Dear Baby D,
Before I knew who you would become, I somehow selected the perfect middle name for you: Grace*. You are filled with it, even though you do not yet know this.
Last week one night, while your brother raged, attempted to bite your Mommy and Daddy’s faces, pull our hair, and throw everything off the dinner table…as he slipped back and forth between inexplicable anger and heartbreaking wailing, you raced your Minnie Mouse car up and down the length of our row house, making adorable engine noises and scooting effortlessly around the other careening humans in the house. I can’t say if you were oblivious, making a conscious effort to ignore the chaos, or whether you don’t even hear it anymore. But you handled the situation beautifully. You didn’t complain. You didn’t ask for more information from us during a moment when we could not possibly have provided it. You just acted like a three year old who was playing with her toys.
And last night, when your brother started running up and down the length of the house, sweaty and screechy, teetering on the edge of another meltdown while I cooked his own dinner as well as our separate one…when you asked for the fifth time for help changing into a different dress for dinner (because you hate your school uniform–which I totally understand!), and I–as usual–told you that I couldn’t help you out right now because your brother was freaking out and I couldn’t leave a hot dinner unattended on the stove, which I needed to cook because Daddy had to run out and work again at 8pm at night…You didn’t whine. Your voice might have cracked once. And if you had actually descended into tears, it would have been completely appropriate for the level of stress that was building–once again–in our house. I ran to you and quickly gave you a hug and told you how much I loved you. And you pulled yourself together and waited for Daddy to mix up your brother’s “sleep milk” so that the rest of us could begin to settle down enough to eat.
And then, while we attempted to eat, and Mommy and Daddy had to get up to investigate the sound of broken glass (which turned out to be a frame of photos I shot when your brother was a baby and life was simpler), you ate dinner alone, yet again, while we swept up the glass and kept your brother from walking in it. This was not the first meal that you ate alone, while Mommy and Daddy got up to clean up one of your brother’s perfectly timed mid-meal accidents (whether they were potty or household object -related). When these things happen, you continue to chew your food, not ask too many questions (although you do ask a few, such as–“was that a picture of me that Max broke?”), and wait around dutifully for us to return to the kitchen in time to give you dessert. I know that eating dinner alone is…well, lonely.
I appreciate that you are beginning to experiment with the use of phrases that you may not fully understand, because you hear them being thrown around so often. The other night you asked me if your brother “had taken his meds yet”. This made me a little sad, because three year olds should not know the short-hand for the word “medication”, nor should they know how to use it so casually in a sentence. At the same time, it’s also good to see that you continue to roll with the punches. This is the only life you’ve known, and you are not aware yet that other families’ weeknights are usually simpler and filled with a lot less franticness.
It did make me cringe a bit when I had to take your brother with me one day to pick you up from after-care, and you immediately informed one of your teachers that your brother is “autistic”. I don’t think that you really know what that word means, but you do know that it is something that Mama and Daddy often tell people we meet when we are outside of the house, in order to explain, forewarn, or excuse ourselves from tricky situations. You know that this word is important, that it explains a lot of things, including the reason you often have to wait for a while sometimes before you can get an adult to help you do something, because your brother’s needs require immediate attention. You know that this is the reason your brother can’t speak yet. You might share the word a little more quickly and freely than we might, but I consider this to be a necessary part of your growing awareness. I believe that it is important for you to at least have the correct word to use, even if you don’t fully understand how this word will affect you for the rest of your life.
The other night at dinner, I jokingly told you that you can be whatever you want to be, as long as you earn a steady salary so that you can maintain a stable home, and that you do not pick up any addictions or leave a string of divorces behind you. I also asked that you love your brother unconditionally and grow up to be a patient and responsible adult. You smiled and said “yes, Mama”. You really had no idea what I was talking about. I was joking, but I kind of meant all of it. I will never discourage you from exploring any career (last night, you told me that you wanted to be a “cooker”). But I do secretly hope that you will choose something that allows you to have a home and a schedule appropriate and flexible enough to respond to your brother’s needs, when we’re not around.
I love you very much. I am sorry that your childhood will not be simple or easy. I know that it will make you a more resilient, empathetic person (and at the very least, you will have ample fodder for your college application essays). But I wish that it looked a little more like your peers’ lives. I have never yearned to be normal. I never wanted children who dreamed of being cheerleaders who dated the football team captain and teased the band geeks and “goths”. I wanted my children to have some spice and a total allegiance to the importance of independent thought. But I also have to admit that I wish I could give you a small taste of that “All American” childhood, now that yours is so unexpectedly far removed from white picket fences, chili cookoffs, cruise ship vacations and uneventful family dinners.
I promise to do my best to spoil you just enough–when our crazy life allows–so that you feel remembered and cherished. I will continue to give you a “hug and kiss and squeeze” twice at night and once in the morning. When I can’t drive you to school–which is most of the time–I will remind myself to read you that third book you’re always begging for, and have a tea party with you a few times a month. Your day is very important, and I want to hear about it. And your ideas and questions are always worth listening to, even though I might be flustered or exhausted when you first voice them. I thank-you for your patience and your grace while our house burns down around you, night after night. And I hope that you will continue to travel down the path you are currently on. You are loved. You are not forgotten. You are an important and equal member of our family.
*Grace would have been your first name, but I felt like this blue blood name would clash with your unmistakably Jewish last name (which you should also be proud of, because it belongs to your mother, who ignored everyone’s wishes that she would just conform to the outdated, patriarchal norm and pass you off under your father’s name in order to make everyone’s lives easier). Plus, I think your first name is pretty awesome and equally appropriate for you.
P.S. Here’s a collage of you and your personality, which is remarkably easy to record. There is only one of you.