Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Big Sister

Sometimes the stated nature of this blog as 'autism-centric' marginalizes my NT daughter's own triumphs and tragedies.  The blog itself has morphed into kind of a parent/family blog, where autism is featured prominently, so maybe I need to revise my description of it.

Something happened yesterday that is both Emma-centric but also touches a bit on her role as big sister of a special needs sibling.  It's nothing and everything.  It's so 'minor' that it didn't even persist long enough in my memory to mention to my wife.  But it really should have.

Leslie was getting her hair done.  Emma and Lily and I were fending for ourselves.  Leslie had fed Lily and Emma joined me for a late dinner when she returned from dance class shortly after Leslie left.

I said, "Hey, Em, I'm going to go upstairs and change clothes and run Lily's bath."

And she said, "Okay, Daddy, I'll watch Lily while you're upstairs."  She then put her dishes in the dishwasher and joined Lily in the family room, engaging her in conversation and play.  I listened to their banter as I ascended the stairs.

I don't know if I was feeling particularly emotional or what, but her statement really struck me.  This kid is growing up fast.  I sat on the bed and pulled my dress shoes off and just sorta shook my head at the beautiful relationship these sister have with one another.  There is nobody Lily would rather spend time with than Emma.  And Emma loves spending time with her.  And despite the slapped faces and pulled hairs that love endures and grows.  And I see it changing Emma...and the kind of person she is or will become. 

Oh, she still lounges on the couch and lets life's progression ebb past her while she texts or plays Minecraft or escapes into the television, and she still 'forgets' she has a test coming up or homework to do or a book assignment to read, but where her sister is concerned, she is aging and maturing in front of our eyes, serious and earnest in her desire to protect and entertain and be close to her.

And I realized as I outfitted myself in "Giving Lily a Bath Clothes" (minimalist design...moisture tolerant) that Emma had just removed a little bit of stress from my evening.  I realized that the buzzing humming insect of concern/worry/stress that is always present any time I leave Lily alone in a room to complete some task in another room was silenced by my 11 year old daughter's acceptance of "The Watch".  And that I was confident enough in her ability (having supervised it just out of sight of them both) that it was like Leslie was home and I had her extra set of eyes and hands.

It was nothing; I was only going to be upstairs for a three or four minutes.  All I had to do was change clothes, start the water, and then return downstairs to collect Lily.  But it was everything too.  I knew Emma was watching Lily.  I knew as I got the hair dryer out and arrayed it on the bed where I'd dry Lily's hair after the bath that this extra minute or two I was using to indulge in an additional  layer of preparation was not a ticking time bomb ready to explode into the sound of a shattering vase left unguarded and unremembered in the entry way, or the tearing sound of bills or pictures left unattended on the kitchen island.

When I had bathed Lily we sat in bed watching TV and I felt her, limp and relaxed on my lap, her head leaning against my chest lolling occasionally to the side before snapping attentively back to focus on the TV.  Emma joined us in the bedroom and I mouthed "see if she's asleep".  Emma shook her head and said, "Her eyes are open."

"Time for bed, Lily," I said, and picked her up off the bed to put her on the potty one last time and then brush her teeth.  We read a new story, "Jake Rides a Roller Coaster," and then I tucked her in and lay down next to her, calling Emma in to say goodnight.

Emma climbed across me into bed next to Lily and gave her a big hug as she always does, and I looked at my daughter looking at her sister.  There was just such a bright fondness to her as she crooned, "Goodnight, Lily..." singsong and prompting a response from her sister.  I asked Emma if she wanted to put her sister to bed for the evening and she happily accepted.  I extricated myself from the bed, settling Lily back in place and making a space for Emma to slide in next to her.

"I'll have the monitor downstairs, Em.  If you need me, let me know."

Emma nodded her understanding and returned her attention to Lily, snuggling close to her and holding her hands affectionately and protectively.

I went downstairs, given the night off, to crack open a beer and tune in to the Pirates game to see if we could advance further into the playoffs, another indulgence made possible by Emma's blossoming competence and interest in her sister. 

Crackling from the monitor, I heard Lily attempted to engage her sister in conversation.  Emma redirected her expertly before feigning sleep in an effort to draw Lily there also.  A while later sleep overtook her and I heard the bed creak slightly while Emma shifted and stole quietly from the room.

I know not everyone's NT/ASD kids have the sort of relationship that mine do.  All I can do is be thankful that we have it and wish everyone did too.

Post Script:

This amuses the shit out of me, and it relates to the above story, so I wanted to pass it along.  Lily sometimes pulls Emma's hair in bed when she puts her to sleep.  With me, she pokes eyes, not sure what she does with Leslie, but it's hair-pulling with Emma.  That's one of the reasons we hold her hands.  The other reason is that she ceaselessly fidgets and the fidgeting feeds this sort of loop where she's agitated so she fidgets and the act of fidgeting makes her more agitated.  We gently take her hands.  If she struggles or protests we let her hand go.  But for the most part she allows hand-holding at night as part of the routine, and holding her hand means her hands remain fidgetless and her whole body seems to quiet it's waking struggle to contain itself and she falls asleep.  Anyway...

Emma wears a swim cap to put Lily to sleep.  This is problem solving at its finest.  She didn't do it last night, I think because I offered the duty to her at the last minute, but she confessed that at one point she thought she'd have to go retrieve it because Lily was pulling her hair when she'd release her hands and it seemed like it was taking too long for her to fall asleep.  But I just love the solution.  She tucks all her hair under the swim cap and lays down next to Lily and Lily, losing her fidget...forgets about pulling hair and falls asleep.

All in all, I think it took about 10 minutes for Lily to shut her eyes for the evening.  That's maybe a little longer than usual, but Emma handled it like a trooper.


  1. I love this because it is in those quiet seemingly small moments that something rather profound happens. Good for you for taking that moment and seeing it for what it is - a little rite of passage that Emma just entered, seamlessly.

  2. This was such a sweet touching story. Thank you for sharing!

  3. As you know, Nik is an only child so we don't have the joy of watching a sibling relationship unfold and develop. I love reading about these moments between your girls. They are good and beautiful and oh so blessed to have one another.

    1. they really are blessed to have each other.

  4. I like this. I have this, too. I'm too tired to articulate more than that. ;)

  5. This is so sweet, Jim. I almost think my kids would be like this if they weren't always, incessantly, so goofy with each other. They do like to sleep together out in our upstairs "loft" on weekends, and we've witnessed some cute cuddling on our way to bed.

  6. Emma is an impressive young girl and your daughters are lucky to have each other.

  7. You see ...that's why I wanted girls. Ssh!

  8. I love this post so much. Your girls are awesome and so lucky to have each other :-)

  9. This makes me smile and wonder what our new baby will be like with my Little Man once he's old enough to understand all of his... stuff :)... I hope its something like this.

  10. This makes me so happy. You guys are doing such a great job with the girls. (Probably all Leslie's influence, knowing YOU, Jim. Heh.)

    No, in all seriousness - you're amazing, and so are your kids. I'm not at all surprised about this. And this made me sniffly.

    1. gracias, Amy. It's MOSTLY Leslie, but sometimes I come through...when I can be bothered to get out of bed before noon...

  11. this is such a beautiful post. Your girls are so lucky to have one another, and you are such an observant and sensitive parent for noticing and being touched by it.

  12. Wow, how cool is it to watch them grow up together and become friends too. You have reasons to be very proud of both of them.