Our family setup is such that it's often come fairly naturally to put Janey first, or it has seemed that way. She's seven years younger than Freddy to the day (Freddy doesn't even get his own birthday!) and ten years younger than William. She's the only girl. So she's been set apart in the family, not just by autism but by relative age and sex. And to be honest, I think sometimes the boys have half liked it that we couldn't focus on them as much as many parents. Teenagers, although they do still very much need parents, sometimes like having a little more independence than some of their peers. But so much hasn't been fair to them. I know there are compensations, and I've read and agreed with so many articles and blog posts about the benefits to siblings of having a sister or brother with special needs. However, I sometimes very, very much wish I could give them all the attention and resources they deserve.
|Janey and Freddy|
The first test---Freddy and I decided to watch last night's episode of "The Voice" on Hulu. A friend of his from school is on the show right now (go, Nathan!) and we knew he'd advanced, and we wanted to see his performance. Janey had other ideas. She kept trying to turn off the TV, succeeding a few times. She whined non-stop..."I want Kipper! I want Barney! I want Olivia!" mentioning every show she could think of, in hopes we'd give in. And so many times---we do. It becomes just not worth it to listen to her when we are trying to watch something. But she actually likes The Voice, when she will watch it. She likes dancing to the songs, she likes the singing. And even if she didn't, I was determined to watch with Freddy. We did see his friend's part, but after that, we both gradually drifted away. It wasn't worth the fight to see the rest.
Next, I wanted to help Freddy pick classes to sit in on during a visit at a college he's been accepted at next month. I love things like that. I LIVE for things like that. He got to list 3 choices from a long list of classes for both morning and afternoon. I would have loved to sit there for hours, looking up the classes, discussing the options and just enjoying the whole process. But again, Janey had other ideas. After just a few minutes, she decided she wanted to go to the ice cream store. I said no. She repeated the request, with growing impatience, over and over and over. I wasn't giving in. Finally, she hit me in the face and bent my fingers back. I felt close to tears at that point. Couldn't she ever, EVER just for a little, short while, understand no and accept no? And the answer is..no. No matter how often I stand my ground and don't give in, it seems to make no difference. Once she has an idea, a want, that is all that matters. I did get through the choice process with Freddy, but in a hurried and not enjoyable way.
Tony came home after that, and took Janey for a ride for a while. You might think---why didn't I just save everything with Freddy for that time? If you are asking that, you probably haven't had teenagers. You spend time with them when they are up for it, or not at all. That's one of the reasons, but the other is that I just felt tired of always, always having to say "Wait until Daddy can watch Janey. Wait until Janey is asleep" Sometimes, I want Janey to be the one to wait.
Later, Freddy wanted to watch "Star Trek Voyager". Tony was home, and usually, Janey will tolerate that show. For part of the time, she did, but then she decided I needed to snuggle with her. This is often how she gets to sleep, and almost always, I'll just lie down with her. I almost did this time too, instinctively, but stopped myself and told her "I'll snuggle when the show is over" Of course, she wasn't happy. She just kept repeating,over and over and over "Want to snuggle? Want to snuggle on Janey's bed? Want to lie down?" I finally gave in when the show was in its resolving last few minutes.
So---what did I learn here? I don't know. I think I learned I often, very very often, give in to Janey, because she doesn't give up until you do, and because the consequences of not giving in are pretty grim at times. I don't like being hit, or having my fingers bent, or having someone scream in my ear, or being bit. But when I don't give in, it never seems to work as it would with a typical kid. Janey doesn't seem to get my reasons or accept them. It seems, like so many things, to really make no difference what I do. Janey does what Janey does.
My boys both are wonderful kids, and they both have told me, emphatically, that they don't feel I've shortchanged them. But from a young age, they haven't known any other life. I am resisting the urge to go silver lining finding here. Autism takes a toll on siblings. And childhood is short. My boys are adults, or close to it. I've tried to do my best, but they have often been shortchanged, and I won't sugarcoat that.