Why 27 Could Be Your Most Epic Birthday

Or your 32nd or 81st – if you’re at all like my autistic son

Young man smiling
The day before the big 27

Have you noticed I’ve been absent lately? Not replying to emails, texts, WhatsApps and phone calls? Always rushed?

Well, it’s because my son’s 27th birthday consumed me for a while there.

I attribute Diego’s fixation on birthdays (and Disney, dates, movies, animals, countries…) to his autism — but who knows right?

The runup to this particular birthday started 364 days ago, on January 14, 2020 to be exact, the day after Diego’s 26th birthday.

“I’m already 26,” Diego would comment now and then at first. Soon though, his thoughts turned to the next big one: 27.

“I can’t believe I’m gonna be 27 in January 2021!” he’d say, not only in December (the month before his birthday) but also in March and April, even though he was closer to his 26th than 27th. Other comments included, “Isa’s turning 27 in February and I’ll be 27 in January 2021,” and “Lole got married in January 2001 and I’ll be 27 in January 2021.”

Soon enough, Diego began delineating the specifics of the occasion: “I want to have trivia and karaoke for my birthday. And pizza and tacos.”

Inevitably, though, at some point COVID had him worried, “Can I have trivia and karaoke for my birthday?”

“Well, sure,” we’d say back in May and June —  when January felt distant and without considering the possibility the pandemic would be raging six months down the road.

It didn’t escape Diego that folks started having all manner of Zoom celebrations. Around November, he shifted gears and started to talk about having a Zoom karaoke/ trivia for his birthday, with tacos and pizza.

The whole thing came together around two weeks before the big day.

The day before

The day before his birthday, we had tacos with Pati, Diego’s beloved caretaker.

As on the ensuing two days, Happy Birthday was sung (in Spanish on this first day of the festivities):

The day of

The day of, Diego had his regular Wednesday Zoom get-together with friends, organized by two school teachers because they are awesomely generous people who enjoy and get adults with developmental disabilities.

After the Zoom, there was pizza, followed by cake with friends and relatives — some in-person, some remote.

The evening culminated with a showing of video clips and messages from friends and family. All were deeply appreciated, a few also unexpected (nod, wink and blown kiss to Jenn P, Liz, Ana & Jim).

The day after

The day after, there was karaoke in honor of Diego’s birthday during his regular Thursday Zoom with friends — this one organized by the kindest staff from a local agency serving our community.

It’s been two days since we wrapped up the big 27 and I can’t think of a way to properly thank people for the good wishes sent to Diego. When gratitude is infinite, how do you do that? There’s no way, so I’ve settled for a simple THANK YOU” from the bottom of our hearts.

There is, dear friends, a great deal of generosity, kindness and love in this world, even if most of what we see and hear through every type of media is the evil that competes with it.

Diego, and so many other people who are loving and vulnerable like him, attract and bring out the tender side of human nature. That’s one of their huge contributions to the world.

Yeah, there’s a price to pay. Diego’s birthday was just two days ago and I know it won’t be long before he starts talking about the big 28 and I need to start planning. All. Over. Again.

Even Hollywood celebrities were invited to Diego’s birthday:

You’re Invited to My Autistic Son’s 27th Virtual Birthday Party

Share Article

What My Autistic Son’s Fear of Cycling Taught Me about Guilt and Blame

We have the power to create and conquer fear

Two men standing in front of a bicycle
On the day Diego conquered his fear

Two summers ago, my husband and I caused Diego, my 26-year-old autistic son, to fear biking. It didn’t take much, which shows that you can never know who or what might turn something you actually like into something you dread.

We were in Vermont at a friend’s home and decided, on our last morning there, to go on a bike ride. Funny how all bad things happen on the last day, the last ride, last run, last time.

The road was hilly and Diego doesn’t like to go fast, which is fine. I don’t much like speed either. But he was going so slow it wasn’t really biking.

On the first downhill, he squeezed the brakes like mad and placed his feet on the ground. We got off the bikes and started walking.

“C’mon Diego. You know how to brake. Keep going.” Oh my lord. We cajoled, reasoned, tried creating some distance so he’d want to catch up. I even made him feel bad by saying he should’ve stayed home.

Anyhow, we barely biked half a mile, which would take ten minutes to walk but took us twice that to bike-walk.

Just when we were to turn into the driveway, my husband, Cesar, said, “Hey, Diego, let me try your bike.” Surprise, surprise: the brakes didn’t work. We asked Diego if he wanted to go out again with a good bike but he was done. Done for the day, done for the summer, done forever.

Well, not really. The following summer we got him to ride, reluctantly, on a bike path twice. But he went only because he has a hard time saying no and always wants to please. Although nothing went wrong, he didn’t much enjoy it.

Ugh, I felt awful, especially because Diego never complained or blamed me for his biking trauma. It’s not that he decided not to do so out of magnanimity. He’s just incapable of ascribing guilt or blame, at least to people he loves, and he loves most people.

How unlike us “normal” humans, who are keen to blame those we love most (our parents in particular) for our hangups.

Here’s the happy news: the damage was reversed recently when we biked in a perfectly flat South Carolina island with flawless bike paths from which you can spot alligators.

Diego was really nervous as we were getting ready to go, his eyes wide open and unblinking as they get when he’s anxious. “I don’t wanna crash like Gabriele in 2011.” (Gabriele’s his dad’s cousin in Italy who had a pretty serious bike accident. Diego has a perfect memory for the year any event happened. It’s kind of a superpower.)

“You won’t crash. We’ll go slow and it’s all flat.”

We started riding, soooo slowly. Then Diego began pedaling a bit over walking pace, then jogging pace, runner pace, until we were riding at a leisurely vacationer pace.

Soon enough Diego spotted the storks. Not sure if they were really storks but they looked like storks.

“Storks of The Rescuers. Summon the storks!” Diego said, referring to the Disney movie and to Aquaman, who summons sea creatures.

Then he saw a few crows, aka ravens:

“Ravens of Snow White.

And when we got to the beach, he beheld a third bird species:

“Pelicans of Finding Nemo.”

By then, I was certain Diego’s fear of biking was a thing of the past. Take a look at this clip and tell me if you don’t agree:

We were almost back at our rental place when (woohoo!) we spotted two alligators in a pond. We stopped and Diego asked me to take a picture, which is when I realized my cell phone was missing.

But that’s a whole other story. Let me just say that, had I not been able to recover it, losing my phone would’ve been a bargain price to pay for Diego conquering his fear of biking.

Share Article