auntie brooke



On Friday night before bed, Katie set up a nail salon on the floor of the bathroom that she shares with her sister. She dubbed it the ‘Flying Pig Salon’. Pigs were everywhere – stuffed pigs, Calico Critter pigs, pigs flying on her pajamas and even pigs on her pig-slippered feet.

She asked if she could paint our nails.

Brooke was all for it. “I would get red nail polish, Katie!”

Katie painted her sister’s tiny nails and then set her sights on mine. I caved in and let her paint ‘feelings fingers’ on my nails – hot pink with purple faces depicting various emotions if you looked reeeeally hard and she was there to tell you what they were. By the time she was done with me I had a happy thumb, a sad pointer, a confused ring man, a scared tall man and a very sleepy pinky. Think we talk about feelings much?

Once Katie was satisfied with her masterpiece, Brooke asked if she could paint her sister’s nails. Katie balked, precisely mirroring the look that had been on my face when she had asked if she could do mine. She tried to say no,  but I gently pushed and she gave in just as I had. I promised that we would ALL take the polish off in the morning if we wanted to. Call me crazy, but I wasn’t much for facing the world with feelings fingers, so it was an easy out.

Katie was shocked. Brooke was slow and meticulous. She painted about half of each of Katie’s nails, but kept the polish surprisingly well contained. Katie looked over at my hands – fingers slathered in hot pink – then back to her own, fairly free of purple but for her nails.

“Mama,” she stage whispered. “She’s doing a really good job!”

“Yes, baby,” I said. “Why don’t you tell HER that?”

“Brooke,” she said dutifully,  “you’re doing a great job. You’re doing a better job than I did!”

“Yes I am, Katie,” said the little manicurist.

The following morning, Katie and I hopped into the car to run some quick errands. As soon as we were around the first bend, Katie said what had obviously been on her mind.

“So Mama, I don’t know if I should say this, cause I feel like you might get mad, but I really think it’s extra great that Brooke did such a good job painting my nails because of her autism.”

“Hmm, I’m not sure I follow, baby. What do you mean?”

“Well,” she said, “I just think it’s pretty amazing that she was able to do an even better job than I did on hers really. And not just cause she’s younger, but I feel like her autism makes things like that even harder for her sometimes than they are for me.”

“Oh, honey,” I said.  “I’d never get mad at you for saying that. Not EVER. I really appreciate the fact that you understand that there are certain things that can sometimes be more challenging for Brooke. And you’re right, she had a lot of trouble with that kind of stuff in the past. It’s taken a lot of work to get her fingers to be able to do work like that. The fact that you not only recognize that but celebrate her achievements in the face of it is nothing short of wonderful. It makes me super proud of what a great big sister you are.”

We talked some more. She asked me what ‘achievements’ meant. We laughed about the first time that she had painted her sister’s nails. I reminded her that Brooke had looked like she’d dipped her hands in a vat of polish. We laughed about how I’d had to remove the nail polish all the way up to her knuckles. And then she grew quiet.

We drove in silence for a while. I know my kid. When something’s brewin, I stop talking. I drove.


“Yes, babe?”

“Remember when you said that it was OK for me to tell my friends about Brooke’s autism if I want but I told you that I wasn’t comfortable doing that?”

“Of course, Katie.” How could I ever forget?

“Well, I’m still not comfortable talking about it. Is that OK?”

“Of course it’s OK, Katie. You do whatever feels right to you. I can always help you come up with the language to use with your friends if you change your mind, but I will always respect your choice to handle it the way that you want to. Please know that. I promise you I will never be upset with you for the way that you choose to handle it.”

“I’m just embarrassed, Mama.”


“I don’t want people to laugh at her, and if they know that she has autism, I think they might make fun of her.”

I wondered if she’d been secretly reading my blog. ‘Oh, honey’, I thought, ‘that’s why I do this, this, this, this, this and this.

We continued to talk as we drove. I told her that this is exactly why Mama tries to tell people about autism, so that they’ll understand it better and hopefully not tease people who have it.

We talked about some of her sister’s behaviors. The ones that can be difficult for Katie in public. How it can be embarrassing when Brooke asks someone their name over and over and over again or when she walks over to people and asks them if they are boys or girls. I tried to explain to her that in those situations, it may be LESS embarrassing if there were an explanation for her behavior.

“I might change my mind when I’m older,” she said.

“Of course you may, honey. You may change your mind long before then.”

“Maybe when I have kids of my own,” she said. “I know I’m going to have kids, Mama. I’m sure of it.”

I smiled. I remember being eight and sure. Sort of.

“And then I can tell my kids that the reason that Auntie Brooke does the stuff that she does is because she has autism. That it’s just, you know – Auntie Brooke.”

She seemed satisfied with her plan.

“So where are we going first, Mama? Can we go to the bookstore first?” she asked.

“Sure, honey,” I said, trying not to hyperventilate.


19 thoughts on “auntie brooke

  1. Great Post, Sweetheart, but Grammy is having a tough time with the Auntie Brooke thing for now. Wow, I love those kids! Can I just go to the bookstore now?

    Love you,

  2. oh, marie ~ i’m SURE you have. knowing you as i do i can see no way that you haven’t. thank you so much for all the work you do every day with our kids. xo

  3. i have heard about it (and thought it sounded wonderful) but katie’s only 8 and going into 3rd grade. i’ve always thought it would be a bit much for her. think it’s worth checking out at this age?

  4. It seems to me that Katie and Brooke are both examples of GREAT parenting. Love this post. Auntie Brooke, very sweet. xo

  5. jess…RULES is not too much for Brooke. Believe me. She’s got a LOT more going on than you think (or are willing to admit).

    the little one, too.

    good stock. You’ve got good stock.

  6. Drama,

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Both Katie and Brooke have more going on than anyone might think or be willing to imagine.

    I agree, Jess that you should read it first but I’ll bet that it will be perfect for Katie to read. I think I’ll pick it up, as well.

  7. Hi Jess, I just had a conversation yesterday with the family I am working with about how difficult it can be for people to understand the behavior of a child with autism. The mother told me she has never been comfortable taking her son to the library’s story hour or putting him in a play group because everywhere they go, kids just stare at him. And their parents do not seem to discourage this behavior, or ask questions, or explain. And she is not comfortable simply offering an explanation to them without being asked. She says she does not want her son to get used to people staring at him.

    It is a shame that there has to be judgment; that there is stigma attached to something that is challenging and different, but not fundamentally bad or wrong. You are truly gifted and inspirational, Jess. I hope that I, too, have taught at least a few people about autism and spread some awareness.

  8. Have you heard of the book “Rules” by Cynthia Lord? Nine awards including the Newbery Honor Medal. Excellent book, my DD and I both really enjoyed it. Let me give you a little synopsis cause Amazon has a spoiler on there that Im glad I didnt know while reading. BTW, my DD’s 6th grade English teacher bought this for her.

    This is from Scholastic’s website:
    Ages 9+
    Twelve-year-old Catherine just wants a normal life. Which is near impossible when you have a brother with autism and a family that revolves around his disability. She’s spent years trying to teach David the rules from “a peach is not a funny-looking apple” to “keep your pants on in public”—in order to head off David’s embarrassing behaviors.

    But the summer Catherine meets Jason, a surprising, new sort-of friend, and Kristi, the next-door friend she’s always wished for, it’s her own shocking behavior that turns everything upside down and forces her to ask: What is normal?

  9. Aidan struggles with this too – always has. Yet underneath it all there is the love – which of course Katie also has – that I have to believe will eventually override my younger son’s embarrassment of his big brother. We’ll just keep doing what we do and they will get there.

  10. In my effort to see the world outside of myself – I have recently realized that not only is Foster MY child for a reason, there is also a reason is the other children’s brother.

    Sophie is starting to be MEAN – not just to Foster, but to everyone. I find it ironic that the only ones she has said she “hates” are me and Foster. Of course, I’m hoping that spending her days with typical peers will help with some of this (is it too much to hope her teacher turns out to be my Mary Poppins?). On the other hand, I can see where she is a child who will NEED to learn to be more sensitive (i can blame this directly on the in laws, since things are getting ugly and i feel less inclined to keep the tensions under the radar).


  11. You are such a great coach for your kids! Katie will get out her own soapbox to stand on in her own time. They are such great kids!

  12. I’m here. I too think that Katie might “get” Rules. It speaks so directly to the emotions around the main character’s autistic younger sib. (Although your parenting is a shining contrast to some of the mistakes the overwhelmed parent-characters in the book are making!)

  13. i love the way Katie puzzles it all out and shares it with you, puzzles it out until she has a plan that makes sense to her, that feels right in her gut. she’s amazing.

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