I find it interesting how life allows us brief glimpses of the people our children will become. Small, infinitesimal flashes of their individual characters. The first time I really saw my youngest son, Archie, was in the waiting room of the local pediatric therapy department. Glenn, my oldest child by 15 months, was having a difficult time. His tiny body was caught in a flight-or-fight response, unable to allow me to penetrate through his fear to calm him. In those days, he was still little enough that I could easily scoop him up and remove him from any environment that he perceived to be hostile, which I did often in those days. However, this particular day would be different.
I ordered Archie to follow me as I scooped Glenn off of the floor. He was barely over one at the time, though he had already been walking for months at that point and was more than capable of following me, as he often has to do. As I turned my head to ensure Arch was behind me, I was suddenly stricken by how small he was and the shattering realization that despite his miniscule stature and sweetly rounded features he had never really been a baby.
The realization broke my heart because I knew that we, our life, had stolen his babyhood from him. It was in this moment that I fully grasped that the unfairness of our world would not overlook him. I knew theoretically that his life as a special needs sibling would not be easy, but for the first time I realized that his brother's autism would shape his life in ways that I had not even imagined. I wanted to scoop him up, to hold him tightly and remove the responsibilities that would come with being a special needs sibling from his tiny shoulders, but I could not. My arms were already full, trying to keep hold of his brother, who needed me more, and even then I knew Arch wouldn't have allowed me to carry him anyway. My tiny boy who should have been a baby was fiercely independent, even then.
That was the first time that I clearly saw just how much his brother's autism would imprint itself on his life and my motherly instinct to protect caused me to misperceive what life was trying to show me.
I spent the better part of the next two years viewing all of the boys interactions through a lens of unfairness. It was hard for me not to see Glenn's extra needs as a detraction from Archie's. The fear that he would one day be resentful of the extra responsibilities he was born into always present in my mind. I based my decisions around not wanting him to feel that his needs were less important than his brother's.
My family and friends lovingly scoffed at my fears, reminding me often that my overly empathic and somewhat dramatic second child was hardly likely to allow himself to be pushed into the background. Not to mention that as the baby of both his immediate family and extended families–on both sides–he was in fact extremely coddled and attended to by everyone around him. Nevertheless, I was haunted by the incident at the therapy department.
So much so, that when the chance to put Archie and Glenn into the same preschool class (for the 2019-2020 school year) came along I was deeply torn. For Glenn the situation seemed ideal. Arch, who is so patient and so insistent that his brother never be left out–even when being left out is his brother's preference–would be an invaluable asset. How could I not jump on this chance for him? On the other hand, was that fair to Arch? I was plagued with doubts and guilt, unsure whether to keep the boys together or to separate them in an attempt to give Arch some semblance of autonomy.
It was my friend, Abby, who ultimately helped me resolve the dilemma. We were having a quick lunch date on our work breaks and I was agonizing over the decision when she stopped me. It is funny how we can hear something over and over, and then suddenly it clicks into place. She told me that I was right, that all of this was incredibly unfair to Archie and that it would continue to be. Then she told me something that I was finally able to hear, that I needed to stop trying to make the situation fair. That while I was futilely trying to control the path that Arch had been given, I had neither created that path nor did I have the ability or the right to change it. I knew she was right. So often my fears are related to circumstances that are outside of my control.
It is hard as parents not to be able to fix things for our children, but the truth is that some things are not ours to fix. When I finally stopped trying to control the situation I began to notice that the boys had been telling me what they wanted all along. I had just been too blinded by my own misinterpretation to see it. They are brothers first and foremost, and more than anything they want to be together.
When Glenn went to school in the afternoons Archie would cry to be with him, and Glenn, in his own way, would ask for Archie. Barely a night passes that I don't check on them and find one of them curled up in the other's bed, their little heads conspiratorially pressed together in slumber. The baby who used to follow behind, now a little boy who never forgets to stop and wait for his brother.
I was so blinded by my own perception of that day in the therapy department, that I could not see the part of the memory that really mattered. All I could see was what Autism would take from Archie and not what it would give him–his fierce independence, a will so strong that I am constantly telling myself he will be an incredible advocate one day, in an effort to keep my sanity.
As I reflect on how this need to control the uncontrollable kept me from seeing what the boys were so plainly demonstrating to me, a want to be together, I find myself wondering how often I am blinded by my own misperceptions. More than that I find myself wondering how often we are all blinded by wrong perceptions. How often do we let our own misguided thoughts or lack of full understanding keep us from pursuing opportunities and more fully developing relationships and friendships that are integral to our personal growth.