Duncan, when you arrived into our lives 18 years ago today, not a one of us were prepared for what you would do to our little family and our little world. You have been full of surprises your whole life, starting with your birth, which was five days early, and for which we were completely unprepared. Not that I am complaining about that. After two week-late babies, your timing was my first favorite thing about you. Not to mention that you were incredibly wide eyed and beautiful.
You gave us two good scares the first eight weeks of your life. Nearly as soon as you came home, you started throwing up- a lot. And powerfully. I remember one night when you projectile-vomited clear across my bedroom. I was sitting on the edge of the bed with you, and you cleared the bed and hit the wall on the other side of the room. I was terrified, and sure that your head was about to start spinning as well. First thing next morning, we headed into the doctor's office. When they found out your weight was down instead of up, they herded us right up to PCMC, and after a few tests but before any of us knew what was happening, you were going under the knife to fix something called pyloric stenosis. Being your awesome strong self, you bounced back from that just in time to wind up back in the hospital only a few weeks later with RSV. After that fun week, you came home on oxygen for another month.
In spite of those early setbacks, you were a champion sleeper. You slept through the night consistently from the time you were five weeks old. By the time you were eight months old, you were tucking yourself in. We would come to check on you after you had fallen asleep, and you would have the blankets spread out smoothly over your whole little body, and up to your chin. It was the cutest thing I've ever seen, and we were sure we were raising a genius. Then, also at eight months old, you fell out of a shopping cart and hit
your head on a cement floor. We all yelled at Mitch, because he sort
of caused it to happen, but really it was my fault and I felt incredibly
guilty. You came out of that episode with not even a bruise to show
For your first birthday we bought you a pillow, and your love for your bed only grew. I don't remember you ever resisting bedtime, or fighting about going to bed or being afraid of the dark. For most of your childhood you slept in a sleeping bag. You liked that enclosed feeling.
About eighteen months, you discovered Toy Story. Your first real word was "Woody." I think we watched Toy Story about three times a day for the next three years. Then you found Batman and he became your second great love. We kept you entertained in church by drawing Batman, Robin, the bat mobile. I got very good at drawing the bat mobile and the bat signal. I wish we would have saved some of those drawings.
When you were three and a half, you played sandwich shop with me once. I would order the sandwich, and you would use some play food to make the sandwich then you would bring it to me to eat. It's the only time I remember you playing with me in a "normal" kid way. Soon after that, the doctor started saying words like autism spectrum and pervasive developmental disorder. I didn't hear them. I went into denial big time. You were so smart and charming. How could you have autism?
Every temper tantrum I remember you having had to do with either something you were wearing that you didn't want to be wearing, getting your hair cut or combed, or brushing your teeth. Why those things were such trauma-inducing incidents to you was a mystery to me. Now, that we know you better, it makes perfect sense to me.
You started swimming at four years old- real underwater swimming. You had no fear of the water. You loved it. We would spend hours and hours at the pool, and you would never leave the water. I should have put you in swimming lessons. I finally did, when you were older. You still liked it, but I should have started earlier.
In kindergarten, we finally got the official diagnosis of autism and we had to come to terms with the fact that you were going to take a different road through life than the one we had laid out for you. We did our best to get you what you needed to help you get as far down your road as you could. I don't know that we did that great of a job of it. We didn't know where were going, and nobody else seemed to know either.
In the end though, nothing we did was going to "cure" you, because there is nothing about you that needs to be cured. You bring us a new way of looking at and thinking about everything. Sure, I wish that you would talk more, and that I could figure out a way to help you more easily relate to people, but if I had to trade the unique things about you in order to make that happen, I don't know if I would or not. You have more common sense and clear thinking than most people I know. You are generous and loyal. You are funny. You are faithful and loving. You have your priorities in line. You are honest and guileless, and in all the important ways, you are a much better person than me.
You play way too many video games though. From the very first time you set your eyes on Mitch's Nintendo 64, you were hooked. I have worried my whole life about how much time you spend playing video games. If I was going to change one thing about what we did with you, I would have not let you have video games. For some reason, they are an easy fix for you. Then again, they are an easy fix for lots of "typical" people too, so why should you be so different? Still, you play too much. How many years in a row were you Link for Halloween? And if it wasn't Link, it was Mario.
Now you are 18 and we have to figure out what the rest of your life is going to look like. I hope that you can achieve everything you say you want- a mission, a career, your own house....who knows, maybe you'll even get married someday. If you could stand it, you would be a great husband. Whatever it is you want, I'll be right behind you, helping as much as I can. But just remember that I am learning to walk this road right along with you. Whatever you do, just remember that I love you more than you will ever know, and that you have blessed and enriched my life more than I ever dreamed you could. Happy Birthday!