I thought that doing this a second time my feelings would be muted, like a serene water color landscape instead of the crisp, clean lines of a realist painter capturing my freckles and the wrinkles you gave me around my eyes. I was wrong. Eighteen years. For eighteen years you have blessed my life and tho we struggle, no one, no one is more proud of you at your best and loves you more at your worst.
In all my life, I have never met anyone like you. You were born to be different, push buttons, disregard rules and look at boundaries as suggestions, to live life on a frequency most people can’t handle. Your compassion and loyalty are fierce, in your life you will become someones hero. In many ways you are already mine. Your love of adventure captures my imagination, it focuses my fear as well, but I am learning to turn a (kind of) blind eye. Your path is your own, and I admire that.
Happy birthday, baby blue, 18 things I love about you.
1) Your passion, compassion, empathy and knowledge of the autism spectrum is worthy of great admiration. I have seen you teach your friends to read, to write. I hear your words when you speak of your Links and I see the connection, the understanding, the absolute joy you receive from being with them brighten your eyes. You taught me to try to understand in others what I don’t, and that has taught me about who you really are, and about myself, in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise seen.
2) This year, your senior year you picked up a tennis racket for the first time and joined the high school tennis team. Pretty bold move for a then 17 year old. No care to level of skill or knowledge of scoring, you wanted to have fun. I loved when you told me, “The coolest part is all these kids are really cool, and I wouldn’t have met a single one of them without tennis.” Not many teenagers walk outside their box. Not many adults, including your momma, do either. Of course it’s not the first time you did something different. When everyone around you choose football, you blazed a trail and picked up a lacrosse stick and never looked back. You find joy where others find fear. Wow do I envy that.
3) Your ADHD brings with it many challenges. Challenges that I thought I understood, but did not. You have taught me to have compassion, to seek understanding, to search for empathy – our experience is so much richer when we truly try to understand how we all are designed. Your ADHD makes you funny, so witty, a fast thinker, fearless. It has it’s dark side, too, no denying. The brilliance that is you outweighs the heaviness of the cloak that ADHD has laid on your shoulders. You are strong, you are capable, you can carry that cloak and teach others on your way.
4) Nothing is too spicy to eat. And even though I protest, every time. I do love when you make me try new things.
5) I love that you wore your spiderman costume for nearly 3 years straight when you were a little boy. When you out grew it, you simply traded it in for The Hulk. I love that you wear what you want, when you want, and allow your spirit to shine through.
6) You never, ever take the trail. Hiking in Colorado this summer I planned a visit with you and Cole to a trail that lead to a giant glacier and its lake. We never saw the glacier -or the lake- because we never stepped foot on the trail. Where the droves of tourists followed each other safely up the path carved through the mountain layered with gravel, you took me straight up the mountain. We found a mountain fresh water spring, a glorious 360 view and snow! In June! You made me a little snow man. If you weren’t there, I would have been on the trail just like everyone else. Instead, I had one of my best days.
7) You stick up for those who can’t stick up for themselves. You have become an advocate, before most kids understand others need advocating for.
8) You are loyal. Your first try out for a summer lacrosse team didn’t draw enough kids to create a team. I asked you if you wanted to try and find somewhere else to play, even though we choose Power Play because you loved Cam and he had given you so much already. At 12 years old you said to me, “I will only play for Cam. I trust him he won’t let me down.” You did, and he didn’t. This fall you will play your last PP tournament, I absolutely love to watch you play.
9) You love to make people laugh. The first time I realized how much you love to make others laugh was a cold day in January, you were 4. I had just gotten our first digital camera (really?!) and we were taking pictures as you played in the laundry basket with your brothers. When Aiden smiled, you smiled harder. When Aiden laughed, you laughed harder. Your joy came from making him happy, making him laugh. I remember realizing then, that you had that spark in you to make others happy.
10) No one, not a single person I know, can run puns like you. If you’ve never experienced a run of Jacko puns, I once stood putting away groceries while he spit puns for 15 minutes. Straight. Without stopping. “I can see you’re getting salty, I’ll stop.” He said with a smile when he was done. It may have been a clever ploy to not put away any groceries – I don’t care. It made me smile for hours.
11) I love when you say, “Momma, want me to play for you a little bit?” Listening to you play guitar soothes my soul in a way nothing else in my life does or ever will. It brings your dad and I such pride, but also brings us another dimension of you. I love that.
12) I love that you will lose everything, at least once. It might seem funny, to love that about you, and it certainly wasn’t always that way … but what used to frustrate me, now makes me smile. It is what it is. Stuff is hard to keep track of for you. I used to get anxious, and worried, and try and fix/find/replace what you’d lost track of. Now I just smile when you show up to your tennis match in your Vans instead of your actual … tennis shoes. It’s a small trade off for your humor, wit and compassion.
13) You know every word to every Eminem song there ever was. Every. One.
14) You lick your thumb and stamp your palm and seal it with a fist – our secret way to capture wishes when we pass a wind mill. I taught you each that when you were just little — it was a game my great Aunt Dorothy taught me and I love that you still do it. When we’re driving down the road and I see your eyes run past a windmill, my heart smiles when we both know what to do. It reminds me that little things do matter, that small moments make a life.
15) I love that you adore your brothers. You look up to Coop and out for As. And you are never afraid for anyone to know that.
16) I love that you do you. I know sometimes doing you is harder than you’d like it to be, but I would not trade the challenges for the brilliance that is you.
17) I love to remember all the bike rides you took to visit Grammy Esther before she died. I envied how her face would light up when she saw you. You brought her flowers, made her cards, sang her songs, watched ol’ westerns with her and held her hand.
18) Even at 18, when I kiss my hand, you tilt your head to get the kiss placed on your forehead. Since each of you were born I have kissed my hand and rested my fingers on your forehead, blessing you for my peace of mind when you drifted off to sleep or left my presence. I love that even if it slips my mind momentarily, or you are in a hurry, or your friends are there, you tilt your head.
You have challenged me every second of every day since the moment God put you on this earth. You were born as you now live, fast and furious, with the cord wrapped around your neck so tightly you were blue, not breathing, in grave danger. I watched the doctors and nurses work to revive your limp body. Daddy held me back from getting out of bed, wrapping his arms around me while I rocked back and forth and cried. You were only in this world a few seconds before you scared me to death. I cried from across the room, “Baby boy, you need to breathe right now. Come on, baby, momma needs you to breathe. Please” And you did. It may have been the last time you did exactly what I asked you to!
You had me from that first fearful hello, and every time I found you on the roof, or on top of a tree, or jumping from a 12 foot ladder over the safety net onto the trampoline, or hiding under your dresser fast asleep, or in the 100 acre corn field at 3 years old walking to grandpa’s house, or jumping out the second story window, or escaping the bathtub totally naked running all the way to the road, meeting me with blood streaming down your face from playing the rock game in the corn, or sending me a picture of your feet on the edge of the Hog’s Breath Saloon roof while I sat below having a spring break cocktail, or stocking up snowballs on the roof to throw at Cooper at nap time, I thank God you were born with the grit and tenacity to get thru this life on a wing and a prayer.
Happy birthday, Jacko. Momma loves you.