June 30, 2006
Today was one of the worst days of my life.
Zion’s birthday was a disaster.
I guess I knew in my heart he wouldn’t cooperate. I knew he wouldn’t open presents or blow out the 2 little candles on his cake.
But what am I supposed to do, not have a birthday party for my son?
I can’t even begin to articulate how much it hurt to watch him sit on the floor and stare at the wall while his family was singing happy birthday.
He didn’t even look up…until his great-grandpa tried to get his attention by grabbing his face, and then Zion threw the most violent tantrum.
He punched himself in the face. He bit his own arm. He ran into the wall repeatedly.
When I finally got him calmed down, I just sat in his room and cried.
I am pretty sure Zion is autistic.
And I just feel so alone. And very honestly, I resent everyone.
I resent and blame myself for making him like this.
I resent God for allowing it.
I resent vaccines. And my pediatrician.
I resent Fermin for being in Mexico.
I resent my friends for having normal kids and husbands.
I just have so much hurt and hate in my heart, and I don’t understand why all of these things are happening to me.
I am terrified of the future.
I can’t even think about it.
What happens once Zion is actually diagnosed, then what? Can any doctor fix this? Will Zion ever go to school or speak or tell me that he loves me? How is all of this going to affect Zoë? And how the hell am I supposed to do all of this by myself? I make $15,000 a year. If it weren’t for my sister and parents, I would have already lost my house.
These are the things I am thinking about on my son’s 2nd birthday.
I just want to think about choo-choo trains. And cupcakes and punch. Not all of this crap.
I just can’t stop crying.
I wish there was a way to fast forward through the next 16 months, so that Fermin can come home and we can get through this together.
Right now I just want to eat a cheesecake and go to sleep.
July 3, 2016
Well, I don’t know about you…but I am exhausted just after reading that.
The previous is an edited journal entry from a decade ago, written by yours truly.
And aside from the Prozac-popping, drama-queenery that was going on there, it is good to look back at my journaling and see how far Zion has come.
How far I have come.
Because just a few days ago, my little Tasmanian angel turned 12.
And it was a much different scene a decade later than what I ever could have dreamed or imagined.
A few days before Zion’s birthday, I asked how he wanted to celebrate.
He thought about it for a few minutes, and then he said, “I open presents…and eat cake…Mama, Zoë, Papo, Nonny and Auntie Boo?”
Translation: I want my closest peeps to buy me things and feed me cake.
Then he said something he has never said before.
“Cupcakes and hats….Ethan*, Gavin*, Jacob*, Noah*, Mason*?”
Translation: I want to celebrate with my age-appropriate friends at school. Not adults. Friends who are my own age.
This is a majorly humongo step for Zion.
Because for years, he wanted absolutely nothing to do with children.
And now he is asking to celebrate his birthday with them.
Here is a short synopsis of Master Zion’s big day:
8 a.m. Arrived at Taylor’s Bakery. Zion picked out 18 cupcakes to take to his therapy center. His squealing and jumping up and down, combined with his Betty Boop-esque eyelashes, earned him a free donut from the sweet, young cashier. Zion said, “Thank you!” in his highest pitched voice, and as we were leaving he added, “We’ll see y’all later!” The staff was delighted by his joy.
8:30 a.m. Arrived at McDonalds. Zion ordered an Egg McMuffin, a hash brown, and a small orange juice. He carried the tray to the table, unwrapped the food, his donut, and proceeded to plow through his pile of carb hell in 3.9 seconds.
9:00 a.m. Arrived at his therapy center. Zion proceeded to Tigger his morning therapist, and squealed, “Happy Birthday Zion!” Everyone giggled and gave him high fives.
Noon. Zion passed out the birthday hats, treat bags and cupcakes to his friends at the center. Zion’s friends and the staff all sang the happy birthday song, right before giving him their homemade construction paper birthday cards. Zion beamed from ear to ear and jumped up and down while they sang.
5 p.m. I picked Zion up early from therapy, and we headed to the Mexican restaurant for dinner, Zion’s choice. Family was there waiting for us. There were bags of presents and lots of white cheese dip. And Zion was happy.
6 p.m. Wait staff arrived at the table after our meal to sing a south-of-the-border version of the happy birthday song. Unbeknownst to me, one of the waiters had a little plate of whipped cream in his hand, and halfway through the birthday song, he put Zion’s face in it, pie-in-the-face style. Zion expressed initial shock, but then proceeded to giggle and jump up and down. (I cannot begin to explain how much growth this shows on Zion’s part. He does not like being dirty, and he certainly doesn’t like surprises like this. So the fact that he was able to handle this little joke without having an absolute meltdown is nothing short of astounding. Aside: If a waiter had put a plate of whipped cream in my face, I would have kicked him square in the jittles.)
7 p.m. We arrived at the movie theatre to watch Finding Dory. Zion giggled and enjoyed the show, as well as looking over to me to acknowledge when jokes were made. Several times throughout the movie he leaned over to me and whispered, “Happy Birthday Zion.” He watched the movie to the end of the very last roll of credits, and then voluntarily reached over to hold my hand, and said, “I love you, Mama.”
Ten years apart.
I marvel at the growth.
Zion’s growth, yes.
But mine, as well.
Many things have happened in a decade of parenting a child with autism.
I have learned to find silver linings. And manage the emotional binge-eating. And stop being such a friggin drama queen.
Papa eventually did come back from Mexico, but our marriage did not survive the separation.
Zoë has become an amazing and philanthropic big sister, with a great sense of humor and indelible spirit.
And Zion? Look at all he has done. Zion learned to speak. And read. And say “I love you.” And so many other things I feared he would never do.
He goes to restaurants. He engages with strangers. He celebrates birthdays appropriately, yet in his own way.
My biggest lesson of all in this has been learning to give Zion what he actually needs, instead of my own pre-conceived ideas.
Just because every other child on the planet is having a Pinterest-palooza birthday bash with 30 kids and clowns and ponies, doesn’t mean my kid needs or wants that.
I had to stop the expectations and the movie-scene mindset for my child, and when I did that, Zion started to thrive.
Zion became the best version of himself.
Zion became Zion.
Every child is unique and different…and deserves their own version of happy.
The trick as parents is getting out of the way and helping our children find that for themselves.
*Names changed to protect the privacy of children and their families.