Five Zinger Years

Dear Z,

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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We love you, big girl.

Love,

Mom

 

Preschool – First Day

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Look at that photo. She looks so depressingly grown up. She does look pretty confident, though, which I love. Like she’s saying, don’t mess with me, mofos. I’ve been so nervous about today, Z’s first day of preschool. She had no idea what was going on. Reilly and I told her that she was going to a new school, and that she would ride a bus, and that she would have fun teachers. I made her try on her backpack several times yesterday so that it would be familiar to her and she would think it’s hers. Both Reilly and I like this backpack, but I don’t think Z cares very much right now.

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The day dragged on, and Z getting up at 6:30 didn’t help. We had breakfast and played and watched a few music videos. We hung out and cuddled and sang songs together. I reminded our little girl that she was going to school today, but I doubt she understood. She probably understands now that she’s there.

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It’s so weird thinking of our 3-year-old riding a bus. I mean, that’s what big kids do. Yesterday I emailed her teacher asking if an adult would sit with her on the bus to school. I totally stressed out about it. I know that if someone’s not sitting beside her, she would want to get up and wander around. But the teacher reassured me an aide would help Z with the whole bus experience. The teacher also said that everyone would make Z’s transition to the school as smooth as possible.

That helped me feel a little better, but just a little.

Grandma sent a text saying to give her a big hug and tell her she’s going to do fantastic. And that’s what I did.

Though the day seemed to drag, the time for the bus to arrive sneaked up on us. I helped Z put on her shoes, and we walked out to the curb. I sat on the ground and pulled her to me so she could sit on my lap. I held her tight.

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The bus pulled up to the curb. The door opened, and the aide stepped off. She said hello to Z and handed me a form to complete and explained some stuff. She helped Z onto the bus and guided her to a seat on the same side as our house. I took a picture of the bus, and the aide helped Z wave at me as the bus pulled away. I smiled and waved back.

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I went back into the house and cried. I’m still sort of crying.

She’ll be home soon, though. I hope she did okay.

18 Months

Dear Zinger,

I want to tell you a story. Don’t worry, it’s about you.

Nearly two weeks ago, you had woken up at least an hour earlier than usual. Dadda had prepared your morning bottle and got you out of your crib. I could hear all of this happening from the bedroom: the fridge, the microwave; Dadda greeting you as he opened your door. I was still under the covers, trying to decide whether I should get up. Maybe I was scrolling through Facebook or trying to blink away the dark static of dusk, but you were in the living room, drinking your bottle, staying relatively calm and quiet. Then after a few minutes Dadda said, “May, Z just threw up all of her milk.”

Friday.

I walked to the living room and Dadda asked what to use to clean up the mess. I looked at you and asked if you were okay. You were crying. I picked you up and said that I was sorry. Maybe it was the milk at 5am; maybe it was too early for your stomach to be so full. I gave you some water, and you ate two Goldfish, but that did not stay down. We took off your shirt and wiped the vomit from the high chair. We laid you on the floor, and I lay beside you as you drifted off to sleep.

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You managed a pretty long nap. You seemed okay with a little more water and a bit of banana. I texted two doctor friends, and they both said the same thing: Keep you hydrated. Sips of water at a time. If you can keep down the water and banana, then try BRAT the rest of the day — banana, rice, applesauce, toast.

We were making progress. You love rice, bananas, and toast, and you were hungry. You had a teaspoon of water through an oral syringe every 5-10 minutes.

You made it nearly six hours without an episode. Just before Dadda got home, it all came up, but slimy. Banana. Toast.

Rice. So much rice.

We started over again. You began to hate the syringe. But we learned that cold water felt pretty good going down your throat. And you knew enough to cooperate when you were thirsty.

We scaled back to bananas and toast.

About two hours later you started climbing over the arm of the sofa the way you often do, so it seemed you were back to feeling somewhat normal. One of your favorite Pixar cartoons was playing as you romped around. After your final dismount from the couch, you walked over to me and let out a whimper, which turned into a full-blown cry. I realized too late that this was THE signal. It came, and I was unprepared. Your tummy was a fountain of rice and bile, flowing onto the floor, spewing an irregular rhythm.

I wiped your face, picked you up. Held you close, and told you how sorry I was. I hated so much that you were sick.

Two hours later you wandered into our bedroom and rolled around in a blanket on the floor. In the dark. I watched you; I knew you were tired. After a few minutes you walked up to me and cried. I picked you up to carry you to the bathroom, hoping to make it in time, but I wasn’t fast enough.

I was so, so sorry.

The bright side was that you were keeping down water for at least two hours at a time, so you had wet diapers, just not as frequent as on your healthier days.

Another blessing was that you made it through most of the night without vomiting, and you had only one episode on Saturday.

Sunday morning you woke up crying. You were hungry and weak, only having water and Pedialyte and bread in the past day. You were prisoner to a stomach bug that offered no other choices. But the virus had stayed long enough and was on its way out, and when Dadda offered you a plate of banana pieces, your little hand trembled as you reached to the plate and brought real food to your mouth and remembered the exquisite sweetness and texture and the feeling of something substantial nourishing your body.

Nearly two weeks later you show no signs of ever having been sick. Even though I didn’t do anything wrong, I felt I was falling short. Your being sick meant something about me as your mother that didn’t make any sense, but ultimately it meant that I was worried. I’m allowed to be worried. But now that you’re better, I feel forgiven. I feel grateful.

You have mostly forgiven food, which shows in your restored appetite. I feel grateful for this, too.

Today, nearly two weeks later, you are 18 months old.

As much as we try to control your surroundings, predict your life—even in the short-term—I’ve realized that patterns of raising a child more closely resemble the uncertainty of your next hurl. There may be obvious signs, but will I be fast enough to avoid a mess? Will I ever be sufficiently prepared? Will the answer to these questions ever be yes?

The point is we recover, right? We get over the acidic and chunky and putrid. We appreciate the struggle in hindsight, but we truly cherish the fresh air now. At least we should. We bounce back stronger and a hell of a lot smarter. And hungrier.

Maybe 18 months barely scratches the surface — there’s so much more life to go — but the scratches are there. We’ve enjoyed your first year and a half with you, even when you passed your stomach bug on to me and Dadda. What a pleasant weekend that was! We’ve had so much fun and learned so many things. And we still have so much to learn.

Let’s keep going.

Love, Mom

We Went to the Park Today

It’s time to exercise more regularly again. A few weeks ago I fixed the wobble on the jogging stroller and this week I started taking Z on walk-jogs. A 2.5 mile route with a nice park on the way. Heading back home, we stopped by the park and I let her climb down from the stroller and she headed right for the playground. She knew what to do.

Sometimes she feels like crossing the high tunnel, sometimes she doesn’t.

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Last time we went to the park, she got pretty brave with the slides. Last time I forgot a camera. This time I remembered.

Then after about 30-45 minutes, Z decided she was done and walked to her stroller and climbed up to the seat. I strapped her in. A mom and her toddler approached the playground. The little girl looked a few months younger than Z and was wearing shoes that squeaked every time she took a step. As she and her mom passed us, I said, “There’s no sneaking up on me.” The mom laughed and joked that my eardrums might be breaking. I watched the baby get closer to the playground, and I remarked that the baby’s red ruffly shorts were super cute. The mom then said that those shorts made her water break. I must have had a strange look on my face when she said that, because she explained that she was at the store and seeing the shorts made her laugh. And when she laughed her water broke. And then she gave birth to the wearer of the shorts. I laughed while starting to push the stroller toward home; she said goodbye and wished us a good day.

I wonder, though, how they came to own the shorts. Did she buy them at the time her water broke, or did she go back to the store hoping to find the memento of her water breaking? If she went back, when? Was she hoping the shorts would still be there? If she bought them just before delivering her baby, that’s some real clearheadedness there. Or maybe she got someone to buy them for her.

I will think about this forever.

That mom was really friendly and I’m glad that her daughter’s shoes squeaked, because I got to be a smart aleck. I like meeting nice strangers. That’s a good reason to exercise more regularly.