I am so lucky. I have two beautiful boys. One of them, J, you've heard about. "The Boy" is five, has autism, and often sets the tone for the house. He's hyper and loud and funny. You've heard all about his crazy hijinks.
But he's not the only one. My 10 year-old, N, is the unsung hero of the house. He's had his room trashed, his homework ripped up, and his sleep interrupted by his brother. He rarely has both parents in attendance at baseball games and scouting events because one of us has to watch the boy. He's had to leave playgrounds and parties early because of meltdowns that weren't his own. He's given up his favorite shirts and hats because the boy wanted them so badly.
He didn't sign up for this, but he doesn't complain too much.
When we're out at the beach or the playground, he runs interference between his brother and other kids. At the lake, he warns newcomers to the dock.
"This is my brother. He likes to push people into the water. He doesn't mean anything by it. Just say 'quiet hands' and he should leave you alone."
He's a master of redirection. At the dock, for instance, N realized that what J really wanted was to hear a scream and see a splash. So, with his friends, he made a game of it.
"Use your words, J. Do you want me to jump in?"
And N and his friends would do screaming cannonballs into the water, and the boy would laugh delightedly.
Those are the good days. On bad days, nothing works and we go home.
My older son is the de facto Autism Ambassador to the neighborhood. He takes it in stride.
"Why does your brother make those noises?"
"He has autism. It just means he's happy."
"Why does your brother do that thing with his hands?"
"He does that when he's excited."
He's also fiercely protective.
"Dude, your brother is weird."
"Yeah? You're weird, too. He has autism. What's your excuse?"
He's so good at this, but he's just a kid. N has some attentional issues himself, and often does some pretty boneheaded things. We try not to freak out when this happens. "Just think before you do something, pal. I need you to think," is a common refrain in our house. We don't want to put too much pressure on him. When he leaves his saxophone on the bus, I don't say what I'm thinking. I don't yell, "Get it together, man! You are our only hope! You will have power of attorney over all of us one day! The fate of this family is in your hands!"
That's a bit too much for a 5th grader.
We try to make sure that he feels special, too. The whole family turns out for his school concerts--grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts and uncles. He has a rather loud cheering section at his games. My husband and I also take him out to movies without his brother.
I worry that it's not enough. Can I really say that taking him to Iron Man 3 makes up for the fact that every restaurant decision is based on whether or not there are gluten-free options? Or that a secret ice cream cone after a baseball game compensates for the thousands of times I will drag the poor kid to the zoo this summer?
I worry that I'm screwing up my first born. But then he'll say something like, "Mom, if being a major league baseball player doesn't work out, I think I'll be an occupational therapist." And then I feel better.
For a little while.