To say Aedan was a shock would be an understatement. The "pink for positive" line came at a time when our family was on literal fumes. After Liam's first few harrowing years, Audrey's first year had just come to a close: complete with a mini seizure and short hospital stay where she, at 6 months, was also diagnosed with Bartter's Syndrome. Like brother, like sister. I taught mommy and me yoga with kids as props, went from play date to play date, tried to keep my head above water while Brendan worked his ass off to finish school.
Did he ever. He graduated as the speaker for his class commencement; with proud eyes brimming with tears I watched him accept his medical school diploma, two toddlers all over me in the auditorium, screaming myself hoarse and clapping until my hands went numb.
"Whew," I remember thinking. Never had I been more proud or more completely befuddled how he (and we) had managed it.
While Audrey's kidney disorder was milder and more contained, it still meant monitoring, medication, blood draws. We were social, busy, starting to feel normal. But then, nausea at Brendan's birthday party in August and the clear "oh shit" sensation of early pregnancy.
I held the stick up at the top of the stairs, a newly-one Audrey on my hip, after rushing back from Target to grab a kit. "POSITIVE" I shouted down to Brendan. We stared at each other for a few solid seconds. The world seemed to stand still before a thousand questions rushed around from the inside out.
I cried for two weeks. My nervous system couldn't catch up to my emotional state of mind. Liam was sweet and healthy - finally - at almost three, but something remained "off," both with his speech and his social interactions. We were trying to pinpoint it. I don't remember much of Audrey's first year, but I do remember keeping as busy as possible to keep the doubts and bad memories at bay.
Brendan came into the bedroom on Day 15 of so after finding out about the new baby. He turned on the light, said it was time to get up. I needed to stop crying, accept reality, and welcome him or her. Ready or not, we are doing this all over again.
So I sat up. Stood up, went downstairs, and stopped crying.
During the next 8 months, we worked on building up the practice, enrolled Liam in early intervention play therapy, started him in a specialized preschool in the Fall. I taught at Gold's Gym up until I delivered. We waited to buy a mini van, the partyers in us resisting such a horror until March, when we realized the baby would be here in 6 weeks and there was no room for him.
He entered the world 3 weeks early, on Easter Sunday, smaller than the others, blue-eyed, round fuzzy head. A little Gerber baby to this day.
Aedan grew up independent, observant, reserved. He was the toddler who, at 14 months, climbed to the top of a playground structure, mothers around him freaking out and looking for me, who was scattered and chasing after Liam or pushing Audrey in a swing. Or the daredevil monkey child jumping into a pool at 9 months, not knowing how to swim, almost drowning and then laughing as we rescued him. The child who, at 4, would say "Help! I can't swim!" in the gym pool, though he clearly did after two years of swim lessons, again freaking out every adult within earshot. And then laughing quietly to watch the mayhem.
He spent his first two years in his car seat, napping, eating lunch, entertaining himself in waiting rooms of Liam's various therapies: habilitation, speech, occupational therapy. He held people at arm's length until he felt comfortable; once he befriended you, he wouldn't leave your side. He mastered his letters, numbers and colors early, emulated his siblings, grew up quiet and strong.
When he qualified for an individualized education plan in preschool, we were relived. He attended the district's public school with speech therapy services. He started flapping, smelling people's hair, finding his own little language. He caught up on speech, but social nuances appeared to be just out of grasp.
Quietly, true to form, with a new diagnosis of mild Autism, he pushed boundaries and struggled in Kindergarten. I felt like I had come up for air, finally, the day he first stepped into the Kindergarten classroom. Heart squeezing, I watched him sit a little apart from the kids, holding a little lego in his hand for comfort.
He challenged more boundaries when we moved him into a new school for first grade. Kids on field trips would be quick to point out Aedan's differences to me, how he wandered away sometimes and didn't always follow the rules. I would smile, explain how some kids learn differently, how he was trying. Silently grit my teeth and then give him an extra hug.
Now in second grade, his teacher gives him sensory breaks and holds him to a higher standard for behavior. He draws intricate pictures, writes screenplays, puzzles, mazes and letters to his imaginary friends. He collects Eos lip balms, names them "Roby," gives each flavor and color its own special voice.
Slowly, he's making friends. He lashes out in frustration, but then says "sorry, I'll never do it again" when he gets in trouble. He will often do it again, but the intent is there. He cries big crocodile tears that break my heart, even if he was being a little shit minutes before. Part of me will always carry a bit of guilt inside, for not giving him all of my attention back when I couldn't.
He looks like my brothers, like me as a kid…he burrows into our bed in the early morning, head under the covers, as close to me as possible, quietly humming his little "eeee" sounds and twinkling his toes.
He will always be a mama's boy. He masters his spelling tests, he does math problems in his head; he loves girls, hiking and video games. He will probably always be a little off, different, with his quirky mannerisms and tendency to get lost in his own world.
But, he finds his place in the world every day. He loses patience with Liam's echolalia, as I constantly remind him that he needs to practice kindness towards his brother’s difference. He and Audrey fight over toys and books but then laugh uproariously over fart jokes the next minute. He runs off if his feelings are hurt, waiting to be brought back to the fold. He off roads on his bike, praising his own "achievements," asks random questions no one could possibly could know the answer to, and fills notebooks up with doodling.
Aedan is becoming a badass, tricky kid, with parenting challenges I never would have expected. From day one, when he shocked our world with the surprise pregnancy test. When he arrived three weeks early, when he did NOT develop Bartter's syndrome, even when his was a 75% chance. Instead of caring for a baby with a “condition,” I watched him grow, in amazement. Chubby, eating everything, battling ear aches, climbing where he shouldn't and giving me heart attacks on a daily basis. Normal crazy boy pursuits. I both thanked God for them and wrung my hands about how to parent a kid so different from his brother.
Both of them with autism, both with big hearts and differences. In my wildest dreams I cannot imagine a life with two kids instead of three, or with a youngest as unique and smart as the one I have.
We will hike, we will adventure, we will figure it out. He will face a challenge, like riding a bike or picking up skateboarding with his dad, on his own terms and in his own time. My job, as I see it, is to foster his independence and confidence to help him remain awesome.
Even when he pushes me away when I kiss him too much. When he looks at me, exasperated, when I ask him to pose for a picture. "Aedan is 8 now," he said just three days ago, in Roby's voice, holding the little red circle up to my face. "He doesn't always have time to stop and smile. He just wants to go."