11 Jul 2030
How’s it goin’?
This year 2030, you turn 60. It’s such a big number I can’t even comprehend what it’s like living so long! How do you do it, Dad?
Anyway, happy birthday!
I hope you liked the hand-drawn birthday card I gave you last week. Remember when I was younger, you used to complain that I never got you anything for your birthday? Well, I hope you won’t complain anymore this year.
I’ve been reading your blog posts from the last ten years. I wish I could write like you, but you know how I hate writing. When I was still in primary school, you used to sit with me every afternoon as I did my English homework. You wanted to make sure my alphabets sat on the line, and my sentences ended with a full stop.
Oh, the number of times you made me erase and rewrite!
Do you remember?
Writing was tough for me then. My hands would tire so easily holding the pencil. But c’mon dad, you gotta admit your hands would tire too if you had to copy those sentences ten or more times like me! What’s more, my fine motor skills then were still lagging behind normal kids my age.
Anyway, you must be wondering why I wrote you this letter today. Certainly not to discuss my pen(cil)manship.
It’s actually something I would have written to you ten years ago if I had the words.
I still don’t know now if I’ll get them right, but I’m gonna try.
So please pretend as you read this that it’s 2020 and you just celebrated your 50th birthday.
And if you can, re-read the post you wrote then because my letter here is a direct response to what you said there.
You wrote in that post about three behaviors that bothered you about me. Please know that while I can’t take back those years and make them better for you and mom, it was never my intention to put you both through those trying times with me.
But now that I’m older, and don’t behave so anymore, I think I can explain why they happened. If these things still bother you now when you think back, then hopefully my letter here will offer some answers, and more importantly, much comfort.
So here goes:
1. Soaked bibs
My constant drooling was probably your number one pet peeve. Many times everyday, you both took turns to say “Caleb, suck and swallow!” as another sliver of saliva fell from my gaping lips.
If you recall, my mouth was never fully closed. You could see when I’m asleep at night; there’s always a little gap. I suspect I was a ‘mouth-breather’ back then. Even now, I still do that some times, though not when I’m awake.
It probably goes way back to when I was a baby and had acid reflux in my first year of life. Remember those 12 months? You and mom always said that was the toughest year of child-raising you had! I’m pretty sure that reflux had something to do with my breathing irregularities back then.
Though somehow I managed not to wet my pillow (or maybe it’s all dried by morning!), that ‘gap’ was my default lip position throughout my sleeping, and waking, hours. And while I was awake, I wasn’t aware of my drooling most of the time, so distracted was I by what went on around me, and when I was playing. So even if dribble trickled out and down, my mouth always stayed slightly ajar.
With nearly a decade of that ‘experience’ by the time of your post, it’d become so much a habit that I didn’t even think much about it.
I know it exasperated you and mom to distraction back then, but this really is the best explanation I can offer you. And hey, you guys did continue making me wear a bib so I took it as a sign you were resigned to my drooling.
So it’s not exactly ALL my fault either, right? *wink*
Oh, and all those daily mouth exercises you and mom had me do? To strengthen my lips and jaw muscles? I guess we’ll never really know if they did the trick. With or without them, maybe I just needed one more year to stop drooling, which as you recall, I eventually did.
(By the way, can you remember when exactly ah? I’m guessin’ it was when I became a teenager and started noticing girls!)
2. Leaked diapers
Can I be blunt when it comes to this one?
I really think you guys shouldn’t let me wear diapers to bed every night, right up to my tenth year.
Okay okay before you get upset, hear me out. I know the prospect of changing and washing bed sheets every morning was likely the main reason. That, and the fact that nearly every morning my diaper was heavy, seemed to affirm your decision.
Still, why not put me on the tiny rubber mattress instead and let me sleep there on the floor with no diaper on? Then, if I should wet myself, it’d be easier to clean up no?
Alright, I know that doesn’t sound very convincing; it might even make you seethe that I should say this now. If I’m perfectly honest, I really don’t know why I couldn’t ‘hold my own’ every night till the next morning. I guess I just hadn’t learned how to back then.
It’s like the ladders and slides at the playground near our house. Remember how it took me SO long just to climb up and down those? When kids half my age were literally ‘running rings’ around me with their superior dexterity?
Resisting the urge to answer nature’s call immediately was pretty much the same.
But hey, I did finally stop needing diapers by the next year right? Guess ten’s the charm *grin*.
(Or was it 11?)
3. Supervised showers
The simple truth is this: I don’t like to bathe.
Remember how I always tried to negotiate for extra time when bath time came around? Or when we went out under our hot tropical sun for our family walks? How I kept refusing to go because I knew you’d want me to bathe immediately after we returned, as we’ll be all sweaty and stinky?
I’ll bet if you ask most boys, autistic or not, they’ll feel the same way too! And c’mon dad, weren’t you like that when you were a boy too?
No? Really? (Okay okay.)
And as for standing in the shower cubicle talking or singing. You have to admit the acoustics were so much better in there. How could I resist?
Plus I love standing on that particular floor tile, two feet from the shower faucet. It just felt right, and I wanted to hold onto that moment for as long as I could. Cos once the water came down, I knew my time in the shower would be over soon.
So yeah, you guys had to supervise me to make sure I didn’t catch my death of cold when I showered. And yes, you had to keep reminding me to scrub hard instead of wasting time forming soap bubbles between my elbow and torso. But I couldn’t help it. Those bubbles made me feel like I was an accomplished magician!
Sighhh…okay I admit it.
Now that I’ve listed all my ‘defenses’, I see that I didn’t have any strong reasons for those behaviors, though I’m trying hard here to explain myself.
And really, my point in writing this letter is more to let you know I’m okay now, and all those times you and mom spent tirelessly finding solutions were worth it because it showed me one thing.
You could have easily walked away from it all, and gave up on me, like many other parents with special needs kids have. They often outsource the care to grandmas, helpers or nannies. Or just ignored their kids altogether.
But you didn’t. And for that I’m grateful.
And even though we’ll never know if any or all of those methods worked or were even necessary, it mattered that you tried them.
I know I ‘fought’ hard against many of those methods, and as a result, we had endless tussles.
And I know that more than once I’ve brought tears to your eyes, even as I too have cried each time we ‘locked horns’, and came away ‘bruised and battered’.
But despite all that, your love for me came through and that I won’t forget.
And for that, I love you and mom so much.
Okay, I’m gonna stop now before I get too soppy!
Let me just end here by asking that you keep this letter just between us, ok? I know you like posting stuff on your blog but I really don’t want yet another post about my past.
In fact, would you be so kind as to remove that post of yours too? Cos ya know, girls have started noticing me, especially on social media, and I don’t want them to know!
You will? Thanks Dad…You’re the best!
And as you used to mimic Tony Stark when tucking me into bed when I was a kid, “I love you three thousand!”
Once again, happy birthday Dad!!
Your son always