You are turning 10.
Ten years old! Double digits!
I can’t even believe it.
You’re getting so much taller. Those scrawny legs stretching so long, when I hold you, it looks like I’m barely lifting you off the ground! Your permanent teeth are filling out your smile, and you and I wear the same size shoe!
It’s happening. You’re growing up.
You’re getting so much smarter! I see the papers you bring home in your red backpack, the one that looked so huge hanging off your back at the beginning of the year now fits comfortably as you bounce off to school, those large Converse tennis shoes smacking the pavement with every step. Papers with math problems and sentences, and you’re doing reading comprehension questions! My man! That’s fantastic!
It’s happening. You’re growing up.
Your teachers say you’re playing “Happy Birthday” on the piano and that you have manners at the table for lunch, as you sit with friends and keep your hands (mostly) to yourself. And you’re playing side-by-side with friends! I love hearing, “HI, TOBIN!” from your peers when we’re out and about. And how they wait until you respond. And how you respond now. Even when you need some prompting.
It’s happening. You’re growing up.
You are using your talker to engage in conversations now! You’re using words you know, words that sound like words you mean and some phonetic spelling to tell us about your favorite things! “Rollercoaster elephant teeth cup boat buckle Branson hotell crayons.” We talk back to you about our trip to Branson and how those are your favorite rides, and you grin and laugh and press it again, so we can talk about it again.
You are such a thinker.
And we love when you let us in on the party.
You’re just incredible.
And I can see you.
Really see you.
For so long I felt like there was a block. And I couldn’t know you like I wanted to.
It broke my heart.
I remember people seeing us in public, commenting on how tall you were getting. And I would smile
but realize I hadn’t realized.
I would say, “You know, I’m holding him so much and he crawls all over me, so up-close, that I haven’t been able to really see how much he really has grown.”
Which is true.
But I’m seeing it now.
I’m able to step back and take you in.
I see you laugh and smile.
Your dad texted me the other day: “Tobin has had a happy December.”
He had been going through pictures and videos, watching you real-smile and real-laugh.
And it made me cry.
Because I agree.
You seem so happy.
And we’re so happy.
It’s like the wind has stopped howling so loudly and we’re letting each other in.
I see you and it feels like you see us.
And as filled up as it makes me, it also makes me sad.
You’re turning 10, and I feel I’ve missed so much.
I was caught up in our storm
of meltdowns and therapies and research and meltdowns and heartache and wants and needs and fears and trembling and frayed nerves and pounding hearts and meltdowns and lack of communication and anger and panic and heartbreak and expectations and anxieties and figuring out each other
that I didn’t really see you.
And it would be easy for me to dismiss this sinking feeling and give myself excuses for the inability to be fully present. Or to tell myself that everyone feels this way and there’s no possible way to not miss things.
And it would be easy for me to wallow in the truth of it.
But I’m trying to be honest with myself while giving myself the grace required to learn and do better.
You’re turning ten. Double Digits. Those digits you’ll be in for the rest of your life. (Although, I bet you’ll be the one to move on in to the triples.)
And I’d be lying if I said that when I think about it it doesn’t make my heart pound, doesn’t make my head swirl to think of all that lies beyond this threshold:
You sit on my lap and I wonder what it will be like when you are your brother’s age and height and weight and want to sit on my lap.
Your legs long, you run from me, and I wonder what will happen in a couple years when you can outrun me. How will I keep you from running off?
When you get mad and you take your fist and hit yourself in the head, I wonder how we still stop you when you’re sixteen and strong. How will we keep you from hurting yourself?
Lately, you’ve been using your voice to be loud! You loud laugh and spin and loud yell happy sounds and look us in the eyes and laugh at the loud. And as I watch and giggle (mostly) at your delight, I feel a sinking shaking—what about when the pitch lowers?
How will we navigate that?
You are so smart.
You always find a way to reach your goals.
And the other day, I caught you standing on the beanbag you had pushed over to the door. You were reaching to slide the chain lock we have at the tippety top of the door to keep you from running outside. What happens when there’s no keeping you in?
What happens when you have outgrown my ability to protect you?
I can get lost in a long “List of Probables.”
Heart pounding, sinking, trembling.
You lay on my bed right now, laughing, rolling around kicking your feet, waiting for it to be a decent enough hour to start our day; and I can almost see you, clearly envision you stretched out long, the same enjoyment of the moment, but as Double-Digit Tobin.
Even as I type, you get up and walk around the bed and jump between me and my laptop. Cracking yourself up.
You’ve loved and enjoyed life like this since you were a toddler.
And in many ways you’re still a toddler but in a child’s body.
I shut the computer to snuggle with you and join you in the laughter, and I wonder what will happen when you love and enjoy life like this,
a child in a man’s body.
How much have I missed during the simplicity of one-digit years?
We’re crossing a threshold.
It’s both emotion and a trembling.
A nostalgia and a panic.
It’s the knowing I missed too much of the less complicated, Single-Digit Tobin and am headed to a more complicated Double-Digit Tobin.
More complicated in the way that autism affects you in your growing body.
I want to stay and savor these days of high-pitched laughing.
When you can still fit on my lap.
When I can still carry you upstairs to your bed.
Tobin, you’ve always been the very best teacher.
And I see you.
And I remember:
Severely underestimating all the magic inside your mind.
Once you had your talker in your hands, you whizzed around those buttons filled with folders of words and subfolders of words and told us EXACTLY what you wanted and needed, showing me you were more than I even imagined.
And once you had those words, you showed us you had opinions and preferences, immediately picking out your clothes and becoming potty trained.
That whole list I mentioned at the top? Each one breaks through my previous “List of Probables,” showing me the creative ways you learn and interact and grow and play.
All the creative ways you bust through the confines of probabilities and show me
the best list to make is a “List of Possibilities.”
But more than that, standing at this precipice, I’m realizing the truth that the best place to live is to ditch both lists and just live right here in the Present.
This moment right here with you, it’s the only thing I know for sure.
Because regardless of what lies ahead, the Big Scaries and the Big Victories, focusing on those “lists” takes me out of this time with you. And I don’t want to be writing you in six years, apologizing for how I got caught up in the unknowns of What’s Next and missed out on What’s Real—who you’re becoming while you’re becoming. I don’t want people to comment on how much you’ve grown only to once again realize I haven’t realized.
I don’t want to be caught up in my fears about the future and miss this moment.
You’re turning 10.
Things are about to get more complicated.
It’s a certainty.
But I don’t want to lament missing this time. Right now.
This moment when you’ve decided you’ve been quiet long enough and you’re ready for everyone to get up, so you’re smacking those bare feet on the floor as you loud-walk and make loud sounds and get into the shampoos and soaps so that I have to tell you to put it back and then have to get up and put it back and you smile because now I’m up.
I don’t want to sit here on this laptop typing about missing child Tobin when I can be up living these last few moments of Single-Digit Tobin right now.
So I’ll end this letter here.
I love you.
I think you know that now.
But just in case you don’t, I’m going to get up.
Shut my laptop.
And grab that shampoo bottle out of your laughing hands before you pour it all out and onto the counter.
Crazy about you always,