Tag Archives: brother

Remembering The Things That Matter

6 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Walking down the aisle with my brother

This week, my first wedding anniversary came and went without me really posting anything about it, other than a status update on Facebook, in which I tagged my beloved.

For about three months before my wedding I was fraught with stress. Had I sent out the invitations with enough time to spare? Would we get a DJ? Would the venue be OK? Where would I get shoes that were comfortable?

I worried about whether a wedding would be too overwhelming for a child with autism. I had a falling-out with the lady who was supposed to make the cake. We couldn’t afford to pay for decor and we hoped that what the venue was providing would be sufficient. My intended and I had silly little arguments over nothing.

My bridesmaid, speaking from the comfort of her decade-old marriage, assured me that no-one would care about the details. When people looked back on our wedding, they would not remember what colour the napkins were or the fact that I hadn’t been able to pony up the cash for chair covers.

To tell the truth, I barely remember those details myself. The stuff I do remember seems so much more important. Like the fact that my friend Fran, who was doing the music for the ceremony, arrived a few days in advance and along with my mom, helped me wrap the guest favours and take care of final details. Or the fact that her friend, who was accompanying her to the wedding, arrived two nights before and in spite of  being a complete stranger to me, cheerfully rolled up his sleeves to lend a hand.

I remember the fantastic respite worker who took charge of the kids for the day and helped them have a wonderful time. And my maid of honour and bridesmaid, who showed up on my wedding day and whisked me off to get my hair and makeup done.

I recall the humour in the fact that the only time Jehovah’s Witnesses have ever come to my house, it was on my wedding day. And how funny it was when various people had to take turns doing up the buttons on my dress.

And I remember – with such fondness and love – walking down the aisle on the arm of my brother, who looked so proud (and possibly relieved to finally be marrying me off) as he ushered me in to my future.

Beyond The Stars

29 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 29 – Six sentence story: In this day of micro-blogging – brevity is a skill worth honing. Can you tell a story and make it short and sweet? What can you say in six sentences?

When my son George was diagnosed with autism, I didn’t really know what it meant or what he would ultimately be capable of.

I didn’t know what it would mean for my family, or for George’s sibling relationship with his little brother.

Since then, we have discovered that George has potential that reaches beyond the stars, and that all we have to do is help him get there.

We have discovered that he has a big  heart with an infinite capacity for love, and that he and his brother will be best friends for life.

There are challenges, and I worry about what the future could bring for my boy.

But I believe in him absolutely.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gsfc/5161800961/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (2010/04/23)

23 Apr

With the arrival of my Mom yesterday, I did not have the time or inclination to post. However, I do still want to keep up with the Post A Day challenge, so for the next two weeks, while I’m doing stuff like visiting with my Mom and getting married, you may see a number of reposts. Like this one… I thought it would be fun to unearth the post from this day in 2010…

My boys have fallen into a new sleep routine.  At bedtime, we do all the stuff we always did.  They get their jammies on, use the bathroom, brush their teeth (most days they have a bath earlier in the evening).  For story-time, I sit on my glider chair between their beds – the same glider chair that saw me through countless night-time feedings when my boys were infants.  George gets right into bed, James curls up on my lap, and they each drink their milk while I read a story (current flavour of the day: anything to do with Thomas the Train).  After the story, James gets into his bed, each of them gets a sip more milk, and the lights go out.

About five minutes later, we usually see a little face quietly peeking around the corner: George, trying to sneak onto the futon we have in our living room so he can watch TV.  Or maybe he just wants the extra hugs we always give him, because once we’ve hugged him he goes back to bed amenably enough.  At some point during the night, usually fairly early on, he migrates to the sofabed in the playroom, and sleeps there for the rest of the night.

Sometimes I worry about this.  From time to time, when one of the kids is having a hard time, I have to sleep on the sofabed with said kid, and that thing ruins my back.  I always wake up the next morning feeling as if I’ve been tortured by Vikings.  I worry about whether the sofabed is doing to George’s back what it’s doing to mine.  But once he’s there he won’t budge, he sleeps soundly, and he wakes up cheerfully enough.  So maybe he’s OK and I just need to chill out a little instead of finding yet another thing to be perpetually stressed about.

In the meantime, James is sleeping soundly in his own bed.  He’s a little champion at bedtime, James is.  Once the lights are out he goes right to sleep without a fuss.  He usually wakes up in the middle of the night, though – sometime between midnight and three in the morning.  When I found out the reason for his nocturnal awakenings, my heart soared: he gets lonely for his big brother.  He makes his way to the sofabed, climbs in beside George, and goes right back to sleep.  George surfaces just enough to shift to make room for James, then he goes to sleep as well.

I am always the first one in the household to wake up in the mornings.  Some days – like today – I go for an early morning run.  Other days, I like to get dressed, pour out a cup of coffee, and have some me-time at the computer reading emails or playing meaningless games on Facebook.  I love carving out that time for myself in the mornings, before the rest of the world wakes up.

Whatever I am doing – running or playing on the computer – the first thing I always do is check on my boys.  I go to the playroom and watch them sleeping peacefully, each completely at ease with the other’s presence.  They look cosy and comfortable, like a pair of sleepy kittens.  There is always physical contact between the two: James’ hand resting on George’s, or George’s hand lightly touching James’ shoulder.  When I checked on them this morning, George’s arm was flung over James’ shoulders.  It looked big brotherly and protective.

I savour those moments as I watch them and wonder what dreams are going on in those little heads.  Even though they are sleeping, I feel as if I am witnessing a moment of special connection between the two brothers.

Things Are Getting Hairy

19 Apr

You know that your wedding planning is entering its final stages when you start using Flight Tracker to see where in their journeys your out-of-town guests are. As I type this, my Mom and my brother are en route from Johannesburg to New York (a brutal flight that keeps you cooped up in a plane for 18 hours – I do not envy them). I will see my Mom on Thursday; my brother will arrive in Toronto from New York next week.

Things are coming together. There is still a lot to be done – so much so that thinking about my to-do list puts a knot of anxiety in the pit of my stomach – but most of the little crises that have arisen have been resolved.

I have not had a nervous breakdown. I came close last week, though.

It was all about the hair. I had booked a hairdresser to come to my house and do hair for myself, my maid-of-honour, the bridesmaid and the flower girl. To be fair, the hairdresser had told me ahead of time that school commitments might get in the way and we might have to make other arrangements. That was a chance I took when I booked her. And sure enough, she called me a short time later and told me that she would not be able to help out.

I got in touch with another hairdresser, one whose rates seemed reasonable. The problem was that every time I spoke to the guy there, I was given a different quote. Each quote was progressively higher than the previous one. Eventually Gerard spoke to the guy, and he was given a much higher price than anything I had been told.

It was clear that we could not use this hairdresser. At this rate, we’d have to sell our house to pay him by the time the day of the wedding arrived. What this meant, though, was that with two weeks to go, I still had no hairdresser.

Any woman would agree that hair is kind of important on a wedding day.

I lost it. I started to have this weird little meltdown, ranting to anyone who would listen about how I was never going to find someone to do my hair, and how I would have to persuade my makeup artist to wing it and do it for me (this was before the makeup artist bailed on me with no warning).

Gerard was trying to calm me down but I was just so stressed. I was making these high-piched supersonic noises that only dogs can hear.

Gradually, the pitch of my voice lowered enough for my noises to loosely resemble speech. I was tearfully saying stuff like, “My hair is very important, you know.”

Gerard, in a kindly and patient tone, said, “Of course it is.”

I think he was doing that thing where you agree with everything a hysterical person is saying, no matter what. I could have said that mulberry trees were falling out of the sky, and he would have agreed with me.

In the end, Gerard told me not to worry about it. He said he had a plan to make it all better.

Sometimes, when Gerard tells me not to worry, I have the sense to trust him. This was one of those occasions. And true to his word, by the time I got home from work the following day, he had found and spoken to a hairdresser. The day was saved. Relative peace could reign once more.

Despite earlier threats to shave my head and put a tattoo of a butterfly on my scalp, I will be able to walk down the aisle with beautifully styled hair.

It’s a good thing. That tattoo would have hurt.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/25559122@N06/3811393733/)

Another World

25 Feb

My son James, who is all of five years old, has a wonderful imagination. When he’s lying in bed at night, after the lights have been turned off, I lie down beside him and as he snuggles up against me, he and I come up with bedtime stories. Well, James comes up with the basic plot, and I just turn said plot into a coherent tale.

Here is last night’s story:

Once upon a time, there was a little boy whose name was James. James was a very good boy who loved his family, did a great job putting his toys away at the end of the day, and gave lots of hugs to his big brother George.

And so one day a giant magic toucan came to see James. The magic toucan said, “James, you have been a very good boy. You ate all your dinner and put your toys away, and you’ve been super-nice to your brother. And so I am going to take you on a special trip.”

James climbed onto the toucan’s back, and the toucan took off and started flying. Together, James and the toucan flew over the fields and oceans, going higher and higher into the sky. They went so high that they went all the way into space. But James was not afraid. The toucan was a magic toucan and he would keep James safe.

After flying for a long time, James and the magic toucan landed gently on another world. It was a planet of brilliant green grass that was soft to walk on, white beaches where the sand wasn’t too hot, and blue, blue seas. There were beautiful flowers and many, many butterflies of all colours. Even though it was daytime on this world, when James looked at the sky he would see twinkling stars that looked like diamonds, and far, far away, he could see the Earth that he had just come from.

On the grass there was a picnic table made of gold, and on the table there were all of James’ favourite foods. There was pizza, and sandwiches, and chicken nuggets, and fruit, and ice cream. There was apple juice, milk and hot chocolate.

As James looked at the picnic table, he heard the sound of children laughing, and then he saw his friends running towards him. James and his friends sat down at the table and ate the delicious food, and drank the delicious drinks. As they ate and drank, they talked and laughed and had a great time together.

When the meal was done, James and his friends went to play on the beach. They frolicked in the water and built magnificent sand castles. They ran around, playing tag and having races.

All the time, the magic toucan was there, making sure the children were safe and having a good time.

Eventually, it was time for James to go home. He said goodbye to his friends, and then the magic toucan took James around the corner, where James saw the biggest slide he had ever seen. The slide had walls going all the way around, and little windows in the walls.

James climbed into the entrance of the slide, counted to three, and off he went! Down, down, down the slide went, turning this way and that. James had a fantastic time on the slide, and he looked out of the little windows as he went down. The slide went all the way back down through space, and ended – in James’ bedroom!

When James came out of the bottom of the slide, he landed right in his bed, and his Mommy was there to put the blankets over him and tuck him in. James was so tired from his adventures, and he drifted off to sleep and had beautiful dreams about all of the wonderful things he had seen and done.

The end.

Things That Go Bump In The Night

6 Jan

When our kids were young, all of the experts, books, websites and other parents advised us to establish a consistent bedtime routine.  It took a little bit of time a couple of months four and a half years for us to come up with a routine that works for everyone, and usually bedtimes in my household are fairly uneventful.

Most days the kids will take a bath (I am one of those bad, bad Moms who does not bathe her kids every single day).  On the other days, they take turns in the bathroom to pee, brush their teeth, and wash their hands, faces, and any other parts of them with obvious dirt smears.  They get milk, each boy gets to pick one book for the bedtime stories, and then they are allowed to snuggle on the couch with their Dad for a few minutes.

By the time those few minutes are up, James is very often asleep.  I carry him to his bed – a task that is getting more and more difficult as he gets more and more long and lanky – and if he is still awake I lie down with him for a few minutes and tell him a story about a magic horse I invented that takes James to all kinds of wonderful places.

While this is going on, Gerard is tucking George into his own bed, and when I am done with James, I go in to spend a few minutes with George. He always wants me to stay for longer than I do, but I am always mindful of all of the nightly tasks still waiting to be done. I hug George and give him a few minutes to engage in one of his favourite activities: playing with my abundance of hair. We always have the following dialogue, without fail, every single night (bear in mind as you read this that any dialogue for this mostly non-verbal child is a miracle):

Me: George, who does Mommy love?
George: You love George.
Me: Who does George love?
George: He loves Mommy.
Me: Are you tired?
George: Yes.
Me: Are you ready to go to sleep?
George: Yes.
Me: Goodnight, George.
George: Goodnight, Mommy.

And with that, I give him a kiss, slip out of his room and let him drift off to sleep.  He usually migrates to our bed in the early hours of the morning, and we let him.  One day he’ll grow out of that and we’ll miss these days, so we enjoy it while we can.

Last night, the routine went smoothly enough.  I had my miracle dialogue with George, left his room, and started making sure the boys’ backpacks had what they needed for their respective school days.  All of a sudden, I heard the following from the direction of George’s room:
*Thump* (George flopping himself out of bed and onto the floor)
*Scream* (frustration)
*WHUMP WHUMP* (George banging his head on the wall. Hard enough to dent the drywall)

Oh dear.

I returned to George and calmly made him get back into bed.  As I was trying to settle him, James suddenly appeared by my side crying about how he didn’t feel like being alone.  This was a tricky situation to be in.  Usually, when both boys need me, I simply lie down between them and comfort them at the same time.  But when George is in a state where he is hitting his head off the wall, I need to keep James away from him, otherwise James becomes the target for headbanging.

This was one of those times when I had to send James back to bed crying so I could make sure George was safe.  I always feel truly horrible when I have to do that.  I feel so bad for James.  But sometimes there just isn’t any other choice. It is part of the life and times of special needs parenting.

I got George calmed down – or so I thought – and went in to see James.  I hugged him and comforted him, and told him I loved him.  Sometimes, I said, I have to make sure your brother isn’t getting hurt.  Sometimes I have to make you wait, and that makes you sad, and I am really, really sorry.  But I love you so much and I’ll always take care of you, and I think you are a wonderful boy.

James was content.  He sighed softly and went to sleep.  Just as I was leaving his room, I heard the *thump scream whump whump* from George’s room again.

What, are they trying to tag-team here?  When one stops the other starts?  Can they sense my stress and exhaustion?  Is this that thing that animals do, where they go after the weakest member of the herd?

I am afraid to say that my patience ran out.  I did not go in to George.  I did not hug him or talk to him or try to settle him.  From where I was, I called out angrily, “Get back into bed!  That’s enough!”

There were a couple more screams and one more head-meets-wall incident.  After that, things got quiet and both boys slept through the night in their own beds.  I wasn’t woken at four in the morning by George climbing into bed beside me and wrapping his arms around my neck.  A bittersweet feeling, that.

The logical, rational part of me feels that I did the right thing by not rewarding the second incident of headbanging.

But the Mom in me – the one with a heart full of love for her kids – feels horrible that the last thing my sweet George heard before going to sleep was the sound of my angry voice.

Sometimes, no matter what we do, we feel that we just cannot get it quite right.

Photo credit:  Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License

The boys and the bees

29 Jul

When I got home from work on Tuesday, my younger son James greeted me at the front door with a blue face. It wasn’t that he had used his face as a Magic Marker canvas.  It wasn’t that he’d eaten a cupcake with blue icing, resulting in blue smudges around the mouth.  It was that he’d been on a field trip to the park and had his face painted as Blue, of Blues Clues fame.  It looked really cute, but it can be disconcerting to get home and find your second-born looking like a goofy psychadelic blue dog.

About half an hour later, James got tired of having a blue face, and he asked me to wipe it clean for him. I checked on George, who was running around in the back yard, and then, armed with a wet cloth and a four-year-old, I sat on the couch. I’d gotten about halfway through the clean-up job – meaning that James now looked even weirder than he had to begin with – when I heard a shrill scream coming from outside.

Seconds later, George came tearing into the house and launched himself onto the couch, still screaming.  I was suitably alarmed.  My husband flew out into the back yard to make sure there were no psychopaths lurking there, and I started checking my son for blood and broken bones.  Initially I didn’t see anything wrong, and the only indication of a problem was George’s ear-splitting screaming and frantic hand-flapping.  I tried to ask him what was wrong, but I didn’t really expect an answer out of him. Child with autism, limited verbal skills at the best of times, and in an absolute state – talking was not going to happen.

Suddenly he started scratching his legs frantically, almost manically. He scratched so hard that he actually drew blood.  That’s when I saw the bee stings – two of them, one on each leg. His first bee stings – no wonder the poor child was so upset.  I’ve tried to teach him basic safety, of course, but I’ve focused on things that posed an immediate threat. Crossing the road without looking. Touching a hot stove. Stranger danger. Internet safety. Somehow, the subject of bee stings has never really been a priority.  And so, in his understanding, he was playing outside and suddenly experienced unexplained pain in both legs. Add to that the physical hypersensitivity that is part and parcel of his autism, and we have a picture that is not at all pretty.

I did the same thing I always do when George is freaked out about something.  I opened my arms and wrapped George in the biggest hug I could. My heart twists when either of my kids is in pain, and sometimes a hug is the only thing that will help them. In the case of George, the deep pressure of a hug is physically soothing.  It makes him feel grounded and secure; it helps the panic abate.

Little by little, the screams got softer and then petered out. The crying was gradually replaced with quietness punctuated by an occasional sniffle. George was still trying to scratch his legs, so I didn’t release my hold on him.  A bottle of anti-itch lotion appeared from somewhere. I applied it, which involved a whole new struggle. In the meantime, James, who had initially been a bit put out by the abrupt shift in attention, declared that he was the doctor and he would take care of George. He’s very sweet that way, James is. When George is upset, James always wants an active part in caring for his brother.

Later in the evening, when relative calm had returned to the household, I was moving around the kitchen in a bit of a trance, preparing dinner and lunches for the following day.  I was startled out of my reverie by a loud clatter-bang-bash-shriek coming from the direction of the stairs.  Initially I thought one of the kids had accidentally dropped something down the stairs.  It wouldn’t be the first time: on many occasions, we have discovered that Lego or Thomas the Train characters make a very loud noise when dropped down a set of hardwood stairs.  This time, however, the howls of outrage were my first clue that something was wrong.

It was James. He had tried to bring down the stairs, in one go, Lightning McQueen, Doc Hudson, Mack, Sally, Mater, the Sheriff, Fillmore, and the Dinoco helicopter (anyone with a son under the age of ten will know who these are and what James’ current obsession is).  Because he was carrying so much stuff, he was not able to hold the handrail, and because he was wearing socks, he slipped on the hardwood.

At the end of the day, both of my boys were fine.  George wasn’t allergic to bees and James didn’t have any broken bones.  The only real casualties – apart from the bees that died while stinging George – were my nerves and my blood pressure.