Saturday, June 11, 2011

SNSS: Brothers and Sisters: The Next Generation

Today's wonderful SNSS guest is a mom who blogs as Jennie B. at Anybody Want a Peanut? She has two young children: a four year old son, Moe, who is on the autism spectrum, and his little sister, two year-old Jelly Belly, who is not.

Jennie writes about family life, and also about her evolving role as an Autism Mom. She is a wonderfully helpful read for parents who have recently received an autism diagnosis for their child, and whose heads are still spinning and hearts are in freefall. It is like having a conversation with a supportive friend, one who has been through what you are going through.

Jennie is also a sister herself, to a beloved brother she lost to cancer a number of years ago. 

In this moving post, Jennie looks at her children through the lens of a sister who loved her brother, and hopes that someday they may grow into a likewise deep love. Come, grab a box of Kleenex and read it now...


Brothers and Sisters: The Next Generation - by Jennie B.

When I brought my daughter home from the hospital, my then 23 month old son Moe had an enormous meltdown then ignored me for a week. He paid no attention to the baby, preferring to spend hours alone in his room.

This was about six weeks before his autism diagnosis.

There were no pictures of big brother holding new baby sister.

Over the next few months, I was able to snap a few shots of Moe pushing Jelly in the swing, or staring intently at the baby in the bouncy seat. To the untrained eye, these pass as typical scenes, but I know that Moe had no interest in the girl in the seat. He just liked to watch the swing go back and forth, was drawn in by the spinning and vibrating toys.

Jelly, on the other hand, followed her brother around from the day she arrived at home, first with her eyes, then on hands and knees, then wobbly legs, and finally at full speed.

She did not care that Moe couldn’t talk; neither could she. He was just a bundle of energy closer in size to her than any of the other people she saw on a regular basis.

Jelly is now two and Moe is four. Not much has changed about their relationship since those early days. Moe spends less time alone in his room and tolerates Jelly’s presence. He is occasionally amused by her, but never engages her.

He lets her steal toys right out of his hands, but only because he doesn’t know how (or maybe just doesn’t care) to stop her. He enjoys having her at the dinner table, primarily because she eats more slowly than he does, and he can usually grab some tasty morsels from her plate. These days, this is generally followed by Jelly shouting “Swiper, no swiping!”

It hit me recently that Moe is now the age my brother was in my first real memories of him. Bill was three and a half years my junior and passed away 9 years ago.

My brother and I had a good relationship. As kids, we bickered, but we also got along as friends. We liked similar music and were unbeatable as a Pictionary team.

When he followed me to Berkeley, he as a freshman and I a recent graduate, my parents made us a deal that they would pay for any meal we had together. We didn’t need the extra incentive to see each other, but we appreciated it.

My parents were also thankful I was nearby to keep an eye on my brother, who was finishing up chemotherapy to treat a brain tumor that had been found during his senior year of high school. He did remarkably well, though on one occasion became very sick and needed to be taken to the emergency room.

It was the one and only time I was called on to be his caretaker. It turned out that he had a virus and would be fine, as he would be for the remainder of his college years, including a semester in Spain.

Beyond that emergency room visit, I never had to take care of my brother. My parents did all of the work that comes with caring for someone who is dying: bathing, dressing, bathroom needs. They did not want my brother to suffer the indignities of having his sister helping him in those ways, and allowed us both to preserve our relationship until the very end.

When I was pregnant with Jelly, my husband and I used to say that we had our first child for us, but we were having the second for Moe. Of course we wanted another child, but we also wanted him to have a sibling. I wanted my kids to have the kind of relationship I had with my brother. I wanted to know that they would have each other when Jeff and I were no longer around.

Although I fully expect Moe to be able to care for himself in basic ways, I have no idea how well he’ll be able to function as an independent adult. He’s too young and autism is too unpredictable.

I’d like to think that Jelly will always be around to support Moe, but I also hope that they can be just brother and sister, without any burden of care (even if she doesn’t see it as such). I want them both to enjoy the love and camaraderie that only growing up in the same household as another person can provide.

I want them to commiserate about their crazy parents. And I want to give them a credit card to use whenever they go out to dinner together.

Of course I can’t predict how my children’s relationship will develop any more than my parents could have predicted that my brother and I would like the same music or go to the same college.

As a parent, I can encourage and influence, but their relationship will be their own.

And like everything else, I’ll just have to wait and see how it turns out.


I love how Jennie weaves between her past and present here. Her love for her brother shines though so brightly, as well as her sadness at his loss, and at the gulf that currently separates her children.

And, that fear that a typical child may be burdened with the care of their SN sibling at some point in their life is something I think all parents of SN kids worry about (I know at least I do).

And now that you have enjoyed Jennie here, please follow her back to her bloggy home, Anybody Want a Peanut? for some more great reading.

Be sure to read the post, where she contemplates the potential for sibling rivalry in her house, or this lovely lyrical one, about what Moe may or may not remember, understand. And be sure to catch this very clever post, with a delightful surprise at the end of it.  

Finally, you can find and follow her on Twitter, and go "like" her on her Facebook page, because she is so very, very likable.

Thank you, Jennie, for your heartfelt thoughts about siblings. I do hope your children grow up with as much love between them as you and your brother so clearly had for each other.

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