Yesterday was my daughter's 17th birthday. We celebrated with cake and presents, like any other family. She delighted in her Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer snow monster toy that shakes and sings Holly Jolly Christmas (another Stop & Shop present, and you know what I mean if you've read my book.) She glanced at the Love's Baby Soft perfume set. We helped her open her cards from family.
She is seventeen years old. Here she is on the day she was born. I was two weeks away from my 31st birthday. A friend posed a question on Facebook last month, "If you could be anywhere at anytime of your life, where would you be?" My answer is in that photo. The moment Mia was born was the happiest of my life, bar none.
Mia developed right on time. She knew her alphabet before two. Could count to twenty. Looked at me with her big blue eyes. I vaccinated her on schedule. I was never told a thing about the risks. The consequences. It never occured to me I could be harming her, even as her pediatrician noted a distinct change in her head shape and made notes to "watch left side," but never told me or her Dad. We found his notes in the pediatric records we ordered when we moved to a new city. By two we knew we were losing her to something. By three we were in Early Intervention. By four she was diagnosed with autism.
When I was seventeeen I was a senior in high school. Mia is in "tenth" grade. Friends and I giggled at this Rick James song - understanding the lyrics were a bit naughty. I had a boyfriend, my driver's license and felt as grown up as could be, ah seventeen.
This morning, Mia was watching this before school.
In grade school I read a book from the 1940s that has remained a fond memory. It was about a girl's first love, called Seventeeth Summer, by Maureen Daly. At age 10 or 11, 17 seemed so grown up to me. Mia is loving a counting story called Miss Spider's Tea Party on the iPad.
Mia's first word was "Grover," the furry blue monster from Sesame Street. A year ago I met Bob McGrath from Sesame Street ("Who are the people in your neighborhood?", Bob) while out for dinner in Manhattan. I burst into tears telling him what the show has meant to our family, and how Mia still watches, long after the ABC's should have turned into the birds and the bees.
I've been making gluten free birthday cakes for over a decade. I'll make them until my gnarled hands can no longer switch on the oven. For Mia. For Gianna. For Bella.
I was sad yesterday. I even cried a few times as I remembered the brief period when Mark and I were just new parents of a bouncing baby girl, and not autism parents. Today I'm fine. Mia will be OK and we'll give her the best life we can. We adore our girls, and we have a good life, if different.
I've picked myself up, brushed myself off and started all over again with my regular day. Until July 11, when Gianna turns 16....
Kim Stagliano is Managing Editor of Age of Autism and author of All I Can Handle I'm No Mother Teresa available in hardcover, paperback and Kindle/ebook.