“He may be a jerk, but he’s MY jerk…” – Aristotle
I’ll never forget the day Footloose met Roundbottom.
It was the day after the little rotund one had made his big debut on this unsuspecting little blue marble we call Earth. As it turns out, the second delivery was a lot easier than the first, as the little cannonball shot right out with nary an issue (keep in mind, this is from my perspective. I suspect his mother would have something to say about the actual ease with which she pushed the little bowling ball out of her mommy parts). We had decided it would be best to take a day to recover before bringing in the firstborn to meet the newborn. He had been staying with Granny Awesome during all the excitement, and apparently been having a grand-ole time being completely oblivious as to how his whole world was about to be rocked.
Keep in mind that the young master was still 3 months shy of his 2nd cumpleanos at the time, so he was still a bit young to understand what was going on. We were a little ways off from the autism diagnosis, so we figured his nonchalance when we tried to explain to him what was going to happen was due to the fact that he was still a baby himself. That very well may have been the case. Whatever the reason, he didn’t seem to pay much more attention to the fact that Mommy’s stomach had a tendency to kick him when they were snuggling than to hit the stomach back with an indignant slap.
So, his grandparents brought him in to the hospital, where Mama Angel and I anxiously awaited. This was the big moment, the life-defining meeting that would forever set the dynamic of our family. He walked in, and I kneeled down with his new brother to give him the opportunity for a proper review. He took a look at him, took a look at me, and then promptly climbed up into the closest chair and began ignoring us in favor of whatever it was that just happened to be playing on the television.
That was pretty much the way of things even after we brought Roundbottom home. We would attempt to create some bonding moments, enticing Footloose to come sit on the couch to help hold his brother, play with him on the floor, or anything else short of actually dropping the infant on top of him (which I admit, I did at one point). Nothing. He would just kind of look at the little drool fountain for a moment and then push him aside so he could get back to his very important business of cray-cray dancing or watching Elmo. I wouldn’t say it was contempt. More like passive indifference.
This of course, didn’t impact Roundbottom’s fascination with his brother one bit. As he became more ambulatory, he embarked upon a quest to insert himself into Footloose’s world by any means necessary. If Footloose was on the floor, Roundbottom was crawling right up to him. Of course, he got a little frustrated with the fact that whenever he got within arm’s length, his brother would suddenly relocate himself to the other side of the room. Crawling is an exhausting business, and the look of mild frustration on the little guy’s face was something to behold. Still, he would just bow his head, rotate himself, and follow his much faster brother undaunted. He would not be denied.
Roundbottom thought he had a major breakthrough when he finally conquered the delicate art of walking. There could be no escape, now. Wherever his brother would run, he would be right behind. Not only that, but he also started employing a new tactic to draw his brother’s attention: thievery. It’s well known throughout the land that you don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit in the wind, you never take the old mask off the Lone Ranger, and you DO NOT make off with one of Footloose’s “fidgets”. It doesn’t matter if he hasn’t looked at or touched the Peanuts figurine in hours, if it’s in his orbit it’s still in play. You do not touch it. Well, Roundbottom didn’t get the memo. He was a man on a mission, and any risk appeared worthwhile.
This is where the passive indifference became violent retribution.
Anyone who has multiple children knows the cycle. First comes the theft, then comes the chase, which leads to the confrontation, the smack, and finally, both children reduced to tears and screams, neither understanding what they could have possible done to deserve such treatment. Tale as old as time. My father did it to his brothers, I did it to mine, and now Roundbottom was doing it to his. There was just one little snag that made reconciliation and bonding a bit more difficult.
Footloose’s being autistic.
After we got the diagnosis, we figured that might be a big part of the reason why he always seemed to be off in his own little world (aside from the fact that he was a two year-old. Two year-olds as a rule tend to be fairly self-focused). A textbook characteristic of autism is that the autistic child sometimes has difficulty forming bonds with others. That appeared to be the case here, which surprised me a bit. Footloose is actually capable of great affection, especially with pretty ladies or anyone large enough to swing him around and rassle with him like a rag doll. The boy also enjoys a good tickle.
The problem was that he liked (and still does to this day) playing rough, and he couldn’t seem to grasp why he couldn’t put the little nuisance in a scissor-leg head lock like he did with Daddy or Uncle Studly. This was how men bonded, as far as he was concerned. So the few times he actually deigned to pay any attention to his brother and engage in some wholesome brotherly combat, he would be perplexed as to why there would be so much screaming, both from Roundbottom and the big people. He appeared to decide that if that were to be the case, it would be best just to go about his own business.
Such is the case with brothers. Until the younger one starts to show the same interests or skills and can keep up, he’s more a nuisance than anything else. For me, though it was a bit more worrisome than that. You see, I NEEDED them to bond. Not just to maintain the peace and my increasingly fragile grasp on sanity, but also to put me at ease for another reason entirely.
The uncomfortable truth of the matter is that we have no idea what’s going to happen with Footloose in the future. He’s still young. There’s every possibility that with therapy and support he’ll be able to develop skills that will allow him to function at a high enough level to care for himself and live an independent life. There’s an equal chance that he might not. Mama Angel and I aren’t going to be around forever. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t worry about who will be there for him once we’re gone. That’s where (I hope) Roundbottom will come in.
I’ll be the first to admit that it is extremely unfair to even consider one day putting the responsibility of caring for his older brother on my youngest son. Roundbottom will have his own life to live, his own dreams to pursue. It’s not fair to ask him to take on the role of “parent” for his brother, to potentially rearrange everything in his life to take care of him. I don’t plan on ever asking him to do so. That’s why I was so obsessed with them bonding. When the time comes, I hope that he’ll WANT to look after his brother not out of some sense of familial duty or obligation, but out of love. On the flip side, I hope Footloose will bond with his brother in such a way that he’ll always feel safe with him, and in his own way show him that kind of love and devotion in return.
I know it’s completely ridiculous to be worrying about this with a four year-old and a three year-old, but there you have it. Unfortunately, things weren’t heading in that direction. Nothing could seem to bring them together.
That is, until they found a common enemy.
It was at Roundbottom’s one-year check up. Things were going well. We had a perfectly healthy, happy little brute whose size was in the 99th percentile (we call it “healthy”). All was great, right up until the moment every child dreads: the shots. Let’s just say, it didn’t go well. As the needle penetrated his chubby little backside, Roundbottom experienced a level of pain that no mortal could possibly endure. He let out a wail, crying for salvation in whatever form it might present itself.
Turns out, in came of the form of a curly-haired tornado.
Footloose immediately leapt into action, releasing a war cry that would shake the gates of Valhalla. He went straight for the nurse’s leg, attempting to bring the poor woman down by attacking her foundation. He pressed his attack, refusing to cease even when his mother pulled him away from the incredibly patient nurse. The nurse then left the room to give everyone a moment to calm down, a moment in which Footloose wiped the foam from his chin, walked over to his brother, and started patting his still whimpering little bro on the head. “Awww” he said, soothing the little one and assuring him that all would be well, as his big brother would allow no further harm to come upon him. A nuisance Roundbottom may be, but he was HIS nuisance.
It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. As time has passed, Roundbottom has gotten the opportunity to return his brother’s love, like yesterday when we had to take Footloose in to the doctor’s due to an ear infection. He was terrified, completely unable to calm down or stop his tears (he didn’t care what we said. He KNOWS the terrible things that happen in that horrid place). Roundbottom stood right by him, telling him, “you good, you good” and rubbing his brother’s hand. Doing so seemed to calm Footloose down at least a little, which was far more than his mother and I had been able to. I guess you could take this lesson as “if you want the kids to love each other, scare the hell out of them by locking them in the room with a doctor”.
But I digress.
The real moral of the story is two-fold. First, love is often expressed in the most unlikely of places during the most unpleasant of times. It shows up in its own time. It can’t be forced. That’s why it’s love, because it comes out when you need it the most. The other would be that no matter how much you might grate on each other’s nerves, your bro always has your back when the chips are down. It may be back to business as usual five minutes later, but in that moment, your bro will be there when you need him. That’s a bond that can’t be touched.
Now if the little nuisance would just understand that Big Bro’s stuff also can’t be touched…….