These boys are nuts about each other. Richie, at five years old, thinks that Ryan hung the moon. I've always known and loved this about him. So much so, actually, that I never saw it coming.
The other day, Richie looked at me with those trusting blue eyes and asked the first question that has left me truly speechless.
"Mommy, when will I be like brother?"
This was after a pretty large-scale meltdown. Grasping for understanding, and desperately hoping he didn't think what I thought he meant, I told him he'd keep growing and soon he'd be tall like brother.
"No Mommy, when will I hit and yell like Ryan does? When?"
What do you say? This is his hero. If I go too strong on the "gee, son... are you aware that I'm thrilled that you don't have autism and will never be like brother" then I could damage that wide-eyed little brother wonder. If I go too far the other way, I'm encouraging to hit and yell. To do the very things that I spend so much effort trying to get Ryan to stop doing.
Truth is a must. Reality is a must. But so is consideration for his feelings and their relationship.
This is not the first time I've seen this. Ryan has a long history of hitting and screaming. He used to be worse about hitting his head on anything he could find. When he was upset at school, I had to pick him up several times because they couldn't get him to stop hitting his head on the concrete and tile floor.
Yes, at four. Yes, that hard. He came home with bruises on his elbows from where he banged them, too.
He took to this at home as well. Then, we were in a rent house with hardwood floors. Richie was just a baby, maybe a little over a year old. He saw Ryan hit his head on the floor, and even in his tender, baby state, he wanted to do whatever brother did. So he leaned his chubby little body over and whacked his head on the floor in a fit.
He stopped, looked at me as if to ask why in the world brother does that, then never did it again.
I wonder what it will take this time.
They play together. They sleep in the same room. And recently, Richie has started showing signs of wanting to do whatever brother does. So when he asks, I try to explain. I'm not sure what gets through or how helpful it is at all, but I try. We talk about how brother's brain works differently than ours. We talk without using words like "normal" as best we can.
He knows that his brother has something called autism. He knows that he gets frustrated and a little scared when brother gets agitated sometimes. But he doesn't know that everyone else's brother still watches Thomas and plays with trains at eight years old. He doesn't know, doesn't care, and that's great.
At some point, our littles are going to have to hear the truth about brother. Or maybe it's just something they'll figure out gradually... maybe there will be some point where they see someone else's big brother and how he acts, or maybe they'll see Ryan with his peers and realize that his behavior is completely different. I always thought they'd notice when they passed him developmentally. They both have, other than in writing and other academics, passed their brother. Even at three years old, Maelynn has better communication, social, and behavioral skills than her brother.
Instead, Richie at least, is seeing the difference and assuming that he's the one who hasn't grown.
This is one of those things that really has me stumped. I didn't see it coming. Initially, it brought me to tears. The love this boy has for his brother, the completely seeing love he has amazes me. He sees his brother at his worst and still adores him. People like to say that love is blind... I think love sees the best. It sees as things really are, and in this case, not only accepts but wants to absorb those traits.
He sees, he loves, and he wants to emulate. He does not only see, he studies and copies. When it hurts him, he forgives. He loves so intensely, so completely, that although he is exposed to more typical behavior, he wants to be like his brother.
Of all the things I can think to say to him, nothing seems to work. No words seem to do service to his devotion or that situation without raining far too much weighty reality on his young head. But truth is important, right?
How do I tell him who his brother clinically is without destroying the wonder of who he is?
There are some things in life that have to be lived. There are experiences that, while they can be explained all day long, cannot truly be understood without experience. I'll have to wait. I'll have to listen and wait for his questions, and give him little bits at a time.
After all, I didn't know what it was going to be like to be married until I was. I didn't know what it was like to be pregnant until I was. And I didn't know what it was like to have an autistic child until I did.
So the best thing I can think to do is to hold his... and Maelynn's... hands as they walk through life learning to love brother and still be themselves. Be ready to listen, answer where I can, and admit I don't know when I don't.
What did I say when he asked when he'd be like brother? Not much. I hugged him tight, and I cried. Throughout the day, I tried to find ways to talk to him, gently... but I'm not sure I did any good.
Thanks be to God for the love of a brother, a true friend, a biggest fan... and for always only showing us what we can handle knowing.