Like all other families, we have our bouts of sibling rivalry. But we don’t really have the “Pirates of the Caribbean” take-no-prisoners confrontations we’re all conditioned to expect from brothers and sisters. No, for La Principessa and Teen Spirit, their tussles have taken a different form and intensity because of their large age difference – 8 years. A little territorial about their things, a little jealous of time alone with us, tired and hungry times when everybody’s whining. But mostly she adores him and he has always been her very vocal cheerleader. Sometimes when I’m exhausted and at the end of my rope, he basically shames me into going back into the lion’s den with her, whether it’s to explain the same simple addition fact for the 5,394th time or to figure out yet another way to lower my voice and trick, um, coax her into cleaning up her mess for the 5,394th time.
You always hope your kids will have a strong relationship as they grow older but I can’t help but fret a little about what that will look like for us. Because of her disability, La Principessa will always need extra support and help. Teen Spirit has always stated without prompting or hesitation that she would live with him when we can no longer look after her. That brings me to joyful tears both for the reassurance that my child with special needs would be protected but also with pride in the young man my son has become. I was recently reminded, during his high school graduation, that their relationship is indeed a two-way street.
We were crammed into the Anderson Center waiting for the ceremony to begin. She was occupied by the novelty of extended family and friends – and the mounting excitement around her. She busily scratched away with paper and pen, as she often does, taking note of what’s happening. Sometimes she writes messages, single words or even random scribbles and little drawings.
I sat waiting, trying not to embarrass myself with extended blubbering. But I couldn’t help but think back to earlier that week, seeing him goofing around with some friends, Instagramming cap and gown selfies. From a slight distance, I watched him plop the mortarboard on his head. He flipped and dipped the slippery black gown like a matador's cape. With a flourish, it enveloped his shoulders, spilled down his back and swirled around his lanky legs. For the flash of a second, I was transported to Halloween 2005 where before me stood a 9-year-old in a makeshift Harry Potter costume. A little shudder pushed a few tears into the corners of my eyes and there was a small hitch in my breath. I jumped up a little too fast and clapped a little too hard when the band struck up Pomp and Circumstance.
Finally, we spotted him in the stream of graduates. We settled back down to hear words of advice and encouragement, then watched the procession of seniors collecting their diplomas. We were close to the front of the stage so I turned to let La Principessa know he was approaching. But she was already jumping up and down, screaming his name and appearing to be waving in a 747. She was holding up a small sign she had been writing while we waited: “Miguel love you.” She got his attention and yelled, "Good job!!" Her short little arm looked like an extension ladder, stretching, stretching, stretching to be sure he could see her enthusiastic thumbs up. He returned the gesture and beamed, heading off to grab his diploma. Later at our family celebration I asked Daddy-O if he had taken the note. I couldn’t find it anywhere and with all the commotion I didn’t want her to lose it. No worries there. Teen Spirit leaned in to tell me he had already tucked it away with his other mementos.