Tomorrow is Alex’s 14th birthday. I’ll write him a letter, just like I have on this day since that afternoon when I walked against the tide of people coming from a parade in Manhattan to make my way back to the hospital. Just like I did after a sandwich in the coffee shop (now long gone) while “This May Be the Start of Something Big” actually played on the radio in the coffee shop.
This may not be one of my cheerier letters. Tough year. A year ago he was bolting into neighbors’ apartments. More recently there have been ugly things that have nothing to do with him. Still, my toughest year as a parent — tough too because I realize they’re not likely to get any easier.
I had a cheery piece planned for here about Alex (PDD-NOS) eating corn on the cob at a street fair, but you have to go with the subject that’s burning a hole in your pocket. I drill him on birthdays.
“Alex, tomorrow is your…”
“Is your,” he says. He’s munching pretzels and watching Elmo on the iPad. “Is your … bi… Birthday!”
“Birthday!” Then he’s back to Elmo on the iPad. Alex’s typically-developing younger brother Ned is really late; I bet he’s somewhere buying Alex a present.
Almost a decade and a half since the isolette and going to the hospital every damned night. Fourteen years and three schools. Fourteen years and now there’s a mustache and there’s hooking up a computer when other people claim they can’t. Now there’s a prom coming up. “Are you going to ask someone to dance, Alex?”
“Maybe when he has his iPad and he’s dancing around to it, we could dance with him,” says my wife Jill. “He doesn’t ask for much and maybe he wouldn’t like it, but maybe he’d like the company.” I’m afraid the first thing I think is that he’d sit down on the couch until we left him alone. Guess that would be okay, too.
To Jill, I’m afraid, falls most of the ideas this year. She doesn’t disappoint. “”I want him to have a special day and feel special and loved,” she emails. (Hope he feels that from me when I hustled him out of the house this morning with a haul on the arm and a snap that he’d dawdled over putting on his mismatched socks and so had no time for the ipad before the schoolbus. Hope so.)
“I thought we could decorate with balloons,” Jill writes. “I should make birthday sign tonight!! And just in general help him realize he’s having a special day (which when he’s reminded he seems to be on board with). I am pretty sure I have all brownie ingredients. You can help me make sign later. Is there any space in the living room or on a bookshelf that we could clear off/establish for him as a Lego numbers place? Window sill? Top of the air conditioner?”
Alex has been making numerals out of Legos and setting them up the edges of the coffee table, the dining room table, the entertainment unit (much as we have “entertainment”). “1976” in red Legos to the right of our TV, “946” in yellow to the left.
“You have to really think outside the box for gifts for him. Can we push some books in on a bookcase? It wouldn’t be so terrible.”
No, it wouldn’t. I can’t think of a better gift. Wish I could.
Jeff Stimpson lives in New York with his wife Jill and two sons. He is the author of Alex: The Fathering of a Preemie and Alex the Boy: Episodes From a Family’s Life With Autism (both available on Amazon). He maintains a blog about his family at jeffslife.tripod.com/alextheboy, and is a frequent contributor to various sites and publications on special-needs parenting, such as Autism Spectrum News, the Lostandtired blog, and The Autism Society news blog.