Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Sisters And Brothers

When I was a kid, I desperately wanted more brothers and sisters. 

I had one brother, two years younger than me, but our relationship was strained. We were always either the best of friends or the worst of enemies. Because we often lived in neighborhoods where there weren't many other kids around, and because we didn't have any cousins our own age (except for BT, who lived in Oregon and came to visit us in Chicago for a few weeks in the summer) we were often stuck playing with each other. We could play happily for hours on end. We'd play He-Men or Barbies together, ride our bikes together, play outside on the swing set, or play make believe games with storylines that went on for days. In the summer, because our house didn't have air conditioning, we'd often sleep in the basement on the fold-out couch. We'd have a never-ending slumber party down there, watching movies and making weird recipes that didn't involve cooking (like instant pudding) and talking and laughing, and then we'd sleep in late the next day.

But the older we got, the more he passed me up socially and emotionally, and the meaner he would be to me. I used to hate how he was mean to other kids too, at school... he would bully kids who were different or who had special needs. We were still very close about 50% of the time, but the other 50% of the time he'd be yelling at me, making fun of me, calling me names, or putting me down.

I daydreamed about either having a much older brother or sister who would look out for me, or a much younger brother or sister who would look up to me... instead of just a similarly-aged brother who thought I was an idiot and thought everything I did was ridiculous.

Just about any time I made a friend, I would adopt them as my sibling or cousin. I had a best friend, Karen, who I referred to as my sister for years. My best friend at school and I called each other cousins, and we made up an elaborate story about how our dads were half brothers and that we'd just found out we were related. (It explained why we had not even known each other the first year of junior high, but in eighth grade were suddenly cousins!)

The little toddler a few doors down, who my brother and I babysat, became my "little brother." I became a little obsessed with him. I found him, and everything he did, adorable. I would use my allowance to buy him toys from the grocery store.

The guy who lived down the street, who was in his early 20's and was a headbanger and whose cat had a litter of kittens that he would bring out in the yard for us to play with, became my first big brother. My mom would get angry at me for hanging out at this guy's house, because she thought it was creepy. He was eight years older than me. She would tell me, "Why would a grown man want to hang out with a fourteen-year-old girl, unless he was a creep?" But it was not like that at all... Charlie never did anything inappropriate towards me or the other kids who would go sit on his front porch after school. If anything, he was socially more our age. We'd mostly talk about the show "Beavis and Butthead", if that tells you anything about him... and we could sometimes cajole him into doing our homework sheets for us... but he did try to encourage us to make good choice. I would complain to him endlessly about my mom, who, at the time, was always angry and yelling at me. I used to talk about running away from home. Charlie was the only one who could explain why it wasn't a good idea, without implying that I was an idiot... he'd say, "I know you could take care of yourself, but legally you wouldn't be allowed to get a job or get your own place to live, so it would be really hard. Just stick it out at home for a few more years."

This continued well past my teens, into my twenties. If I was friends with them, I loved them, and they became my family.

This used to drive my mom crazy. In my parents' eyes, you were required to love your family, and "family" included only those who were related to you by blood, marriage, or legal adoption. When you grew up you were supposed to find your future husband or wife, whatever the case may be, and you would love them, and that would be why you'd marry them, making them your family. You could like others, but you couldn't love them. It was impossible.

I never did understand this. I didn't see "like" and "love" in different degrees. I was not sure that I always loved my brother, who could be very cruel to me. I knew that I really did love my friends. As I got older, my circle of friends widened, and therefore my "family" grew and grew. Another guy eight years older than me, named Nick, became my big brother, and Tony became my somewhat little brother even though he was only five months younger than me, and Vicky and Karen became my sisters. This was how I introduced them to others, as my siblings. I became an aunt for the first time when I was nineteen, because Nick's girlfriend had a son. I lived with them, and long after she and Nick broke up I continued to live with his ex-girlfriend and her son off and on, for years. Her other children became my nieces. Her sisters became my little sisters. I never loved them any less than I love my "actual" nephew, Squeak, now.

I had a friend who became very addicted to drugs. She had two daughters, one who was the same age as my "nephew" and one who was younger. I used to take care of them. When their mother lost custody of them, I kept track of them through their time in foster care, and when they moved in with their father I started taking them on the weekends. I alternately referred to them as my children or my nieces. They'd refer to my nephew as their cousin or their brother. It didn't matter what words we used. I loved those kids.

Love is easy for me. People freak me out and I tend to keep my distance, but if they make it past my defensive barriers, they can worm their ways into my heart. Children can do this more quickly than adults. I have, very literally, loved almost all of the students I've worked with. At my last job, the children were always telling me, "I love you, Miss Angel," and I would tell them back, "I love you too." Because I did. Some of the other staff members found this inappropriate, because teachers should not "love" their students and vice versa. Love, they said, was reserved for family members.

I've heard that autistic people do not get attached easily to others... but I've alway s been the opposite.  It doesn't seem like you should be able to put parameters on love. I am not saying I am "in love" with everyone, like I want to marry them... but I love them. I love my students, I love my friends, I love just about every animal I've ever encountered, and I even love plants and inanimate objects. I don't know why people think that is odd, or bad. But they do.

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