Yesterday, Kyle turned 16. My hands trembled a little as I typed those words. For various reasons, 16 makes me anxious. 16 means almost a man...16 means driving a car...16 means parties...16 means parties where drugs, alcohol and (whisper) empty bedrooms with no parents at home, may take place. Ok, I just threw up as I typed those words. Yes, driving, drugs, alcohol and unsupervised parties at 16 makes my hands tremble, my pulse race, and my stomach churn, but, what hits my heart about 16, is that there are only two more years until (gulp)....college.
As Kyle's mother, watching Kyle head off to college will be bittersweet. I will worry incessantly, in a way I have never worried before, once my "baby" is no longer under my roof. Under my roof, I know where he is at all times (as long as he is being AWEnest). I know where his EpiPens are located in case of an accidental exposure to peanuts or shellfish (I keep telling Kyle I will be like that creepy mother in the children's book, "Love You Forever" hiding in the bushes of his college dorm with EpiPens...just in case). And under my roof, I know if Kyle is happy, sad, or sick with the flu. Along with all of my "what if" worries, my nausea and my medication, there will be joy. Joy for this new adventure and all the fun and excitement that comes with being a college kid on your own for the first time (this "excitement" will be exactly what will keep me up at night with my brain awfulizing just how much fun Kyle is having). When we pull away from Kyle's chosen baseball college, waving good bye, I will cry for myself and my inability to control Kyle's safety, his decisions, and his food exposure, but, I will sob for Ryan, who will find little to be excited about as his brother, his confidante, his ally, his best friend, packs up and leaves Ryan behind.
Kyle shares a connection with Ryan that Ryan has with no other human being. Sure, Ryan is connected to me because I am his mom...I take care of him, protect him, help him, and love him, but, as Ryan's brother, Kyle gets the very distinguished title that no one else holds...friend. Of course as brothers, they fight, irritate each other, and make their mother crazy, but, they also laugh, love and enjoy each other's company, at least for a little while. Since the day Ryan was born, Kyle has been Ryan's compass, guiding him through twists and turns and leading Ryan on the journey through kid-dom in a way that I could not.
Many kids with an ASD aren't exactly chillin' with the "in crowd", because quite frankly, many don't know what it takes to be "in". The social cues, the social exchanges, the hierarchy of school "coolness" is difficult for a child with social and communication struggles. Ryan is not "in", but thanks to his brother, he is not totally "out" either. Although Ryan may not hang with the "in crowd", he is at least up on what is cool on television, video games, and most importantly, the slang or "street talk" teenagers use, thanks to big brother Kyle. Just last week, Ryan saw something on TV and said, "Wow, that's so sick". I turned around fully expecting a lion to be eating an antelope or something equally "sick", but, no, it was a "sick", cool pair of sneakers. I was amazed that Ryan used the word "sick" in an Urban Dictionary way, not a Webster Dictionary way and it was about fashion! AWEnestly, I couldn't have been more shocked or surprised had I turned around and saw that "sick" was the antelope snacking on the lion. Ryan talking "street" about fashion, almost goes against the laws of nature.
Kyle's innate guidance, for his brother began immediately. Kyle loved and nurtured Ryan the minute he came to visit us in the hospital. I worried that Kyle would be jealous or angry that his baby brother took his place, took too much time away from his Mommy, but, that never happened. Ever. In fact, once when I told Kyle that I was worried he'd be angry about having a baby brother he looked at me, and with as much indignation as a four year old could muster and said, "How could you ever think I wouldn't love my baby brother?!" Well, AWEnestly, I didn't accuse Kyle of not loving Ryan, but, Kyle read between the lines, something he has become a bit of an expert at since his brother leaves a lot of space between the lines. As I watched Kyle "mother" Ryan when they were little, I pictured the two of them growing up playing together, getting into trouble, sharing secrets and taking on the world hand in hand. That was before....before The A Word.
I remember not long after we heard The A Word, I would watch other brothers playing baseball outside, riding bikes, building with Legos, interacting with one another in a way Kyle and Ryan didn't. Kyle would try and sometimes Ryan would respond, but, mostly, Ryan preferred to be alone with some electronic toy. I would watch these other brothers together and I would mourn the relationship I had expected my boys to have. I became jealous and angry and wondered, "Why Kyle? Why Ryan?", and AWEnestly, "Why me?". As I have watched my boys grow up, watched their relationship strengthen, I now know why. Ryan needed Kyle as his compass to navigate a confusing, loud, busy, world, but, Kyle needed Ryan to show him that there is more than one way to explore that world. It just depends on how you see it. A lesson, I too had to learn.
As the boys got bigger, I worried that Kyle didn't understand Ryan's lack of interaction and that it would somehow impact Kyle negatively. As a result of my worry, I suggested to Kyle that perhaps he join a sibling group for kids with a brother or sister with an ASD. Kyle looked at me like I was an antelope eating a lion. I explained to Kyle that sometime it's hard for siblings who have a brother or sister with an ASD because their relationships are "different" than relationships with a neurotypical sibling and it might be nice for Kyle to talk about that with other kids who feel the same way. "I don't need to talk about anything, Ryan is my brother and we get along great. I don't have a problem. Sounds like you do though." Wow! Any chance you can push that knife in just a wee bit deeper, darling child I gave birth to?
Kyle was right though, even if his delivery cut me and made me bleed out on the kitchen floor, worrying over Kyle and Ryan's relationship was my problem. It was my misconceived notion, my idyllic picture, my never even had a brother view of what a relationship between two brothers should be like, not Kyle's. In Kyle's mind, he is the big brother and it is his job to look out for his little brother, ASD or no ASD. And sure, Kyle has admitted from time to time that he wished he and Ryan had more shared interests and that Ryan would want to come outside and play baseball, ride bikes, whatever, but, Kyle recognized a long time ago that lack of a shared interest could be the case with any sibling, not just a sibling with an ASD. If Kyle could see this, then I wondered why couldn't I? It took me years to figure it out, but, in time I understood that it was easier for Kyle to see Ryan with his child like heart than it was as Ryan's mother. For me, I was often so blinded with worry, that I couldn't see Ryan or the beautiful relationship, dare I say, friendship, blossoming between him and his big brother.
Ever since Ryan was little, Kyle always had an understanding, a sort of sense about his little brother. Many times when Ryan was upset and I didn't know why, I would be freaking out wondering, "What's wrong with him?" and Kyle, without his worried blinders on, would recognize the loud noise, the bright lights or the button on the coat that was too tight. I joked that Kyle was a better parent than me and in some ways he was and some ways he still is today. Kyle has always been able to see Ryan through the eyes of a child...through the eyes of a brother. There was and is, love and acceptance. Period. End of story. Kyle didn't have the worry part that I did as Ryan's mother. Kyle didn't have to worry about whether or not Ryan would hit a kid at school when he became frustrated, or if the horrific diet Ryan lived on was going to lead to high cholesterol or heart disease later in life. Kyle didn't spend time worrying about Ryan's ability to balance a check book, pay bills and live on his own when Ryan was only four years old. Kyle lived in the present with his brother, enjoying Ryan and loving him, without worrying what the future would hold. Every year I resolve to be more like Kyle, living in the present and worrying less about the future. Clearly, a resolution doesn't cut it for me when it comes to worrying, I think only a lobotomy will resolve that issue.
As I remind myself that college is still two years away for Kyle, I will try and be more like Kyle, living in the present and not worrying about the future (I LOL'd as I typed that). I will embrace the moments that these two brothers have together, whether it's annoying one another, or making each other laugh. I will savor moments, like the one I had this fall when shopping for shorts for Ryan, and Kyle immediately walked over, looked at the shorts and said, "Nope, don't get this pair, there are no pockets in it and he needs pockets for candy out of the vending machines.", as I broke down and sobbed in Dick's Sporting Goods, utterly horrifying Kyle. I will continue to admire their bond as Ryan brings home another stellar report card knowing that Kyle insisted on which team Ryan should have for 6th grade and telling me to request the most amazing group of teachers that have lead to Ryan's success. I will try not to cringe when Ryan says something inappropriate for a 12 year old knowing the words are coming directly from a 16 year old's lips as Ryan lovingly admires and worships his big brother. I will try not to picture Kyle's empty bedroom and the emptiness that I know will be in Ryan's eyes as he wonders when Kyle will be home next. I will remind myself, repeatedly, that 16 is not 18 and to enjoy the moment. Enjoy today.
One thing I do know, that when 16 becomes 18, regardless of the distance between these two brothers, Kyle will always be Ryan's compass. The pull of Kyle's heart will always guide Ryan, regardless of time and distance between them. These two brothers share a special bond like no other, and once upon a time I worried about their bond being so "different". Now I can see, like so many things, this difference is not less, in fact, this difference is so much more. Kyle may be Ryan's compass, but, Ryan has become a window for his big brother, providing his brother a view of the world like Ryan sees it. Giving Kyle a view he never would have seen had his little brother not shown him. And just like Ryan will be in AWE of his big brother with the first crack of the bat this baseball season, Kyle will sit at a piano recital in June mesmerized and jealous by his brother's gift of music. Two unique brothers whom individually are incredible, but, whom together stand apart from any brothers I have ever known. I will try to keep that in mind the next time I tell Ryan it's time for bed and in Ryan's best Peter Griffin (Family Guy) impersonation he responds with, "Who the he** cares?", that the influence of 16 can be good, the influence of 16 can be bad, but, mostly the influence of 16 can be downright freaking hysterical.
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touched by Autism.
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Definition of Awe: