I think about Dar’s birthday all the time, in the sense that I think it’s terribly tragic that Dar doesn’t, and may never, know when it’s his birthday. I don’t know why that matters to me; maybe life would be better if more people were less invested in their birthdays. But…I’m not feeling that. I feel…the desire for Dar to feel that he deserves a special day, instead of feeling that every day is special-needs day.
So we try to make his birthday special. Does he notice? Who knows?
In the midst of canvassing on behalf of the Democrats and all the other things my wife and I are doing, we cleared the calendar for Sunday, October 14, the day before Dar’s 9th birthday. What’s Dar’s favorite thing? We don’t know, but he likes water. He likes wading at the shoreline. He doesn’t try to get in up to his waist; maybe, like me, he doesn’t love the temperature of ocean water on his private parts. Instead, he just wades in and out, sometimes coinciding with the tide, sometimes not. You could say Dar uses his body to have a give-and-take with the surf. You could say that’s the only kind of conversation he’s ever had.
We went to our closest reasonable beach, which is Crown Beach in Alameda. As we arrived, wifey asked which child I wanted. I told her, and I meant, that I would be totally fine either way. Next thing I knew, wifey and Dar were gone. Wifey stayed just long enough to see where Dar’s brother and I pitched our beach blanket. Dar bolted. No, it’s not because he hates me. This sprint act has become more and more of a thing with Dar at any beach. He no longer settles for hanging out near where we’ve planted our stuff. Instead he runs along the shoreline until he finds a place he likes. It’s not about getting away from crowds. Maybe it’s like watching your pet find a good spot in the living room to settle down in? Maybe I shouldn’t use animal analogies.
So I spent an hour on a beach with Dar’s brother. And then another hour. And then another hour. I texted wifey to see if she wanted to switch. Nope. I get that. Sometimes Dar is easier. I can admit that in some tiny ways, autism makes raising Dar easier. Being with Dar’s brother is joyful and thrilling but also exhausting. He always wants to show me something. He always wants to ask me something. He always wants to play something with me.
Let’s be clear that I would literally give my right arm for Dar to behave this way. But…throw in a day of sun and sand, and it can get a little taxing. “Hey,” I finally say to my second son, “How about you go looking for some rocks?”
“What kind of rocks?”
“How do I know they’re special?”
“Unusual color or unusual shape.”
“How do I know if they have that?”
“Compare them to other rocks.”
He winds up spending more time talking to me about the “distraction” than the amount of time the distraction keeps him away from me. Finally, I can relate to you other parents!!
Meanwhile, did Dar express interest in any nearby kids building sandcastles and moats? Did he notice the many windsurfers paddling by? Did he catch the planes regularly taking off from Oakland Airport? He’s not one to jerk his head at such things. Maybe we’ll never know.
3:30 rolls around and I text wifey that it’s time to go. I’m lucky to reach her, because one of her phones has died. She used up all of her work phone’s battery life surfing the internet while watching Dar. Yeah, I’m jealous.
Dar’s brother and I walk down the beach to them. Turns out Alameda has a long, long shoreline. Who knew? Fifteen or so minutes later, we arrive. With a smile on my face, I tell Dar: “party’s over.” We hold hands on the way back to the car. He doesn’t protest. Maybe even Dar was sick of the beach. I continue to find it strange that I exude more natural power over Dar than wifey does. Maybe it’s the feminist in me; it just doesn’t occur to me that Dar should obey my commands more than wifey’s. But he does. Is it the male voice? Is it the height? Whatever it is, it is what (ever) it is.
Since we’re in Alameda anyway, we decide to eat at a Vietnamese restaurant called Dragon Rouge. The main attraction for us is not the food, but instead the fact that we had been there before and sat outside without Dar attracting all that much attention.
Dar and his brother aren’t exactly wild about a Vietnamese menu. Instead we make sure that the waiters brought plenty of bread and apple juice. Dar mostly behaves, although he keeps scooting his chair out, so I keep scooting his chair in. We keep telling Dar that it was his birthday dinner. It was already his birthday in Europe! Yeah, he didn’t care.
Yes, he went to school on his birthday, Monday. Yes, I brought cupcakes about 30 minutes before the end of the school day. Dar’s third-grade teacher put me and Dar in the front of the class and the kids sang Happy Birthday. (Dar’s full-time aide got to take a tiny break.) Dar tolerated the attention without really caring for it. He tolerated me passing out the cupcakes without wanting one.
Did he notice me? Oh heck yes he did. He saw me and headed for the door, and when it wouldn’t open, he screamed. No, it’s not because he hates me. (Again.) It’s because normally when he sees me at school in the afternoon, I’m there to come to pick him up and take him away. So he assumed the same and got frustrated until his aide calmed him down. I respected his hope to escape. I represented his hope to escape.
Do I scream as he represents mine?
Some kid in Dar’s class kept saying “Wait, Dar is older than me? Dar is older than me?” I get where he was coming from. On one level, he’s at best a toddler. On another level, as of Monday, he’s halfway to adulthood.
He’s many things. And we love them all. It is what (ever) it is. Okay, Age Nine: GO