April 28, 2010

In the Brotherhood

Posted in Life's Little Moments tagged , , , at 9:54 am by autismmommytherapist

The stars aligned for us on Saturday, and with much coveted assistance from Grandma, Jeff, myself and Zachary were able to take part in Autism Day at Sesame Place. I managed to eliminate my guilt at leaving Justin home with my mother and his therapist, admonishing myself that he would regard the rides with disinterest, and find Elmo’s Broadway attempts childish at best. I also reminded myself that the last time we had come to Sesame Place a few years prior the crowds were prodigious, which meant the wait for any activity was lengthy, which in general is not a positive aspect of any outing with an autistic child. So we left Justin home, with mild protests at our departure, and took Zachary on what we realized was his first real adventure without his brother in tow.

It was, as much as any outing can be with a young child, a perfect day. Zach, who usually clings to me for dear life on any amusement, reveled in the experience of being a flying fish, and even resisted exiting Elmo’s caterpillar ride when he vociferously protested it had ended prematurely. At first he was terrified of life-sized Cookie Monster, but he eventually allowed his obsessed mother to get a photo op with the fuzzy carbhound, and later warmed up to Ernie and Bert with relish. He waited patiently in line for the Elmo extravaganza, and wasn’t too riled up when his favorite monster made a fairly late debut. He even tried his first public potty, although he informed me politely that “the pee-pees weren’t coming out today”. Nothing, after all, is actually perfect.

Perhaps what was truly perfect for Jeff and me however was not what occurred that day, but what did not. The absence of angst, of trying to time rides perfectly for Justin, of waiting just long enough to get a seat at Elmo’s show but not long enough for his parents to require valium, was in itself a fourth and welcome companion for Jeff and me. While I love taking Justin places, and am grateful I can and am proud of him (most of the time) for his public behavior, there is always that constant worry, particularly now that he’s more than half my weight, that I won’t be able to subdue him if events are not to his liking. When we took Justin to Sesame Place years ago that hadn’t been our concern, as my husband could certainly overpower a four-year-old. Frankly, it was really that if I made the effort to schlep my family to Pennsylvania at 8:30 on a Saturday morning I wanted my child to behave long enough to see the damn Elmo show. I have my standards.

So I’ve come to realize, that although my children are less than four years apart and are the same gender, that sometimes, separate is required. My younger brother and I are the same distance apart, and for two children of identical genetic heritage, could not have been more outwardly different in their demeanor. In terms of birth order I was the oldest, the book-smart goody two-shoes (I remain inordinately fond of that little girl, may she rest in peace). My brother did well in school also, but primarily excelled at sports and music. He eventually became a self-taught heavy metal guitarist, and ended up being the only person I know who chose his career at ten and is actually still thriving at it almost three decades later. At the time, when we were firmly entrenched in childhood, we seemed to share little in common other than blond hair and DNA.

As children we either fought often or studiously ignored one another, which may have stemmed from the fact that he was (in my unbiased opinion) relentlessly bull-headed. Our animosity might also have its origins in my initial impressions of having a boy in the home. I can actually recall my father telling me with great enthusiasm that I had a little brother, as I sat on the floor at my grandparent’s house performing the time-honored sacred tea party ritual with my preferred dolls. I specifically remember grunting acknowledgment that I had heard him, asking when my mother would return, and ordering my grandma to give me a cookie. I also distinctly remember being disappointed I wouldn’t have a little sister to boss around, as I excelled at this with the rest of the extended family with whom I was fortunate enough to live. My father and grandma were excited, but I just couldn’t see what all the fuss was about.

He never did like my tea parties, and stopped allowing me to dress him up when he was two. Despite our differences we later became united in our disdain for what we considered our parents’ arbitrary rules, and pushed each other to test the limits as often, and as surreptitiously, as possible. He brought out my irreverent streak, for which I am eternally grateful. I, in turn, tempered his impetuousness with a reverence for not being caught at naughtiness. Perhaps that bond allowed us to circumvent our differences, for as adults, we are good friends today. My little brother is usually the first person I call when something occurs in our family, and we have inside jokes I can’t explain to any other living being. We are, in a somewhat more mature manner, still partners in crime. I imagine when I’m at the end of my life he will be the person who’s known and loved me the longest. I’ve discovered that counts for a lot.

And I wish this desperately for my boys, this communion my brother and I now share. I even wish them some animosity, for those crucial lessons that can be learned from siblings, the sharing, the tolerating, even comprehending that equal is not always fair. While they will most likely have separate interests, particularly as my oldest son’s seem to be limited to movies, faux laptops, and animated animals that spin and sing, I continue to be hopeful I can contrive moments and activities Justin and Zachary can also partake in together.

We’ve been graced with these moments over the course of the last three years, and I’ve zealously recorded them on video or with my digital camera for posterity. There is the shot I have of Justin after he scaled Zachary’s crib to examine his singing monkey toy, which resulted in a delighted infant grabbing his older brother’s hand and squealing with joy at his unexpected visitor. I have priceless footage of the two of them engaged rapturously in an Eric Carle colorforms activity, an event which not only brought the two of them together in a united reverence for the author’s work, but forced them to practice turn-taking with each other. I have photos of the two of them as bookends to my storytelling, snuggled safely up against me as I regale them with a childhood favorite, watching each child point on demand and “show” each other a pivotal plot piece. They are mostly separate in their endeavors, but we are witnessing more of these unified moments, and I am getting more creative at constructing them. This is a learning curve for me, as well.

But for once, this Saturday, I need summon nothing, for my family is ending our jaunt at Justin’s horseback riding lesson, something we have not done as an ensemble group before. When we arrive Justin is mid-way through, and I send my husband in first to witness his son’s riding acumen. Jeff is rewarded by a curious, then satisfied smile.

A few minutes later I enter the arena with Zachary, as Justin begins to round the bend and will momentarily be in our line of sight. My youngest points and declares “that’s my brother!”, which results in my oldest child whipping his head around and registering that now his father, mother, brother, and grandma, his most cherished, are all in one place to pay attention to his achievement. He beams, sits up a bit straighter in the saddle, and continues to regard Zachary as he completes his elongated oval. There is recognition of one another, brother to brother. There is acknowledgment, and pride.

The lesson soon concludes, and a short time later we conclude the day’s adventures. As we near home Zachary orders his parents to laugh, and as we are his puppets, so grateful are we for his facility with spoken language, we heartily comply. He commands his brother to perform as well, regarding him imperiously from the confines of his carseat, and grabs his hand. I reach back and tickle the back of Justin’s knee, a guaranteed giggle spot for him, and try to evoke a moment of merriment. He does not return his brother’s gaze, and my attempts solicit only the slightest chuckle, almost imperceptible in its brevity. As always, I wish for more.

But as I turn in my seat further to explain to Zach that his brother doesn’t want to laugh right now, I look down and regard their hands, their fully clasped, intertwined hands. Justin has not let go, not repudiated the contact. As I watch, and listen to Zach’s amplified requests for mirth, I see my oldest give my youngest a gentle squeeze. I wait a few seconds, and witness him repeating the gesture again, as if he’s letting his doubting mother indeed know that it did occur. There exists, however tenuous, a bond. And that moment, that irrefutable moment of contact, of walls breached and bridges crossed, is everything.