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In Praise of ‘Typical’ Kids

September 8, 2013

You know what?  I have another child.

I don’t mention him much on here–every so often, and typically in the greater context of our family, his younger brother or my career.  This is a shame.

Because this kid is fantastic.  Bright as the sun, sharp as a razor, active, inquisitive, compassionate–a joy.  He is the light of our lives.

His name is Andrew, but we call him ‘Drew’ at home.  He shares his name with his grandpa on his mom’s side.  And his dad.  His other grandpa Mario fills in the middle name.  Drew turns 8 in a couple of weeks.

I received a bunch of solicitude from several of my blog readers after my last post.  The post was mostly about Alex and a little about his service dog.  I went back and read what I wrote afterwards, and, trying to absorb it from a fresh perspective, I came across as sounding more negative than I intended.

What I intended to do when I wrote it was vent.  This blog is a relief valve for me.  Just like the mechanical kind, when the pressure builds high enough, the valve opens.  And all is well again.  For a while.  But when the pressure builds up, and events of the day join forces with the evil duo of fatigue and procrastination, the pressure valve gets blocked.  What I’m saying here is even if I feel compelled to write, sometimes I’m too tired or lazy.

Which is a shame, as I said.  I have much more to write about.  My wife gently chided me about this.  Like a good spouse, she’s right.  So that got me thinking.

I can piss and moan about all sorts of things I see in my life, or in the world.  The perceived injustices we deal with, or have been through.  It’s easy to accept an invitation to one’s own Pity Party.

But what about the good stuff we have, or that happens to us?  What about the amazing people we know, or who pass through our lives?  We can look far and wide and find lots of examples, I’m happy to say.  But what about looking closer?  In our homes?

That’s where Drew comes in.  This trim little guy with the wide, expressive grin and the endless questions.  I love questions…  “Dad, what makes lightning?”  (I especially love the weather questions, because I am a weather geek.) “Are there any Africanized honey bees in Illinois?”  (Thankfully, no.)  “How long would it take the X-15 to fly all the way around the world?”  (Ooh, I’ll have to break out a calculator for that one.)  And “Why does Alex have autism?”

That last question I’ve heard from him at least a dozen times.  As recently as yesterday.

Of course I attempt to answer it, but the true statement of “I don’t know” has a hollow ring to it.  I’m his dad, and I take great pride and serious responsibility in helping him learn and understand this world in which he’s growing up.  So it seems like a cop-out to not be able to give him a more definitive answer.

Drew doesn’t often stump me with his questions.  But not knowing how he will react to what I tell him, I try to soften the blow.  “Scientists and doctors are trying to answer this, too”.  But the question of why his kid brother can’t speak, or doesn’t poop in the toilet, or bangs his head when he’s upset or why he doesn’t have a list of chores yet just do not have much more of an answer other than “because he has autism”.  It’s like saying “Because I said so…”  Unsatisfying.

Regardless of the answer, I just am pleased that he appears to care about his little brother.  Kat and I have diligently attempted to instill a compassion and understanding for Alex in Drew.  We reinforce it with positive praise–especially when Drew is extemporaneously sharing a treat, or picking up something that Alex might have dropped, or keeping Alex out of harm’s way (that’s a big one).  The truth is, Drew has done all of these.  It’s one of his greatest traits.

Still, it rips my heart out when Drew asks about Alex’s autism.  My attempts to sound flat to discount the challenges Alex will face and yet upbeat to accentuate the hopefulness of the situation always make me wonder if I’m the one playing the fool.

In some ways, Kat and I feel that Drew gets cheated out of some things many of his peers would have already experienced and enjoyed.  Simply because we are not yet mobile enough with Alex and Merrows, Drew has had to accept what we do predominantly for his little brother–and not for him.  We have friends with children who have had seizures, hearing impairment or even physical handicaps.  And all of them have ‘typical’ siblings.  How do they do?  Is there a longing in their hearts for fair and magnanimous treatment of not only their sibling–but themselves?

God, I hope so.  I will say we know conclusively that because Drew knows so much more about autism and because he is so much more aware of other people and their disabilities, we breathe a little easier knowing our older son will be more compassionate.  It can’t hurt.  And from the experiences some of my friends and family have discussed in the past, these ‘typicals’ wind up amazing adults on their own merits, of their own accord.

We try to carve out Daddy/Drew or Mommy/Drew time when we can.  Drew gets excited with anticipation.  There are a lot of other families like this–all over.  It actually is fun to be around people like that, to commiserate and share.  But Drew is just a kid; Drew’s not talking as much about autism as he talks up the latest app he got for his birthday on his Kindle.  Fine with us.

We hope that regardless what happens, Drew will be well taken care of.  Same with Alex.  And if Drew wants to help Alex get settled somewhere in some way only a long-time sibling would understand, I get misty-eyed.  That’s what’s great about typical children–they are typically awesome.  I’m so proud that Drew is Alex’s big brother.

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One Comment
  1. Peggy Vaughan permalink

    And I’m so proud that you are their father! Keep writing…..Looking forward to the book and the movie…and the,hopefully, happy ending!

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