When my twins were babies, I saw a print of two young boys (who looked like twins) walking off into the sunset, side by side. They were wearing baseball caps and carrying bats and gloves. I had to have it and splurged to have it professionally framed. The picture hung in their nursery as a symbol of my hopes for the future.
I may have jinxed my boys because the early years saw no promise of athleticism. One of my boys, Barrett, has autism and his poor motor planning, and sensory processing deficits prevented him from participating in sports. His twin, Hunter, just wasn’t interested.
Things changed in middle school when Hunter started running. He ran for his school’s track and cross country teams and fell in love with the sport. It was fun for our family to attend the meets and cheer for him. Barrett attended all the meets and sat patiently in the stands or stood on the sidelines as his twin raced by. With Barrett’s limited communication skills, he was unable to express whether or not he wanted to run or if he felt left out.
I assumed he was fine just watching. I was wrong.
At Barrett’s IEP meeting last year, his physical education teacher asked me if there was anything I’d like him to work on with Barrett. I mentioned that his twin was a runner, and I thought that Barrett could probably run pretty fast if given the opportunity.
Barrett’s teacher made it her mission to get him on the school’s track team. The woman is a warrior. There were some issues to consider. Although his team of teachers and therapists were confident in his abilities, there was no way to know for sure if Barrett would even run. Would he have a meltdown on the team bus? Would he wander away from the team? Would he get hurt? Would he disrupt the momentum of another runner with some abnormal behavior? After much discussion, it was decided that one of his teachers would accompany Barrett to each practice, and one of the classroom peer buddies would run with him in the meets as a wingman. We were going to need volunteers! His teacher took it upon herself to get approvals. Soon after, she informed me that Barrett would need to be at practice on Monday.
Barrett didn’t attend the same school as Hunter. This was a potential scheduling concern for Mom. Not only was I worried about being in two places at one time, but what if I had to root for one son over the other? Fortunately, the track schedule revealed that the boys’ schools wouldn’t compete against each other.
The night before Barrett’s first meet, I went to check on him at bedtime. I found Hunter sitting on Barrett’s bed giving him a pep talk and “advising” him on running tactics. I backed out of the room so that they could have a brotherly moment.
Then I heard Hunter say, “Barrett, I’m really sorry. I wish we were on the same team so that we could run together.” He sounded so sad. That really hurt. I slipped away quietly.
Downstairs, I cried.
I’ve made peace with Barrett’s autism, I really have. The early years were tough, when Hunter marched on and Barrett stood still. Barrett’s come a long way and I’m so proud of all his milestones, many of which few thought he could reach. Sometimes I forget my boys are twins, because they’ve had such different experiences since the diagnosis. However, that night before Barrett’s first track meet, I realized that Hunter hasn’t forgotten and perhaps even feels guilty about his good fortune. He’s disappointed that he doesn’t get to share more twin moments. He deserves those moments. So does Barrett.
Last year I wrote a long rambling post about Barrett’s first track meet that featured the conversation I’d overheard. The focus of my essay was Barrett’s achievement, along with a video of him crossing the finish line (in last place), with the crowd going wild.
If you ever doubted the power of blogging to make dreams come true, stop, because that blog gave my twins the greatest gift. Barrett’s coach was one of the readers and he became our fairy godfather (and he will hate that I wrote that!). He contacted the county athletic director and got approval to have Hunter cross enemy lines. At Barrett’s next meet, Hunter donned the colors of his rival middle school and ran as his brother’s wingman. It was awesome! A little brotherly competition encouraged Barrett to shave 15 seconds off his time from the week before. And our boys got their moment to shine together.
Hunter’s in high school now, but Barrett’s still running for his middle school. On the weekends, Hunter runs with his brother and the pride on Barrett’s face never ceases to amaze me. Barrett was not okay with being a bystander. He needed his moment to shine. He needed to bond with his twin on an equal playing field. All he needed was a chance and for people to believe in him.
Allie Smith is a freelance writer and blogger who writes about parenting, autism, books, and travel on her blog, The Latchkey Mom. She’s an assistant editor for The HerStories Project and a contributing book reviewer for Chick Lit Plus. Each summer, she takes an epic road trip with four children and documents their adventures in a monthly column for My Forsyth magazine. Her work has been published by The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Full Grown People, The Forsyth Herald, Club Mid, Autism Speaks and various other sites. Most recently, Allie had an essay included in the anthology, Mothering Through the Darkness.
Check out more of Allie’s writing.