"Autism", the Dr. says.
There are flowers on the walls in his office. Blue, red and pink flowers. The Redhead is looking at the pink flowers...so typical for a 15 month old girl...
The Dr. said it again. "Your daughter has Autism."
I stare at my daughter's face for a while, not really seeing her or anything else in the room.
I knew. Of course she is. I knew this...I knew.
Autistic? That's just a news story, right? Hype, propaganda, a juicy lead to sell advertising.
My daughter, my beautiful daughter, can't be autistic. She's, I don't know, she's...MY DAUGHTER.
Mama Bear is talking to the Dr. and I am nodding in time with their conversation.
The Redhead laughs at nothing and starts babbling. Typical kids babble at this age, right?
I have so much to teach her, so much to do with her.
How do I protect her from this?
It's almost time to go. I can feel the conversation winding down, the tone final.
The Redhead reaches out and grabs my pinky. Her hands are still so little, so fragile.
My heart races as I kiss the top of her head, tears held back by sheer willpower. She's just a little girl.
She doesn't deserve this.
I pick her up and give her a squeeze, which always seems to relax her. Just a princess being held by her Daddy...must be that.
I lean my head against hers and she presses hers against mine. I whisper "c'mon, Punkin, time to go". She puts her arms around me.
I love her hugs. Open, honest. She shows love so simply.
"I love you, baby. No matter what. Always know that."
I carry her to the reception counter as Mama Bear signs the papers. I see the auburn in Mama's hair, a highlight mirroring her daughter's bright red.
That's right, Papa, she's still just your baby girl. She laughs when you play airplane and giggles at your silly faces.
She's the same. The words didn't change her.
The words changed you.
I let out a short laugh. I should know better. It's just words, just a label. It doesn't change anything, not if I don't let it.
I kiss my daughter's cheek and smile, my heaviness lifted. Mama Bear finishes up and looks at me seriously, worried at my response. She smiles and kisses the Redhead's other cheek.
Just like that. We were on the same page and in this together.
Over 6 years have passed since that day. My daughter still seems to know me before I know myself, my wife still worries.
The word "Autism" no longer scares me. I no longer associate it with loss, grief or fear.
Instead, I think of amazing children and adults who's minds might be different than mine, but their beauty is undeniable.