Today is my 49th birthday. The other day as I was visiting with a group of several of my friends, I realized that I have very few friends who are my age. Most of my friends are at least ten years older than I am, including my closest girlfriend, my mom, who is 21 years my senior; others are fifteen or more years younger than I am. One of my young colleagues even affectionately refers to me as “Mom,” which is fitting since I am older than her mother, and she is only a few years older than Alex. While I enjoy the energy and enthusiasm of my younger friends, I feel relief that I have gotten past some of the obstacles they face. My older friends have wisdom they have gained from experience, and while I look forward to acquiring insights, I’m in no hurry to get there. In other words, I’m content to be the age I am.
When Alex was born, I was 29 years old, and I was 33 when he was diagnosed with autism. Although at times I wish I were younger when he was born so that I would have had more energy to deal with his teen years, I know that the maturity I had gained in my late twenties and early thirties helped me deal with the uncertainties of raising a special needs child. I try to have faith that I’m right where I’m supposed to be.
Nearly a year ago, I wrote in my blog entry “Making Wishes” about how whenever I blow out my birthday candles, I wish for Alex to be better. After a summer where we have had some setbacks due to his allergies, along with some comebacks due to proper treatment of those allergies as well as some signs of healing that occurred over time, I will still wish for Alex to be better. Perhaps knowing that I’m only a year away from the half-century mark of age has made me bolder, but I think I’m going to try three wishes this year. Besides my annual wish for Alex’ improvements, I’m going to wish that I, too, continue to improve. As Ed and I get older and Alex moves into adulthood, I worry about what will happen to him. Even though God has always taken care of us, I still try to micromanage our future instead of just turning things over to God. I keep working on that childlike faith that Alex exhibits and need to trust completely that everything will be all right. So, I wish that I would be more faithful and less fearful with age. My third wish can be found on a t-shirt I recently ordered from the National Autism Association. On the front is a picture of a shooting star with the words, “If I had just one wish…” followed by the wording on the back, “I’d wish for a cure for autism.” As thousands of children and their families deal with the issues of autism, I know this wish is a wonderful one. If a cure for autism were found, I wouldn’t have to wish for Alex to be better, and I wouldn’t be fretting about his future. So, as I blow out my candles later today, I wish for a cure for autism—and soon. With that, I share my birthday blog entry from last year, “Making Wishes.”
This past weekend, we celebrated my birthday. Every year Ed specially orders my delicious bakery birthday cake with layers of banana, chocolate, and white cake alternating with strawberry and banana filling. Because of Alex’s restricted diet, I always bake him a very tasty gluten-free and casein-free cake for family birthdays as well as his own. In addition, we place candles on his cake for him to blow out and make a wish, even on other people’s birthdays. Until he was nine years old, Alex couldn’t blow out birthday candles because he couldn’t figure out how to pucker his lips and push air out of his mouth. This year, as he has done for the past several years, he was able to blow out his candles successfully. On my birthday he proclaimed his current wish—to be able to vote. We assured him that now that he has registered to vote, he will get his wish on Election Day in November. Surrounded by the four people I love best in the world—Alex, Ed, and my mom and dad, I listened as they sang a heartfelt, if not musically harmonious, version of “Happy Birthday” and waited to blow out the candles and make my wish.
For years, my birthday wish has remained the same: for Alex to get better. “Better” has meant different things at various points of his development. Early on, my wish was for him to improve his speech so that he could talk with us. Then, I wanted for him to be able to use the bathroom consistently and independently. After he had made progress in his speech skills and had finally mastered toilet training, my wishes focused on improving his behavior. Primarily, I hoped that his anxiety-driven meltdowns would disappear because watching Alex become so distraught was upsetting for us, too. While I liked to think that my wishes were unselfish in wanting for things to be easier for Alex; to be truthful, I also wanted life to be easier for me. In the past year, Alex has made significant progress in many ways, and, thankfully, my life has become much simpler. His contentment has brought us the happiness I had imagined and hoped for every time I blew out my birthday candles.
This year I had a dilemma because I really didn’t know what my birthday wish should be since Alex is so much better. Of course, I want him to continue to improve and make progress, to reach his full potential, and to be happy and healthy. I guess I still wish for him to get better. In the meantime, I try hard not to worry about his future, which is still a mystery. Perhaps someday he will become a meteorologist, or an astronomer, or a stock broker, as he has discussed. When he was younger, I couldn’t have predicted that he would become the congenial young man he is today; therefore, I don’t want to limit my vision of what life holds for him. Besides, I place more credence in my faith in God and His plans for Alex than in the superstition of birthday candle wishes, anyway. Right now, I savor the current blessings and look forward to the ones to come, reminded of a line from the title character in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: “Don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted…He lived happily ever after.” After years of working to overcome the obstacles autism created for Alex, I feel as though God has granted my wishes, allowing us finally to live our own version of that fairy-tale ending.
“You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” Psalm 139:16