I remember it crystal clear. The day he was born. He looked right into my eyes. Turned his head around and stared intently at me. He was ten hours old. Born different. I was a first time mother. Shocked at the prospect of motherhood. Shocked that a little human was dependent on me. I did not feel ready. I felt thrusted into motherhood. He cried and cried. And I cried and cried. Determined to breast feed, I did not realize that I had mammary tissue syndrome. I was among a very rare group of women who cannot produce milk. I pumped and pumped till I bled. Only to get a few drops. My little guy was not peeing. He was dehydrated. A dangerous level. They said I had no choice. Formula it was. This killed me. I was at home. Recovering. He was at the hospital. They told me he needed more milk than average. This was the beginning of every deviation from average. This baby, they said, will not go hungry.
We finally came home. He would just cry and cry. He only slept a few minutes at a time. I would go crazy rocking him to sleep. Only for him to wake up screaming a few minutes later. The sleep books didn’t help. What was I doing wrong? Did he just need less sleep? Then came the night terrors. During the daytime. He would scream and scream. He could not be woken up. Then they stopped.
We were at a friend’s house. ‘Baby! Baby! Look Eesa, a baby!’ We said to him. ‘Baby. Baby,’ he responded. He was six months. Caught on video.
‘Kaa. Kaa,’ he would insist. He wanted me to clap. I did not know. He was ten months.
15 months. 18 months. 2 years. I don’t know when he surpassed the language milestones. He would speak in full sentences. I talked to him like an adult. People stared. Most asked how old he was. Others started worrying about their own kids. Not quite two yet and he started recognizing the alphabet. Then shapes and colors. Then came reading. He was three. Then came a new preschool. He doesn’t socialize. He’s advanced. No. It’s high functioning autism. Labels. He prefers adults. Does not befriend peers. They’re babies. He wasn’t four yet. And he somehow knew he was different. Gifted, they said now.
I was pregnant again. Home on mat leave, I pulled him out of preschool. Worried sick about his social skills, I facilitated play on the playground. He began to befriend other kids with above average language skills. He made a friend. His first real friend. In the neighbourhood. One week later, she moved. Halfway across the country. But we kept going. Kept playing. And he was fine. Then began kindergarten. A challenge. Even before she met him, this was how she referred to him. He was reading. Doing math. Could we engage him? Stimulate him more? They saw us as pushy. I was just trying to give him what he needed. I’m still here.
I just want him to love learning. He doesn’t like school. It’s boring. I already know what they teach me. We have so many kids who are struggling. It wouldn’t be fair to pay more attention to him. He’s already got the academics. He needs to learn social skills. Too intense. Too sensitive. Bored with routine tasks. Doesn’t follow instructions. Too slow to dress. Struggles with gross motor skills. Does not enjoy gym. While other kids run around, he builds circuits. And creations upon creations with magnetic blocks. He has to build. The more he builds, the happier he is. And directions. Road directions. Ask him which route to take. He perks up.
Then there are the questions. About God. About death. And so much more. You’ll have to hold off on your questions till after the session. He’s disappointed.
Call him what they may. Label him as they may. For me, he is my Eesa. My poppy. My Eesa. Happy fifth birthday. You’re my sunshine.
Maleeha Ahmad, MBiotech is an Advisor of Strategic Planning at the Region of Peel. Maleeha resides in Mississauga, Canada with her husband and two sons: five year old, Eesa and fifteen month old, Yusuf. Maleeha loves nature, nurturing and nine pm – the time when her high-energy boys are in bed. And she can write.