We tried to go on a family walk today. You know how it is. Your dad, your brother, and the two of us. It’s been just you and me for a while now, but I thought the boys would like to come along… I keep thinking we’ll get it right one of these days.
But just like the last time, something triggered your brother and we ended up hiking up the hill on our own to get the car because he wouldn’t use his bike, and was screaming all sorts of terrible words. Words he uses a lot that someday you’ll get in trouble for using. Waking up the whole neighborhood. You just played with your Hello Kitty toys and sang to yourself like it was no big deal, and on we went.
You’re not even three yet and I’m talking to you like a teenager. I’m expecting things from you that are beyond your years, too. When I found out I was having a daughter, after six years being just your big brother’s mom, I burst into tears. It’s not that I worried you’d have autism, too—I didn’t actually know that’s what your brother had until after you were born—but I suddenly had this understanding that you would be like me. That you would experience life as a girl. A woman. I thought I was a feminist before you were born, but then I became a fierce lioness.
Your dad and I spend so much time worrying about your brother, fretting after him, taking him to appointments, and making the world around him safe that I worry we’re forgetting you. Or missing things. Or overlooking the fact that you see and experience all of this, and you don’t have answers, either. Well-meaning friends and family remind us of this sometimes, too. Which makes me fret even more. But this is our family. It’s just part of the entrance fee, I guess. They just want to make sure that we’re not losing you in the shuffle, I guess.
You ask me, “Why is he so LOUD?” “Why is he so MAD?” “Why does he hurt me?” Then say, “I love him…”
I expected you to share your brother’s characteristics—like him, you’re curious and funny, bright and musical. But I didn’t expect you to be so kind, so thoughtful. But, love, you’re so strong, too. You get right up when you’re pushed down, you move on when you hear an unkind word.
The world will say you’re the lucky one because you’re “neurotypical.” But they won’t understand that you’ll be different, too. You will be changed, every step of the way, because you are the closest person in the world to your big brother. You’ll understand him, maybe better than we even do. If your lives are kind, you’ll both outlive your dad and me, and you’ll just have each other. But you’re different because he’s different. And different isn’t bad, no matter what people tell you. Every step will make you stronger, and working to understand him and his challenges will make you a better person. It has made me one.
I never take your kindness for granted, nor your innate ability to trust me and to love me. Your concern, your gentleness… I wasn’t used to that in a kid. I’m a different mother to you than I am to him, and that can’t be helped. But as you sing along to Frozen with your ukulele and you give me that smile of mischief, I can’t help but think how you make all of this easier. We didn’t ask for a child with autism, but it’s like you’re his perfect compliment. You can learn so much from each other.
I hope you learn from your brother to question. To stand up for yourself even when the odds aren’t in your favor. I hope you get a little of his stubbornness—but not too much—and his ability to push boundaries. But wait until you’re past your teen years, maybe?
I already see him learning from you, becoming more imaginative, finding interest in the things he missed as a toddler. You’re teaching him more every day about patience and play and pretend, and it’s exhilarating to watch.
You have taught me to treasure each smile—from both of you—as frequent or infrequent as they might be. You’ve taught me to sing along to “Let it Go,” even if I worry about the high notes because, to you, it’s just like having Elsa in the flesh. You’ve taught me to love more and hug longer and try harder, because you’re watching everything I do, and you need me to be your mother, your teacher, and your sister sometimes… Thankfully, I had a little sister. I know how things work, even if I made some mistakes that time. I’m up for the challenge.
There are some difficult conversations in our future. There are some dark days. We’re working on it—your brother is making great progress. But there are days when I won’t have answers, but I’ll always be here to do my best hear you out. And if I tell you “I love you” one too many times, or if I cry my way through too many sappy movies, I hope you understand, at least in part, why it’s that way.