main characters & supporting roles
January 29, 2013 § 5 Comments
My daughter has been home, under the weather, our normal school day routines replaced with restful inactivity. Yesterday the hours passed quietly as she slept through most of the day. Today her eyes alert and body sleepy I picked up a book title we had recently begun eager to fill the hours of the day and curious to follow our story to its end.
We met our main character, the story’s narrator and a big sister to a little brother with Autism, in the quiet darkness of bedtime. That first evening my daughter’s face registered surprise and comprehension.
Mom, her brother is like mine.
Her words were not accusatory but rather a statement of self. Through the wall of her room came my son’s voice volleying an equally firm statement:
He is nothing like me.
Main characters in their own shared story I was determined to meet my children in the middle, supporting each of them with a neutral acknowledgment that similarities allow for differences. Both children accepted this fortune cookie truth with a sense of validation.
The second night that we read from the book, my son was quiet. There were no arguments or defensive proclamations of self to distinguish himself from the young man in our story. I wondered at his silence, but resisted an urge to draw out his thoughts and emotions. Instead I let the story unfold between the wall that divided my children hoping that each child might hear one another’s voice in a shared story.
Today I allowed the quiet of our empty home to give my daughter room to speak between the lines of the main character’s story. In recent years the weight of looking after her big brother has created an awareness of imbalance between my children. On the most difficult days her needs are sometimes misplaced in the chaos of her brother’s behavior. Curled away in her art she waits for us to complete a teaching moment with her brother, a lesson that all too often she, his junior, has mastered.
This story seemed to create an exaggerated sense of normalcy for experiences that sometimes leave our daughter sensitive to the differences between her story and her friends’ experiences. Despite an unconditional love that binds each of us as family, there exists an unspoken subtext of secret wishes for simpler moments uncomplicated by needs outside our control. Even in the silence I could hear my daughter’s wish that her brother might out grow pieces of himself.
Today, without her brother listening in the dark from the other side of her bedroom wall, it was safe for my daughter to share words like embarrassed and angry without letting go of the word love. For just a moment, art imitated life, and we acknowledging our own stories as main characters with supporting roles.