I know what you’re thinking, “You got it backwards.” Nope. I meant what I said.
Today is Finn’s 5th birthday and, much like I always do, I get sentimental and nostalgic on the kids’ birthdays. I like to look back over their years and think about how far they’ve come. Joe and I giggle over the funny ways they used to pronounce things or the quirky little things they used to do. Only with Finn, it’s a little different. With Finn, we always fear he is not going to “grow out of” his quirks. When he picks up a new “habit” (aka obsession) we never know how long we’ll have to tow it around!
When Finn was two, we went to the Baltimore Aquarium. He and Charlie got to pick out a souvenir afterwards. Finn, being the funny little thing he is, picked out a package of squishy lizards. They weren’t edible, but they were rubbery and sticky. Finn picked the yellow lizard out of the bag and named it “Yellow Pee Pee.” He carried “Yellow Pee Pee” in his sweaty little hand for about nine months. If we went to the beach, he brought “Yellow Pee Pee.” In the bath, he brought “Yellow Pee Pee.” He had to pee, well, you get the idea. In fact, one time on the beach, we lost “Yellow Pee Pee.” We dug through that sand like we lost the Queen’s Jewels. I think people from neighboring beach blankets even joined in the search and rescue. All the while, Finn was having an epic meltdown.
It’s funny because as embedded as “Yellow Pee Pee” was in our lives, one day Finn just forgot to carry him around anymore, and we just forgot to have to look for him. “Yellow Pee Pee” was replaced by some other fixation, so when we didn’t have to tear the house apart for him anymore, we were thankful.
I have a whole “holding room” of toys like “Yellow Pee Pee.” You know the toys that your child once loved but doesn’t play with anymore? Most people donate them or put them on the yard sale pile, but not us. We keep them in a purgatory room for fear that Finn will remember they are missing and need them again. I have to sneak broken toys out to the trash under the veil of night because even though they are broken, Finn can’t part with them. It’s kind of adorable that little things bring him such comfort. Only I’m drowning in a sea of broken toys!
Change is very scary for Finn. I get it. I spend much of my day, and my energy, trying to be consistent with him. Consistent in my discipline. Consistent with his expectations of things. Consistent, consistent, consistent. I spend so much time making sure things don’t change, that they seem to do just that right under my nose.
So, the other day when we asked Finn what he wanted for his 5th birthday and he said, “A whole pack of ‘Yellow Pee Pees,'” I got scared! Not only did I not have “Yellow Pee Pee” anymore, but I wasn’t even sure where to find a pack of “Yellow Pee Pees.” And what if we had to start taking “Yellow Pee Pee” everywhere again? I thought we had moved on from “Yellow Pee Pee!” The trauma, I mean memories, of the sandy search and rescue were still so fresh in my mind.
When you’re child has autism, you never know what “habits” are going to be deal breakers. Some quirks are cute until you find yourself digging a hole to China to find a rubber lizard. Having to wait until all the bathwater goes down the drain (for fear that a washcloth will appear out of nowhere and slip down the drain, too) is cute and all, but not when you’re in a hurry to get the kids to bed. I could go on…
So, I spent my morning yesterday going in and out of junk stores on the boardwalk scouring for “Yellow Pee Pees.” I couldn’t find any. I was starting to get nervous. Here is my sweet, simple child who only asked for a two dollar birthday present and I was going to be the Scrooge mother who couldn’t deliver? I finally went to my last store, the mother of all Jersey Shore junk stores, Hoy’s! I went down the “rubber junk toy” aisle to no avail. On a lark, I went down another aisle with slightly higher priced junk, praying to “Saint Anthony” the whole time, and there they were glistening like the Holy Grail itself! A whole pack of “Yellow Pee Pees!!”
I ran out of the store victorious! Joe was waiting in the car with Charlie and the babies. I literally held the “Yellow Pee Pees” up over my head as I triumphantly marched to the car!
I was happy knowing how happy it would make Finn, but nervous for what may be to come.
Only time will tell. And on this, the night of his 5th birthday, I am reminded of how even in the life of an autistic child, change comes whether we like it or not. Life is an ebb and flow, I just have to remember to ride the wave.
Happy birthday, Finny.