I literally gave birth to my own joy. I didn't know that was actually possible until he arrived.
"So are you concerned about this-the oral stimming, the mouthing of objects-do you want therapists to get him to stop?" "Well, yes I am concerned about it because he's putting things in his mouth that aren't healthy or safe like batteries/charging cables/my rings/his clothing...but I don't want him to stop stimming, no-I don't want him to stop doing something that helps him find comfort and process stimuli (internal or external). I'd much rather focus on helping him find safe things he can chew or mouth on, you know? Like chewy tubes, or some kind of fidget that can help him get the input he's seeking orally. But I don't think this particular stim is one we should work on getting rid of. No."
I spent 2 hours in a room doing this-advocating for my kid, talking, explaining, objectively and constructively fleshing out as accurate of a picture of him, his needs/strengths/abilities/struggles as I could for the intake therapist at Easter Seals. Just like I did last week for an hour with the speech therapist, last month with the team at Kaiser's Autism Center in San Jose during his assessments, and as I've done repeatedly for the last 3 years for Alex. It's a weird balance trying to maintain when you're working to get your kid the help he needs while also making it clear that he is not "broken". It's pushing back at the subtle and overt messaging that there are parts of your kids that need to be fixed by asserting instead that perhaps what needs "fixing" are the classifications of certain behaviors as "typical" (i.e. "good") + a world that isn't inclusive of difference that exists outside of narrow parameters. It's choking back whatever worries/anxieties/fears you have as their parent and steadying your voice so you come across as concerned but informed/proactive/capable. It's ignoring the surprise that starts in their eyes and spreads across their face, alters their body language, and shifts their tone and warmth toward you once they realize the Black woman sitting across from them can talk about things like language development, the vestibular system, primitive reflexes, sensory integration, and varying behavior modalities on a "professional" level. It's verbally adding nuance to the questions that can't be answered with a simple "yes/no/sometimes" or the 2 lines they give you to "explain further". It's smiling and relishing in the moments in between answers when you can elaborate on who your kid really is in spite of what's in the reports and diagnoses.
I've done it so much for all 3 of my kids over the last 3 years I've learned how to talk about them/their needs/their struggles as their mother and advocate simultaneously. I've learned how to detach emotionally and be objective and firm. I've learned to remember what's been said in every evaluation/appointment/therapy session. I've yet to learn how to keep it from exhausting me though. I'm hoping they learn from watching and hearing me do it how to do it for themselves as they grow and navigate the world on their own.
It's what I wasn't taught how to do by my own parents. Isn't that the goal, ultimately? To do for the next generation what couldn't be done for your own, so that each one becomes more equipped to navigate life and better themselves and world? That's the work we've been asked to do isn't it? It's exhausting work but I choose to believe it's worth it. I do.
Be it a brayer I've abandoned for a brush as I work on a piece, or my favorite matte purple lipstick ("Shameless" by Revlon), this one is mastering the art of imitation at age two. He's my constant companion in the studio, quietly underfoot, his little hands searching blindly along the edges of my work tables for something to grasp while I work. Nothing is safe or off limits no matter how far I think I'm moving it beyond his reach-he finds a way to deftly, and swiftly get paint, brushes, spray bottle, brayer, palette knife, paper towels, water in his hands when my focus is elsewhere. I've begrudgingly begun to accept that if he's awake, there is no working in the studio without him next to, behind, or underneath me silently watching or working just as diligently as I am. He watches, then imitates both in the studio and around the house, spraying the walls, couch or television with water from my spray bottle he grabbed off my table or tagging his brand new shirt or wall with my lipstick.
His brothers enjoy drawing and sometimes playing in paint (Alex always always always uses a brush, no fingers, because tactile aversion), but he's the first of my children to show such an affinity for it...an intense focus on it, which intrigues me as I watch him.
Come to think of it, I painted quite a bit while he grew in my belly those nine months. A lot, actually. Maybe that's why it seems so flow out of him so effortlessly, in a way that it doesn't with them. He studies my movements and attempts to replicate them on his own. I've often looked down to see him foam brush or brayer in hand, quietly painting a corner of a piece in progress, mimicking my movements and strokes with whatever tool I'm using.
I think it's time to get him his own easel, brushes, apron, and paper. Perhaps his own brayer as well-that seems to be his favorite, which has me smiling as I type this because it's mine as well.
Oh you beautiful, mischievous, joyful, getting into all the things all the time boy.
What an explosive and intricate work of art you are.
You. The force and power is strong with you. I hope you always know it and channel it to live life as it's meant to be lived: out loud, wholehearted, and on your own terms. Always stay connected to your power, and remember it's okay to remain unconventional in your approach to this Life, my Bandersnatch. Allow no circumstance or misguided opinion to temper your intensity as you grow into it either. Hold onto your joy as tightly as you hold onto your brothers when pulling them down to the ground with you to laugh and wrestle. Refuse to let go. Be you. Always.
I love you my sweet, wild, beautiful, boy.