I may or may not have said this before, but when Big T was born, he was blue. I’d heard about babies coming out blue, but until I saw that terrible slate-skipper blue mottling his perfectly fat baby limbs and torso, I never knew the truth of it, and I never knew what fear was. There are few things you want to hear less after having a baby than the words “breathe, baby breathe.”
But breathe he did. That early trauma has never really left him–the ‘electrical short’ that makes up his communication handicap is a product of those few moments of awful stillness, but really, all of Big T’s strength comes from his absolute fearlessness when it comes to taking his next breath.
Big T has plans. He is going to get a degree in computer animation. He is going to work for Pixar. He is going to move far away from me, because he knows I love him and I would just jump on the excuse to travel. His teachers say he is always polite, always working, and always a joy. I could have told them that–but I could also have told them that it took hard work, on everybody’s part, to make the smiling, thoughtful, ever-so-terribly earnest boy that we all love.
We used to have to haul him out of the grocery store–over our shoulders–when he was a toddler. (He weighed 70 lbs. and was the size of most kindergartners.) We could not make him understand that the copy of Aladdin that they had there was not the copy we had at home. We could not promise him a reward at the end of the day for good behavior. We could not bargain, could not reward, could not pull his attention elsewhere. All of those good mommy-diversion techniques that work so well with most children (the Cave Troll included) did not work for him, because they involve words, and he had none. Those were hard times. Those were “I suck. I suck. I suck as a parent and I’m never going to be able to take this child in public again,” times. Those were, “No, he can’t have a balloon at the restaurant because the last time we did that he lost the balloon and cried for three days,” times. Those were, “I just hauled my child kicking and screaming out of the mall, spanked him and sent him to his room, and really all I had to do was let him say good-bye to his old shoes before he wore his new shoes and I”m going to hell for this,” times. I do not know how my son got to have such a resilient heart, because those times certainly hurt my soul.
His soul is still bright and shiny. He has been turned down for dates, (ouch), betrayed by friends who did not recognize his fine-ness, (ouch) and told that he could never join the military because his disability said so. (Ouch.) He has developed shyness, when before he had none, because he realizes that when you are 6’3″ and your speech is not clear, people fear you, and underestimate you, and avoid you.
He still smiles at me every day when I get home, and he and his sister take turns overwhelming me with what they did in school. He can not stop talking about MacBeth, because he knows I know the play by heart, and I am doing everything I can to remember that I may have read it a thousand times, but he is sharing it with me for the first time, and everything for him is a wonder.
This morning, Ladybug came charging into the bathroom with her nightgown hiked up to her thick little waist and her diaper nowhere to be found, shouting “I gotta pee I gotta pee I gotta pee!!!” Her dad and I exchanged looks, Mate held her over the potty while she grinned up at him with gaping baby-teeth (there was no peeing involved–we think she understands the concept of the throne, but not of the duties thereof), and then he put her down and let her flush. She said, “Thank you,” and ran back out of the bathroom.
Because T was first, we knew to take that moment in stride. Because T was first, we knew to be suitably impressed by her communication skills. Because T was first, we knew not to be frustrated because she got in the way of our morning routine.
Because T was first, we knew to be thankful for everything that happens after that first, precious breath.
Happy Birthday, Big T. You will never know how much I love you.