Growing up, my little brothers and I were the best of friends. Our family was particularly close. We rarely fought and I knew that those boys would always be there for me no matter what. We covered for each other. We learned German so we could talk to one another without our parents knowing what we were talking about at the dinner table. We built 20 foot Go-Karts out of scraps we found out in the store room. We caught creatures in the neighborhood ditch. We rode our bikes to the 7-11 to play Asteroids, drink crème sodas and buy some Big League Chew. We hung green lizards from our earlobes to gross out the girls that lived next door.
We had a bond that could not be broken.
To this day, no one makes me laugh as hard as my brother Chris. He keeps me in stitches on a regular basis. I know that when I am having a bad day, I can IM him. He is always right there and he will have something hilarious at the ready, whether it is a crazy story about my little nieces or a funny YouTube clip. When we were young, we spent every waking moment outside playing together -- we were aliens, monsters, Eskimos, Indians and safari hunters. As adults, he has kept me laughing through unimaginably painful times over the last decade. I can't imagine what my life would have been like without him. I don't want to imagine because in a sense I already know.
Our youngest brother, Joseph, died 7 years ago, suddenly and without warning. April 18, 2002 was just a regular day until, without warning, he passed out at work at the end of his day and disappeared without the chance to say goodbye at the age of 23. You accept that you will lose people that you love that are older than you; you don't expect to lose a sibling and certainly not one that young. Our bond has surpassed death. He loved the color red and it is sprinkled all throughout my home. His whispers are everywhere as I raise my children to show them everything I can. No one on this planet taught me how to live life more fully than that boy. He tried everything. He was not afraid to live. He lived every day like it was his last and was loved by everyone who knew him.
Knowing brothers and sisters have a very special bond, I was thrilled when I gave birth to a kid of each flavor. First a boy. Then a girl. I just didn't realize how special my kids' bond would be.
Liam was diagnosed with autism when Mairin was just six weeks old. His diagnosis was grim. We were told he would never talk again. He would need an institution by age five due to the severity of his symptoms. He would never, ever run through the ditches in the neighborhood showing her how to get dirty and catch crawfish. He wouldn't be there to beat the boys from school off with a stick when she was a teenager. He wouldn't have friends over to cramp her style and make her girlfriends cry. He wouldn't take her Barbies, shave their heads, throw them out of second story windows with homemade parachutes and pull their limbs off in horrible war re-enactments in the backyard. He wouldn't ride bikes with her around the neighborhood. He wouldn't be able to play with her the way other siblings do... or would he?
Every day, Liam emerges more and more from his autism haze. Over the years, he and Mairin have compromised on the things they do together but have maintained separate interests. She tolerates still watching Winnie the Pooh on Friday Movie Night and he tolerates going to see chick flicks in the theater like Bride Wars. It is clear that they love each other. They look out for one another in their own way. They interact if I force it but I always wondered when they would hit their stride and bond without an adult coaxing them to do so.
Enter The Jonas Brothers.
Our family has so much to thank Walt Disney for over the years. Without Disney, I doubt Liam would talk. Without Pixar, he might not sing. Disney made Pinocchio a real boy and in an odd way gave me my own boy back. Liam can tell you anything and everything about any Disney movie made. His world revolves around them. He knows what year they debuted. He knows who the directors and which actors does what character's voice over. He learns social situations from them and has scripted their dialogues more times than I could ever imagine. He uses the scripts appropriately and unless someone really knows Aladdin or Tarzan, they might not realize the conversation they just had with Liam came directly from the movie.
Now I can thank Disney for the Jonas Brothers -- a Band of Brothers who have created a brother's bond in our home.
Mairin would marry Nick Jonas if she could close enough to let him know how much she loves him. She broke up with her boyfriend last summer because her crush on Nick was getting a little too intense. Those feelings were real and she didn't want to "cheat on Will." She finally came to her senses and realized that would Nick's proposal would never materialize, but deep down, every girl loves a rock star. I suspect Nick is still included in her bedtime prayers.
Liam thinks The Jonas Brothers are the coolest band ever, primarily because they rocked Year 3000 in Disney's Meet the Robinsons. They fit the criteria. They wear black. They are teenagers. They are cool and girls scream for them. Liam desperately wants to be a cool teenager too.
When the kids found out that tickets were going on sale for an August concert at the New Orleans Arena, they begged me to set our alarm clock for 10am so we wouldn't get busy and forget. When I say kids, I mean both of them! They both reminded me over and over again for two weeks. On Saturday morning, all three of us held our breath for 10 incredibly stressful minutes until Ticketmaster confirmed that yes indeed, come August 15th, we will indeed get to experience them live.
At 10:10 am Mairin and Liam yelled, "Yessssssssssssssssssssssssssss!" and high-fived each other all over the first floor of house. They both broke out singing Year 3000 at the top of their lungs, making air guitars out of wooden spoons in the kitchen. They ran upstairs to look for posterboards while discussing what would be on the signs they will hold. Mairin squealing that she was going to put a giant heart on it for Nick. Liam yelling back that Joe Jonas is way cooler than Nick. It got quiet. They thundered down the stairs again asking who we knew that could get us backstage. Are we going to get glowsticks? Will we buy t-shirts there or get them before we go? Mom -- Have you seen our Jonas Brother's CD? Can we have your cell phone to call Madelaine, Kathryn, Alexis, Elizabeth, Hannah, Terry, Nicole, Paul and Ross to let them know we are going to a rock concert? Back upstairs again as this big ticket item had inspired them both to clean their rooms in utter appreciation.
I went back to my coffee and my laptop. I updated my Facebook status proclaiming our ticket victory. Immediately the condolences started pouring in. "Sorry you have to sit through that." Or "I would rather die." Little did my friends know that every single note played, every lyric that those boys will sing, every single penny spent on those tickets, the gas to get down there, the glowsticks, the t-shirts and the concert programs so worth it. It is worth it to watch the moments they shared on a warm spring morning nearly eleven years to the day that Liam was diagnosed, not to mention the moments I know that are coming later on this summer.
If nothing else, knowing I have an entire summer with the best chore carrot ever, made me grin from ear to ear.
Autism has been the strangest experience of my life. Positives and negatives, hope and despair, triumphs and defeat, laughter and tears. One of the oddest blessings it has brought into my life is a new family I have come to know and love over the last decade. A new band of brothers, and sisters, that I never knew or could have hoped existed. They are there for me whenever I need them and I am here for them.
We have a bond that won't be broken. We cover for each other in ways some of our own blood families cannot understand.
Somehow, through it all we have learned to laugh again, to live again and to dance.
Follow Shelley Hendrix Reynolds on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Shelleysfinger