Phew. I’m not gonna lie. Today was awful. Today we hugged, cried, and waved goodbye to our daughter, Madison. Madi is heading off to university in 2 weeks. Luckily, I will get to return and help her move into the dorms, but for Mike and Braden, this was goodbye. They won’t see her again until Christmas.
Mike and I are going to miss Madi tremendously. When we try to imagine our lives without her, we simply can’t. People send us platitudes, like, “Don’t be sad. You’ve done a great job.” Yes, I guess we have, but to be very honest, I think she could have been raised by wolves and still would have turned out the way she is. From birth she has shown humor, determination, and independence. I know many, many parents who are going through this exact same thing right now; saying goodbye to their college age kids, figuring out that life will never be “the same” again, and discovering their new normal. I’m thankful for Facebook so we can all share in the feelings.
So yes, Mike and I are sad. It’s when I think about Braden, however, that my heart truly just breaks. Braden loves his “sissy.” He is her #1 fan made apparent every time she walks into the room and his smile beams from ear to ear.
Braden was born when Madison was 23 months old. She loved him from the beginning. She always wanted to hold him and cuddle him. She couldn’t wait until he got old enough to play together. Some of our funnest times were when he was about 15 months old. They would get out of the bathtub and run around the house naked as could be. Madison would yell, “Chase us!” and we would. Braden and Madison would collapse on the floor in a fit of giggles. It was a daily routine.
When we realised Braden wasn’t developing on track with his peers, we thought, “Well, his sister does all the talking for him,” or “He’s hearing two languages (again, we were living in Indonesia at the time),” or “He’s a boy.” As time moved on, however, we understood that none of these were reasons for his not speaking.
By the time we had moved to Colorado to “figure things out,” we were well onto understanding that we thought Braden was autistic. But we hadn’t been given a clear diagnosis yet. So we talked about autism a lot, but we called it the “A word.” We didn’t want to use the word in front of Braden.
Braden was finally diagnosed at age five. I will talk about that in another post. I remember so clearly coming home from the doctor and telling Madison that we finally had an answer. She, at only 6 1/2 years old said, “Oh no, it’s not the A word, is it?”
Yes. It was the A word.
We had a diagnosis, but it didn’t really change how we worked with Braden. He was already attending a special pre school program for children with autism and was receiving hours and hours of speech therapy on top of that. We hired the most incredible speech path on the planet, Nicole, and she became part of our family.
You often hear of siblings of children on the spectrum being incredibly jealous, acting out, being upset that the other child was receiving more attention than them. Not Madi. She just seemed to “get it.” She understood at that early age, that sacrifices had to be made, both financially and time-wise, so Braden could progress. We had mommy-daughter dates every Saturday for two hours while Braden was in therapy, and Mike coached her soccer team, so she never really felt neglected.
It was her absolute love of Braden that always warmed my heart. She gets him. She understands that when he looks at her and says “yeah,” that he wants something. She works with him until she figures out exactly what it is he wants. Then, instead of getting it for him (like his mom and dad always do), she makes him get it himself!
Madison made her very first film about Braden. She learned so much from documenting his story. She learned that she could teach people about Braden and why he acts the way he acts. She was getting tired of the stares we received from people on the streets when they would see him. Well, to be honest, I was getting tired of the stares. She was the one who would say things like, “Mom, they just don’t understand. That’s why they’re staring.” In the process of documenting Braden, she discovered her love for film, but she also understood that she had the power to tell the stories of people who can’t tell their own. She went on to make multiple documentaries which helped raise money or awareness for various organizations and causes, and plans on continuing this method of story telling in the future. Braden is the reason she wants to become a filmmaker.
Madi is Braden’s biggest defender. She said that if kids at school said rude things about Braden, she just wouldn’t be their friend. She also became the biggest defender of students on the spectrum at the various international schools she’s been in. She doesn’t sit by while others tease. A counsellor from ISB told me last year that Madison is the one student at the school that a boy with Aspergers felt comfortable being around.
One night Mike and I were with our friends and we started discussing Braden and that he’ll be a lifetime financial commitment. The kids in the group were all playing pool and seemingly not paying attention. But Madison came up to all of us at the table and said, “I have heard what you’re saying. I don’t want you to worry. I’m prepared to take care of Braden when I get older. I will help with the finances.”
She was in 6th grade.
We were dumbfounded.
But not surprised.
That’s just Madison. And that’s just Braden. They love each other so much.
And now we’re here on the airplane flying to Bangkok while Madison is in Oregon awaiting move-in day for USC film school. I’m not sure how the next few days, weeks, months are going to play out. Braden will either be a complete mess, or he’ll be fine. We won’t know how he’s feeling until the behaviors start happening (things thrown out the window, etc.).
Perhaps Madison’s hugs over the past few months are enough to last him until Christmas. Maybe it will be enough for him to see her over FaceTime.