One of Rhema’s most enjoyable activities is coloring. If she finds a pen, pencil, marker, crayon, crochet hook, strawberry or apple slice she is going to scribble hard on any paper, wall, table, article of clothing in her vicinity. At school her teachers have found ways to engage her while she’s coloring. Rhema has learned to use the communication app on her iPad to say, “I want you to color with me.”
My mother got her a Dora book with a paintbrush and paint, so I set her up at the table with a plastic cup of water. I guided her hand as she dipped the brush in the water and then the paint and then her paper. She enjoyed smashing the bristles of the brushes into the paint. My sister called, and we yacked on the phone as I swept the floor. As we said goodbye I heard Rhema guzzling down her drink. Slowly I remembered I had not given her a drink. I rushed over to find the plastic cup of dirty paint water completely empty. Rhema wiped the back of her hand across her purple-stained lips, satisfied.
I screamed. She stared. And then I laughed. =}
At church, we didn’t last very long in the sanctuary. So we went upstairs to an empty classroom where Rhema quickly found the art supplies. She hummed happily and drew “B’s” all over her paper.
As she colored, I daydreamed. She turned nine years old last week and it’s been harder for me than I’d like to admit. There are all these convoluted thoughts of nostalgia and age-appropriateness – (Is that a word?). She’s growing and changing right before my eyes and I’m thankful, but I miss my sweet baby. But I don’t want her to be a baby. But she’s still kind of like a baby in many ways. Ahhh!
This week I was hyper-sensitive to the contrasts – the fact that I was shopping for the bath toys (she loves) in the baby aisle and scoping out training bras at the same time. The fact that she still can’t blow out the candles on a cake. It was like a marquee flashing across the backs of my eyelids: “This is really real. She’s nine. And autism is still here.” Instead of hearing her humming and soft utterances I suddenly only heard babbling.
In an evaluation for her IEP meeting her speech-language pathologist wrote, “Rhema currently presents with a limited phonemic repertoire. She currently does not contain a number of age-appropriate sounds within her speech. With sounds Rhema does have in her repertoire, she is inconsistent in their use across word positions.” I know this, of course I know this. But it hit me hard, seeing it in writing. This week even the fact that Hope at age 6 has homework and Rhema has never had “homework” (she actually works very hard at home) was cause for pain, and I don’t even like homework!
“Can you believe it? It’s been nine years.” My mother had come over, bearing birthday gifts. I knew she was remembering with me, the day Rhema made me a mother, stole all our hearts forever.
“No,” I said, “It’s going too fast.”
I looked at my fingers as if sand from an hourglass was slipping right through them. “Is there really no way to slow time?”
She sighed, “Honey, if there was you’d still be my little girl…”
Rhema’s hand on my hand brought me out of my thoughts, back to the Sunday school room. She was looking at me with her huge brown eyes and I promise you for a moment we were back in that hospital room, at the edge of a great adventure, checking each other out for the first time.
I just wanted to hold her forever.
Unprompted she said, “Co-. Co-.”
We did not have her iPad with the communication app with us. So she put a crayon in my hand and tried again.
Join me, Mommy. Share this with me. I want you to color with me.
My baby, my baby.