Ryan recently celebrated his birthday. Because he’s all about social media these days, he was very excited to receive birthday best wishes on Instagram.
I got in on the act early, quickly searching my phone at breakfast for an old photo of the two of us that I could post with a birthday message for him. I found a shot of Ryan playing on a drum kit he received for perhaps his third birthday as I watched from next to him. I tagged him in the photo to make sure he would see it and added the comment “Happy birthday to the best son a father could ever have! Neither of us looks like this anymore, but you’ll always be my little boy.”
I was not sure about his reaction. He hates it when I “like” his Instagram posts, and leaving a comment is out of the question. He wants interactions on Instagram to be among his friends, not his boring, old dad and I get it. I try to respect his space.
So it was to my VERY pleasant surprise when I checked Instagram later that morning and found the reply he left for me.
“Thank u I love u the whole wide world and I’m lucky I have the best father” before tagging my name.
I sent it to Veronica. I also wanted to make sure she had seen Riley’s very touching birthday post to her brother. I’m pretty sure her reaction was just like mine — fighting back tears.
There was more to it than just a sweet comment from my son, showing me he’s not too old to receive (and return) a loving wish from his parents.
The words he used have special meaning in our house. “Love you the whole wide world” is a phrase that several people in the family have used with Ryan since he was a very young boy. So young that, at the time, maybe we weren’t sure the meaning was sinking in with him.
Not only did the meaning register, he digs it out and uses it in a way that shows he understands exactly the sentimental value those words carry.
Maybe you find yourself whispering things to a young child. Maybe that child is on the autism spectrum, and maybe you wonder if they hear you or understand you. Maybe you wonder if it’s even worth it to continue to say such things, and maybe that makes you sad and angry, even as you keep saying them.
I’ve had all those thoughts cross my mind at some point on this journey. I’m so glad I kept saying those things anyway.
Because Ryan has taught us many lessons over the years and among them is this — just as not speaking does not mean having nothing to say, not appearing to listen doesn’t mean not hearing.
Keep talking. They hear you. Trust me.