Each year on my kids' birthdays, I make them a photo book. I've made three so far: one for my daughter, Jelly, on her first birthday and two for my son, Moe, on his first and second birthdays. In past years this has been a task I've cherished, starting well before their late Spring birthdays. I love the process of sorting through the year's photos, remembering all of places we went, friends we saw, and holidays we celebrated as a growing family.
I make these books for the kids themselves, as something I hope they will take with them as they become adults. And so, at the end of the book, I write a letter telling them about that year, how they've grown and changed and how special they are to me.
My son turned three at the end of May and I have yet to make his book. At first I was just taking a break; after all, my kids' birthdays are a month apart and I had just finished Jelly's. Then I got too busy planning what to do after our school districts' painfully short extended school year program. But now, as the regular school year approaches and I have some time, I'm still feeling reluctant to start the task.
It occurs to me that maybe I'm avoiding this year's book. This was the year it became clear that my son was not developing as he should, that he wasn't going to start talking "any day now." This was the year of diagnosis, of assessments, of 25 hours a week of therapy. This was the year of learning the acronyms: ABA, OT, SLP, GFCF, IEP. This was the year of fear and tears, of frustration and anger, of hope and disappointment. This was the year our plans changed. This was the year - the first year - of autism.
I'm afraid of what I'll see when I look through those twelve months of photographs. Will I see my child disappearing right before my eyes, frame by frame? How many pictures will I have to reject because Moe isn't smiling, isn't looking at the camera, or is running the other direction? Will I see the exhaustion in my face, the bags under my eyes, the "baby weight" still clinging to my middle because I could barely leave the house let alone go to the gym? Will I search and search for the requisite big brother holding new baby sister picture, only to remember that we don't have one of those?
I suppose it is time to make the book and put last year behind us. And I know it is important to do. When Moe is grown, he needs to be able to look back at those pictures and know how far he's come. He needs to know that whatever challenges life threw at us, we stuck together as a family. He needs to know that even when he wasn't looking at the camera, or at his sister, or me, I still thought he was the most beautiful boy I've ever seen. Perhaps most of all, he needs a letter from his mom, telling him how much I love him, how he's grown and changed, and how special he is to me.