There comes a point when Kyrie is starting to feel better, that I must put her down and let her walk like a big girl. It’s hard, because I enjoy the extra cuddles from my independent toddler while she is sick. But it’s important for me to see what is a weak baby who is still sick, and what is an emo toddler taking advantage of those same extra cuddles and just being clingy. It’s critical, in her case, to know the difference between when she needs help and when she just appreciates the comfort.
I experienced the same thing with Alex this morning. He’s being bullied at the new school, and it breaks my heart for him. Mostly he is handling it very well:
I didn’t get too scared when they were mean to me, mom.
I was really brave when they shoved me in that locker, mom.
I told the teacher when he kicked me in the leg, mom.
But I am angry at the little punk who is messing with my boy.
Except my boy isn’t a preschooler anymore. He’s a second grader.
And second-graders are old enough to be learning to handle their own social situations.
So while I am not normally a hovering kind of mom at drop off in the mornings, I hid around the corner to watch this morning. I wanted to see how Alex – my autistic son, my first son, handled himself as he faced another day in the second grade. I let out all three second graders after our traditional morning round of I Think the World is Glorious and a prayer and kisses and hugs for everyone.
Because second grade isn’t too old for morning kisses and hugs, not yet.
By the end of the year, but not yet.
But then instead of rushing off to work as they rushed off to eat breakfast in their classrooms, I pulled up just enough to keep them in routine but not so far I couldn’t see the crowd waiting at the school door.
Kirk and Mary, who are on good terms after resolving a conflict last weekend that involved an unfortunate encounter between a scooter and the swing set, immediately began a game of tag, running in and out of the pillars on the school porch as comfortable as they are in our backyard.
Alex hung back, turned to wave at me once more, and then walked as far as the end of the sidewalk.
Usually he would be first, always the competitive one, knocking others down unawares as he rushed to be first to the door. Seeing him move slowly made me sad, but I was glad he was being cautious.
It’s a big deal in the world of autism to learn to be cautious.
I thought at first that he was afraid, and I ached to run out and scoop him up and just carry him to the front door like a preschooler. I wanted to guard him from the bad guys like we used to on court dates. I wanted to scare the little punk who was being mean to my son.
Except me being mean to other people’s little kids isn’t actually going to teach anyone anything.
Being one more aggressive adult in that little bully’s life is not going to teach him to be kind.
And rescuing Alex is not going to teach him how to handle difficult social situations.
That’s why I just sat and watched.
I watched him identify the bully, and take the long way around him.
I watched him wait alone at the corner as he considered what to do next.
I watched Mary and Kirk run back to him to get him to play tag, and watched Alex say something to them and then point to the bully.
I watched my deaf daughter Mary run back toward the car, signing to me that the bad boy who is mean and kicked Alex just screamed the F word!
Then she signed it, the sign for that F word.
Since when do my kids even know there is an F word? And when did she learn to sign it?
Ignore the bully, I say.
Stay together if you don’t feel safe, I say, and tell a grownup if you get hurt.
Mary nods at me, thinking herself very grownup in this consult, and definitely being the matriarch of the second graders.
I will focus on myself, she signs, unless Alex needs help.
I tell her not to help Alex unless he asks for it, or unless he is in danger.
I get the “Okay, mom” because she knows so much already.
I watch her scamper off and boss Kirk and Alex around as much as I did my little brother when I was young.
Focus on yourself, Alex.
You focus on your self, Mary.
Kirk, ever the peacemaker, starts up the game of tag again. Alex stays on the corner opposite the bully, not closing the space between them but also not being able to get closer to the front door of the school. I start to get out of the car, but hesitate just as a group of older children climb off the bus and run towards Alex. He gives them high fives, points to the bully, and they yell something at them. Kirk and Mary stop and watch, then join the group surrounding Alex.
That’s when I see it: the older kids circle around Alex and walk him to the door.
The bully postures, and yells something, but doesn’t approach the group.
The older kids, maybe fourth graders, escort Alex all the way to the door, and then stand between him and the bully.
Thank you, I whisper. I pray my gratitude to God for these kids, and for their parents who raised such tender souls who are brave enough to stand up for my son. I am so grateful for them.
One of them tries fingerspelling her name to Mary, and Mary helps her.
One of them gets Kirk giving high fives with his left (weaker) hand.
Alex entertains the rest of them with a funny dance, and I can see that he is singing some song that he probably only heard once but knows all the words to by heart already.
Because that’s autism.
A teacher comes out to pass out crossing guard flags to the older kids, and some of them head out to their stations. The bully comes around the others while Alex has some distracted, and postures at Kirk. Alex immediately stops his dance and pushes his way past the other kids to stand in front of Kirk, to stand against the bully.
That’s when I realize what is happening.
The bully isn’t after Alex and his autism. The bully is after Kirk and his cerebral palsy.
Alex isn’t the victim.
Alex is the defender of Kirk.
Alex, who would love nothing more than a game of tag, has sacrificed his play time to stand guard and keep Kirk safe, and Mary is using the game of tag to keep Kirk distracted and happy.
They are taking care of each other.
They are loving each other.
They are… siblings.
Siblings. Attached siblings. Siblings with healthy attachment. Siblings for realz.
Siblings sealed for time and all eternity.
They’ve got this. They don’t need me anymore. They have worked it out just fine, and are handling things like second graders.
Like my little twin preschoolers, who don’t need me to tell them how to spell their names anymore.
Like my little toddler, who ignored her ng tube today and tried to drink some milk and eat a piece of bread. Almost. Enough to pass a swallow study without getting admitted to the hospital.
That’s quite the day, when all your babies are growing up so much so fast. Together.