“Is there anything else the preschool teacher needs to be aware of?” I was on the phone with the Special Education director for preschools in our district. We’d been over Abby’s hearing and health, and are planning on her starting at the school this week. Hopefully. “Uhm, yes. I’m actually sitting in the parking lot of her pediatrician’s office. We just had another appointment. We think Abby might have autism too.”
I congratulated myself for making it through that sentence without so much as my voice catching. I did not cry. I stated it as it is: we don’t know, but probably.
“Are you okay?” Damn you. This question caught me off guard. My voice trembled as I began to watch my clinical matter-of-factness crumble. “Do I need to be? I mean…yes… I mean…no. No I’m not. I’m not okay with this. But I will be. Give me six or seven years…” I think I took her back by being honest. By not spouting out the first platitude that came to me. I took myself back, too.
I feel like I shouldn’t be talking about this, that I shouldn’t be sad about this, that I shouldn’t even so much as be processing this until the diagnosis is written on the paper. I feel like I should suspend all of that ache until we have some concrete answers. It makes sense, right? I mean, there’s still the possibility that all of her ‘red flags’ can be explained away with something else. I hope so. But I don’t think so. Even if they are, we’re still dealing with the reality that my three year old is pretty much silent. She makes very little sounds. My husband and I remarked once how we were jealous of our friend’s five month old baby. She babbled. She responded to talking with coos. Abby is like a portrait. As beautiful as anything I’ve ever seen, but silent. A world of wonder hidden under seemingly perfect brush strokes. We hear her voice the most when she cries. It’s the cutest little voice. It has the same tonal quality of her father’s, but expressed through the vocal chords of a little girl. I long to hear that voice say “Mom” or even yell at me in protest. I ache to hear her say anything at all.
Maybe she will one day. Maybe she won’t. Either way, the process of understanding has started, and my grief is there no matter how I try to talk myself out of it. It’s preparatory. We found out my father was going to pass away 8 weeks before he finally did. Those eight weeks felt as though we were suspended in our grief, that we couldn’t mourn the living. I did though. I cried myself to sleep a lot and tried to take in everything that I was seeing so my thirteen year old brain wouldn’t forget. When he did pass, it was hard. It was very hard. But nowhere near as hard as it would have been had we all not spent the prior two months processing. It didn’t have to come all at once. It’s kind of like I’m doing now. Maybe she won’t be diagnosed with autism, maybe we’re dealing with something else entirely. Maybe it’s just the Down syndrome. Or maybe she’ll just give up the mime-act and start talking out of nowhere. At the very least, when I get to the point of knowing, I will be okay. I will have done the work beforehand to manage the weight of the day.
Or maybe I won’t be okay. That’s fine, too. It’s like I’ve said to countless other people but refuse to allow for myself: whatever you’re feeling is okay. It’s right. There is no right or wrong way to get through this. Allow yourself to feel it.
So I am. Is it dark and heavy all of the time? Of course not. I mean, have you seen Abby? She doesn’t give you a lot of space to be super sad. In her silence, she is golden. Her smile and a tap on her chin that means I will spend the next half hour singing songs while she mimes the actions. Her giggle that reminds me that her voice is in there. And the feelings that come when she’s in my arms- that even as a writer I am at a loss for words to describe. Sometimes, words just are inadequate.
Most of the time, really.