I’ll never forget when my husband first introduced me to his Dad: I was immediately pulled into a great big bear hug. Because I was so much younger then, I didn’t realize how fortunate I was to be welcomed into the kind of family where love and generosity run rampant.
Although we lost the patriarch of my husband’s family last year, his legacy of outsized loyalty and affection lives on. When Brooks was first diagnosed, I remember breaking down and being comforted by my sister-in-law, who assured me that my son would indeed have a meaningful relationship with his aging grandfather and all of his aunts and uncles and cousins. This was a tall order back then: As a toddler, Brooks was horrified at the notion of even entering my sister-in-law’s apartment. Each time we pushed his stroller through the front door of her building, he would start to cry hysterically. “Happy Chanukah” became “let’s survive Chanukah,” and all the other holidays followed suit — until Brooks finally started coming around (improving, recovering, coping—whatever you want to call it).
Fast forward to this year: All my sister-in-law’s efforts have paid off and resulted in her singlular and very special relationship with Brooks. These days, he adores her, and shows it by torturing her with his repetitive games at family holidays. She has been planting the seeds of a sleepover for quite a while now. Of course, at first mention, Brooks said no immediately. But last week at dinner, while he was running through the laundry list of what he wanted to do that weekend, he came out with: “Mommy, I want to have a sleepover at Aunt Madeline’s.” That’s right. In the very same apartment that he once couldn’t tolerate. Without me or my husband. On his own initiative. Wow.
This monumental event actually took place over the weekend, and I’m still feeling a little light-headed. Brooks experienced a whole new level of independence. My husband and I rediscovered a whole new level of existence: For a day and a half, neither one of us had to parent. We could eat uninterrupted meals and share uninterrupted conversations. Again, wow.
I’m sure that one day soon, Brooks having a sleepover at his Aunt’s won’t seem like a big deal. I guess it’s human nature to take things for granted. But for now, I can hardly think about it without tearing up; without thinking about how our family dodged a bullet when Brooks was 18-months-old, and how we are so incredibly fortunate that Brooks is doing these things that any other regular kid his age does.
If you’re a special needs parent, I wish you many of these ordinary/extraordinary events. And also, your very own Aunt Madeline.