About three years ago, Katie and I went to see Disney on Ice. On the highlight reel of my life with young children, it was right up there with the time that I gave in and took us all to Chuck E Cheese. We went, we saw, we ate food in colors not found in nature, and we came home with a bunch of overpriced plastic crap that we would scratch our heads at later. Truth be told, I’d sooner chew glass than do either of those things again, but it’s nice to know that we’ve done them.
I looked everywhere for something to bring home for Brooke. She was only two, and she would not have tolerated the whole experience, but I still hated not being able to bring her along. I wanted desperately to find something that she would really enjoy. After an exhaustive search, I settled on a battery powered light up wand. It made a pretty (red!) light that I thought might capture her attention.
She had no interest in the wand, and, like so many of its predecessors, it found its way into the depths of the toy box, where it would presumably die a slow, primary colored death.
About six months ago, Brooke rediscovered the wand. With great fanfare, she walked around her room, turning off one light after another, closing doors to shut out the light from the hallway and the bathroom, beseeching us to close her curtains. She then lit the wand and held it in front of her face. “Oooooooh, it’s beeeeeeooooooootiful.”
Three years after its purchase, she now adores the wand. She hides in her closet and takes it under her covers , trying to create enough darkness to fully appreciate it.
Last night, Brooke, Katie and I all settled into her darkened room to enjoy some wand time. After a while, Katie took a turn holding the light. “Look, Mama,” she said from my lap. “I have my very own maaaaaaagic wand!”
“If only, baby,” I said more wistfully than I wanted to.
Katie turned to look at me through the wand, her face glowing red.
“Mama, you wouldn’t use it to make Brooke’s autism disappear, you know.”
What the? I mean, huh? Whu? How did we end up here? Autism? How would she know .. ? Why would she say … I swear I’m not leaving anything out. There was no lead in. No warning. Just unfiltered seven year-old thoughts. I couldn’t breathe.
Seeing that I was stunned into silence, she continued.
“You wouldn’t want her autism to disappear because we love her so much. You wouldn’t ever want to trade her for someone different.”
I caught just enough air to ask, “What do you mean, baby?”
I was painfully aware that this conversation was taking place as Brookel paced the perimeter of her room, looking for something. Always moving.
“Well, she’s Brooke. And we love her exactly the way she is. I mean, she’s my little sister and I absolutely adore her. I know I wouldn’t want her to be someone else.”
I absolutely adore her – her mama’s words.
“And if she didn’t have her autism it would be like we were trading her for a different little girl. We would never want to do that.”
I snagged Brooke as she made her way by and pulled her into a tight, half-body squeeze. I whispered in her ear, “You are my perfect little girl,” just before she wriggled out of my arm to continue her perimeter walk.
“No, baby. We would never want that.”
Luau came in to start bedtime stories with Brooke. Katie and I headed to her room for some quiet time together. As we stepped into the light, she saw the tears that now streaked my cheeks.
“Mama,” she said nonchalantly, “there’s really nothing to cry about. Brooke’s OK, she just is who she is. Hey, want to take a trip?”
I must have nodded.
She started readying the plastic toboggan that takes us to imaginary lands far away. She piled in the blankets, stuffed animals and pillows that we would need for the trip. She glanced at the lit Christmas tree on her table and settled on Christmas-Land as a destination.
I settled in and watched in wonder. Once again, I’m being gently pulled and tugged and prodded along this journey by a seven and a half year-old sage.
I couldn’t ask for a better tour guide.