One of my favorite things about all the extra hours we get to have together during the summer has been watching my boys love each other.
I see these moments during other parts of the year, but there is something about the summer slowdown that really allows me to breathe it in.
So much of the time, we don’t get it “right.”
In fact, before I sat down to write these thoughts, I heard Knox yelling a big “NO, TOBIN!” And as I was yelling back from the other room for Knox to use a nicer voice, while walking to the scene, Knox begins yelling back, “MOMMMM! COME GET TOBIN! NO, TOBIN! NO!” And I’m walking quickly into the room yelling at Knox that I don’t care what Tobin is doing, he needs to talk nicer to Tobin. Then I reach the scene and see Tobin sitting in the floor with pieces of ripped pages in both hands… pages from one of Knox’s books and I panic a big, “NO, TOBIN!” and grab the pages…. And Knox tells me to talk nicer to Tobin.
Soooo glad we threw “perfect” out the window.
But still… there are so many, many Good moments.
I’m watching Knox share with his brother.
Protect his brother.
But most importantly, I see Knox working with his brother.
Tobin needs to feel things deeply. He seeks different senses—that’s why you’ll often find him climbing or doing summersaults, or even a yoga “down dog.”
Tobin likes to be upside down. He enjoys climbing into your lap and hanging on you, or bumping his head into you. This can be frustrating and can even be painful sometimes… but it’s been such a cool thing to really see Knox work with Tobin to give him what he needs. Knox will often stop what he is doing to tickle Tobin or “wrestle” with him. And Tobin will often interrupt Knox’s gaming time by crawling all over him.
Sometimes Tobin gets sad. Like really sad. And we don’t know why because he can’t communicate it to us. It comes on suddenly and he might stay sad for a long time. Over these summer weeks, I’ve seen how Knox notices. He notices his brother’s feelings and I hear him in the other room saying, “It’s okay, buddy. You’re okay. I love you, buddy.” Sometimes Knox tickles him and Tobin will laugh. Sometimes Knox tickles him and Tobin doesn’t laugh. But seeing them together in this way is just so Good.
And I’m noticing.
The other day, Knox had a friend over. The two of them were playing video games and talking to each other back and forth. Tobin comes into the room and immediately begins crawling all over Knox… while he’s gaming. Knox says, “Hey, Tobin. How are you doing?” Tobin is crawling all over him and Knox is leaning forward, straining to see the screen and talking with his friend. Then Tobin stops and sits between the boys for a minute. Then he begins leaning on the friend, crawling all over him. The friend says, “Hey, Tobin. How are you?” and begins leaning forward, straining to see the screen and continues talking with Knox.
I then go in and redirect Tobin so the boys can play. But I’m struck by this moment… how natural it was. How both older boys just allowed Tobin to be Tobin. They worked with him and didn’t get frustrated or upset.
And this isn’t just a one-time thing.
Knox’s friends will almost always say “hello” to Tobin, even when Tobin doesn’t acknowledge it. And those kids don’t give up. They know to lean down and look at him and use sweet voices and keep engaging patiently with Tobin until Tobin responds. And if Tobin doesn’t respond, they’re okay with that, too. They just smile at him and walk on. But they take the time to notice. To acknowledge. To engage. The big kids do it. The little kids do it. On their own.
The other day at church, another five-year-old in Tobin’s class greeted him at the door. She said, “Hello, Tobin.” Tobin didn’t respond. She continued, “Would you like a mint?” Tobin grabs it up and the girl smiles. We prompt Tobin to wave and tell the little girl “Thank you.” But she wasn’t finished. “What kind of cookie would you like?” she says. She’s looking him right in the eyes and he is looking at her now.
I say, “Thank you so much. I’m sure he would like whatever kind of cookie you would bring him. That is so thoughtful of you to think of him.” The little girl doesn’t look at me. She just continues smiling at Tobin and then skips off to get him a cookie.
And she is five years old.
This past May, I had Knox in the car with one of his buddies. And they tell me this story about a kid in their class who had said “a really bad cuss word.” When they were finished with the story, Knox says, “I think he is kind of like Tobin, Mom. I don’t think he really understands what he is saying when he says that.” The friend agreed.
And I’m struck by the level of understanding these boys have. When I was that age, I would have probably gotten very upset. I don’t know that I would have understood. I think I would have just been so outraged at the behavior.
And, of course, it isn’t just the kids. Grown-ups constantly surprise me with the little ways they engage and love on Tobin.
I remember once we were on vacation and ran into some friends at a restaurant. Our friend was talking with Brian for a while, then goes to join his family and tells our table “goodbye.” All of a sudden, he turns, walks back to our table and goes over to Tobin. He looks at Tobin and says, “Bye, Tobin. Good to see you.” And he tries to give Tobin a high five. He then leaves our table to join his and I’m in tears at the simple gesture.
Tobin has autism. Autism affects Tobin in many different ways. It affects our family in many different ways.
But I think we all probably have some sort of developmental delay:
Some sort of thing we feel like “everyone else” has figured out.
A place in ourselves we feel behind.
Or maybe it’s a blind spot in ourselves we can’t see.
Of course it’s always easy to find these things in others.
Those things that make people challenging. Hard to be around. Those particular people we find difficult to have kindness for. Mean people. Grumpy people. Fake people. Forgetful people. Annoying people.
Tobin is easy to love. But it’s what he teaches us about love that I’m noticing:
Watching people lovingly interact with Tobin, work with Tobin, treat Tobin with such love and empathy and understanding and dignity… it fills me with hope.
Because we all need these things from each other.
And because Tobin brings that out of us… showing us what it looks like to love with no expectations or strings attached… he makes us all better.
And that can change the world.