My Little Trooper

Azlan. My little trooper. What would I have done without him over the past few years? He has provided sweetness, laughter, and light when I’ve needed it most.

When Mila was one, I had a few miscarriages, and tests came back showing that it would be nearly impossible for me to have another child. I was heartbroken. Since I was young, I always wanted lots of kids — at least four, ideally five. I used to think of names for them. And here I was being told that I couldn’t have any more. I was so grateful for my giggly Mila bug, but I didn’t give up hope. I put my faith in an old Chinese doctor, and a few months later I was pregnant with Azlan. When my little boy came into the world, I felt so incredibly lucky. He was gentle, sweet, and happy in just about any situation. Mila held him and kissed him and refused to call him anything but pasta legs and cupcake head. She tried to teach him how big kids do things. I carried him on my body wherever I went, nursed him throughout the day, and snuggled in bed with him every night. We were one.

 
 

But the easy rhythm of our lives changed when he was just a few months old. I started to question what was happening with Mila. I began to look into therapies, fill out forms for evaluations. And my focus shifted. Six months later, we moved Mila from her preschool with all of her friends to a new school where an IEP offered her extra help with motor skills. The new timing was rushed and didn’t match Azlan’s sleep schedule, so I was constantly waking him up to bring him back and forth to school. Soon after, Mila started speech therapy three times per week, sometimes four. I would bring Azlan in his car seat, nurse him while we waited, occasionally take him on a walk around the neighborhood to kill time. His very first interactions with other little ones were made in that waiting room. Then we started occupational therapy, which was 30 minutes away, so I dragged him there, too. I constantly asked myself whether I was being fair to him, depriving him of playdates with kids his age and the attention he needed. But my hands were tied. And he seemed happy, so I continued to fight off the guilt.

No one knew what was happening with Mila, so I started learning about neuroplasticity and the brain’s ability to create new pathways, to regain skills. There was promising evidence that it helped, so I felt like I had nothing to lose. That is, except depriving Azlan of his childhood. I took Mila to a week of neuro-movement therapy in the Bay Area more than once, to a neuro-optometrist in Chicago, to a listening therapy in Toronto, to an osteopath in Boston. Azlan would be strapped to my back as I pushed Mila in a stroller through the airport, through the streets of these cities, to the therapies. Azlan would calmly look around as I brought him in and out of waiting rooms, hotel rooms, airport bathrooms while my focus was on helping Mila. My attention was almost always on her, but my heart yearned for time alone with my little boy.

In the last six months, as Mila declined and I aged, Azlan grew into an independent outgoing kid, an entertainer for our entire family. He strums his mini guitar and makes up songs — his favorite being “Dangerous Waterfalls.” He sings the soundtrack from Frozen, which sends his sister into extreme giggles. He jumps onto tables and roars and bellows like animals, asking us to guess which one he is. Mila’s neutral stare breaks into her wide smile and sparkly eyes. At the dinner table, he rhymes and recounts elaborate tales, turning the end of a tired day into laughter. After bedtime stories, Azlan climbs on top of his sister and sits on her head until she struggles to push him off. She laughs, and he continues to show his love for her as he sticks his face up against hers and pushes his nose into her mouth. More giggles.

The other day I was lying on the floor of Azlan’s bedroom talking with him. I said, “Azlan, you know it’s very hard for Mila to see. Actually, she can’t see what’s around her — like our house, her toys and books, the trees and clouds outside.” He immediately responded, “I know mommy. Mila can’t see.” I was shocked. Sometimes it makes me so sad to think of the emotional burden that he is facing at just three years old. But he seems to have an understanding beyond his age of what’s going on. Despite all of this, he is so happy! So I try not to overthink it. Recently, I’ve made more of an effort to carve out time to be with him, at his level, to talk about dinosaurs and robots and make pretend caves in the bushes and run through the grass and scream. I take him to the movies and hold him in my arms as he stares with fear and excitement in his eyes. He loves going back over the movie plot with me every night.

Last summer, the kids started at a small one-room preschool together. At first, Azlan stayed close to Mila, but he started to gravitate toward the other kids and learned that he was, in fact, his own little person. He would still sit near Mila at lunch and check in on her. It brought me such happiness. For the first time, it felt like they could both be kids, together. One afternoon a few months ago, I arrived early for pick-up and watched from the back of the room. Azlan and Mila were sitting on the floor at circle time, and each kid in the class was taking a turn and choosing someone to get up and hop with. No one picked Mila. When a new shy girl stood up and looked around, Azlan raised his hand high and yelled out “Pick Mila! Pick my sister! She wants to hop with you!” Tears poured down my cheeks. I was so proud of my sweet and strong little boy.

Azlan has been my right-hand guy. His spirit has gotten me through the uncertainty, the battle, the grief. Thank you, my little one.

Julia - Mila & Azlan's mommy