It’s a bumpy ride parenting a young teen.
Not everything I see and hear from my 13-year-old makes me proud, but that’s the case with most parents. There’s some days I remind myself how much I love him even when I don’t like him a ton for his words and actions.
There is a lot to worry about with teens. In my son’s case a seemingly never-ending bout of forgetfulness and misplaced priorities ranks high on the list. It never ceases to amaze me what slips through the cracks with the kid on a daily basis. One day he will write every single homework assignment down in his agenda. The next day he will not even take it out of his binder, saying he forgot. One day he crushes a test and the next he struggles. I know we are all day-to-day beings, but the drastic extremes are shocking.
Throughout all his chronic absentmindedness and mistakes in judgement, I find comfort knowing what’s in his heart. While his empathetic side may not always be present to others, his mom and I see it each and every day when it comes to his special needs little brother. He is his best when he’s with Carson. He’s protective, patient, nurturing, attentive and understanding when it comes to Carson. It’s interesting to observe because patience and attentiveness are specific areas of struggle for Beckett in life.
I think anyone who has a special needs person in their life is better off for it. Carson turns 12 years old next month. I can’t imagine life without him. He has changed everything. I am a better person for being Carson’s father. Beckett is a better person for being his brother and Pam would say the same thing as his mother. Carson’s biggest gift to all of us is perspective. None of our individual life’s challenges compare to the journey he must navigate as a child with a complicated genetic disorder, Autism, horrific social anxiety and severe Apraxia. The last two essentially team to make him non-verbal.
Despite all his little brother’s struggles, Beckett says often how lucky we are Carson is so “high functioning.” When Beckett recently observed another special needs child having a disturbingly violent meltdown at an event we were attending, he talked at length about how far Carson has come in his life. I just listened to his take in admiration. I commented how his mom and I pray he will be able to speak one day. He said he was confident he would after observing how far he has come in his life and how much he has changed. He had no doubt in his mind. Though strange to say as a 45-year-old father about his 13-year-old son, I drew strength from his confidence.
I also find comfort in the relationship he has with Carson. It’s not a normal sibling relationship. They don’t walk to the ice cream store together. They don’t skateboard around or even play basketball together. Beckett is great with him but there are limits to what kind of supervision requirements we want to put on him. Carson can be prone to unexpected actions and Beckett doesn’t need the pressure that comes with keeping him safe.
Nonetheless, I am so thankful for Beckett’s way with Carson. It’s best told through another example.
The mornings with Carson are structured around time. He gets up at 6 each morning. He has a certain time to eat, brush his teeth, get dressed and be in the truck on the way to school. He is best on a routine, and I am keeper of the morning schedule because I, too, like structure.
One day recently we arrived at school with Carson forgetting his favorite stuffed animals. Throughout this school year, he has been taking a stuffed animal to school for security reasons presumably. It helps with school anxiety. We just let it go. Of late he has now been taking two of his little friends to school with him. Once a week we seem to leave these friends behind, but we don’t realize until we get to school. Knowing this will set him off, we return home.
When we got home, Carson raced into the house looking for his stuffed animals. Beckett, whose school day starts later than Carson’s, jumped up from eating his breakfast and said, “slow down Carson, what’s up? What’s wrong Dad?” I told him. He then retrieved the stuffed animals he was looking for from the bathroom, giving them to Carson with a pat on the shoulder. It was if he said, “it’s all good now, okay.” When Carson didn’t say thank you or hug him back, I made him turn around. All I had to say was “hey,” and he took back off for Beckett, picking him up and dropping him back down awkwardly. They both laughed, and we were on our way.
Though he doesn’t show it, I know Beckett has resentment toward his brother. He talks about it every now and again. It’s understandable. He must harbor some regret because his disabilities affect his life, no matter how dedicated we are to ensuring his upbringing is as typical as possible.
There are many poignant comments about being a special needs sibling. If he would allow it – which he never would – I would have a particular one framed and hung on his bedroom wall.
On the topics of siblings of special needs individuals, actress Sally Phillips, who has a son with Down’s Syndrome, said, “The siblings of special needs children are quite special. Absolutely accepting and totally loving, from birth, someone who is different mentally, and has a different way of seeing the world, is a wonderful trait. It’s a trait I wish there was another way of getting, but there isn’t. And it does involve a degree of not having it fantastically easy.”