Sebastien, my autistic son, will turn 24 on June 24th. Recently, a friend told me that this is called a "Rainbow Birthday". I had never heard of this term before. At 48, I have missed mine a long time ago. But I am glad that Seb will get to celebrate his. It is all the more appropriate since he is an artist who communicates with a rainbow of colors.
Earlier this year, I had prided myself on finally severing my psychological 'umbilical cord' with Sebastien. Reminding myself that he will be 24, no longer a child, whenever I would miss him, had proven to be an effective mantra. Thus, instead of lamenting about not being able to visit Sebastien throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, I had focused on celebrating his adaptation to the realities of life during this pandemic and our prolonged absence since end-January without incident.
Yet ironically, as his 24th birthday came rolling around, I found myself tearful and charged with emotions. It only escalated when I messaged Hari and Bema (Sebastien's carers in Bali) about throwing a little birthday party for Sebastien. Along with Bema’s wife and their three little children, the household, without any outside additions, would already constitute a decent enough party “crowd”. They would probably partake in a strawberry cake — Sebastien's favorite — and barbecue fresh fish (if it is safe to get one) in their makeshift barbecue pit in the garden. Jerome, my husband, and I will get to experience the birthday through photos and videos.
All seems well and good. But when I finished our WhatsApp exchanges, I crumbled into a puddle of tears.
Over the past couple of weeks, I had been increasingly assailed by poignant memories of meticulously planned birthday celebrations for Sebastien of bygone years. Jerome and I would spend time crafting slideshows and even a 'movie' to celebrate Sebastien's accomplishments for the year. It was a perennial mainstay of Sebastien's birthday party for our captive audience guests.
At the same time, I was also struck with pangs of guilt for my hard-hearted decisions to deliberately skip the celebrations of Sebastien's birthdays in subsequent years, amidst his aggressive meltdowns. I found myself warding off these blows, wishing that guilt no longer had its stranglehold on me.
But both guilt and denial are dangerous places for a mum, who has chosen to live apart from her autistic son, to stay in, even for a short spell.
Yet ultimately, struggling with these emotions on my own, keeping them under wraps, had done me no good. So today, I pen down these hidden feelings and bring them out into the light.
It is okay for me to feel sad and emotional about a past that I cannot take back and change. So I acknowledge these feelings — their presence, their intensity, and their inevitability. And I accept them for what they are and what they seek to tell me about where I am at in relationship to my life choices as a mum and as a person.
With these words, I once again strive to let go of my need to be the mother of Sebastien, the little boy, so that I can be the mother of Sebastien, the young man, from a distance.
At the end of the day, Sebastien is a 24-year-old autistic young man who has proven against all odds that he can thrive without having me by his side.
And this is honestly something to celebrate.
Happy 24th Birthday, Sebastien!