Last Tuesday Joe had a dinner commitment after work, so I was on my own at bedtime. Bedtime in our house can be fairly chaotic, and it’s even harder when one of us has to do it solo. In between teeth-brushing and story-reading and kiss-giving, there’s always the inevitable I need to tell you something important that happened today and I forgot I have to bring six yellow Goldfish crackers in a plastic baggie for a school project tomorrow. Someone always wants one last drink and one last snuggle.
The four boys share a bedroom with two sets of bunk beds, affectionately referred to as the “orphanage”, and Rose is on her own in a green-and-pink bedecked room. (And although she has lots of space and the freedom to decorate as she pleases, she greatly covets the boys’ set-up and begs to sleep in there with them. Sometimes we find her on their floor in the morning.)
I had just tucked my little flower into bed underneath her monkey quilt, and was headed in to settle the boys and turn out their light. As I made my way down the hallway I overheard this conversation between eight-year old Jack and six-year old Charlie.
Charlie: I’m scared of the Halloween obstacle course in the gym.
Jack: I did it. Today. It’s not scary. I have gym on Tuesdays.
Charlie: It’s too dark, they shut the lights out.
Jack: I had gym today. Every Tuesday I have gym. It wasn’t too dark.
Charlie: I’m not doing it.
Jack. You can. I will go. I will help you.
Charlie: I don’t think I can.
Jack: I will be there.
I leaned against the door jamb as I listened to my two boys exchange these words, and I thought about how Joe and I didn’t know if Jack would ever speak in sentences, ever have a full conversation or a meaningful discussion. Hearing him reassure his brother about the dark, his determination to help Charlie enjoy an obstacle course, made me realize just how far our blue-eyed boy has traveled on his autistic path.
And I thought about how once again, Jack reminded me how beautiful autism can be, how pure and innocent and genuine his lens to the world is. How somehow he clears away the clutter of life and understands the things that really matter. He doesn’t care about things like schedules and class routines and we don’t have gym at the same time. Instead, he cares about things like family and courage and loyalty. He cares deeply about being a brother.
I will help you.
At breakfast the next morning, while the two boys sat at the counter with bowls full of cereal, I tentatively asked Charlie if he would like Jack to help him in gym the following day. “Yes!” he cried enthusiastically.
I will go.
After they left for school I e-mailed two teachers and one case manager to see if we could somehow have Jack pop into the gym during Charlie’s class, explaining how important it was to both of them. And these three women coordinated schedules and made adjustments so that for thirty minutes in the cavernous school gym, a boy with autism could have a chance to be the leader, a chance to teach his younger brown-eyed brother how to play in the dark.
When they got off the bus I asked Charlie how it went during gym, and he said, “There was only one problem.” I asked him what that problem was, a nervous pit in my stomach. Did Jack get upset and throw a tantrum? Did he change his mind at the last minute and refuse to participate?
“We didn’t get to go through as many times as I wanted!” he chortled, grinning a wide grin. “It was so fun!” Charlie held my hand as we walked slowly up our long driveway, chatting animatedly about how he and his brother jumped and crawled and ran together, while Jack hovered near us with a small smile playing on his lips.
I will be there.
And he was.