Standing on the balcony of our first-floor apartment, I watch as the white Toyota four-wheel drive pulls out of the complex. It turns on to the main road and is out of my sight in a matter of seconds.The light breeze feels cold on my cheeks but the hot cup of coffee that I am holding makes me feel warm around my hands. Everything around me is just as it is expected to be on a cold winter morning in Kansas. White and completely frozen.
Lost in my thoughts, I hardly notice any of it.
For the third time this week Tanvi beat the alarm clock and I woke up to the sound of her singing. Dragging my feet and rubbing my eyes, I walked instinctively across the living-room towards her bedroom and pushed the already half-open door with a slight nudge. Dark even at this hour, the room is a blatant reminder of the fact that winter is already upon us. I turned the lights on and there she was- singing, smiling, and squinting all at once. I went over and gave her a hug. ‘Good morning, baby’, I said. She said nothing and carried on singing.
Tanvi is my four year old daughter.
Some tea, some music, some breakfast and in the middle of all this, a few stolen hugs and kisses from Tanvi made up for the rest of the morning. My husband Baroon left for work at 8:00am. Fifteen minutes later, I heard a knock on the door. Mandy, Tanvi’s therapist was here to pick her up for the Applied Behavior Analysis session. Putting her jacket on, I said, ‘Bye baby, have a good day at group.’ Holding Mandy’s hand she walked out of the door and said nothing. ‘Not my day,’ I thought and with a wry smile rushed off to the balcony to see her get into Mandy’s white Toyota and leave.
It was two years ago and we were living in India at the time. I woke up earlier than usual without the help of either the alarm or any early morning singing from Tanvi. ‘Had I even slept?’ I thought to myself. The doctor’s appointment was at 11:00am and I still had a few hours to go. Over a cup of morning tea with my husband’s parents I talked about everything else except what was to come later on in the day. No one else did either.
‘Hey there! Good Morning.’ My thoughts are interrupted suddenly and I realize that my neighbor is waving at me from underneath. Sipping my coffee, I wave to her, turn and walk back into the apartment. It is warm in here and it feels nice.
Sitting outside the doctor’s room that day, I felt cold and tried hard to ignore the constant knots in my stomach. We had been talking all-along on our way to the hospital. ‘She has always been a happy child’ I said ‘active too..’, added my husband. All her milestones were in place. ‘She did start walking at 11 months…’, he said and we both laughed at the memory of her first few steps. The happy memories helped but only for a few minutes. We both knew we were hoping against hope. Tanvi was over two years old but had no speech, not even single words. She made no eye contact with anyone and did not respond to her name. She did not play appropriately with toys or other children and she was always lost in her own world.
Once inside, it only took a few minutes for the truth to emerge. ‘Your child has Autism’, the doctor said looking at her reports. I clearly remember feeling like I had been hit on the head and stabbed in the heart both at the same time. I also remember one more thing- I had recovered quickly.
My phone rings and I walk over to pick it up. ‘Baroon’- I read the display and answer.
‘We are in this together’, he had said on our way back home. We had a plan for our life. I was going to go back to work and we were going to buy a house. ‘I’ll take care of it all. Trust me.’ The drive home was silent. He drove with his right hand, the left holding mine.
It’s 9:00pm and Tanvi is in bed already.I can hear her sing again. She does that a lot. Mandy said that she had a good day at group and learnt a new word today. I catch myself smiling. After two years and numerous therapy sessions, Tanvi is making great progress. She interacts more, she responds well and she is a fast-learner. She loves music and has started using two word sentences to express her needs. Autism is not such a bad word anymore.
For an instant reflect I on my life as it is today. I notice that my smile is slightly broader. ‘There is a lot to be happy about,’ I tell myself. On that note I head towards my bed and set the alarm for 7:30am. Will it be Tanvi or the alarm tomorrow morning?, I wonder as I finally shut my eyes for a peaceful night’s sleep.