Letter to My Daughter
Read at the 2016 Pieces of the Puzzle Gala
I didn’t know you until you were a month or so old. My triplets were 9 when Mama and I were first together and you were still an infant.
I remember the picture of you perusing a Family Law Treatise at 4 or 5 months old – you were serious, even studious, maybe a bit fussy, but also sweet and snuggly. I may have fallen in love with you the first time you fell asleep in my arms while we rocked. And I became your mom.
As you grew, so did your quirks. You were unique – as unique and different as your older triplet siblings are from one another. You began to toddle and grow, and so did that list of quirks. You easily walked 25 yards ahead on evening strolls – never looking back, a low-flying jet didn’t faze you or cause you to point, you arranged colored blocks not in towers but in hieroglyphic patterns on the floor, you raked your fingernails over the metal garage door, and you even lapped at rain puddles on the sidewalk. We loved your quirky little self, but wished you’d look us straight in the eye or share a word.
Going to your 18-month old check-up you had both subtle and not-so-subtle shortcomings with your milestones. You were referred to Infants & Toddlers. And I went into mama bear mode. I dove into the library and the internet. When I came upon the remarkable Autism Speaks videos comparing the play of typically developing toddlers and toddlers on the spectrum, I watched them over and over. I saw you in every one. And I became sure.
Reese, I was sure you had autism, even before your diagnosis. And in the moment I was sure, I was also terribly unsure of our future: Would you talk? Would you be able to do math? Would you forge connections? Would you learn to live on your own? Would you ever let go of the godforsaken Thomas the train that had to be in your hand every second? Could you learn to be more flexible? How many quirks could one little girl have? Would you be happy?
And one sunny day, after months of OT, Speech therapy and every other kind of T, and sign language and pictures, we were out on the patio playing with bubbles – Leah your OT, me, and Mama. Leah said, “Pop,” Mama said, “Pop,” I said, “Pop,” and YOU said “Pop.” Each blowing bubble, popped away like a worry. A tear of hope, pride, and joy trickled down my face. All of your hard work materializing in that one word, that one success – not your first success and not your last.
Today, you’re 7 years old. You let go of the Thomas the train, replacing him with Mickey Mouse, and then Rainbow Dash, and a few others – but now if it’s blue – you love it. If it’s blue and a dog – you love it more. If it’s a blue dog that fits in your pocket – that’s the best. But you have flexed and reached at every challenge – you do put that little dog down and your hand is sometimes empty. More than that, you speak, you read, you do math, your art is beautiful, you ice skate, you can tell me the border countries for most of Africa and your favorite country in Africa is Egypt, you make friends (maybe fewer than most, but the ones you have are fast friendships), and love with all of your might. You love the water and because you try hard and are a true competitor, you will soon swim across the pool (Even if you did go to change afterwards and come out of the changing room waving your swimsuit over your head. Whoops. We’ll work on that).
Where once you had announced that you could only love one person at a time, you tell me daily how you have the biggest heart and I am part of it. And Reese, you are part of mine.
If I could cure your autism – wave a magic wand – I would. But I would not have my life without you and the lessons you teach me about what is possible not just for you, but for myself. You have taught me to flex and reach, to simultaneously appreciate where we are and to know that we can do better. I wish for you all things now – knowing your strengths and your weaknesses, just as I know those of your four brothers and sisters – and knowing we will do this thing together, flexing and reaching the whole way.