So March has come and gone, which is annually insignificant, except that both of my children were born in March. I haven’t celebrated birthdays for years, but when it comes to my kids, the dates are significant to me in ways that have nothing to do with candles and everything to do with crying.
When I first learned that I was expecting, I have to admit- I had no idea what to expect. The magnitude of the situation was completely below sea-level until Khalid was born and the nurses put a tiny, dark-haired bundle on my chest and told me I had a son. He was bluish, and wrinkly, and the most beautiful baby I had ever seen. And then he was always there- it was my duty to keep him happy, warm, clean, alive, loved, fed, rocked, tickled and adorably dressed. He was a gigapet without an off button who refused to take either a bottle or a pacifier and no one else could watch him for me.
And he grew, and eventually he crawled, and thank God, he even learned how to walk at 13 months, but at night he cried. And he learned how to babble, but he never talked, and he sometimes played, but spent a great deal of time just staring at things. And when he was fourteen months old I learned that I was expecting again, and I cried. It is humbling, and personally very shaming to think of now, but they were not happy tears. They were the tears of mother who felt like an utter failure, an utterly overwhelmed failure with a little boy who lived like a shadow in my own shadow.
By the time Khalid was two, he had gone nearly silent. Hours would pass without him making a single squeak, laugh, babble, or request- verbal or nonverbal. He would spend his day staring out of the window or following me from room to room. It was March, and then Iman was born. We spent weeks in a nocturnal daze, handling the growing confusion of Khalid’s development problems and the confusing emergence of Iman’s colic. Like clockwork, Iman would start crying at one am and stop by six am. For five hours she screamed inconsolably, squirmed, kicked, and arched her back, her body tense and trembling, and paused only for breath no matter how much I rocked, walked, soothed, sang, or bounced her. By six am the screaming would stop, she would feed desperately, and then fall asleep. By that point Khalid would be asleep on the floor by my feet. He would have cried himself to sleep too, because he would have woken up when Iman started crying and sobbed himself to sleep at the foot of the rocking chair where he begged to be picked up (and demanded that the little screaming pink thing be put down) until he gave up and fell asleep on the floor.
(No, I didn’t blog about any of this, I try to maintain a ‘No Pointless Negativity’ policy about blogging, and my G-ma taught me that if I can’t say anything nice, then I shouldn’t say anything at all. I cannot think of ANY SINGLE THING even remotely nice about colic or the creeping fear that your child’s brain is abnormal, which is why you won’t find them in previous blog entries.)
We eventually changed our sleeping habits completely. We woke up at 6 pm and started our day, and Khalid’s bed time was at 7 am, when Iman was done with her screaming and I could bathe him and put him to bed somewhere other than the floor. We saw HF for a few hours, after he came home from work and just before he too went to bed, and he woke up countless times in the middle of the night to give me a break- to walk the beaten path in the living room around the coffee table, to the front door, and past the sofa and back again while rocking Iman in his arms. It was a tough time for everyone. And I did a lot of crying.
Then, we got help. We hired a full-time Nanny, who put Iman to sleep while I put Khalid to sleep, and when Iman woke up in the middle of the night, I would go out and take the night shift while Khalid continued to sleep with HF in our bed. Some semblance of normalcy returned. After six weeks, the crying started to taper off. We started to have two, sometimes even three good nights a week. Eventually the screaming stopped, and Iman only woke up for feedings in the middle of the night with a minimal amount of crying.
By the time Iman was six months old, and Khalid two and six months old, we started to put our finger on exactly what the issue with Khalid could be. We were on our second nanny, because the first one became quickly frazzled by our nocturnal screaming schedule and quit after four weeks. We did our homework, had an initial assessment done, and then a full psychological assessment done, and by October of 2008, we knew for sure that Khalid had autism. His mental age was 13 months.
Khalid began ABA therapy in January of 2009, and he would spend the entire three hours crying. After a few weeks, the screaming would be punctuated with bouts of peace, during which I would quickly rush to the window and peek inside to see Khalid putting coins into a piggy bank, or scribbling, or watching one of his therapists blow bubbles. Eventually, he only cried when it was time to go into his sessions, and it would peter out in about ten minutes, and he would emerge from his sessions happy and covered in finger paint.
And life got better. And Khalid learned one word, and then another. And then he asked for a hug, and while the floodgates have not quite opened, they are cracked enough to let a few dozen meaningful words and a hundred or so prompted words through.
And now, Khalid is four and Iman is two. Khalid is learning how to read, even though he has yet to use a full sentence, and Iman decided yesterday that she is a Nice Cat. She gets down on all fours, crawls over to my feet and calls out Nice! Momma! Nice Cat! And I kneel down and pet her and say Oh, what a Nice Cat! And I scratch her behind the ears, and she giggles, and I pet her head, and she crawls away to do something important, like hit Khalid on the head with a building block. But she’ll be back again in a few minutes, calling out Nice Cat! Cereal?
(And if I ignore her, she bites my foot. So I feed Nice Cat a few pieces of cereal, and Nice Cat says thank you and bye bye and meow.)
Khalid and Iman have moved past enmity to tolerance, and from tolerance to coexistence, and from coexistence to inseparability. SubhanAllah, if I have to run an errand that requires one child and not the other, the two will cry out to each other as if they’re being separated for life. Iman! Iman! Khalid will yell and kick the back of the passenger seat from of him. No No! Ka-leed! Momma! No! Ka-leed! Iman will cry back to him from the gate as we drive through it, and the drama will continue for a few more minutes until Khalid wipes his nose and gets back to pointing out numbers on road signs.
When we get home again Iman will greet him by bursting into the room screaming and giggling and yelling out KA-LEEEEEEEEEED! and the two will reunite and celebrate by doing important things like bouncing on my bed and hitting each other over the head with building blocks. Iman is the non-stop talker, Khalid is the silent partner. They tease each other constantly, fight viciously, and hug and play lovingly when and if they’re not busy competing for toys and attention. It might be hard to imagine how Khalid can do all of these things without talking, but when he wants to tease Iman, he will look at her and smile, and maybe pinch her toe. And Iman will consider that an act of war and take swing at him, and he’ll dodge and run and a mad chase will ensue.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that I have it so easy. Thinking back to the downright turmoil that HF and I have been through with the kids, their progress seems unreal. The crying, the colic, the panic that Khalid’s autism put us through- sometimes it seems a million miles away, and those two little babies that the nurses gave me at the hospital, those can’t really be the funny little boy with enormous eyes or my Nice Cat with pigtails. I don’t have babies anymore, I have children, and by the Grace of Allah, this year, they are two and four.
And I don’t need to give them presents for it as if I don’t overstock the toy department all year round, or bake a cake as if cake isn’t happening on a regular basis, but I do have to say Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah. All praise is for Allah, who held me together when I was broken, who kept me on my feet when I was losing my head, and who took some of HF and some of me, and mixed it into the most quirky, energetic, devious, amazing, and inventive little humans I have ever known. And I thank Allah for the colic, and even for the autism, because the fact the He gave it to us means we have the strength to handle it. Without hardship or pain or stress, we would not be forced to become better versions of our previous selves, and we would never be pushed to push through. Allah has made me a better parent and a better person through my children, and I pray that the progress continues for all of us, throughout our lives.