Ronan’s younger brother has been home on his college break since mid-December. It’s been a big blessing to have him home. Besides having our family feeling a little more complete, with some hiccups in my caregivers’ schedules, Willem could quickly jump in and provide care to Ronan while I went to work. I didn’t like having to task my younger son to watch my older son on those days, but Willem would tell me it was okay. He hadn’t made too many plans over the break, so he had the time.
I appreciated his honesty and also his availability.
Each of my children have a unique relationship with Ronan. The girls are loving, kind, and will do anything for him. Willem is also loving, kind and will do anything for him. But Willem does other things, more brotherly things that you might see all sorts of other brothers doing. He likes to egg Ronan on to do rough and tumble playing. He gets Ronan up more to dance with him and to play fight with him. He pushes Ronan higher in the swing than I would, and he pushes Ronan faster in the adaptive stroller, too. With his delays, Ronan doesn’t always respond to the people he’s with, even to the fun stuff. But that doesn’t stop the little brother from wanting to be with the older, developmentally delayed, silent brother. Sometimes, the lack of an immediate response makes Willem want to do more – to encourage Ronan, to interact with him, and to do things others easily would’ve given up on. With Willem in college now, I have loved the extra time the brothers have had together this past month.
The only time Willem shared a tiny hint of disappointment while he was home was when I came back from work and found out that Ronan had been a rotten pickle to his little brother. “Mom, I tried to feed him his lunch and he wouldn’t take a bite. I tried to take him to the bathroom, but he signed no, no, no. I knew he needed to go, so I approached him a different way. I got him to come with me to the bathroom, and as soon as he sat on the toilet, of course he peed.” I could hear some frustration in his voice, and I felt terrible that I’d tasked him with this personal care. My kids can handle the type of care their brother requires, but they, like us, need a break from some of it. I told him, “I’m sorry your brother was being a pill. Please plan something with your friends who are also home on break. I want you to enjoy the last few days before you head back to school.” Willem told me he was fine, that he knew Ronan didn’t mean to be difficult. But I still wanted him to get out of the house and to enjoy the company of friends.
So, he did.
I reworked my schedule so that Willem could meet up with some local friends who were also home. The two weeks before he was to go back to school, he spent fun time out with grade school friends. He planned meet ups with high school friends a few times, too. Keeping in contact with his new, wonderful college friends over the entire break had kept my kiddo smiling. He’d be jetting off to be with them again soon, so I began to keep my requests for help at a minimum.
A few nights before Willem was scheduled to leave, we debated which movie to watch. I offered a few titles, and my husband shared a few more. Movies are a big deal in our house. Not just to view, but to produce – so we really like to watch a variety of them with Willem. That night, we settled on one that I’d never seen. I can’t remember now why I opted to skip it when my friends saw it in the theatre in the early 1990s, but I had no real desire to see it back then.
Crying through parts of it, I wished I had.
I saw an incredible sibling perspective, similar to what I know that my children have experienced. I’ll never experience that myself, but watching Willem watch this movie had me respecting the siblings more than ever.
Our house will be a little bit quieter tomorrow when my younger son is back on campus. He’s thriving, he has really great friends, and he’s very happy to be studying there. I’ll miss him and the joy he shares when he’s here at home. I know that Ronan will miss him also. One day last week while I was at work, Willem watched Ronan one more time for me before heading out to see some friends. It was only for an hour or so before one of our caregivers came over to help. Not realizing yet what was going on, Ronan looked at his little brother and then looked at the caregiver. Seeing Willem with his jacket on and with his keys in his hand, Ronan looked at him and signed, no no no. I feel the same, Rone. No, no, no, I don’t want Willem to leave just yet. But I couldn’t be more excited for him as he heads back to school for the spring semester.
Good luck, bub, we can’t wait to visit you in a few weeks! With Ronan. And your sisters. Ronan will look forward to seeing you and getting some French fries and fist bumps.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.
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