Sunday, July 25, 2010

When Little Brother Grows Up

I was at the breakfast counter eating a bowl of Kashi cereal with blueberries before work last week. Kurt was sitting on a barstool next to me watching SpongeBob. He tipped his full pill cup of meds into his mouth and took a big swig of water before turning to me.

"Where's Kelly?" he said.

On a normal Monday this summer, I would be driving to work and Kelly would be making sure his big brother took his anti-seizure medications and ate breakfast before they drove to Hudson for Kurt's day program.

Instead, Kelly left early that morning with two friends for a road trip to Colorado. They were taking a week-long adventure before the three of them went off to separate colleges.

"He left with Calvin and Mark, remember?" I said.

Kurt frowned, "What was Kelly thinking?"

He likes having his brother around. "Come on, Bud," Kelly would say and Kurt would saunter out to the Blazer in the morning, lunch box and water bottle in hand, ready for work. When Kelly picks him up, Kurt introduces him to his friends. He likes to go through McDonald's drive-thru and order burgers. Or stop at Walmart to get a new DVD. I think he must feel like one of the guys, something I can't give him.

Knowing college is a month away, I decided to gently warn Kurt of the future. "Remember Kelly is going to move away and go to school pretty soon? Then he won't be helping you anymore."

Kurt finished his spoonful of cereal, then paused. "I don't want Kelly to go to school far away. Doesn't he know I need him?"

We ate in silence while I thought about Kurt's words. Over the years, I often wondered if the two of them would ever get along. While Kurt was regressing because of his seizures, Kelly, three years younger, was growing and learning. Their rivalries knew no bounds. Kurt, strong and angry, could wrench a toy out of Kelly's hands and knock him down before I could blink. Kelly, no slouch when it came to being strong-willed, never gave in. Ever.

It wasn't until Kelly matured enough to reason with Kurt  that the fights and rivalry finally ended.

When Kelly was 14, he started helping me with Kurt so I could run an errand or when I was going to be late from work and Kurt's aide needed to leave. Kelly found his way with his big brother. "Come on Bud,"  he would say with a steady calmness that Kurt trusted. He could coax him outside to play Frisbee or get him to clean up his movies.

Kurt's words reminded me of how hard it must be for Kurt when his brothers move away from home and leave him behind. It's different for a parent. It's our job to send our sons out in the world, even when we know they'll be missed. But for a sibling to watch his little brother grow up and leave...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Parade On

Last week, I coaxed Kurt to be in the River Falls parade with me. I was co-coordinator for the BRIDGE for Youth with Disabilities float, with duties to welcome any parents and special needs youth and adults who showed up, hand out t-shirts and organize the group to ride the float or walk.

Kurt wasn't too keen on the idea. "How about you go and I'll stay home?"

I smiled. I'm doing this for him, and he's just not that into it.

I continued coaxing each evening. "You'll see your friends. There'll be fire trucks and tractors."

On Friday, when he got home from Community Homestead, he seemed ready, if not exactly eager.

We approached our float and found the driver. "Hi Kurt," the man said. He turned to me, "I'm Tom. I know Kurt well. My students are in the work program with him."

The BRIDGE day program takes Kurt and his peers to volunteer jobs in the community. I knew they work closely with the special education students at Hudson High School and I had heard of Tom, but hadn't met him before.

The two continued to talk and high fived, then Kurt pointed at the front end loader parked behind us, apparently the next unit in line.

"That's what you'll be riding in," Tom said to Kurt.

I knew he was joking. Since his delivery was straight-faced, and because Kurt loves construction equipment, I thought he might take Tom seriously. However, I didn't address it because people started arriving.

A half an hour passed while we greeted the pairs of chaperones and special needs adults/youth. We waited in the shade of the nearby gas station until it was time to take our places. A couple of people in wheel chairs would be pushed by their caregivers and I was to walk alongside the float with another woman to hand out bags containing BRIDGE info. The rest of the crew would ride and throw candy.

I turned to Kurt. "Pick a spot to sit."

His back stiffened and he stood up straighter. "I'm not riding on the float."

"Well, you need to either ride on the float or walk."

"I'm riding on that," Kurt made a large sweep of his arm and pointed at the front loader.

Oh great - just as I had suspected. "That isn't part of our group. You need to get on the float."

Kurt crossed his arms in defiance and stood his ground.

"Look," I said. "You need to get up on that float. You don't get to ride on the front loader. He was making a joke."

Kurt blinked and climbed on. Everyone got settled. We crawled along behind another float and at the corner, we were directed onto Main Street behind a fire truck.

Busy handing out bags, the time seemed to go fast. When I took a moment to look at Kurt, he was smiling and waving. His hand held the front of the trailer. I imagine, he was pretending the front had a push blade and he was driving.

See for yourself in the photo below:

Kurt at 19