How are ya? I've so missed talking to you. Really. It's been pretty crazy lately. We're getting used to Ryan's new therapy schedule, twice a week now instead of once. There are many new things these days, from starting and getting used to kindergarten to a new church, and add into those the usual football season mess that a band director's family has going on, and it's, well... pretty crazy. Since my husband is with the band at an away game, I have time to chat.
In all the stuff that's going on, I keep coming back to the other two kids. You know, the ones who don't need ABA therapy to keep from launching into true hysterics when the computer overheats and they can't finish watching that one Thomas on the internet. The ones who are growing up in a family who is blessed with a big brother with Autism.
We spend so much time taking care of Ryan's needs, making sure Ryan's routine is kept, making sure he makes it to this and that. We work to keep a lid on his behavior, stay calm and even to make sure he has the foundation of calm, peaceful parents to build on.
Not that we always make it, but we do try. We want all our kids to have a fabulous time growing up. We want them all to have great memories of things we did together, of the fun, unique situations most of us remember from childhood. I want them to love each other. To care for each other. I wanted each of them to have each other... at least two good friends for life. When Dad died, I remember sitting there watching the other three siblings talk and laugh about everything from life from day one. They were in pain, they missed their brother. But their presence comforted each other. In their mother's house, they sat in the living room in her absence and told the stories of getting in trouble together, getting each other in trouble, and getting out of it. Of fun times fishing, hunting, driving (and more than their parents crazy), school, sports, all of it. Life. Lives lived together to a point, and still somewhat together across the states.
I knew that moment I wanted at least three kids.
At that moment, it is true that I had no idea Ryan had autism. We had discovered that he did have some speech issues, because he was 2 1/2 and change and barely any words. I was about 6 months pregnant with Richie. Yes, I do have a sister... I have a very special, BFF kind of sister who is eleven years my junior. She is precious to me in ways I cannot explain, yet completely different than the type of thing I witnessed that night. A child of a necessary divorce, I grew up with one foot in eastern Oklahoma and a foot in southeast Kansas. The only people who can sort of imagine or discuss the way I really grew up are my mother, who was married to my father for a short but harrowing amount of time, and my husband, who has listened at length to my descriptions and made way more than one trip to Kansas with me. So the desire to have my children have each other is, like so many things in life, purely of my own desire... completely selfish in its own way.
The first meeting of this semester's ABA therapy sessions at the Baylor Autism Resource Center was to simply meet and discuss goals. The new therapist this semester is much like the last one... smart, sweet, caring, and patient. Chipper, happy, yet very aware of what she is up against. I'm so grateful for the BARC and its students and directors! Truly a gift of God. At the end of the 45 minute drive, we arrived on campus, parked, and went in. That sounds simple... but trust me, with my brood it's a trek that would make cross-country runners shudder. The kids bounded into the room when B, our new therapist, opened the door. The kids dove in and had a blast digging through the whole lot of cars, trains, balls, the whole nine yards. While I attempted to talk to B about goals, Mae kept handing me random things. At one point I was holding a giant stuffed bear, a plastic caterpillar, and a toy radio. So much for taking notes, right? I was doing well to think straight.
The kids had a wonderful time. When our time was over, we picked up all the toys, put away the videos (for real! Elmo on VHS!) and went on our way. Back to the van, drive the 45 minutes home. Then fast forward to Wednesday, the first real therapy session. Ryan walked in the room with B, and Richie bounded right behind. Only this time, I had to stop him.
"Richie, honey, it's time for Ryan's therapy. We're not here to play today. It's not your turn." I tried to explain that we bring brother here to get help learning to do all kinds of things he doesn't understand.
He lost it. Crumpled in a heap, in real, frustrated, broken-hearted, I-totally-don't-get-this, It's-not-fair tears. He wasn't just unhappy that he didn't get to play. He wasn't just unhappy that his brother was leaving. It was both. Maelynn's beloved biggest brother wasn't there, her dear Richie was crying, so she starts losin' her little mind too. And there, in the hall in front of the BARC, with other classes going on around, my 3 year old and 18 month old were losing it. And it hit me.
This time has to be special for all the kids. It has to be about all of them, somehow. Not just Ryan. It HAS TO BE.
Now, we're not strangers to the Baylor campus. My husband is a proud Baylor graduate, and has taken me there on many occasions for games and the like. I didn't go there myself, but it is a pretty awesome place to study. So after about fifteen minutes of fussing (yeah, I'm a bit thick) I looked at Richie and asked if he'd like to go see the bears.
"Go see da sit 'em bears?"
Yes, baby. We'll go see them.
So every week, twice a week, we drive the 45 minutes to Baylor. We drop Ryan off at the BARC, then we walk around watching college kids, watching the bears in their habitat, walk around the bookstore (he loves to go to the tent... a tailgate display in the clothing section... and just stand there, saying "I in a tent!" We go climb a little hill with a tree at the top, with Richie taking time to walk down the hill "backterds". He also enjoys the fountain, walking up to stick his hand in the water flowing over the side. At the end of the semester, I've promised we'll do to the student union and get lunch, and then go to the bookstore and let him get a small green and gold football he's eyed, picked up, and snuggled every time we've been there so far.
Every time, Richie enjoys walking around with Mommy and Maelynn, pointing out the kids riding skateboards, bicycles, and talking to the squirrels and the birds and the bears. He smiles and says a hearty "Sic 'em" to all the real Baylor Bears on their way to class. He pushes the buttons for the elevator, and when we get to the BARC to get Ryan, every time Richie asks, "Want my tuuurn?"
In the chaos of keeping Ryan from running all over, all I can do is say "sweetie, just be thankful you don't need a turn."
And pray that Richie feels loved, heard, and special. And that Maelynn does too. Because they are wonderful, amazing, and special just as much as their brother. I appreciate the fact that they're giving up their naptimes in their little beds, snug with their favorite pillows and lovies. They're giving three hours of their sweet, precious days two days a week to making sure Ryan gets what he needs. No, they don't have a choice. But the days... the hours... of their lives matter, even if they're too little to complain. Brother's not more important, but we take care of each other. We care for each other, and do what we can to meet one another's needs. And we care for one another... we give... with a joyful heart. We may be tired, we may be flat exhausted. We may not understand why. But we do it. We do it because we're family. God gave us each other to care for, love, laugh with, cry with, wait for, and go through life with.
And I'm inexplicably grateful that He did.