Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Keep Right, Except to Pass

The left lane, the fast lane, the passing lane.  My daughter, Kathryn (age 7), is in the left lane – I knew the day would come when she would pass by her older brother, Matthew (age 9).

Matthew takes the special needs van to and from school.  He has been riding this van since he was 3 years old when he started special needs preschool.  He loves it – it’s small, air-conditioned, and usually a grandparent-aged, kind and caring driver talks to Matthew and answers his repertoire of questions during the 5 minute ride to and from school.  Driving in the right lane of course.  Kathryn – she rides the big yellow school bus, zooming down the left lane with the other neighborhood kids.
The following is a sampling what I hear from Kathryn on a daily basis:
  •          “Matty – first put your head through this big hole, then put your arms in here – good, you did it!” (This is what it sounds like when she is helping him get into his pajamas).
  •          “Matty, say ‘lake’.   Good!  Now put a ‘B’ in front and say ‘Blake’.   (She is a natural speech therapist – trying to help him say a classmate’s name correctly).
  •         “Mommy, why can’t Matty ride his bike?  I can ride mine, and he’s older than me.” 

It is happening right before my eyes – Kathryn is surpassing Matthew.  In every way – physically, socially, emotionally, academically - she is light years ahead of him.  She has become his “little big sister” which must be a confusing place for a 7 year old.

Both the left lane and the right lane are leading to new places.  She is moving on to do what girls her age do – play dates, sleepovers, the yellow school bus, Brownies, after school activities, riding a two-wheeler.  He is moving on to new opportunities, too – TOPSoccer (soccer program for kids with special needs), Unified Sports (a division of Special Olympics), and a new “social skills group” started last week.

Is Matthew aware that his younger sister has passed him by in the fast lane?  I think he is aware of the obvious and visible things like how easy it is for her to ride her bike, have a play date or a sleepover, or the fact that he watches her leave on the yellow school bus each morning while he waits for his van.

For me, it’s painful to see Matthew left behind in the dust.  Oh, Kathryn is a great sister.  She doesn’t mean to leave him in the dust - she is just doing what she should be doing.  Growing up.   He is growing and changing in his own ways – but his ways are unexpected and unpredictable, while she travels the road of expected development.

I want to make sure we celebrate Kathryn’s accomplishments but I don’t know how to do that without feeling like we are leaving Matthew behind.  Meanwhile, we celebrate Matthew’s accomplishments so easily (just last year when he learned to zip his coat at age 8 – I think we had a party!)

It is difficult to straddle the right lane (Matthew’s world) and the left lane (Kathryn’s world).
Both lanes are bumpy.
The difference is, we can somewhat picture where Kathryn’s left lane will end up.  She will likely go to college, get a job, move out and move on to adulthood.   We have no idea where the right lane leads.