We take a lot of photos, and they mostly end up on our phone, on our computer, on Facebook. We rarely print them out to hang on the wall or enclose in a physical album. Most of the time, we forget about them. Today is Elliott’s birthday, so I thought I’d try to find a baby photo to post on Facebook. I scrolled through iPhoto, way back to Elliott’s 1st birthday party. Elliott was wearing a silky blue “1st Birthday” crown with a matching onesie. He didn’t look upset, really. It’s something closer to alarm, and it is in every photo. Even in the few in which he smiles, his, wide, worried eyes don’t match his curving mouth. He slept most of that day. He tasted his first cake, and then he went to sleep. In fact, he slept for nearly six hours, which was not normal for him. We hadn’t gotten the diagnosis of autism yet, but I knew something was wrong. All of the photos from that day reveal a beautiful and confused little boy, held by a depressed and overweight mother. This was a hard time. The photo album before Elliott’s First Birthday is Ben’s First Trip to Disneyland, during which the sensory processing problems we did not know he had, coupled with his severe language delay, reveal an overwhelmed and miserable little boy. Not the trip we had envisioned. This was also a time, unfortunately, during which I felt it was completely acceptable to wear a do-rag out in public, even to Disneyland. And then to be photographed in that state. These were desperate times.
Last year, we sang happy birthday to Elliott, tentatively gauging his response. Would he be overwhelmed? Would he want any cake? We created a “safe” room for him to retreat into, with his favorite movies and music videos playing on loop. He used it once or twice, but not much. He had a friend over to celebrate, a huge first for him, and they played together the entire time, pausing for hugs and smiling together for the camera.
This year, he’s been talking about his birthday for weeks. He helped plan it. He invited two friends from school to a small party at the local bowling alley. He chose where he wanted to go to dinner. He jumped into our beds this morning, excited for the day to come. Ben made him a present and played Happy Birthday for him on the piano. There will be cookies at school, and cupcakes at dinner, and there will be new photos, too. He will smile in the photos, and this time his smile will match his eyes, because every year, he is happier. Every year is better. And I know how fortunate we are for that.