It is something that us Mothers wait for from the moment our child is born.
It’s the least they could do really, after assaulting our bodies for nine months, then redefining “painful” on their way out. Upon entering this world they begin voicing their demands, and they take our hearts hostage. So it’s only fair that they reach this particular milestone in a timely and efficient manner. After all. We ask for very little, don’t we?
What if your child can’t utter that word? What if you wait around and as the months pass by you still don’t hear the sounds that your child needs to make in order to get around to saying “mama” already. And that’s not all. What if your child doesn’t distinguish you from the less important” people in his life and you are just a face among many who coo and purr and cuddle with him?
I waited for Monchichi to give me a sign that he knew I was his mom for what seemed like eternity. The days turned into weeks which eventually turned into years.
Sure. He didn’t recoil from me when I went to hold him or kiss him.
But there was no firm understanding that I was the one he would always count on, the one that loved him above all else, the one that tried to memorize the butterfly-like movements he made in my womb.
I showed no one the extent of the pain that I felt, but inside I was screaming, begging him to let me know he was aware of our bond. I felt betrayed and the anger swelled everytime I watched him give the same generic welcome to me that he gave to strangers. It burned my insides and I tried to put out the fire as I held my child to my heart and desperately whispered in his ear “I’m your Mama, baby. I will always be your Mama, even if you don’t know it, even if you don’t care.”
I did not know then that this was just the beginning of a long, unpredictable and devastating journey; His autism diagnosis did little to comfort me, to motivate me to take his disconnection less personally. Instead, it took away what little hope I had held onto that this was just a fleeting phase, something that would soon be replaced with long and lingering private exchanges between a Mama and her Firstborn.
The emptiness that followed when each day passed and there was no change was excrutiating.
Was I driven by Ego? Was I really so self-absorbed that the only thing I cared about was whether or not my son could say my name? Could point me out in a crowded room? Yearned to be nurtured by only me?
Only a mother could understand my desperation.
And that my Ego had nothing to do with it.
And then, it began to happen.
It was a slow shift at first.
There was the time he held my gaze longer than anyone else’s. And he began to whine when I left the room. I was petrified that I was imagining things, that it was all in my head, that my existance was no more important to him that it had been just months ago. But he continued to pine for me, in small doses, and I savored each one as if it were the last. His chubby arms would reach for me as I passed by his playpen, and even though I was heavily pregnant with my second, and my vericose veins began to protrude in warning, I would hold him each time he made the silent request. It had been almost two years since he was born and he finally began to give a damn about me.
He is seven now. Tiny for his age and as flexible as they come, he folds himself into my arms every chance he gets. He wakes me in the morning by nuzzling his head into my neck and he stares at me for seconds at a time, his grin growing as I stare back, the love between us palpable to anyone within a hundred mile radius. His daddy has to keep him occupied so that I can use the potty when we are gathered in our bed, the evenings spent with our hearts and limbs awkwardly intertwined. It is often said that though the umbilical cord was cut in the delivery room the day he was born, an unbreakable and invisible one has grown in it’s place. He points furiously at me when he wants his way, and he has learned that when he coughs, even if it’s fake, I scoop him up and whisper his name softly, asking him if he is okay. Needless to say, he coughs often.
I dropped him off at school this morning, his fourth day of second grade. The aides met us outside, and as I walked him over towards their friendly, smiling faces, my son, the one that at one time in his life could care less about my mere existance, shifted his gaze to meet mine and held his body tightly against my chest, his usually wobbly legs wrapped purposefully around my waist, his discomfort at parting ways with me apparent in his body language. And as his tiny voice strained to make the sound I have come to cherish in these last few months, I did all I could to keep from bursting with pride and love and gratitude.
That is my name.
And as I got into the car and nursed the ache I felt at having to leave him behind,
I realized that “Mommy” never sounded so perfectly sweet.
And like all good things,
Was totally worth the wait.