Three years ago, shortly after 8:00 AM, Richard Allen Senzig made his debut in an operating room in Waco. It was fun! I was giggling, Eric was nervously giggling, and the doctor and the anesthesiologist were cracking little one-liners back and forth... perfect setting for our little entertainer to enter the world. His birth was so easy and no-biggie that as they wheeled me into recovery I was talking about names for the next one! Richie loves Shaun the Sheep, Thomas and Friends, Elmo, and is caaa-razy about his big brother. He does just about everything he can to be just like big bro, right down to stimming! I've seen him take the same toy Ryan plays with, put it in the same place and attempt to play with it the same way. It always ends up with the same result... doesn't last long, and Richie winds up with this "what in the world does he see in this" look on his face.
I'll never forget the first time Richie attempted to be like Ryan. A couple of years ago, Ryan was super-into banging his head when he was upset. We lived in a duplex then, and it had hardwood floors (don't get me started on that house... it was just a step or two above camping for a long time). We had an area rug in the living room, and once when Richie was about 18 months old, he decided to throw a fit and bang his head just like he'd seen brother do. He started with that angry toddler look on his face, but after one bang of his head on that just-barely carpeted hardwood floor, he looked at me like "holy cow! That HURT!"
That was the beginning of my realization that we have a lot of work to do in making sure Richie is Richie, Ryan is Ryan, and to do the best we can making sure we parent to both in a meaningful, appropriate way. There are things that Ryan can't handle at six that Richie could handle at two. Not understanding this can get us in trouble.
The Christmas I was pregnant with Maelynn, my sister got Ryan the coolest little train. He was black, came with a coal tender, and his name was Hiro. Ryan was so thrilled with his new train that he wanted to sleep with it that night. Well, Richie gets to sleep with toys... why not? So that night at Nanny's, I tucked Ryan into bed, all warm and fuzzy that my son finally attached to something that wasn't a drumstick. He wanted to snuggle Hiro, I thought, and how sweet! He's four. Good grief, let him sleep with the toy.
It wasn't sweet for long. The obsession with Hiro started quickly, but died hard. He was so attached to that train that he wouldn't go to the bathroom, eat, sleep, anything without Hiro in his hand. The stickers wore off. He didn't play with Hiro much, mostly he just held him and twisted his wrist, clicking the rods on Hiro's wheels. At night, he'd begun to click Hiro to keep himself awake. The only time he'd put Hiro down was to get on the school bus, and that was a fight. Oh, and if Richie touched, looked at, or even walked in the room, Ryan screamed bloody murder. It was all about Hiro. "Wantcha Hiro?!" I can still hear his desperate pleadings when we finally had to wean him from his beloved train.
The process was long and there were many, many screamy nights and days over that stinkin' black train, but we finally got Ryan off Hiro. Lesson learned. Now we're careful to set boundaries about how and where Ryan can play with favorite toys. Drumsticks are only allowed in the living room, and can only be played on the practice pad, not on the furniture, the TV, or people (yes, he tried). Ipad is only two or three times a day, sitting down, for 15 minutes. If he starts stimming profusely, he has to change apps. We've even deleted apps because all he did was stim on them! Sounds mean, huh. Not really if you know Ryan.
Take your average alcoholic. Need to keep him busy for a while? Tell you what... I need to keep you out of my hair, so here's a fifth of Jack. Stay busy for a while, please.
Really, that's about as caring as handing Ryan the ipad and saying "here you go. I need to get some housework done, so knock yourself out." At the end of even thirty minutes, he'll be screaming at the ipad, at you, at his siblings, slapping his head and ears, and oh, have a great time taking it away. I don't understand why, but I know this is how it is. I've seen him too many times, confused, shaking and crying, unable to stop fiddling with it.
We learned these things by trial and error... by fire. For a long time Ryan's teacher couldn't use their district-provided ipads because Ryan melted down completely as soon as one came out. They had to take turns, because there were about six kids in a class with two ipads. We've gradually helped Ryan learn to play for fifteen minutes, then give the ipad to Richie for fifteen minutes, then (unless Mae wants a turn, and she's done it too) it goes back to Mommy and Daddy's room.
Lots of things are like this at our house. Richie and even Mae can handle a little more indulgence and a little more change than Ryan at this point. Kids all still need boundaries, but sometimes in our world the boundaries can be relaxed a bit when brother's not around. There are things we just can't go and do. Waiting in line for things can be so stressful. The standing still is killer for Ryan. Yes, this means there are things that the whole family just shouldn't participate in for Ryan's safety and sanity. Yes, this does mean we run the risk of Richie and Mae resenting Ryan for what they can't do. But if we're careful, if we take care to treat Richie and Mae in ways that are appropriate and help them understand, we think that we also run the risk of our kids being incredibly understanding, caring, loving people. People who learned at an early age that no, life isn't fair, and we aren't entitled to what we want when we want it. They were born into this family... into a family with a special needs child... just like we were. We believe that they, with guidance, will grow into who God made them to be, not resentful but loving and accepting of their brother and other special needs folks.
So far, Richie is awesome with this. He adores his brother, and loves hanging out with brother's class at school. This morning, when Richie had a choice between eating his birthday donuts or being with his brother, he chose to get down and run back to see brother, and on the way I heard the sweetest thing. In his sweet, newly three-year-old voice, Richie hollered "I love you, Yyan!" as he ran. Richie has been screamed at countless times, hit over the head with several toys, sat on, shoved down, and for now, every time it's okay... as long as it's Ryan. I'm sure that's not the end of it.
We have a long road of balancing act ahead. But for now, Richie's sweet smile and jabbery conversation makes me smile. He is a relief, a breath of fresh air, a beautiful, blue-eyed, crazy-golden-blonde haired little angel who dances with Shaun the Sheep, loves to watch and read Thomas, work puzzles, and play ipad games. He loves his sister, taking her binky out of her mouth to kiss her good-night, then popping it right back in. He's a great helper, and has learned to get the wipes for his forgetful mommy when she's left them in another room again. He's painfully shy at times, and tends to get a little dramatic when he's in the mood and doesn't get his way. He loves to nap once he's already asleep, and (bless him) wakes up like his mommy. He's smart, loves to count, and loves to have books read to him. He loves Good Dog, Carl because he can almost read them himself... but could never love another dog more than Jedi. He's amazed by the birds who have had babies outside our kitchen window, asking mommy to "pick up a Richie" and "Richie look at the birdies". He loves to feed his sister, too. He'd rather feed his ice cream to her than eat it himself.
Richard A, Richie-roo, Richie-rooter baby duder, Dancin' Richie Rooter... you're a dream of a son, little brother and big brother, and we love you so much! You're an amazing little man and we can't wait to see the man God has for you to be... but don't get in a big hurry to grow up... you're awfully cute and such a big blessing just the way you are. And you are such a wonderful gift from the Lord!