“You’re only as happy as your unhappiest child”… this is an expression every mother has heard and likely uttered. I have said it more times than I care to count. Little did I know that I wasn’t always right about which of my beautiful boys was my unhappiest.
For a long time our house moved to the rhythm of my oldest son Sebastian. Special Needs don’t announce themselves all at once. In my experience ADHD, Anxiety and OCD showed themselves over time. I felt like I was playing whack-a-mole. As soon as I had a handle on Sebastian’s ADHD, Anxiety popped up. I worked on the Anxiety and OCD reared its ugly head. I worked with Sebastian, his therapists and his psychiatrist to tackle these challenges. It was a full time job. It took all my energy. It felt like it took all the oxygen in our family and one little boy paid the price dearly; Fritz, Sebastian’s little brother.
I got pregnant on my six week checkup. I became a card carrying member of the “Green Light Club’. On the day I got the post emergency c-section ‘all clear” from my doctor I got pregnant. Motherlucker tale to be sure. A week later I was overjoyed and a bit overwhelmed that baby #2 was on the way. Fritz’s due date was April 3rd, Sebastian’s birthday. Wanting to spare him a lifetime of explaining birthday math, my doctor delivered Fritz on April 4th, giving him a birthday all his own. Thank goodness for her wisdom.
The myriad ways in which Fritz was rushed along are Motherlucker tales for another time. For now, let me say my little boy rose to every challenge we forced upon him. He developed beautifully, hitting every milestone early and with flying colors. He is, as special needs parents would say, completely Neurotypical. NT for short. Here’s the problem. NT seemed easy. NT seemed predictable. Nt meant Fritz didn’t require more of me. Or so I thought…
The heartbreaking part of Fritz being the neurotypical sibling is that I acted as if not having special needs meant Fritz had no needs. My sweet, quiet, wildly creative boy required my careful attention. He didn’t get it. I should have noticed that his ability to play alone for hours was an invitation- an obligation– for me to get involved. Rather than relishing the time it gave me I ought to have been on the floor LEGO-ing with him. My son not demanding anything of me was not license for me to to give him less. But I did. Fritzie, my delicious boy, I am so, so sorry. If I could go back in time I would. For me, part of being a mother is the constant, sometimes soul crushing realization that I am learning as I go and my sons pay the biggest price for my growing pains.
Fritz has been witness to Sebastian’s rages. He has listened to Sebastian perseverating- repeating the same phrases over and over. He has seen Sebastian lash out at me physically. Fritz has been ushered out of his home because I couldn’t control Sebastian. He has been stared at by strangers because he is Sebastian’s brother. I have been to countless hours of therapy to learn how to mother Sebastian. How to manage Sebastian. If you are asking “What about Fritz?” you are exactly right.
My dear Fritz has shouldered so much. Not the least of which are the years I was so consumed with Sebastian’s health that I all but ignored Fritz. As the years have gone by I have made overt, diligent efforts to spend more time with my youngest boy. I have welcomed his anger at me as any expression of emotion is cathartic and important for him. I have told him it isn’t easy to have a brother like Sebastian and it’s ok if to feel frustrated, angry and disappointed. I also remind Fritz that having a brother who will talk to anyone- Bono, Henrik Lundqvist, the cast of Chopped has huge benefits. I spend countless hours driving him to hockey practice, to games, to the best goalie equipment store nearly two hours away. We listen to music with inappropriate lyrics because what we listen to in the Toyota Land Cruiser stays in the Toyota Land Cruiser. I have tried therapy at different intervals for Fritz to no avail. I’m happy to say that now he is doing extraordinarily well and working with a psychologist he adores.
Recently, Fritz and I spent an afternoon at a friend’s home. We all bundled up after lunch and went for a bike ride. The late autumn afternoon was crisp and beautiful. We went inside smiling and rosy-cheeked and my friend Emily made hot chocolate for everyone. She is an incredible mother- mindful, patient, present. As Fritz and I were driving home I said as much to him. He looked at me and replied “Yup. Emily is wonderful, Mom. And know what? So are you.” My first reaction? Doubt. Unspoken, heavy-hearted doubt. My second reaction? Gratitude. I thanked him and silently recommitted myself to mothering to the needs of my remarkable neurotypical (but not at ALL typical) boy.