Somehow, I have a four-year-old son. Four. Years. Old. Sometimes, I can’t even believe it. It seems like overnight you grew from the mushy infant who loved to snuggle or the grinning toddler who loved to be tickled into this long-legged boy who loves to run and jump and play. You are not a baby anymore. It happened before I was ready for it, but you are no longer a baby. You are a boy. A boy who uses the bathroom independently. A boy who climbs chairs to reach the cookies and chips. A boy who asks for lollipops and ice and “canny” (Hershey’s kisses). A boy who tells me what’s on the pages of books and finishes puzzles and plays games. A boy who identifies letters and colors and numbers—something I was never sure I would hear you do, but always believed you could. A boy who masters technology, swiping games and finding videos on YouTube—Clair de Lune, Little Einsteins, Blank Space, and Uptown Funk are your current favorites, mixed in with some “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid and “Let it Go” from Frozen. Man, do you love Frozen. A boy who can smile and comply, or kick, protest, and refuse with sudden anger. A boy who does “clean up time” so obediently. A boy who wraps himself in a burrito of blankets or grips my arm for dear life to fall asleep. A boy who bends over as soon as he walks in the door, always standing, to take off his shoes and socks, even though we’ve told you sitting down would be so much easier. A boy who rolls his sleeves up to wash his hands—your daddy makes fun of me, but for some reason, I find this little skill the most adorable and the most adult of all the things you do.
I’ve never seen time go by as quickly as these last four years have. When I think about the years of your life, I can characterize each of them by describing the changes in your personality and behavior over time. As this birthday approached, I began searching for an adequate word to encompass the miniature person you have become in the last year. I’m not going to lie. I didn’t always love age 3. So when I tried to describe you—the many sides of you we have seen since your last birthday—in one word, the word came to me quickly. And it has stuck with me. William, my love, my four-year-old little man, you are wild.
You were wild once. Don’t let them tame you. –Isadora Duncan
Like your crazy blonde curls that we adore so much pointing every which way when you wake up in the morning, you are wildly moving. You are everywhere at all times. You are the Tasmanian Devil, spinning round and round and round. You are fast and you are fearless and you are so very hard to catch.
“A question that sometimes drives me hazy: am I or are the others crazy?” –Albert Einstein
Like a feral cat who cannot and will not be tamed, you choose to march to the beat of your own drum—a drum those around you may not be privileged enough to hear, and you don’t care—and to ignore the “normal” and the “typical” and the “usual” and the “mundane.” You twirl when others walk in a straight line, you stand when others sit, you zig when others zag. Wild and crazy and free.
“He was unheeded, happy, and near to the wild heart of life. He was alone and young and wilful and wildhearted, alone amid a waste of wild air and brackish waters and the seaharvest of shells and tangle and veiled grey sunlight. ― Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild
Like a botanist studying the origins and effects of plant life, you choose to spend your time weaving in and out of the wild: chipping bark off trees, kicking fall leaves (in February and March, obviously—it is Florida, after all), tugging on the “gree grass!” and holding it in your too-big-for-a-four-year-old hands (you get those from your Gramps, by the way), throwing sticks into lakes, watching birds fly in the sky and lizards scurry across the sidewalk.
I think that when a mother names a child, she can set in motion a trend, a chain of events; she either brightens that child or dooms that child with the inevitable associations members of society hear with the utterance of that name. After months of disagreements, after no other name fit, we named you William. And after one of my favorite movie characters of all time, we called you Will. Now, so often, the words that seem to encompass who you are and who you are becoming attach to the name Will perfectly, like the puzzle pieces used to signify the Autism Spectrum Disorder you’ve claimed as a part of who you are this last year. Will. Weird and wild. Warm and wandering. Will.
In addition to the alliterative matches to your name, the definition fits. will: (noun) determination, willpower, strength of character, resolution, single-mindedness, drive, tenacity, staying power. What were we thinking? Your daddy and I named you Will. And you certainly have an iron will. You are both physically and mentally strong, and if I’ve learned anything from three-year-old to prepare me for four-year-old Will, it’s that if you don’t want to do something, there is nothing in this world—not even a lollipop or “canny”—that can make you do it.
Oddly enough, it never crossed my mind that your Daddy and I planned to have a child born under the same astrological sign as me. When we decided to have a family, we thought it would take some time. We thought we would have a summer baby. But there you were at the end of April, due near your mommy’s birthday. You are a Taurus. You are a bull. Just like me. I guess that’s why it seems that in this last year, while you’re playing with and smiling at everyone else, you’re giving me the stink eye or butting me in the head or pinching me. We are alike, you and I, deep down inside. But on this fourth birthday, I want you to know that you, my child, are so much more than I am. Because you own being different. You own your individuality and wear it proudly as a badge for all to see, a prized medal of achievement, and you are often oblivious to the expectations of those around you. For that, I both admire you and thank you. I am fortunate to have someone in my life, someone so close to my heart, to force me to recognize what is actually important and to force me out of the box of complacency I’ve lived inside of for so very long.
For me, words were everything. The typed word, the spoken word, the sung lyric. They were everything. Until they weren’t. Until you didn’t use them. Until I had to learn your words without words. Thank you for teaching me to listen to what people are not saying. And thank you for trying your hardest this year to learn new words and talk to me and your family and friends and teachers.
For me, normalcy was everything. Dressing normal, acting normal, behaving, doing what was right by everyone else’s standards, pleasing people. Until there was no normal. Until I was told you weren’t “normal.” Until I learned that what’s normal for me and what’s normal for someone else—honestly, can we just call it all normal? We just have a different normal. And if you’re not normal, then I certainly don’t want normal. Because everything that I want and everything I believe in, is in you.
For me, structure was everything. Shoes and clothing and piles of paper had their places. Books and DVDs stood alphabetized in their shelves. My life had to be planned out ten years in advance—a degree at this age, a marriage at this age, a child at this age… Until it couldn’t be. Until they weren’t. Until tiny hands showed me that for some strange reason, that DVD goes over there, that toy fits best under the coffee table, that bus belongs driving down the side of the trampoline instead of on the roads painted on train table, that game can only be played while balancing upside down on the swivel rocking chair. Life? Well, life just happens sometimes.
You are 100% your own, William. As a three-year-old, you’ve made strides forward in learning to follow routines, in learning to comply with rules in a classroom setting. You’ve tamed slightly. You can sit and attend to a task, you can identify nouns and verbs in picture books at speech. You can watch me write letters on your magnadoodle and read me what they say. You can snuggle me with me and watch a show for five minutes—then get up and stand precariously close to the television. You can use 3-4 word phrases to request what you want—because you always want something. I want you to know that I’m so proud of you and I will continue to support you as you meet more goals, learn new lessons, and progress. But even though you’ve made those strides, even though you’ve let school calm you and teach you more socially appropriate behavior, you are still my wild child. And I believe in my heart that you always will be.
This year, as we absorbed your diagnosis and organized family and friends to join the 2015 Walk for Autism Speaks in your honor, your KK asked me to listen to a new song, “Masterpiece” by Jessie J. The lyrics say:
So much pressure Why so loud?
If you don’t like my sound You can turn it down
I got a road
And I walk it alone
Uphill battle I look good when I climb
I’m ferocious, precocious I get braggadocios
I’m not gonna stop
I like the view from the top (Yeah)
You talk that blah blah, that la la, that rah rah shit
And I’m so done, I’m so over it
Sometimes I mess up, I fuck up, I hit and miss
But I’m okay, I’m cool with it
I still fall on my face sometimes
And I can’t colour inside the lines
‘Cause I’m perfectly incomplete
I’m still working on my masterpiece
And I, I wanna hang with the greats
Got a way to go, but it’s worth the wait
No, you haven’t seen the best of me
I’m still working on my masterpiece
Every time I hear this song, tears well up in my eyes because I picture you and your strong spirit. You’re ferocious and precocious. You mess up and you’re okay with it. I know we haven’t seen the best of you and I can’t wait to see your masterpiece.
Please remember: your successes are my successes. Your struggles and frustrations are my struggles and frustrations. I’m with you.
So happy fourth birthday, my sweet and stubborn William. This year and every year, my wishes for you–like the book I Wish You More that you got as a birthday present–are boundless, endless, limitless, and unable to be put into words. But for now, what I wish most for you is that you continue to be you. That you continue to figure things out your way in your time.
Don’t let anyone take your wild away, Will.
All good things are wild and free. And some people aren’t meant to fit in a box.