Sometimes I think I’d sell my soul if I could go back to those blissfully ignorant days before we knew anything was wrong. Back to the days when Davey was a healthy, quiet baby.
I used to hold him in my arms late at night, marvelling at his perfection. I could hardly bear to set him down, for fear that I would miss something wonderful. And I always did miss something wonderful: him. He filled my heart in a way I never expected. He was my world.
When we realized that he should’ve been making eye contact with us and reacting to our facial expressions, we feared what we thought was the worst: blindness. While we waited for doctor’s appointments and test results, I planned our future. I wasn’t going to let Davey miss out on anything. I was going to be the most creative and involved mom ever and help him to experience the world even better than his peers. I would be his eyes.
As it turns out, he wasn’t blind. The diagnosis finally came when he was almost a year old. Autism. How I hate that word. Even after three years, I haven’t gotten used to that word. My precious son lives in a different world and I can’t draw him out. He doesn’t see me. He doesn’t know my voice. He doesn’t know that I love him. He doesn’t know that my heart breaks all over again every single day.
We moved just after Davey turned four. I was very careful to make sure his new room was set up exactly the same as his old room, but it wasn’t worth the effort; Davey refused to spend any time in there, except to sleep. But the one thing in our new house that I was determined to change immediately was the one thing that captured Davey’s attention.
We ended up being grateful for the ugly vine-patterned wallpaper. It kept Davey calm through the move. There was something about those vines in the kitchen that both intrigued and soothed him. As the days went on, he was drawn to the wallpaper more and more until tracing the vines became his favourite activity.
I often sat and watched him. His left forefinger traced down a few inches of the vine, then his thumb traced back up the same line. His movements were slow and precise. He seemed to concentrate on every little movement. I wondered what he saw. I wondered what he was thinking.
I soon made a decision. Since I couldn’t get Davey to join me in my world, I decided to join him in his. I sat on the floor beside him and tried to mimic his movements. I traced down the vine with my left forefinger and back up with my thumb. I didn’t talk or even look directly at Davey. I just sat with him tracing the vines and I tried to imagine what he was seeing and feeling. When I got up to make supper, Davey didn’t notice. He probably hadn’t even noticed that I’d been sitting there that whole time.
Over the next few weeks, I traced the vines with Davey for several hours a day. His movements never altered and I was no closer to understanding him, but my helplessness compelled me to action. I couldn’t stop tracing the vines with him any more than I could magically make his autism disappear. I just wanted to know my son.
My determination started to waver as the days wore on without change. As I sat with Davey, tracing the vines over and over again, I wondered if it was futile. My hand stilled as a lifetime of this mindless behaviour flashed before my eyes. I struggled to breathe, afraid to face the endless nightmare ahead.
Suddenly, I noticed that Davey’s hand had stilled as well. I turned to him and found that his baby-blue eyes were focused on me. Miraculously, my son was looking into my own eyes. For that brief second, I was in his world. For that brief second, he knew I was his mommy.
And just like that it was over. His eyes looked through me again and I ceased to exist. But the Lord saw fit to grant me a second miracle. Davey moved his hand closer to mine, slowly moving across the wall until his tiny fingers gently touched mine. And with a barely discernible touch, he moved my hand. Down the vine, then up again.
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