Last week my boys and I had a rare visit from their Uncle Erik (my brother), who is usually either on tour or recording somebody in his studio, so he doesn’t get to make as many visits home as he’d like.
Although the boys talk on the phone to him (or in Justin’s case, listen), I’m always concerned that since they see him about once a year, they might not really remember him, or feel he merits their attention.
After last week, I’ll remove that worry from my list of perennial concerns for good.
My brother was gracious enough to come see Zach perform in karate class, in which he excelled so much with his punches and jabs I thought he’d send one of the instructors to the hospital. Zach kept looking through the window to make sure we were still there (we were), and absolutely ate up the fact that his uncle was watching him feint and par.
After putting him through several rigorous rounds of Star Wars fighting at home (guess who was Luke, and guess who won) we finally wore him out enough for bed, which became a family affair. At his final parting with my sibling I saw my youngest become emotional, and my heart lurched a bit at bedtime when I heard him whisper “no tears” to himself, in true Jedi warrior fashion.
He has a full heart my little one, and he knows it will be a while before we further exhaust his uncle at Disney later this year.
It may take my brother that long to recover from all their light saber fights.
But I have to admit the true star of the evening bedtime ritual was Justin. My eldest, who for years pretty much ignored everyone not directly in his inner circle (mom, dad, teachers and cute therapists) has become more social, and fare more aware of things as of late. In the last two years of visits from Erik he always looks from his face to mine a half dozen times as if to say “I know you two are related”.
Bedtime is usually a sacred ritual for Justin, one which generally involves only his mother and sometimes his father (if Justin’s in a magnanimous mood). But last week was different.
That evening, my mom, brother and I all sat in Justin’s room for my mother’s rendition of “Rainbow Sea”, the book of the week (well, really the year), and my son was beside himself with joy. I watched happily as my child, who in theory is supposed to have great difficulty with eye contact, stared gleefully at the members of his family as the story unfolded, absolutely rapturous that this generally private ritual was being shared.
As the story concluded hugs were dispensed, adults were pushed to the door (take a hint people), and my beaming boy dove into his sleeping bag, thrilled to death with the attention.
And yes, he has severe autism.
I need to remember these moments, because if someone had told me years ago a visit from my sibling would unfurl in this manner, with both my boys delighted to see him, craving contact and attention from their fun uncle, I wouldn’t have believed it. That night is a reminder that as much as I try to project Justin’s future for his own benefit, I can’t entirely guess what progress he’ll make, what new skills he’ll master.
He’ll continue to shatter my expectations for him, and I have to remember that fact as I try to plot out the best trajectory of his life. Justin will always be full of surprises.
And thankfully, as time goes on, there seem to be more and more good ones.