His Tender Heart

Theo is my complicated child. With Sam, what you see is what you get—he’s either happy or he’s mad, and it’s generally pretty clear why. But Theo is—and always has been—a very complicated creature. He is exasperating and bullheaded and combative…but then he’ll turn around and be so sweet and kind and giving that I suddenly forget that he’s spent the better part of the day arguing with me.

The ages of six and seven have been challenging, to say the least. I don’t know if it’s influence from other first-graders or what, but Theo really struggles to speak respectfully to Chris and me, and we are constantly trying to communicate to him polite ways to express his frustration. (I should say, he is unfailingly polite to others, and I’m very often complimented on his manners. He saves his seven-year-old sass for us, apparently. Lucky us!) In short, he has a tendency to speak to us like we’re some sort of hired help, which is incredibly exasperating.

But then I hear him say things that just melt me. He and Sam share a room now, and whenever Sam is crying at night (which he does occasionally), I hear Theo over the monitor saying, “It’s okay, Sam, don’t worry. Mommy’s not going to die anytime soon!” And while I kind of wince at the mention of my demise, I’m touched to realize that in Theo’s world, me dying is the saddest thing he can think of, and he assumes that’s what’s troubling his little brother, too. And his attempts to reassure Sam are very tender and sweet.

And then I went to Open House and looked at Theo’s research paper on sharks. I opened the first page to find this dedication:

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And my heart melted right there. Theo could’ve picked anyone to dedicate that report to—his lady love Michaela (about whom he says “I’m in love with her”), Chris, me, his grandparents… And the one person in the world to whom Theo wanted to dedicate this project that he’d worked so hard on was his brother, Sam.

It’s actually pretty common for parents who have a new baby with special needs to wonder how that new child will affect his or her siblings. Will the child be a “burden” or an “embarrassment” to his or her siblings? It may sound silly, but it’s something we parents worry about…until we know better. Until we discover that our older children have wide-open hearts that brim with love and don’t care how many chromosomes their siblings have.

That’s pure love right there, and my feisty seven-year-old has it in spades. No matter how often he argues with me or talks to me like a hired hand, I never lose sight of the fact that underneath that seven-year-old sass lies a heart of gold.

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