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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Been a goes nothing...A LOVE STORY

Gio wasn’t planned on. In fact, after already having two adolescents my sister, Myrna believed she was done having kids.  Like DONE, and admitted in not having used contraception in like, forever.  Her partner, Julio wanted kids but, my sister wasn’t getting pregnant. 

End of story?

No.  It’s just the beginning.

So one BIG day in May the highly  (un)anticipated, Gio arrived in the world with a head full of curls and big bright eyes, so shiny and full of life! Yep, Gio had arrived.  So this story begins right here. The minute he was born.

Lives changed.
Julio was now a first time Dad.  He held Gio in his arms and a love too immense for words for that boy welled in Julio’s heart.  Tears streamed and poured out of Julio’s eyes as he gazed at his beautiful little boy. Gio was gorgeous.  From the top of that curly head all the way down to his chubby toes.  Beautiful. Strong. Brilliant.

Gio was a healthy brand new baby boy.  My sister and brother in law took him home to my mom’s house where everyone was living under one big roof.  My mom, stepdad, sister, her husband and three kids. … Not at all an easy living situation, but that’s another story.

Gio grew and developed. He hit some early milestones and his pictures, like lots of babies on Facebook drew legions of “Likes” from family and friends.  He is a cutie. I admit, I too hit “Like” every time.

So fast forward to eight or nine months later and I am visiting my family, hanging out in the living room with the pungent smell of garlic, onions, green pepper and cilantro simmering together. A smell that confirms I’m home.  My Puerto Rican home, that is. 
So I’m sitting in the living room assaulted by the smells that will long stay cemented in my hair and clothes after I’ve eaten, thinking, “hey, Ill play with Gio while dinner is being prepared.”

At this point Gio is crawling around on the rug near the corner of the living room and I start calling his name. Gio is way too enthralled with his wooden toy cars to give me the time of day.  “I get it,” I think to myself so I decide to join him on the rug.  I crouch down to his eye-level so I can play too.  Cars or no cars, I can get any baby’s attention.   I crouch down.

I say his name, "Gio...."

I say it again. "Giooo..."

Then again.

Gio will not lift his eyes to meet mine.
What?!  Babies don't ignores me…I mean me,,  Im like the amazing aunt who makes the kids laugh and  buy them cool gifts. I can get any baby, like any baby to smile.

I give it one last go. “GIO-VANNI” I say using my most teacher voice possible.
NADA.  The kid will not look at me.

So I try to join the play, you know, I get in there and try playing cars with him, "vroom-vroom and all that stuff.  He removes each car I touch, one by one from my hand and continues to line up his cars and hum.  He does not stop humming.

And he will not play with me.

In fact, he is not playing. He is only repeating motions, lining up cars and re-lining up the cars.

That’s when I call my sister.
I call out to her and she knows my call is serious. My tone is concerned, not big sister concerned…but the strong teacher in me kinda voice concerned and I say,   “Gio won’t make eye contact Myrna. I’ve tried many times. He doesn’t look at me. Can he  hear me?
My sister’s crystal blue eyes shoot downwards and she swoops up Gio in an effort to get his attention and say, "See…" perhaps unconsciously wanting to prove me wrong. 
He doesn’t give her direct eye contact either.


I look at my sister.
She shrugs a defeating shrug that says, “I know. I know.”

And I just wanna hold her and tell her not to worry, not to think the worst, not to beat herself up,
not yet…but I don’t....

I go into quick acting-fast on my toes thinking teacher mode and say, “He needs testing, we have to rule out hearing.”  She sighs big and says, I know, I know Sister, I was just hoping he needed more time. “

“No. There is no more time.
Get on it Myrna.
Get him tested so we can help him now.”

And the rest of the story just goes and goes…and still goes. 

She got him tested.  Gio wasn’t deaf, Thank god.

Gio is autistic. Rather, he is on the spectrum.

The good news? We tested quick. And Myrna went after lots of early intervention.
A whole support team saw him through his infancy and really made a dramatic impact on his development. 
They helped desensitize him to grass, sand, by literally brushing his skin.
They assisted him with his speech.
Providing my sister with consistent language and talk to help Gio express his needs constructively.
The team saw my sister through many a rough patches…. The tantrums, the unsafe climbing and wandering off and tug of war he played with his safety.
The bad news?
Truth is, there is no bad news, that’s the real good news. 
He has Asperger’s and now we say, AND?

Giovanni is beautiful.
He’s bright and uniquely his own person.
He will always have challenges and well, won’t we all?

While there are still rough patches,  days where my sister wants to scream, punch a wall, and pick at the old glue of emotional band-aids and lick her wounds.
Re-dressing the same wounds gets old.
Because what hurts the most are the ignorant comments and unsympathetic remarks about those kind-of kids.
Myrna is a hero. His hero.
She's his greatest advocate and sometimes, many times,
she’s exhausted.

The good news?
Her love for Gio is inexhaustible.
And in the end that’s all that matters anyway, love.