When people ask me how many children I have, my short answer is, “Two.” And that is, indeed, the number of children I gave birth to. However, the longer answer is that I actually have two only children – two children whose lives and needs are so different, that I work to keep them spinning in separate orbits – seldom touching. I can’t think of the last time I took both kids to do something together, or had them engaged in something at the same time at home. It is rare they are even on the same floor of our house.
Make no mistake, they are siblings – they love each other, they even squabble like brother and sister on occasion, but for the most part, they live very separate lives and it is my job to keep both of their separate lives, spinning in the right direction.
I thought as my kids moved from babies to toddlers to young children and now into teens, that my job would get easier. And in some ways it has. But as their lives have grown more complex, their friends, involvements, appointments and requests, have in some way made things harder – harder to keep the plates spinning at the same time.
My daughter recently got her driver’s license, and we got our hands on a ’97 Chevy for her to get herself where she needs to go. It has helped tremendously. My son, who is on the spectrum, did not cope well hearing two or three times a day, “Oh, by the way, I need to do ____________ before I do __________,” coming from my daughter, thereby throwing whatever plans he had into flux. As far as he’s come in being patient and flexible, her typical nearly-seventeen-year-old ways were too much for him, making them too much for me.
But here’s the thing, next year she’ll be a senior, in less than a year and a half she’ll be off to college – I won’t be spinning plates anymore, at least not on a daily basis. He will not need to be patient and flexible with a sibling at all. And that’s not really the answer, either, for it’s part of her job – perhaps the biggest part – to challenge him, to make him rise to the occasion, to know him on a level only a sibling can know another human being, no matter how separate they’ve been.