or lack of sleep or anxiety. They look worried. The parents try to get their children to eat or play to make waiting bearable, to lessen time’s weight, to relieve the pain of slow ticks of a clock. I come home and think of the parents looking at their children. Exhaustion, defeat, hope. Love.
I look at you.
A couple of months ago, a friend of mine posted a video of her daughter walking with crutches. This amazing girl was born with limb differences, and I talked to you about the video after showing it to you. As Lamp (her online name) took her first few steps, she squealed and laughed, and I saw your face light up and smile. Tears filled my eyes. I said that’s your friend Lamp. I said do you remember her. I said she lives in Ohio now, but we went to the park with her and her family when you were two months old. I said her arms and legs are different sizes, so her dad and doctors built things to help her move around. I said let’s watch the video again. So we watched it again, and you smiled again. I cried again. We watched the little 11-second video at least three more times, and you smiled each time. Each. Time. I said you can see she’s having fun learning how to walk. I said you have a good heart to be so happy for your friend.
I said please don’t lose that.
You like to play a game where you close our bedroom door and I’m kneeling in the hallway. I put my knee just across the threshold so that the door doesn’t close all the way. I see your fingers wrap around the edge of the door just before you swing it open. When it swings about halfway I see your face, and I say boo. Then our eyes connect and we laugh. You love the game with Dadda where he says I’m gonna get you! and you smile and run away from him, but not so fast that he can’t catch you. And sometimes you actually run toward him. Then he picks you up and laughs while you smile that smile saved especially for Dadda. It warms my heart.
You want us to get you.
You are one year old. And you can probably tell that I still don’t know what I’m doing. But I’m doing the best I can, like I said I would. I read books and articles and watch other parents with their children and ask for advice. For the most part people are very helpful. They share experiences and make suggestions and gently reassure me of my role as your mother. As long as you’re clean, eating, and sleeping, you’re doing okay. You even play hard every day, so Dadda and I are doing something right. And I’m doing okay, even when I shower only every 2-4 days and skip some meals (but eat snacks) and dream about eight hours of sleep during a five-hour slumber. I know I’m supposed to take care of myself, but I can’t say that I’m neglecting myself because I have so much fun spending time with you and Dadda. We eat dinner together at the kitchen table; we share hugs and kisses and snuggles and laughs. We dance and spin and read. We pray. We say amen. While Dadda holds you I stroke your face three times and kiss your cheek. I say sleep good, little girl. I say I’ll see you in the morning. I say I love you. And Dadda lays you in your crib.
You are one year old. You are so smiley and gentle and curious. You point at people you know, and you look at people who ought to know you until they smile at you. I have never known so much anxiety, uncertainty, wonder, and joy than I have in the past year. I never knew I had the ability to love so far beyond myself. I will gladly keep giving up showers and meals and sleep for more years like the first one you gave us. Those will years will be different, because you’ll be learning and growing and progressing exponentially; you’ll be forming opinions and making discoveries and forging relationships, but those differences are what makes those upcoming years the same. Does that make sense? We’ll be teaching each other. We’ll continue to strive to understand each other. We’ll keep playing and reading. Hopefully there will still be dancing and spinning.
We will still be praying.
Happy birthday, little one. We love you. Watch this slide show to see just how much you’ve blessed our lives this past year. (Some songs are cliché and cheesy, but I couldn’t help it.)