We spend a lot of time with my oldest son, Sourdough, around here.
We spend a lot of time talking – trying to help him calm down, help him socially navigate tough situations, discussing his topic of interest.
We spend a lot of time worrying – if he can handle tomorrow’s play date with the weather so hot, if he will sleep tonight or be up for hours, if he will make it through dinner and eat something healthy.
We spend hours cleaning up – after horrible meltdowns, a lack of executive function in the kitchen making pretzels/sourdough bread starters/pickles/homemade cheese, food eaten in his room under the lycra sheets with the door shut because he just can’t eat at the table with us this time.
We do all this because we love him, just as he his, and because it is what he needs.
We do this because what choice do we have? We are living this life, one day at a time, trying to figure it all out.
And we do all this knowing that his eight year old little brother, Bacon, is watching and trying to understand.
One of my greatest challenges is how best to help and defend Sourdough, while continuing to help and defend Bacon. It is not easy. It is not even remotely in the vicinity of easy. They are so different, and most of the time, it seems like accommodating one actually hurts the other and vice versa.
Here are just a few struggles that my youngest deals with every day –
Sourdough has a hard time in the car. Driving makes him dizzy. The noise from the freeway, other cars, clicks in the dashboard, my keys, the leather seats squishing – you name it, the car is a tough sensory ride for him. So, when your big brother has autism, you do not get to sing songs in the car with your mom if he’s around. EVER. Bacon has tried. Let me understate it and say it did not go well.
Now this might seem like a small thing, no big deal. And in the grand scheme of things, it is. Unless you’re Bacon. Not only is he a musical child who loves to sing, write his own songs, and dance like Kevin Bacon – he also has been keeping score this past year. He is onto us. He sees all the ways we adjust our life (and his) and he is fed up. So, when he is asked to please stop singing until we are not trapped in the car with his sensory overloaded brother, he will often sing louder. And add snaps.
Parks and Playdates:
Bacon plays for hours outdoors, climbing trees, building shelters, chasing squirrels. He LOVES it. He is also incredibly social. He wants to see his friends every day if possible. You can imagine however that “outdoors” and “social” cause tons of anxiety for his brother. Sometimes we force Sourdough to go, with the conversation being there are just times that we need to serve each other and it’s brother’s turn to do something he enjoys. Sometimes. Most of the time, we just can’t. It isn’t fair for either of them, but we have to error on the side of personal safety and lessening actual physical pain first.
The hard reality is that Bacon has been physically harmed before in the course of his brother’s meltdowns. The first time was when he was three years old (making noise in the car…by the way). The last was over a year ago when Sourdough was melting down and threw a ceramic dog at me. I deflected it and it accidentally clocked Bacon in the head instead (we have since instituted a “do not under any circumstances come near mommy or Sourdough during a meltdown” policy). It is awful when it happens. It is infrequent, but when Bacon is hurt, it causes so much damage beyond the physical. He doesn’t understand that it isn’t personal. He doesn’t understand that someone can hurt you without feeling any genuine malice.
I mean he’s eight. I turned forty this year and in my worst moments, I find it hard to understand too.
(Not Bacon’s perspective, but mine as an aside – How do I best parent and protect when the person hurting my child, is my other equally hurting child? My heart breaks just thinking about it. The impact this has on all three hearts involved can be shattering.)
We have to do something.
The older Bacon gets, the more we are educating him about High Functioning Autism/Aspergers. He seems to naturally understand that his brain functions differently than his brothers – which has been the best place to start. Because Bacon also has his own special brand of neurological processing issues, I think he is uniquely able to feel empathy for his brother’s struggles.
Bacon has started to meet weekly with a psychologist who specializes in helping children who have siblings with special needs.
We purposefully take Bacon on trips in the car, alone, and say, “Here’s your chance. Let’s sing as loud as we can!”
We are blessed to have friends that are willing to take Bacon to the park with their children, so that he can play, enjoy the outdoors, get messy and dirty and stinky, and stay as long as he likes.
And most importantly, we are working diligently to highlight all the ways that Bacon’s life is better because of his big brother.
This eight year old knows more about just about everything because his big brother is such a natural professor and teacher. We point this out and encourage the “teacher/student” dynamic between them. I mean, he has a big brother that can set-up legitimate science experiments and cooking projects for him, from start to finish, that actually work (Something that is questionable when his mom is in charge of the activity, ahem).
He has a big brother who likes to snuggle up with him while he tells him all about the latest Percy Jackson book.
He has a big brother who follows the rules and will look out for him in every parking lot, intersection, public place, and bathroom. His big brother holds his hand and says, “Stay with me so I can keep you safe.”
He has a big brother that is willing to read anything and everything to him when he can’t do it himself.
As a man, we don’t want him to say, “My big brother has high functioning autism and it was really hard for me“. We want him to say, “My big brother has high functioning autism and it was really hard for him“.
This is what we want…
But getting there is something else entirely.
Because the truth is, it is really hard for Bacon. It is really unfair. It is really scary and lopsided and broken.
And like any other parent, we are completely in over our heads. All we can do is our best, one day at a time.
The rest is all one long, desperate prayer to a God who knows, a God who is good, and a God who is perfectly just, when we cannot be.
And so today, we will do the best we can. My little one will struggle. So will I. Of course we will.
And we will just take the next step –
In faith, in hope and with so much love.