A lot of my focus goes to how I deal with my son, or perhaps how my son suffering from autism gets through each day. From either viewpoint there is a large missing reality that I have failed to discuss as of yet. Being the sibling. What the hell is that like? I was the youngest kid in our family growing up. My father wasn’t much for doctor’s orders as we weren’t born very far apart (less than a year at one point). That being the case, I wasn’t starving for someone to hang out with, or someone my age to talk to. My mother was an only child and that is the one thing she couldn’t point out enough… how lucky we were to have brothers. I never disagreed. It seemed like a pretty fair thing to appreciate in life, and I never gave it much thought. One of those things you just go “yep” and move on.
Many moons later I have Monkey on my hands. For a long time I considered that a pretty full statement. However, the older Mater got to be the more I realized that I wasn’t the only one in this single father household. That I wasn’t the only one having their life controlled by someone who, honestly, can’t understand enough to even appreciate the sacrifices that are being made from day-to-day. For me that’s one thing. I’m the father. Monkey is my baby boy just as much as Mater. It’s a little different for a younger brother though.
Now Mater has been one heck of a brother/child over the years. He is so helpful that I can honestly say that he gets me through pretty much every setback we hit. He never complains, and he never shows an attitude when we suddenly can’t go to the park because Monkey is throwing fits, or whatever the case may be. For years it went unnoticed. I always appreciated Mater’s supportive and easy-going personality about the things that we can and can’t do as a group, but I didn’t consider what must come with that.
It wasn’t until about a year– year and a half ago that I realized how awful a problem this blessing really was. Sure, it was great that I didn’t have one kid complaining about the things that I can’t control with the other kid.
“Can’t go to the park? No problem, dad!
Can’t take trips to water parks because Monkey doesn’t like sprinklers and running water? No problem, dad!
One “can’t” after another, and it has never been a problem! Until I realized that despite entering middle school, and despite not being around other kids as much as would be typical; he never had a complaint. Just…. No problem, dad! Everything’s good!
One day I found myself stressed out. I was just entering what has turned out to be the hardest year of Monkey’s life. It was a few months into it and I was starting to break. Work was stressful, Monkey was constantly creating issues that would simply control the flow of each day (in a negative/stressful way). Everything was building upon itself and I simply couldn’t hold it in any longer. I snapped. I got upset and yelled at Monkey because he peed through his clothes two minutes after getting to the park. Mind you it is the same park Monkey threw a fit to go to in the middle of one of our cold Michigan spring afternoons. Forty minutes of fighting because he didn’t want to be inside despite the cold, and then we go to the park so he can swing, and I literally had to carrying him to the car kicking and screaming… and covered in pee… two minutes later.
It was the last straw.
I felt bad right away. It wasn’t anything crazy or intense like some Lifetime series. It was simply a matter of no one wants to yell at their kids, so I felt bad. Moments later Monkey could care less, and then oddly enough, when I spoke to Mater about it, he didn’t either. That’s when it hit me. With as protective as Mater is for his brother there is no way that he watched me yell at him, and didn’t think nothing of it. This isn’t a normal occurrence. This deserves some kind of reaction. Right?!
So now I have this itch that, in an odd way, completely ended my stress that had been building during that period. By the time we got home and I gave Monkey a bath I approached Mater and asked him if he was sure he was ok. He said “yeah” and then moved on to something irrelevant.
Something isn’t sitting right here!
So I pressed on. It was like trying to get blood from a stone. After a good deal of suggesting why he should be bothered, and why he has a hard life to live being the brother of someone like Monkey, and why he should learn to talk about how he feels, he finally broke too. I had to convince him that he was allowed to be upset if he had a reason to be upset. That it was ok, and in end, a healthier way to live in the world.
Out of respect for Mater I’m not able to go in-depth with details of what we talked about, but in the end, he wasn’t ok… and there was a problem. He took on the idea that he had to be easy-going. That he had to be “perfect” all the time. He thought his brother’s slow approach to killing me meant that there wasn’t any time for him to be a bother, or basically, a normal kid.
That was one of the single most important conversations I have ever had with my son. Since then it has been a slow road, but Mater has loosened up a bit, and found ways to express how he feels. Most importantly he has realized (and I have explained) that he isn’t an extra problem when he acts up, and he isn’t a burden if he needs someone to take time out for him. That no matter how busy Monkey keeps me I will always have time for him. Better yet, Mater has learned to express that he is bothered when we can’t do something because of his brother’s needs. He’s stopped being so “perfect” and I couldn’t be more thankful.
I am a pretty perceptive person. I have a high level of empathy and find it hard to ignore the underlying truths/issues with people and situations. In this situation I think it was just something my mind didn’t want to accept… that something else was wrong with one of my children. In this case it wasn’t the exceptional circumstances of being autistic. It was the exceptional circumstances of being raised around it, with no voice.
It absolutely broke my heart that I had gone so long without ever noticing how awkward it was that Mater never had a complaint. The only thing more chilling is if he and I didn’t have that talk. If he would’ve continued to develop as a young man who never learned how to express his feelings or wants in life.
I wanted to share this because I am sure that there are many families out there dealing with these issues. It is so easy to be focused on the verifiable problem of autism, and in the process, neglect all other realities about how it is shaping your family, and your other children.