A few days ago, my firstborn turned twelve.
Twelve years old: One cycle of the Chinese zodiac. The number of years it takes to make a single malt whiskey. The year for Primary School Leaving Examination.
Twelve years ago, my child was born. Sixteen years ago, my wife and I got married. And twenty-four years ago, my wife decided she would go steady with me.
Little did we know where our journey as a couple would take us. Little did we know of the challenges, and the joys, ahead.
But here we are. With three children. And the first one just turned twelve.
It wasn't what we envisaged for our firstborn, to be honest.
My wife looked forward to shopping for clothes with her. Maybe pick out some nice dresses together. Maybe argue over things like whether she is allowed to wear makeup or have her ears pierced.
Or maybe fret over her exams. How she is doing well in English but just getting by with Maths. Or whether all those hours she spends on the phone with her best friend was affecting her studies.
Or perhaps we are worrying over her time spent on the computer, on Facebook, on Twitter, on WeChat, or whatever new social media thing that young people now use to communicate. And wondering if there are any boys in her friend lists.
And maybe, for her twelfth birthday, there is this big party, and she is allowed to invite all her friends from school. They have fruit punch, play games, exchange presents. And music from Justin Bieber, One Direction and Owl City is played loudly.
And perhaps as a gift, we take her to Demi Lovato's first one-night concert at Hard Rock Hotel at Resorts World Sentosa on Monday night. And like cranky parents, complain on our own Facebook when Lovato takes more than an hour to start the concert.
None of these things happened on the day my oldest daughter turned twelve. Faith has autism, a fairly serious form of it, which we have known since she turned two.
She does not have spoken language (we like to say, YET). She still has some problems with toilet training. And her senses often cannot deal with her surroundings and she needs to shut down or find a behaviour to cope with the overload. Her progress through life, to even grasp the most fundamental and practical aspects of daily living, will be long and arduous.
But she is the sweetest girl ever. Not a mean bone in her body, always with a ready smile and an awkward wet kiss for a familiar loved one. She loves going to Special School.
And lately, she has even shown signs of teenhood. She is no longer a baby or a toddler. She is growing into a tall lithesome young lady with long lanky legs that love to run (sometimes at the most inappropriate moments).
She loves teeny pop music and dances and laughingly jumps to it. She rejected a pair of black shoes my wife gave her to wear, picking out her pink shoes instead. She likes to go out more, and puts on her shoes to indicate it.
Twelve years old. My Faith is twelve. She has never called us Papa and Mommy before but she doesn't need to. We know she knows who we are in her life, and we will be her family for the rest of our lives, even if she never says those words ever.