what she needed


She showed me the picture covertly so that Brooke wouldn’t see it.

“Look, Mama, I drew Brooke as Rapunzel in the tower and that’s me, climbing up her long hair to come save her! Don’t you think she’ll love it?”

Katie had been working on the picture for nearly half an hour before she finally decided that it was done. She presented it to Brooke with a flourish.

“Look, Brooke,” she said, beaming. “I made this just for you.”

Brooke took the paper from her and without so much as a glance handed it to me. “I don’t want it,” she said. “Sorry.”

Brooke and I had a chat. Ultimately, the best we could do was a parroted, “Thank you, Katie. That was very nice of you.”

Katie was crushed.

Later that day, Katie and our sitter, Julie had a special outing to the mall. For her birthday, Julie had gotten her a gift card to her favorite shop and had promised that they would hit the mall together to do some shopping. Katie couldn’t wait. She’s been begging for a trip to the mall alone with a friend. (Not quite there yet, kiddo.) So the half-step toward independence meant the world to her. She had packed up her gift card and tucked her very own money into the wallet in her very grown-up purse.

They’d spent hours at the mall.

She came home carrying a shopping bag, flush with excitement. She pulled me in close for a secret. “Mama,” she said. “I got Brooke the best present EVER! She’s going to LOVE it! You know how she keeps saying she wants earrings just like me but we know that wouldn’t really work cause she’d try to pull them out cause they’d hurt? Well, I got her MAGNETIC earrings! Isn’t that the BEST? I’m sooooo excited!!! OK, shhhhh! Don’t tell her. I can’t wait to see how happy she is when she sees them.”

She reached into her shopping bag and pulled out a small, hot pink gift bag. She’d even thought to get a gift bag in her sister’s favorite color. “Brooke!” she yelled. “I got you a present at the mall!”

Her sister looked up from her drawing.

“You did?”

“I did. Want to see what I got you?”

Katie was beside herself. She couldn’t wait to see her sister’s reaction.

Brooke pulled the earrings out of the bag, set them on the table and went back to her drawing. “I don’t want them,” she said. “Sorry.”

Katie tried to explain. Perhaps she didn’t know what they were. Maybe she just didn’t understand. “Brooke, you can be just like Katie. See, they’re earrings, like mine. Look, Brooke, this is what you do with them ..”

Brooke let out a sharp shriek, then yelled, “I DON’T WANT THEM. SORRY!”

The dam broke. Katie couldn’t take it anymore. I talked to Brooke briefly. Said the same things I’d said earlier. Told her we’d talk about it again later.

Katie and I walked together into the kitchen, carrying the cast-off bag. I peeked inside. There were two other pairs of earrings in the bag that Brooke hadn’t even seen. I turned them over – $5.95 each. On her big trip to the mall, my girl had spent eighteen dollars of her OWN money on something she thought her sister would love. To no avail. Eighteen dollars.

I held my girl as she let it all out, the words tumbling over each other as she sobbed. “I just wish that there was a shot or a pill or something, Mama. Something, anything that Brooke could take that would make her autism just go away. I’m just so tired of it. I just wish I had a typical sister. I’ve just been trying so hard. I just want to show her that I love her but nothing’s working. Nothing.”

I said the right things. I did. I told her that she is the best sister that I ever could have imagined. I told her that she doesn’t always have to be, I told her that Brooke knows how much she loves her – that it would be impossible for her not to. I told her that she doesn’t always have the ability to show that. And above all, I told her that I know how much that hurts.

I told her that I understood. That from the bottom of my heart, I understood. I told her that Brooke might very likely come back to the earrings later. It had been a long day and she just might not be able to handle something new. But I knew that wasn’t the point anymore. When there was nothing more to say, I held her and let her cry.

Last night, after presenting the Autism Awareness mural to the mayor, we went out to dinner at a local mall. During dinner, Brooke needed a walk. “Ooh, Mama. May I take her, please?” Katie begged, just like she always does. “I promise I’ll be responsible!”

We’d never agreed before, but the mall was quiet and it seemed like a good opportunity for a first run. Brooke resisted. “No, Mama would.”

With some cajoling, she agreed to walk with her sister.

We gave them strict parameters and then watched them walk away. Two minutes in, Luau said, “You going or me?” I got up and headed in the same direction.

By the time I reached them, they were headed back toward me, walking arm in arm. Periodically, Brooke would spin out, then come back and re-attach herself to her sister. Each and every time she came back, Katie’s arms were open.

Brooke stopped walking in front of the entrance to a shop. I wondered if she was going to go in. Instead, she leaned into her sister and hugged Katie for all she was worth. Katie hugged her back, grinning from ear to ear. I felt like a voyeur as I feverishly snapped a picture with my phone.

They began to walk again, slowly, lazily. Katie kissed her sister’s head and said, “Thanks, Brooke, I needed that.”

And her Mama thought, “Me too, baby. Me too.”


Thanks to both Redheaded Mama and Uncle Lurch for performing magic with my once grainy little photo!

I will treasure it!

41 thoughts on “what she needed

  1. I have to remember not to read your posts unless I am ready to cry. What a beautiful story of sisters loving each other! We just had a similar scene here the other day for the first part of your story. My little one spent days in art class working on something she decided to give her brother for his birthday. He said he didn’t want it. After I told him what it was for he came around, but not before the tears. It is so hard on my girls, but those moments like the picture you captured are all the more beautiful.

  2. You know, I spend so much time just dealing with and living in autism that I can sometimes convince myself that it isn’t so bad. Everyone has challanges. Then something like the first part of your story happens. Garret or Cameron will do something they are SURE Jimmy will love . . . And Jimmy couldn’t care less. And I see that split second of pain on his brother’s face and I want to cry. But God gives us little kisses – usually right when we need them – like your photo so beautifully illustrates. How wonderful!

  3. Must. Have. Kleenex. DOAM, what can I say, outta the park on this one. Katie you are wonderful and precious. We all wish we had an extra one of you at home.

  4. You always leave me in tears…. tears of sadness turned to tears of happiness!! You are so blessed with two beautiful daughters – not only on the outside but on the inside as well.

  5. Katie is wonderful, but the balance is always going to be delicate and sensitive. She needs all kinds of support because of everyone in the family, she will be the one who carries the greatest responsibility in the long distant future. She is such a special person and she understands more than all of us.
    I love her so very much. Reminds me of her mom.
    Love you,

  6. What a wonderful story. Your daughter Katie is an amazing sibling. Your daughter Brooke is lucky to have her. I cried when I read this.

    I have two children with Autism so I do not have the issues you have with a sibling that is typical!

  7. Such a wonderful post. And such a wonderful big sister! Sarah (my older, typically devoping child) is giving up going to a jzaa festival with the band because she wants to help Hannah (youngest child autism) be successful at her spring chorus concert. Every child should be so blessed with such wonderful older sisters. Sarah loves reading Katie’s blog each week.

  8. Such a tender and much needed moment. Katie, you’re a gift to your sister. A gift. I hope one day you will know (really know to a place of depth) how truly special you are to your sister and your Mama. 🙂

  9. I don’t say stuff like this a lot…but Katie just kicks ASS. She is the sister we hope for all of our children, and frankly, the one that we wish we’d all had.

  10. Always, always end up in tears when I read your blogs. They’re beautiful. That picture is definitely frame-worthy. Gorgeous!

  11. is her favorite shop justice? i don’t know if that’s everywhere, but i’ve become very familiar with pink and purple and loud and vibrant clothes of justice. and the sparkles.

    the sparkles.

    your writing: it always breaks my heart, then mends it.

    you’re a break-mender. through and through.

  12. we try so hard to let our children lead lives free of burden b/c we know too well the burdens they’ll carry as adults. older siblings carry an innate burden, an implied burden, of caring for younger siblings. how frustrating for Katie to be doing everything right with only fleeting glimpses of gratification. she’ll be all the more stronger for it, but that’s not point, is it?

  13. Amazing. This is all I can come up with to say. I was holding back the tears until I saw the photo. It is beautiful.

  14. This was a painful and beautiful story. Much of life is like that and will continue to be. Thankfully, Katie is strong and knows when and where she can let it out. She’s incredible and Brooke is so lucky to have her, as we all are.

    Love you,

  15. Katie,
    You are a wonderful sister to Brooke. A most amazing sister. It does hurt. It hurts really bad. Your mom is righ-she knows the pain. All these mothers reading your mom’s blog know your pain- your mommy’s pain. Yes, your mother did it just right. Holding you and letting your cry.

  16. Oh Jess! This hits home for me! tears…again, My girls and I have had these same kinds of Moments!That Photo at the end of your Post is PRICELESS beyond words! Katie, You are a most amazing Sister! My Girls LOVE reading your blog each Sunday, my youngest takes off running to tell her brother your jokes, you are such an inspiration!

  17. I wonder if Katie has any idea as to how many people are in awe of her? She has a HUGE fan group. I hope one day she knows this!

  18. I have no words… I have tears (of joy, understanding, love) but no words. And what a gorgeous picture to cherish. It simply exudes love. And that’s all that matters.

  19. I don’t normally comment. I figure you have enough on your hands than to read something from me, but no one else has said this. There is the debate among autistic people of if there is a cure should you use something that would alter yourself so much. Often they fail to take into consideration the pain autism causes to those that love them. (Ironically they probably don’t think of this because of the autism.) This heart wrenching and beautiful example of your daughters shows this pain so well.

  20. You know how much this post both breaks and melts my heart.

    Last night Ethan told me he wishes we’d had another kid so he could have a brother or sister who was “regular” and not autistic. And then he started putting two and two together and talked about how he might have to take care of Jake some day & wished he had a sibling to help with that. Wow. That I didn’t break out into tears was a miracle.

    Your girls are a miracle. Thank you for sharing the pain and the magic with us.

  21. stunning. thank you for sharing this experience with your readers, in all its honesty. im going to feature it on my blog links that i thought were awesome when I link up to saturday stumbles.

  22. OMG, tears, at work. Thank you for sharing this because I feel the constant push-pull, but I feel at a loss to describe (and I don’t have a Katie)…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s