I dreamed last night that Julianna had to have surgery that was likely to kill her.

I don’t have these dreams about my other kids. It must be some subconscious manifestation of the worries unique to special needs parenting. In that dream, Julianna came running over to me laughing, and I hugged her close, drinking in the feel of her and the sight of her long lashes and beautiful eyes and gleaming hair, letting the life in her fill my senses.

Things are changing for Julianna. She’s growing, sneaking up on milestones…like the first lost tooth. And writing her name:

The other morning, we were trying to catch up on homework–they receive a packet for the month, and in November we didn’t stay on top of it. This particular assignment was to write ten items she sees around the house. For the first four, I cued her phonetically for what letter came next, but she seemed to be almost anticipating me. When we started to write “ball,” I decided just to see what she would do. That girl wrote b-a-l-l without one hesitation or one cue. “CHRISTIAN BASI!” I yelled to my husband, who was over in the corner reading the paper. I think he thought he was in trouble. “SHE JUST WROTE ‘BALL’ WITHOUT ME EVEN TELLING HER WHAT LETTERS TO WRITE!”

And yet she still signs and whimpers pathetically, “Help!” every time she has to start her homework. She really wants someone touching her hand.

It’s so easy to underestimate her abilities because she doesn’t exactly talk yet–although she has hundreds of words now, they’re just not always understandable, and she isn’t putting together complex sentences, only word pairs, like a beginning speaker. Most of the time when she does try to communicate something, we have no idea what she means. It must be so frustrating, but she stays good-natured about it.

She has names for everyone in the family now: “Bah-ee” and “Da-ee,” “Bappa” (Grandma and Grandpa, inclusively), “Ah-lee” and “Koh-lee” (Alex and Nicholas), and of course, no one ever mistakes “Bah-khoh Bah- khoh Bah- khoh!” ….because she screams at Michael dozens of times every day. I can’t decide which of them is actually the guilty party in the Roommate Wars.

Speech or not, she is beginning to grow into her own, with dozens of words she knows by sight and a goofy, kindergartener’s sense of humor.

My long-term fears haven’t gone anywhere; no doubt they explain the early morning dream. But she’s blossoming these days, transforming from the child I love fiercely but don’t really understand into a full-fledged big kid, one who is poised to spread her wings and fly…as long as I pay attention and give her the chance.