We celebrate birthdays, marking the passage of time; and I accept that and have always embraced the idea and the celebration. But, as I considered the passage of the last four years with Gabe it seems like so much more than just the passage of time. It has been a journey, an unclear, every-turning, eye-opening, wonderment of time that doesn't necessarily rest on remembrance of this fourth year. This birthday seems less like an achievement and more like an ongoing journey, a marker that loomed in the distance, grew closer, was smiled at, and then as quickly passed right on by.
Gabe was delightful on the day, he knew the song and sang along with us all day as we would randomly break out with it just to see his big grin when his name was filled in where he's most recently heard "Lisa" and "Daddy". He began to get confused though, when the song was repeated throughout the day. At one point he looked at me when we finished singing and said, "Want cake!" He knew the routine. So, by the time we actually sat down with the cake and candles I know he was wondering, "Are these people really going to let me get on with it and celebrate?" I love the highly suspicious look in his eyes as we all sing to him, and then the look of complete joy when he knows this is finally the real deal. We forget sometimes that because he looks more like '2' and talks more like '2' that his mind really does think closer to '4'.
Every time I stood up to take a picture Gabe would raise his head for me, thinking he was meeting me up high somewhere. I finally had to resign myself to taking all pictures from a seated position!
Thinking back on Gabe's entrance into our family is different from any other child because, with him, there was a split second that defined his place and person in a way that was like no other. It was somewhat like the moment when you hear "It's a boy" or "It's a girl". Those words send your mind down a path that defines who and what that child will be--a son or daughter, a brother or sister, an aunt or uncle, and maybe some day a mother or father. There are visions of the future that begin to be outlined by just one word.
However, with Gabe, he became Gabe not when I heard "it's a boy", but when I looked into his eyes. It is almost surreal to think now of my first thoughts before and shortly after his birth. I remember feeling very old (43) as I labored. I remember the nurse telling me, at about 11 PM that I 'only' had about four hours of labor left. I remember believing her, even though my experience, ten times over, should have overruled anything she said. I remember telling Keith at midnight that I couldn't go for three more hours, that I was too old and tired to keep going and to please get me something, anything, to get me through this; and I remember about ten minutes later wondering what I was doing listening to the nurse, or anyone, instead of to my body. Gabe was born at 12:16 am.
My first thought with the last push was, "He's so little!" He was put into my arms and my next thought was, "He has such a cute little nose," (I've had a few that had a hit-by-a-mac-truck-nose). Gabe's nose was small, and delicate, and perfect.
Then I looked into his eyes and he became a completely different baby. It was almost as if my experience with him stopped and restarted as my gaze passed from his nose to his eyes. I think back to that moment that I looked at his nose and think about what a magnitude of change occurred after that look. As great as I see and comprehend that change now, it wasn't in my conscience then.
When my eyes met his almond-shaped eyes with the little folds of skin in the corners I voiced my third thought, "Does he look like he has Down syndrome to you?" My doctor said, "I kind of thought so." And I said, or thought, I'm not sure which, "This'll be different."
I wasn't afraid of 'different' and a part of me fully embraced 'different'. But, I was stunned by the sudden and marked change that came with one look into the eyes of that baby, telling me who he was.
Every baby is born as a blank page. We dream about and consider the marks that will be made on their page; and, they may or may not (more likely not) be the marks we expect. The first indelible mark is, almost without exception, an M or an F. It's the first thing we ask that helps us define who this person is, "Is it a boy or a girl, a male or female?"
One look into Gabe's eyes and his page suddenly seemed to be filled with defining marks about who he would be, what he would be, and what limitations were in store for him. It became more overwhelming for me as each day passed and I thought more deeply about all the ink that filled his page in just a split second. At times I wished to go back to that moment that I first felt him in my arms and looked at his nose. It was a different place and he was a different baby and while I didn't want him to be anything but the baby he was I resented the writing that covered the page of his existence and I longed for the blank page that he could fill on his own.
As I opened up to my oldest son, Joey; my boy become a man, independent, 21, closer in age to his father than to this baby brother, one who had the luxury of filling out his own page; I poured out my frustration at trying to weigh all of the impossibilities and problems that, foreseeably, lay ahead of us. Joey made one defining comment that changed how I looked at Gabe's page. He said,
"Mom, if you’d read a book about all of the possible problems and situations you might some day have to face with me when I was born you’d have been overwhelmed then, too. Just take things one day at a time and deal with one problem at a time and you’ll be fine."
I realized that the ink on Gabe's page wasn't really any more indelible than anyone else's. Certainly, there was a greater possiblility that he would not reach certain achievements that others would reach; but, there was no way of knowing that from the start, at least not of knowing which would be his areas of strength and which would be his areas of weakness.
Keith, his Daddy, had felt this way all along. He didn't have to wrestle like I did.
So, we watched Gabe grow--slowly. He learned to eat and smile and laugh,
to roll over
and crawl and walk,
to anticipate and imitate, to throw a ball and catch it, to shoot a ball and make a basket.
He climbs up and down steps, he follows directions, he runs--and today he ran down a driveway and stopped before he got to the road (I was beside him but he stopped on his own). Gabe explores and climbs and loves. He is writing his own page and we are all so very, very blessed to be loved by him.
Gabe's birthday was, for him, a pure joy, and he delighted in the attention and the gifts and the cake. But, he's living the next day and the next with the same enthusiasm and joy and helping all of us experience the joy and delight that he experiences.
I am delighting in the page I see being written and created daily that is Gabe.