This month, Brooks turned 6 and my mom turned 75.
Although the birthday parties were obviously very different (no hula-hoop hip-hop for Mom), both occasions reminded me how fortunate I am when it comes to family and friends.
For Brooks’s party, our game plan was as it always is: challenge him and hope that he rises to the occasion. And rise he did. How did he handle his anxiety? There was none to handle! The first notes of “Happy Birthday” triggered a smile so proud that it beamed across the room; this from the same little boy who wept uncontrollably when that song started at any birthday party, only a few short years ago. Eagerly tearing open the wrapping paper on his gifts all by himself, and exclaiming: “Wow, look at this. This is cool!” from the same little boy who used to walk away from presents, an apparent extreme indifference coupled with too little dexterity in his fingers to open them. Freeze-dancing with his friends, leading the conga line; making it look effortless and with an abundance of joy, all the while surrounded by people who “get it”: close family and longtime friends, newer “parent” friends of Brooks’s peers, and therapists who have evolved into friends. Everyone present knew how significant it is that Brooks blew out his own candles for the first time ever. Everyone had made their own unique efforts to have a meaningful relationship with him, and they were rewarded with a birthday boy who was not hiding away in his bedroom, but rather reveling in the presence of his faithful and true friends.
For my Mom’s party, I escaped solo up to Winnipeg, Canada, my hometown. I know it sounds odd to say that I basked in the warmth of my family and friends when the temps had a minus sign in front of them, but that’s what it felt like. Because my niece Lindsay wrote and performed a beautiful song for my mom, who is her constant musical inspiration. And because my ten-year-old niece, Kyra, accompanied Lindsay on the violin. And because my cousin Miriam sang a laugh-out-loud parody song that my sister Robbi wrote.
I am so proud to be part of a family where these kinds of gifts trump the ones that come wrapped in ribbons. Not only proud, but grateful. Because when Brooks was first diagnosed, no one had to readjust their priorities to what really mattered. My phone calls, crying and struggling to get out actual words, were met with efforts at comfort, which meant more crying, this time on their end. They were in this thing, too, a country away or not, and they took ownership and made significant contributions in finding the best ways to help Brooks.
I am doubly grateful for the loyalty of my friends and family in both countries, because I haven’t been a very good friend/sister/daughter in the years since Brooks was diagnosed. I feel like I have been taken hostage by everything we needed to do for our son. Sadly, the little things like phone calls to check in or spontaneous get-togethers have been pushed to the bottom of my list. Truth is, they are not little things at all; they are the building blocks of maintaining relationships, and they have enormous meaning.
So to all of you who have put up with me, thank you. I am so moved by your unconditional support. Maybe now that Brooks is 6 and doing so well, we’ve turned a corner. And Laurzie, now that you’re 51, I promise we’ll actually celebrate your 50th before Brooks turns 7.