We gave him the name Jared Dale.
We imagined all the things that we would teach him and help him become.
Little did we know that he would teach us so much more.
He was such a GOOD baby.
He wasn't fussy, and was content most of the time.
He was very easy going.
And as long as he was wrapped up tightly with a hat on his head, he slept like a champ!
As the months went on, we noticed something peculiar about our little boy...
Jared was so very quiet.
Jared wasn't trying to talk.
In fact, he really didn't interact with us or his brother.
And then, he began to pull himself up and move around and.....WOW!
He was everywhere....
And into everything...
More than any child I had ever seen....
We spent those early years in and out of every "-ologist" there was and were eventually given the name "autism" to describe the difficulties Jared was having.
We converted a space in our home into a therapy room.
We hired outside therapists to come in....
Several people, every day, for hours upon hours.
The therapy room, Jared's "work room" was full of flashcards and toys.
Jared worked every day on basic things
like sitting in a chair for a few seconds at a time,
to pointing to an object that he wanted that was put on the table in front of him,
to eventually pointing to an object that he wanted that was one of three objects on the table in front of him.
Then we went from real objects to pictures of objects - very small steps, many days and weeks and months.
This is how my baby boy spent much of his toddler and preschool years.
And we saw glimmers of progress.
One step forward and then a lot of waiting... but eventually he would take another step forward.
And one day, several months after he turned 4 - an incredible thing happened...
we heard a word!
A real word...
A real word that was intended to communicate something!
And then each month a few more words were added. We actually kept a list. At his 5th birthday Jared actually could voice and use correctly 19 words.
My favorite one was "mama".
On his birthday each year, I remember.
Today, I look back and think about all of these things and so much more.
Long ago, I could not even imagine what Jared would be like at age 17! Life was too crazy, too hard, too...everything, to even think about those things for more than a fleeting moment.
And sometimes it was too difficult to think about the future and what it might be like.
And now, here we are.
Today he is 17!
And I know that we will spend this next year doing some of the toughest things yet.
See Jared is now one year away from being 18.
18 is a big deal for everyone but ...
for parents of a child with a disability, there is a lengthy and daunting checklist of things that must be considered at year 18.
So much and so many very HEAVY decisions to be made...
Things that no parent should ever have to think about.
BUT for today I am choosing to not think about those things, but just to celebrate where we are.
Today I celebrate the moments.
Moments that for many would just be an everyday thing not to be celebrated...
but for our family, moments that are miracles we have been able to witness firsthand.
Jared woke up after a good and FULL night's sleep.
He got himself dressed.
He got his own breakfast which included pouring his own juice.
He cleaned up after himself by putting his dishes in the sink and his trash in the trashcan.
He followed his daily routine of putting on deodorant, brushing his teeth and using mouthwash.
He opened his birthday present.
He said out loud with a huge smile "Wow! This is great!"
And tonight, he will spend his 17th birthday in the most incredible way.
In a way that might be seem so ordinary for many, but in a way that is an absolute miracle to us.
He will ride on a bus from Cosby High School with his "football friends" and the "other mangers" to the first football game of the season - an away game at Thomas Dale High School.
Jared - without mom, without dad, without an attendant - riding the bus with "his team."
He will be on the sidelines filling up the water bottles and cheering on the players.
He will say to them over and over "Come on Cosby football friends, you can do it!"
He will be smiling from ear to ear!
See there is nothing better than the feeling of belonging...
the feeling of being with people who are glad you are there...
nothing better than spending your birthday with those you consider friends and nothing better than spending your birthday doing what you love to do!
Happy Birthday sweet Jared!
Thank you for showing us each and every day how everything in life is truly a gift!