My Baby Turned Eleven

This post is a few weeks late but I couldn’t allow one more day to pass without writing it.
I had never spent a day in the city with my beautiful daughter. Just before her eleventh birthday, I decided the time had come.
I had an appointment scheduled during the week of winter break, a couple of days before her big day. When I asked her if she’d like to join me, she jumped at the chance! “Yes!!! Please, Yes!”.

I had a plan that she knew nothing about.

She, like many girls her age, loves American Girl dolls. She has a couple of them but had never really been to the store. We did a quick pass through on our way to the Radio City Christmas show a few weeks earlier but that was it. I saw the sadness in her face that we weren’t able to spend more than just a few minutes there. The look on her face made my heart ache.

My daughter has been through so much in her short life. She has always been forced to take a back seat to her brother’s needs and never complained. While we can all agree that life isn’t fair to anyone, it’s particularly hard for a little girl who deserves so much more.

While her brother was diagnosed with autism and her toddlerhood revolved around his therapy schedule (some days we had four different therapists in the house to work with him) she went on being the perfect little girl. She was always the helper, the easy child. She did her best to never cause any problems.

I can use that as my excuse to why I didn’t notice when she began to struggle in school but it’s not acceptable to me. There is no excuse. I screwed up big time. My daughter is an avid reader and loves learning. However, despite always coming home with good grades, I consistently heard how “lost” she seemed to be in class during every parent/teacher conference. It wasn’t until the summer between grammar and middle school that I decided to have her evaluated.
She was diagnosed with ADD and eventually auditory processing disorder. She is so incredibly brilliant that those two diagnoses went undetected for so long. The guilt I felt and still feel is tremendous.
The bright spot in this is that the first day we tried medication, she felt completely transformed! The summer assignment that she struggled with for weeks was completed within the hour. Things that were challenging suddenly became clear and focused. She actually thanked me for giving her the medication that I cried over for weeks before finally consenting to it.

Today, my girl is on the honor roll in her school. She is the science leader in her class. Her writing is thoughtful and creative and inspiring. Not even math poses much of a challenge for her anymore. Even if she weren’t experiencing such academic success, I’d be over the moon proud of her just because of the person she is.

That’s why I needed to make her birthday a day she would never forget.

After my appointment was over, we entered the American Girl store and lingered over each doll. We spent time admiring every created scene and all of the accessories they have. She really believed that all she would be getting that day was one of the miniature dolls. She had no idea that I had a different plan. After she found the miniature Addy doll she wanted, I suggested we take a look at the full sized doll. When I picked up the box and placed it in her arms, it was clear that she didn’t understand.
When I smiled and said “Happy Birthday, Angel”, it still didn’t register. In a store full of Veruca Salts running amok demanding everything they saw, my daughter was in a state of disbelief that she was actually getting the doll that she had wished for for months.
Her stunned silence continued as I asked the saleslady to help us find an outfit for Addy as well as a few other accessories and even a stuffed American Girl dog.

The look on her face was priceless.

We left the store with two completely full shopping bags and I don’t think I have ever spent money in a more fulfilling way. It was worth every single penny.

After we boarded the train home, I asked her how she felt. She said that it still felt like a dream and she hoped she wouldn’t wake up.
Naturally, I pinched her to prove it was indeed, reality.

Not yet ready to end our special time, we went to lunch at her favorite pizza place and chatted. She asked me if she really deserved everything she was given. It stung to hear her say that. Even after all she has been through, she still didn’t feel worthy. Though I did my best to assure her that she deserved all of it and more, I still wonder if she believed me. And it still stings when I think about it.

She still sleeps with Addy every night. She has made clothes for her out of felt. She take such wonderful care of her new friend.

I can’t wait to surprise her again. I’ve never known a child more deserving.
Happy birthday to my special angel.

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Nine

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Yesterday morning, my little dude jumped into my bed and greeted me by accidentally slamming his skull into my nose while I was still asleep, jolting me instantly awake. It was an appropriate metaphor for how he arrived into the world on the same day, nine longshort years ago.

It was a most wonderful ninth birthday. While he still had to attend school, it was far from a regular academic day. The entire third grade was participating in a “Dances of the World” exhibition. Nine years to the day after my baby was born, he was dancing in a show with the entire third grade! Despite missing an entire week of practice due to the flu, he did great! He sang the songs and danced all of his steps in perfect harmony with his classmates. His Daddy and I were so proud.

After the show, all of the parents were invited to a buffet lunch with all of the third graders. It was extremely crowded and very loud so after snatching a few sweets, we headed out into the hallway to sit in a calmer environment. My little pal crawled into my lap to rest. He had definitely earned it. I’m more than happy to have him in my lap any time he wants to be there. I know that the days that he will be able to fit on my lap are numbered and I wish I could freeze time, just for a little while. Here, in my arms, he is safe and protected. It’s calming for both of us.

His dad and I were able to join him when he and his friends headed back to the classroom. We brought cupcakes and sang happy birthday with his friends and wonderful teacher and para.
We watched (from across the room) as the class made special gifts to surprise their families with for Christmas.

When we arrived home it was gift opening time! The Hess helicopter, a Lego set, some books, and the long awaited Nintendo 3DS were waiting for him. His requested “favorite” dinner (a cheese quesadilla) and his favorite ice cream with nine candles in it (he was definitely “caked-out” at this point) finished off the day.

We are so blessed to have this little boy in our lives. He is funny and kind, smart and creative. He loves everyone he meets and charms all he encounters with his toothy smile.

Raising a child with autism comes with some tremendous challenges. Our kids learn and interact differently than typical children but they aren’t any less loved. They aren’t any less miraculous. My little boy danced his heart out on that stage and the thing that stuck out to me the most was how easily he blended in with everyone else. He fit perfectly into place with every other typical third grader.

Today especially, I feel incredibly blessed.

Happy Ninth Birthday, baby! We love you!