After all the thinking about A’s birthday, it’s finally almost here. We are sticking to very simple plans, and some of his favorite people are coming along. Cannot wait!
I’d better not be alone in doing the maternal reminiscing every time a kid birthday rolls around. Every year, a few hours before the time that particular kid was born, I take out and dust off the memories of having been in labor, and what I was thinking while laboring, and how I had to rescue my mind from wandering off to avoid the hideous pain, and face the fact that giving birth was the only logical choice. And then swoosh! baby! It is such a crazy, beautiful thing after months of anticipation. And I think of it every year because oh, who knows why. Moms just can’t help themselves. I hold onto those memories like discontinued coins in an old pasta sauce jar–they’ll always be interesting to me, and connect me to my past.
My labor music for A’s birth was “Mitr Pyare Nu,” and I have such dreamy recollections of sitting on a birth ball and drowning out the sound of my husband and the doula chatting. Stop talking, I wanted to say, but I was in a trance, and Jagjit Singh became our constant companion wherever we drove when A was a baby. On his birthday, we listen to it at least once, and he loves it still.
I’ll be very honest. I don’t remember the early motherhood years quite so fondly. When people ooh and aah over babies and toddlers and talk about their fond experiences, I tend to take a mental step back. I don’t know if other special needs parents do this, but I definitely do, and I don’t feel even a bit guilty about it because I’ve had quite a few years to process my thoughts and put some of the cloudy moments to bed in my mind. I’m okay with my journey thus far, and with what it took for me to strengthen myself.
Though we may not have realized we were special needs parents till after some time had passed, we were plunged into a world of sensory weirdness and screaming and devotion to ritualistic routines that boggles our minds now. Very few toys were played with ‘appropriately’ in our house. We mindlessly stepped over Lincoln logs and coins that were laid out in Stonehengy structures all over the floors. Every afternoon, I walked the same patch of sidewalk for a minimum of three hours just so G could ride her trike over a bumpy, tree-root-invaded spot. The guy whose shop that patch belonged to would come out and tell us it was dangerous, which I later realized was code for ‘your kid’s repetitive noise is making me want to close up shop and move to Alaska,’ and I just used to think Huh every time he said it. Nothing seemed odd to me, and that was also because I was inured to the rituals. When my husband would go out of town for work, G would hear him leave for the airport, and I would lie next to her, stroking her back while she screamed without cessation till it was time to get up. She would do fine after the day began, but the break in ritual was what destroyed her composure and sleep. We have a photo of her hugging her dad’s feet after he returned from a ten-day trip to China. These are some wretched and beautiful memories that weave around in my head.
When I was pregnant with A, we were visiting a neighbor one day, and G clung to me as we descended the porch steps, and we both fell down the steps in a horrifying tangle. At the nth moment, I managed to twist around so that I didn’t land on G or my belly, but my foot broke. People came running to help, and G screamed in terror because someone else had to touch her to get her into our house. She actually kicked them all out of the house–walked them to the door, pushed them out, and said bye bye. As we sat there waiting for her dad to return, she screamed on until I said, “You know, I’m the one who got hurt, and you’re the one screaming.” So she stopped with a loud hiccup. I can’t help snickering when I recall how she used to take my walking stick and leave it far away somewhere, then watch to see what furniture and door frames I would hold onto to hobble back to retrieve it.
G told me she remembers a lot of these moments, and she also remembers that her throat used to hurt from screaming. I asked her what, if anything, makes her sensory symptoms easier to bear now, and she said she will get back to me on that. This kid. I just can’t stand how much I love her.
It’s always a challenge picking a birthday gift for A. He’s not that into stuff. He likes his toy mop to stim on, and he likes his iPad, and other than that, we’ve all bought him comforters, PJs, the skinny jeans he favors because they feel better than flappy trousers, and little religious icons for his bedside table, but otherwise, he is a boy who likes to gather small daily experiences. Every day is a birthday if your favorite gift is a phrase repeated fifty times with a silly facial expression. Every afternoon is thrilling if your family members tickle your legs repeatedly while you howl with laughter. And every meal is a birthday cake if it’s fed to you with an unconditional smile.
This evening, we were making our own version of a special kiddie dinner. Mutter paneer pot pies. After we make the paneer, we use either pie crust or frozen parathas, and we roll up the dough with paneer inside and bake it for a while, just because the kids love the end product. A smelled the baking and decided it wasn’t bedtime after all. We heard him thumping down the stairs and he peered worshipfully at the oven window and asked for a pot pie. I told him he had to wait a bit, so he sank good humoredly onto my lap and demanded some tickles. The time passed very happily, with shrieks of delight. And then the pot pies were done.
It was a Malgudi Days moment. Boy meets food. A could hardly wait for the pies to cool down. As he chowed down, I had to look away, because really, such joyful moments shouldn’t be interrupted by other people’s gaze, even if that gaze is a fond one.
And it struck me: this is the gift. Just doing our thing. Running around laughing. Lifting him up so he can touch recessed lights. Driving around with no destination because he loves movement. Saying “What? No!” a zillion times when he pretends he’s going to do something naughty, because the mock scolding is so hilarious to him. Time and laughter and hugs and routine are the gift.
Happy birthday to my best boy. When you swooshed into our lives, you brought so many gifts.
What do you give a boy who is always giving of himself to everyone else? Your love, yourself in return.