I love my kids equally. You’ve probably heard that said before and, for a lot of people, it’s mostly true. They have multiple kids and they divvy up their love into equal portions to serve daily. Equal kids. Equal love.
People, however, sometimes lie and I’ve had other parents tell me in a hushed whisper, “I really favor Madison over Trevor, but don’t tell them that.” They think it’s an open secret and we all can relate a little bit. In all fairness, Trevor is a little dipstick.
Total honesty, though, I mean it when I say it, but given my situation, it’s a bit like cheating. I love both my kids equally and my reasoning is sound. It’s because the relationships I have with both are incredibly special, but differ wildly in ways that those without a non-verbal child with autism might not realize.
These two are completely alike and totally different. I’ve written about their similarities and how, all on their own, they’ve both adopted strange personality traits that must have seeped in at birth. They both have been spotted watching TV, as babies, laying bizarrely flat on the floor. They both had weird toddler obsessions with putting their hands behind their heads in a comic-book lounging position. They both have identical expressions of annoyance that transcends any words, spoken or otherwise.
I write about those similarities because they are important for others to remember. Those outside our home don’t see Lucas every day and most only see him in jarring spurts, at times. His screams of joy or loud claps startle those who aren’t ready for it. We even had a relative nearly fall off her couch and then ask him to use his “inside voice” at a Thanksgiving. I always figured if he was ever going to spontaneously start speech, that would have been the moment to look up and go, “Cram it with walnuts, lady.”
It’s a struggle to put the unexplainable into words, but that’s the whole point of writing these. The uniquely indescribable way that each of my children is important to me that usually evokes the old expression, “it needs no words.” Oh well. Here are some words.
Olivia, my twelve-year-old daughter, is my most trusted and longest pal. I have seen this crazy kid nearly every single day since she was born and we spent days upon days together, especially in the beginning. Her first favorite shows, songs, and activities were mine. I introduced her to Perfect Strangers reruns and William Shatner spoken word. I taught her to make vegetable crudité dishes that look like Yo Gabba Gabba characters. I’m the reason she would get strapped into her car seat and ask me to play the Killers song “where they talk about Cinderella.” She was more than just my person. She was a part of me.
Today, she still is. We have spent a ton of time together these past few days, designing her room and moving things in. There’s been shopping and gossip and dinners out and it’s all been fantastic. As a dad to a soon-to-be teen, I am taking in as much time as I can with her. I could be on the verge of exhaustion and still run out to Homegoods with this kid so she can find a hanging plant or whatever her latest design expedition calls for. I know this is true because it happens regularly. It happened tonight.
Spending time with Liv makes me smile and, afterwards, when she runs to tell everyone about our time together, I smile again. She texts her friends and informs the world. We had fun today. It’s on the news and it makes me happy. I know I did good because she thanks me and tells me I did. She tells others I did. So, I know I did. I did good.
Lucas, my nine-year-old, doesn’t have the words that his sister does, but he and I have a parallel tale of friendship since he debuted nearly a decade ago. We spent those same kind of days watching TV and hanging out together. Eventually, though, his shows became my shows. I was watching Raffi on repeat and learning the words to Laurie Berkner songs. Everything he loved, I loved, because he loved them. I still do.
This week, I took Lucas to my new house. He walked from floor to floor, looking at rooms and examining his surroundings. Almost immediately, he found his own soon-to-be room before eventually settling down on the air mattress in mine with his iPad. He was right at home within minutes and became the first person to have a meal in our new home – trademark French Toaster sticks and orange juice.
Do you know who he excitedly told afterwards? No one. Not one soul. With Lucas, our time together is ours. We have an entire relationship built on him and me. No one needs to be there. No one needs to sign off on our time together except for us. The way I get vindication that I’m doing a good job by him isn’t from his words or his texts. It’s in other ways.
One way is what happened yesterday. I came back from putting a second (and soon to be third) coat of paint on Olivia’s room. Lucas was seated at the table in the den going over his after-school lessons with his in-home therapists when I returned to the house I was moving my things from. I leaned my head around the corner, through the dip in the staircase, and gave him our customary Pac-Man mouth chomping wave. Imagine a puppeteer’s hand without a puppet. That’s how we say hi.
He shuffled his way out of the nook seat, past his teachers, and started walking over to me at a pretty steady pace. Usually, when he comes up to you with such fervor, it’s because he is going to request food or the iPad. I partially expected one or the other. Instead, he leaned in, tapped my shoulder, and mouthed the word “hiiii” as he sometimes does. I kissed him on the head and did a high pitched and emotional, “Hey, buddy.”
As a dad, I melted. He doesn’t do this for everyone. Actually, he doesn’t really do it much for anyone. This was his “good job, Dad” moment. This was his way of telling me he appreciates all we do together. All that time is just for him and me. What comes from it is a bond that I can’t really describe because, even after all these words, it needs no words.
My kids are very different and my times with them are equally different, just as my love for them is equally strong. I can’t compare the two because, whether my son or daughter, I’ve never had a relationship as special as the unique ones I have with each of them.