Dylan, Part 3, “Nothing’s That Easy”
A few minutes after Dylan’s Sunday school class began, Bro-Bob stuck his head into the classroom door. Their teacher, Miss Anne turned, smiled at him, and nodded. She came up to the table where Dylan was coloring a picture of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. “Reverend Pilcher would like to speak with you.”
Dylan could only stare at Bro-Bob. Fear held him in his seat. He was in big trouble, he knew it. Yet, the big guy’s face lit up with a grin and he tipped his head over his shoulder in the direction of the hall. Around him, the other students didn’t seem to notice. Finally, Dylan jumped up and followed the minister down the hall. Bro-Bob turned to him, “How about if we go up to the dining room. The ladies are getting after-services hospitality ready. You and I could have first pick of the doughnuts. Dylan’s stomach twisted into knots. He loved donuts, but right now he didn’t think he could swallow even the best of them.
In the cafeteria, he couldn’t focus on the array of pastries. Instead of looking delicious, they smelled sickening sweet, not the least bit appetizing
“Go ahead, choose as many as you want,” Bro-Bob urged. When Dylan didn’t move, he asked, “Aren’t you hungry?”
“No. I mean yah, sue, but there’s so many different kinds I don’t know what to chose.”
“That’s never a problem for me,” said Bro-Bob. “I always go straight for the jelly donuts with the icing on the top because I know they’re filled with yummy raspberry jam.”
“I like chocolate better than anything,” Dylan said, “but chocolate ones sometimes have nuts inside. I hate nuts.”
Bro-Bob reached over and handed Dylan a rich brown donut with chocolate sprinkles on top. “No bad surprises inside this one. Just plain chocolate through and through.”
He then poured himself coffee from the big stainless, steel urn, and Dylan took a paper cup of orange juice. Bro-Bob led them to a corner of the parish hall near the multi-colored window that showed Jesus surrounded by children.
As they sat down, Dylan’s palms got sweaty. Was the minister going to kick him out of Sunday school? Tell him what an awful thing he’d done to his brother? He took too big a bite of donut and chewed it, focusing on keeping his mouth shut. It wasn’t easy. His mouth was so dry the gooey topping stuck to the roof of it. He grabbed his juice and gulped it down. That made him choke and cough. Bro-Bob took the glass from his hands and gently patted his back. Dylan felt his whole face heat up.
Before he could stop himself, he blurted out, “Why did you want to talk to me?”
“Well, it’s part of my job here at Three Crosses to get to know you, seeing as the children of the parish are my special ministry.”
Oh, there was that word was again.
“What do you mean ‘special’?”
“It means while God called me to serve all His people. In this time and this place, it is my particular mission to minister to the children of Three Crosses.”
“So special means particular?”
“Sometimes. Special is one of those words it’s hard to pin down.” Bro-Bob took a sip of coffee and put his cup down, “I bet you wonder about that word a lot, don’t you?”
“Why do you think that? Did somebody say something about me to you?”
“Yes, I’ve heard a lot of good things about you.” Bro-Bob took a bite of his donut and jelly oozed down his chin.
Dylan watched while he wiped it off, feeling suspicious and confused. Wasn’t this about the family picture he had drawn, about how he’d made Nick so mad? Not knowing what to say, he knocked some sprinkles off his donut and licked them off his finger.
Instead of talking about Nick, Bro-Bob nodded quietly. “Before I tell you all the fine things your teachers have told me about you, I want to tell you a story about me.”
Dylan took a careful bite of the donut.
The minister pulled his wallet out of his back pocket and slid a photograph out of a slot inside. “My story starts with a picture.”
He held it out and Dylan saw a tall, chubby guy who looked something like the minister. But he had curlier hair and lots of freckles, more than Dylan had ever seen on a grown-up. “Is that your brother?”
“Yep, that’s my big brother Edward.”
Big brother? Dylan looked again. The man in the picture couldn’t be older than Bro-Bob. He looked like a teenager. “Is this an old picture?” he asked.
“No, I took that photo last month.”
Dylan stared again at the photo.
“You think he looks a lot younger than me, right?”
“Well, yeah, sort of.”
“That’s because in many ways Edward stayed very young. He has trouble learning and knowing how to act around people. When he was little, my family didn’t know why he wasn’t learning things or why he didn’t respond in typical ways. Now we know he has a developmental disability called Autism Spectrum Disorder.”
“What is that exactly?”
Bro-Bob sighed heavily. “The thing is it’s very different from person to person. It takes time and involvement to understand these kids. It’s something we can talk about as we get to know each other.”
Light exploded in Dylan’s head. “People say that Edward’s special, don’t they?”
“You got it. My mom has a poem she hung up in his room at home. It’s called “Heaven’s Special Child.”
“I thought you wanted to talk to me about what I did to Nick in Sunday School last week?”
“You’re right, of course. Paster Adams thought I might be a good one to handle this ‘special’ ruckus” Bro-Bob winked at him, “given that you and I face similar sets of challenges at home.”
Dylan’s stomach clenched, “Like what?”
“For instance, the crazy word, “special.” Why do people call kids like Nick and Edward “special?” just because they have developmental disabilities?”
Dylan’s head bobbed up and down, “Right. It’s weird.”
“I agree. According to the dictionary, special means ‘better, greater, or otherwise different from what is usual.’ That’s so vague it’s no help. After all God made each of us uniquely ourselves. We’re all ‘different from what is usual.’”
“So why does everybody make a big deal over anything Nicholas does, but expect me to do everything perfectly.”
“It probably feels like that a lot of the time, but my guess is your parents and teachers really only expect each of you to do your own personal best.”
“I am trying. They should know that.”
“You’re right. If you feel like it’s unfair, it’s because it really is in a way. The things you achieve match well with the hopes and goals that your parents have for you. When life goes the way we expect it to go, we tend not to notice that – sort of like, we don’t get up every morning and say, “Hey, the sun rose today.” On the other hand, when something happens that’s much better than we expected, say the sunrise is especially spectacular, we stop and to “Wow!” It’s sort of like that with Nick. When he was born with Down Syndrome, your parents didn’t know what to expect. They knew he couldn’t achieve everything a kid without developmental issues could, but didn’t have any idea what he might be able to do. So, now when Nick does really well, it’s like an exceptional sunrise. It’s a wonderful surprise that makes them go “Wow!”
Dylan felt a shiver raise the hairs on his neck. He remembered his grandmother looking at Nick and whispering, “I thought he’d die young. That had made Dylan furious. But now he asked, “They’re just happy he’s alive, right?”
Bro-Bob’s chin jerked up and his eyebrow pulled together. “Every parent is, of course, grateful for the gift of life for their child, but they also want each child to have a life worth living. Just like you and me, Edward and Nick need to accomplish goals that make them feel good about themselves.
“Nick sure does get happy bringing home those art projects.”
“And he has a right to be. Creating them was much harder for Nick than you or I could ever imagine.”
Dylan chewed on his lower lip. It sound right somehow. Yet…
“Still, it doesn’t seem fair to you, does it?” Bro-Bob said. “Seems like Nick gets an easy ride while you have to work hard.”
Dylan looked up and examined the minister’s face. It creeped him out when grownups knew what you were thinking. It was like they had some superpower that went along with being bigger.
Bro-Bob smiled. “I didn’t read your thoughts. No one can read your thoughts. Whatever is in your head is your own and can only be known by other people if you actually tell them. Otherwise, we’re guessing.”
“But how come you knew exactly what I was thinking?” Dylan asked.
Part 4: “Nobody’s “Normal”
“Well,” Bro-Bob said, “It’s what I thought when I was your age. Grownups were always telling me that I had ‘to make allowances’ for Edward. I hated that.”
“So, you kinda guessed I was thinking the same thing?”
“Right. But I couldn’t be sure. It could be different for you.”
“What do you mean?”
“That no one, not even people that know us well can guess what’s in our heads. Just because we both have brothers with learning challenges doesn’t mean we feel or think the same way about it.”
“That sounds complicated.”
Bro-Bob’s deep laugh came right up from his belly. “You’re not making it easy on me, kid. Let me try an example. Do you ever get car sick?”
What did that have to do with anything, Dylan wondered. But he’d better answer. “Nah, I love riding in the car. My mom does, though. That’s why Dad has to drive me and Nick everywhere.”
“Right on. Same experience – same car ride. One person feels like upchucking, the person right next to her is just having a pleasant ride.”
“But what’s that got to do with me and Nick?”
“Just that some kids have a harder time dealing with sibs with disabilities than other kids. Just because I have a brother with autism doesn’t mean I get what it’s like for you and Nick.”
Bro-Bob leaned back. Dylan nodded. “When we were little, it didn’t bother me as much. Nick was pretty good at playing with the other kids – just went along with everyone, you know.”
“Now it’s harder?”
Dylan’s whole body stiffened. What could he say? How could he explain? He bit his lower lip and blurted out. “A lot of times Nick really can’t keep. We can’t always include him. I feel bad. He looks sad. It’s not my fault, though. I can’t fix it.”
Bro-Bob’s hand fell heavily on his shoulder. “These years will be toughest for both of you. Everything about school and sports is getting harder for Nick at the same time it’s getting easier for you. You’re walking a tight rope and balancing is scary.”
“You’re right. It is. Can’t Mom and Dad see that?”
“I think they do. That’s why they make a big deal when Nick does something well. They’re trying to keep his world right side up.”
“But what about me?”
“You’re not going to like it, but I have to be honest with you, Dylan. Nick’s not the only kid in your family who has to grow up differently from other kids. You do too.”
“But I’m normal!”
“I might like to debate that word sometime, but right now I want to help you stick out your chin, put your shoulders back, and face reality. Nick with all his extraordinary challenges is your brother. He’s your family. That means you are also different than most kids.
“That’s it, that’s all I can do – just face it, just tough it out?”
The big man smiled softly and shook his head. “I’m willing to bet it’s not all ‘tough.’ Nick has gifts that he brings to this world, gifts he shares with you. I’d like you to make an effort to notice those. We can talk about them the next time we meet.”
“Nothing’s good about having Nick for my brother.”
“Prove it to me then. Really try to see the good in Nick. If you can’t find it, you can tell me that when I see you next Sunday.”
Dylan felt a little trapped. “Okay, I’ll try. I’m not sure I’ll find much, though.”
That hearty laugh again. “I think you’ll surprise yourself,” the pastor said.
Monday at lunch as Dylan and Harley compared the amount of jelly on each of their sandwiches, Harley’s big brother George came along and slammed the back of Harley’s head. George didn’t hurt Harley but did call him “Dickhead” which made all a bunch of fifth-grade guys walk away snickering. Harley scrunched up his whole face in fury but just hunched his shoulders over his lunch. When his brother was out of earshot, he said, “I wish I could get back at him, but my parents would be mad at me cuz they never see all the stuff he does to me.”
After school, Dylan thought about Harley and George all the way home. While he gobbled down the cheese chunks and apple slices Mom put out for them, he pulled a piece of paper from his school bag and wrote, “Nick never hits me for no reason and never calls me rude names.” As he finished, he felt his mom standing behind him. He swung around just in time to see her smile as she ducked for cover.
On Tuesday evening, Grandpa came to dinner. Afterward, he and Nick took turns playing checkers with their grandfather. Like always Grandpa let Nick win. That usually made Dylan mad because he didn’t think it was fair. Grandpa often beat him at games and never let him win. But that night he beat Grandpa fair and square. He saw how proud that made Grandpa and it felt good.
By Sunday Dylan had five things to tell Bro-Bob. Five, wow! Maybe things weren’t as unfair as he thought.
Once he and the pastor settled down with their donuts, Dylan handed over his list. He didn’t take a single bite. His eyes never left Bro-Bob’s silently moving lips as the big guy read.
He knew the list by heart and could almost hear the words aloud.
- Nick never hits me just to be mean or call me bad names like some other big brothers.
- I get to read to Grandpa, something Nick might be doing if he didn’t have reading problems.
- Nick is happy to play board games with me even though I don’t let him win like Grandpa does.
- Mom is so worried about Nick getting the right foods, she never nags me about what I’m eating.
- Nick tells me all the time that he loves me and he really means it. I used to think this was embarrassing, but now I realize it’s a good thing.
Dylan put down the donut which was melting in his sweaty palms. “Is it too short?”
The pastor took a big bite of his jelly donut without answering and reread the list while he wiped the jelly off his chin. “It’s a good list. Short or long isn’t the point. You made the effort to look at things in a new way. That’s what counts.”
“Are they the right answers?”
“There aren’t right or wrong answers, Dylan, just answers that help us deal with our challenges or ones that don’t.”
Dylan smiled. “I should have added that I can always talk Nick into walking our dog for me when it’s my turn.”
Bro-Bob smiled right back. “Look at that. You’ve made a habit of noticing more good things about your brother.”
“But I still wish sometimes that he wasn’t my brother.”
“I get it. I felt about Edward that way sometimes.”
Bro-Bob crossed his finger across his big chest, “Absolutely, did. Lot of times. I just wanted our family to be normal.”
“You mean like other families, right?”
“Yep. But there’s no such thing. All families are unique.”
“That doesn’t sound right. Somethings must be ‘normal’.”
“Not really, Dylan. It’s a word that’s misused way too much. It’s really an idea that only works for arithmetic; it’s not a good way to describe human beings.”
“But people say it all the time.”
Bro-Bob pulled his bushy eyebrows tightly down across the bridge of his nose. “So, they do, but that doesn’t make it true. I think you’re smart enough to get it if I give you an example.”
Dylan didn’t feel that sure, but he said, “Okay.”
“The norm means the average. For instance, if you have 100 boys and you measure how tall each of them is, add that number together, and divide the sum by 100, you get their ‘average’ height – or the norm. But that doesn’t mean that any one of those boys is actually that tall.”
“So, you’re saying we can’t say one kid is ‘normal’ and another isn’t because we can’t measure them?”
“Not exactly, but I like that way of putting it. People come up with all kinds of tests for measuring kids and grown-ups, but it’s true that those tests aren’t all that reliable. Certainly not like measuring height.”
It was great that Bro-Bob talked with him just like they were friends. “Can we do this again?” he asked.
The big man nodded. “Anytime. If something is bothering you and you feel like you need a good listener, tell your parents you’d like to meet with me. They’ll arrange it.”
That surprised Dylan. “Did they know we’d be meeting today?”
“Yes, Miss Anne suggested it to them. She and I have been friends since we were kids so it came to her that you and I had an important connection.”
People did notice him. They did care. They didn’t fuss over Dylan like they did Nick, but his parents were watching out for him just the same.
“ I want to try to show my parents that I canwork at be a good brother to Nick.”
“It sounds to me like he’s always had a great brother in you. Just remember there’ll still be times he annoys you and you wish he lived on the moon. That’s okay, too. I’m sure he’d be happy for any extra time you want to spend with him.”
Dylan looked down at his unfinished donut. Maybe he’d take it home and share it with Nick. He wrapped it carefully in his napkin and stood to leave. “Yeah, I know. See you around, Bro-Bob.”
“See you around, Dylan.” The pastor struck out his hand. Dylan liked the strong firm feel of the handshake. Like they had a pact. They had each other’s back. That made Dylan feel very special!