Today is Jack’s 6th birthday. It’s kind of depressing to me, because my sixth birthday is my earliest birthday that I can remember, so I can remember being his age. When I turned 6, I had a big party at Shakey’s Pizza for my entire first-grade class. On the flip side, last Friday — five days before his 6th birthday, Jack called me “Miss Anne” when I dropped him off at school. Even though he can’t read and probably won’t be able to by his next birthday, I decided that for my blog I’d write a letter to him as if he could understand it. Maybe I’ll save it and show it to him years down the road.
For those of you who have never been here, Jack is my son and he is severely autistic. I’m a marathon runner and in 2010, I’m going to try to run 60 marathons to raise money and awareness for a charity called Train 4 Autism. I’m hopeful that we can make a big difference in his honor.
I can’t believe you’re already 6 years old. You’re struggling right now with your autism, but you’ve had a great summer and I’m encouraged by your progress. For years, I’ve dreamed of being able to talk to you, and I still think that dream is going to come true. You’re really coming along and I’m excited about it. I’ve held out hope for a long time that you’ll have a breakthrough and someday live a life that’s close to typical. Part of me thinks that’s still possible, because you’re still only 6. But part of me does the math and knows you’re already 1/3 of the way to 18.
If you think I get frustrated taking care of you, you’re right. You’re very challenging. I wish you weren’t the way you are. A small part of that is because it makes things difficult for me, Mommy, Benjamin and Ava. But the biggest part of that is that it’s no fair for you to go through the challenges you face on a daily basis. You’re only a little kid. It breaks my heart. You didn’t ask for this.
I look at you and I get happy and sad at the same time. Like I said, it kills me that you suffer the way you do. You’re such a cute, sweet little kid. But I’m so glad God gave you to us. I couldn’t imagine you not in our life. Mommy and I talk all the time about how your autism makes things challenging for us. We look back at our wedding pictures and get sad, because we had no idea what we had coming. A year ago, we went to an engagement party for our friends Brian and Kelly, and Mommy cried when she saw them dancing, because she thought, “Who knows what the future holds for them? Will they have healthy children? Will they struggle like we do?”
But you know what? Mommy and I look at life as a roller coaster. We had no idea what the ride would be like, but we’re grateful that we get to ride it together and bring you along. This is the track we’re on, and only God has control. If this is what He wants for us, we’ll graciously accept it. We all pray every day for you to get better. I don’t know if you notice, but at family dinner, it doesn’t matter who leads the prayer — me, Mommy, Benjamin or Ava. The first thing we ask for is for you to get better. And we all still have faith that you will.
I look forward to the day that I can have a conversation with you. And the day I can take you to In-N-Out for a burger without putting you in a high chair. And the day we can go on a walk (or jog!) around the block. And the day we can play a game the right way. And the day we can watch something age-appropriate on television. I don’t care if anybody tells me to accept you the way you are right now — I still look forward to the day when things are better.
In the meantime, just know that I will always take care of you. Parents always take care of their children as much as necessary, but you can rest assured I will always have your back. There is nothing Mommy and I won’t do, and the rest of your family — your grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc. — feels the same way.
We’re going to have a party for you on Sunday. You won’t really know it’s a party for you — it will seem like just another play day at a new park. You won’t be able to eat the cake, because there’s dairy in the frosting. And you won’t be able to eat the pizza, because there’s dairy in the cheese. But everybody will be there because they love you. And just because you don’t know any different doesn’t mean we’re going to treat you like a second-class citizen. You deserve the best, and that’s what we’ll try to give you.
Jack, I really just want you to know how proud I am of you. You work so incredibly hard and you’re a sweet kid with a huge heart. Even though you don’t know today is your birthday, I hope you have a great day. I hope school goes well, I hope you enjoy your break from therapy, I hope you don’t have any meltdowns and I hope that whatever thoughts are going on inside your head are positive. Enjoy your day and have a great 7th year!