Today you turn 15!
I close my eyes and I can picture you when you were small enough to hold in my arms. Your little blonde curls, your tiny, dainty fingers, your big brown eyes. I can still hear that beautiful toddler giggle you made when you were being tickled or chased, and that “Kee! Kee!” sound you squealed when you wanted a cookie.
Here we are, all this time later. You have outpaced me in height, and in the size of your shoes and your bra.
Baby girl, I don’t know where the time has gone. This journey, our journey down Autism Lane, we’ve done it thus far by focusing on the present, not the future. Each day you wake up with a smile, I smile. Each night you sleep well, so do I. Each day we get through without a tantrum is a success. Even on the not-so-good days, we’ve still managed and overcome.
It has been a privilege and a blessing to be your mommy. You have taught me more about life than I could have ever imagined. I am such a better person than I ever knew I could be. All my best qualities, I learned from being your mama. Courage, perseverance. Innocence, optimism. Appreciation, tolerance. Confidence.
And love. I had no idea I could love someone so much. You and your brother have made my heart swell to a million times its pre-parent size. Every time I think I couldn’t possibly love you two more, I do.
The way you look at the world is so beautiful. You don’t have a mean or judgmental bone in your body. Everyone you meet gets the benefit of the doubt at first. Everyone you smile at is filled with joy. Your aura is infectious, Brielle Rae.
And though you don’t say a word, I know how much you love me back. I know by the way you smile when you see me. I know by the way you come sit next to me on the couch and put your head on my shoulder. I know by the way you lie next to me and snuggle close. I know by the way you grab my hand when we are walking through the mall. I know by the way you come up behind me while I am washing dishes and hug me.
You do have your moments. This new thing you’re doing lately when you’re anxious, Bree, where you squeeze my fingers so hard I yelp, is getting old. So is this staying up past 10 p.m. on school nights! Mama needs her sleep. And I’m really getting tired of washing your bed sheets almost every day. But we’ll muddle through it.
We all have our issues. I have my own. I’m stressed and anxious and you sense that. I’m sorry for all the times I lost my cool. I’m sorry when I snapped at you last week for squeezing my fingers. I understand you’re trying to tell me something, we just have to figure out how you can do that without nearly breaking bones! And I’m sorry I’m no longer answering when you make that “Ah!” sound, beckoning me. You have to learn to use your communication device. You’ll never do it if I keep enabling you.
I had a harsh wakeup call this past year, when I met with your teachers and case manager to discuss your progress. Because, at your age, we also had to discuss your eventual transition into adulthood.
“Where do you see your daughter in the future?” the case manager asked me. And I gulped, baby, and I teared up, as I struggled to give the right answer.
Above all, what I want most, is for you to be happy. I don’t have all the answers right now. But I promise you I have started to think about your future and will plan for it. I promise you, you will always be loved and cared for. I promise you, I will do everything possible to keep that smile on your face. Because that smile lights up the world.
I hope you can read this some day. Hope is always there. You are the reason I never give up hope, Bree Bree. Because you are so smart! You never cease to amaze me. At 15, you are doing things I did not know would be possible. The sky is the limit. I will never stop believing in you.
Happy Birthday my love! I can’t wait to celebrate with you.
A version of this piece first appeared here.