I hear your brother in his room, cooing just loud enough to make his presence known. You’ve long since gone to bed, quickly saying your “I love you’s” and offering your forehead, now at the height of my nose, for a kiss. Tomorrow morning, I’ll wake you for school, and you’ll get out of bed, eat breakfast, and get ready for school with little interference from me. Patrick will either wake up obscenely early, or have to literally be carried out of bed. I’ll help him with every part of his morning routine, while constantly having to refocus him so we can leave on time (which we probably won’t.) I’ll drop you off first, and we will exchange goodbyes before you open the car door. You no longer want me to roll my window down so I can kiss you goodbye, afraid that the other 12 year old boys will see and tease you. You don’t know how desperately I wish these boys could see you as I see you: funny, wickedly smart, compassionate, and artistically talented.
If only these things were what made you popular as a 12 year old boy….I also wish that you could see you as I do. I know that you sometimes feel like you’re invisible, that your parent’s focus is solely your brother. And that is justified. Your brother’s disability makes him much more dependent on us than you are. He needs me in a way you never have.
Whether it’s your experience with an autistic brother, or your inherent strength in character, you are fiercely independent. It is the perfect complement to your brother’s dependence, but I do take advantage of it. I’m sure that can be lonely. But I want you to know that I do see you.
You made me a mom. You changed who I am, made me more patient and tolerant. You made me realize my capacity for love. When you were born, you were several weeks early and badly jaundiced. For the first several days, we were only allowed to be with you for 20 minutes every 3 hours so you could spend time under the bilirubin lights. During those 20 minutes, I would feed you and smell your sweet baby smells. When they would come to take you away, I cried. I couldn’t bear the thought of not being able to hold you. That feeling still exists to this day. You snuck off to bed several times last week, so I didn’t get a chance to say good night. I realized it after you had fallen asleep, but I still crept into your room, kissed you on your forehead, and smelled in your shampoo. You probably have no idea it happened, but I needed one more glance at your face before I could finish my own day.
Your father and I cut our parenting teeth on you, testing theories and making mistakes. You’ve weathered our parenting storms and thrived in spite of them. I’ve had the pleasure of watching you become the young man you are today. I watched you stumble around on rolly polly legs, watched as your mouth struggled to form your first words, listened as that same mouth picked words out from your first books. I’ve been the audience to your discovery of your talent for entertainment. I’ve swelled with pride as I’ve watched you perform and create.
More importantly, I’ve watched you lead with your heart. You are a caretaker who forgives easily. I worry about how vulnerable that will leave you, but I need you to retain those qualities. Some day, your parents are going to pass away, and you’ll probably be asked if your brother can live with you. It’s a huge responsibility, and I wish it wasn’t a decision you would have to make, but I trust that you will continue to look out for Patrick, just the way you do now. He annoys you, just as every younger sibling should, but you were the one who created a congratulatory card for him when he used the toilet for the first time and cheered loudly when he said your name for the first time.
Patrick is lucky to have you for a brother, I’m lucky to have you as my son, and the world is a better place with you in it. I imagine you will be embarrassed by all this adulation, but I get so focused on your brothers needs that I don’t express my pride for who you are enough. The fact that you don’t ever complain about that is just another reason why I should. I love you, and no matter how big you get, you will always be my sweet little boy……