This column originally ran in the Austin Weekly News on July 6, 2006.
Today is a very special day. July 6 is my daughter’s birthday. So, forgive me a little editorial indulgence to write about my favorite girl.
What can I say about my Buttercup? That’s what I call Amiri (pronounced A-meer-ree). I’ve called her that since she was born in 2000.
I don’t know why I chose that as a nickname. It just came out when I saw her little face. But after awhile, I knew she might learn to recognize that the nickname was coming from daddy, since no one else called her that. Sometimes I call her “Amiri Berry,” for no other reason than it rhymes and sounds cute.
Most who know her, or who know her family, are aware she has cerebral palsy. For any parent, knowing your child won’t be able to do things other kids do is heartbreaking. Early in her diagnosis, it was devastating, but I got strength from my family, her mom, Ashaki, and her family.
But I got the most strength from Amiri. She may not be able to do some of the things other kids do, but she’s stronger than anyone else I know. Aside from calling her Buttercup, I always referred to her as “the Miracle Baby.” She’s a tough little girl who has already survived several surgeries.
After her diagnosis, it was difficult for everyone, especially Ashaki and me. I think parents of special needs kids-whether we like it or not-have to get with the program and start caring for the child, and stop feeling sorry for ourselves or our child. We did the best we could. We still do. But the toughest thing early on, for about the first year after she was born, was that she didn’t smile. Never.
Most babies smile-then they cry, and poop, and puke and all other sorts of things. But they always seem to smile, even children with special needs. I mentioned to one of her doctors that she doesn’t smile. In fact, she didn’t show any expression-other than her conspicuous “OK, I’m getting ready to cry-really, really loud” look. The doctor didn’t really talk about why she wasn’t smiling.
At a certain point, special needs parents accept their children’s’ condition. But I couldn’t deal with the fact that no matter what others and I did around her, she never smiled. I may not be able to do much, but I’m goofy enough to make even the meanest kid crack a smile, even by accident. All I wished was that my little Buttercup would smile for daddy. She never did. That was heartbreaking for me.
Finally, when the family got together for Amiri’s first birthday in July 2001, suddenly here was a laughing, giggling, and smiling baby. Who was this kid? This wasn’t the same little girl who just stared at you. She smiled, and she smiled just like me (Sorry, Momma, she’s got a lot of stuff from you too, but the mug belongs to me).
That made my day, year and lifetime. Some special needs children, depending on their condition, may not be able to verbally communicate. Amiri can’t. But one thing I’ve learned as a parent of a child with special needs: they don’t have to talk. Amiri communicates just fine. No, we don’t always know exactly what she’s feeling. But I do know when she’s happy-when Amiri smiles.
Happy birthday, Buttercup!