My firstborn son is AWESOME. Here is a picture of him on his first Halloween… isn’t he ADORABLE? Sometimes I miss that sweet baby and those fat cheeks, but I am massively proud of the young man that he is becoming (almost 10!). He is smart, kind, creative, responsible, caring, funny, and even occasionally snarky (but in a good way). He has a strong sense of right and wrong and hates to see other people in uncomfortable situations (which has the unfortunate side effect of limiting our movie choices at times). He feels things very deeply and doesn’t always talk about it, but shows it it other ways. He also still loves to hug his mamma, and will reach out to hold my hand when we walk down the street. There is still a hint of little boy left in him and I am trying to cherish every moment. Sometimes when he thinks no one is looking I hear him singing to himself. Every time I find myself getting annoyed at the noise I remember that all too soon he will be grown-up and the singing will stop, so I smile and enjoy the music.
My oldest son is also an incredible companion and occasional caretaker for his younger brother, who has an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Siblings of children with special needs are quite often the unsung heroes of the family. They can be amazing advocates for their siblings, and learn about patience, compassion and diversity as the result of their upbringing.
As a parent I feel the need to guard against making my typical child feel like he takes a back seat to the often demanding needs of his sibling. Tricky balance. I want to do everything I can to make sure that my oldest son feels important and secure and validated, as well as able to assert his individuality. He actually has some struggles of his own like Sensory Integration issues and anxiety, but we are working hard to help him overcome that.
My firstborn helps hold this family together. I have asked him at times to shoulder additional responsibilities to help keep his little brother on track (like when they are both upstairs getting ready for school in the morning), but sometimes he does it out of instinct without being asked. Recently at a pumpkin patch I saw him gently guide a preschooler’s hand out of the inside of a duck pen, for fear that the little one would get pecked (the duck was NOT in a good mood and danger was imminent). He takes initiative and displays qualities of a good leader, despite the fact that he is very shy.
A recent event opened up my eyes to how much my oldest truly is his brother’s keeper. He had begun to express a greater desire to be separate from his brother during group activities. It surprised me at first, given the fact that they are best friends. Then I watched during a martial arts class, and the whole time he kept a side eye on his younger brother. He was concerned that his little brother would do something inappropriate. (Usually it is mild, silly behavior like spinning in circles instead of doing jumping jacks, but there was one time that he was asked to sit out the rest of the class.) I realized that he feels that it is HIS JOB to make sure little brother acts right, and as a result he was distracted and somewhat stressed the whole class. After that realization I was both proud and sad at the same time. What a wonderful, caring, responsible big brother he is! How lucky little brother is to have someone looking out for him. What a proud, trying-not-to-cry-right-now Mom am I. It broke my heart a bit that he carries that burden. No matter how much help he is I also need him to have a chance to relax and just be a little boy. He deserves that.
Soon after that experience I pulled my oldest son into my lap for a talk. I told him how proud I was to be his Mom. I also told him that if he is somewhere that there are lots of adults helping it is okay for him to let THEM handle the little brother wrangling so he can just relax and have fun. I did say that I still need him to look out for little brother on the school-bus though. He can’t completely get away from at times needing to be his brother’s keeper, but from now on I am going to do my best to make sure that he gets as many chances as possible to just BE.
I am also going to be more proactive about giving the boys some of their own space and activities. Last year we were thrilled when my oldest son’s Destination Imagination team made it to the Global Finals, because I wanted him to have a chance to shine in his own right. It was wonderful to watch him grow, and to see his pride as his team continued to succeed. I want to ensure that he gets even more experiences like that.
They are so different, my little Yin and Yang. One likes chocolate, one likes vanilla. One burns fast, bright and hot like fire; the other is strong, steady, and runs deep like moving water. But sometimes, if you’re not careful, the spectacle of fire can attract your attention more that water. Usually it is little brother that commands the spotlight with his “not boring” personality. Older brother actively avoids that kind of thing. It’s the difference between a natural born performer that craves attention, and a quiet, behind the scenes kind of guy. Both are equally important, but one often gains more applause. (That truth was starkly evident earlier this year when my youngest was in a video that made it to the news and helped spread autism awareness. My older son felt a bit jealous of all the attention that his brother was getting. But then when I asked him, “Would YOU want to do a television interview?” his prompt response was, “NO!”)
I have started making a greater effort to avoid the appearance that I celebrate my youngest child more than my oldest. I love both boys to the moon and back, but I may occasionally write more about our youngest. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that my older son is very private and prefers that I NOT talk about the things that he does. Autism also quite often gives us more to talk about than just everyday life.
But our life is not all about Autism. It is about love and joy and family, and it all started with this adorable little dragon. He may not want me to tell you all the incredible things he does, but just know that he is AWESOME. And our family wouldn’t be complete without him.