comparison

Katie, September 2008

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When I first approached Luau with concerns about Brooke’s development nearly five and a half years ago, he dismissed them. Back then my argument was based largely on a comparison of her developmental trajectory to her sister’s.

“Hon,” he said numerous times, “you can’t compare her to Katie. Katie is an incredibly precocious kid. She always has been. So to say, ‘But Katie did such and such at this age and Brooke’s not doing that yet’ – well, it’s just not reasonable to expect that she – or any other kid – would.”

As wrong as he may have been to dismiss my concerns about Brooke, he was also absolutely right. Comparing my children – developmentally or otherwise – was and remains a useless exercise.

On the Ralph Lauren shoot earlier this week, we saw crew members that we hadn’t seen in years. We reminisced about the weeklong shoot in the Adirondacks, scratching our heads at how fast the time has flown since. It came up time and again and I found myself retracing our steps through the mountains three years ago, remembering.

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I remembered the ride. The chatting, the singing, Katie reading aloud. I remembered stopping in Saratoga for the night and telling the clerk at the inn that even though their policy was 16 years and over, he needn’t worry; my girl was very grown-up.

I remembered the restaurants – eating with the other kids and their moms – then hanging out at the table to enjoy each other’s company long after dinner had ended. I remembered her holding court with the kids, showing them a trick she’d learned from her dad.

I remembered her ease with the adults – how much she loved to be around them. I remembered her stepping in to calm one of the littler kids who was crying on set. I remembered the kids’ wrangler turning to me in awe when she did, telling me no one had been able to get her to settle down. I remembered her turning to Katie to ask if she wanted her job.

I remembered our shopping expedition in Lake Placid and the oh-so-cool crocheted beanie hat that she just HAD to have. I remembered the bead shop where we made jewelry – for her, for me, for the crew, for her sister.

I remembered her calling Daddy and talking and talking and talking. Ooh, Daddy! It’s soooooo awesome here! I wish you could see it. We so have to come back here together sometime.

I remembered listening ad nauseam to the same two CDs in the car – of all things Neil Diamond and Annie because we’d forgotten to grab the rest. I remembered inventing games when we were bored – creating stories together by alternating lines, then words – laughing at what we came up with.

I remembered pulling over when we saw a stuffed moose on the side of the road because Katie HAD to check it out, then walking through the taxidermy shop, giggling as we fought a case of the creeps and laughing with relief when we finally walked out.

Above all, I remembered the ease and the delicious feeling that I was traveling with a friend.

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On the way home on Wednesday afternoon, as we raced to catch the ferry from Orient Point to New London, it hit me. The thought careened into the car at a hundred miles an hour. That trip – that very first trip with Katie – was almost exactly three years ago. Memories twisted and cracked. Splintered shards of where we are now flew through the air.

As fast as the thought had come, I processed its implications in painfully slow motion.

Katie … is … two … years … older … than … her … sister. Three … years … ago … Katie … was … seven. Wait … That … can’t … be … right … No … no … it … was … three … years … ago … OK … yes … three … years … ago … So … she … was … seven.

Holy crap.

Katie was a full YEAR younger then than Brooke is NOW.

The wreckage began to smolder. The putrid smoke rose around me and filled the car. Comparison – useless, toxic comparison – hung limp overhead. I refused to give it air – all these years I’ve refused – and yet, there it was.

.

Three and a half hours later, we ran in through the garage door and bolted up the stairs in search of Luau and Brooke. I found them in the bathroom where Brooke was happily gathering bubbles in the tub. I ran to her, kissed her wet head and told her how much I loved her – how much I’d missed her.

“Hi, Mom,” she said, “the Godspell workers are going to the beach. They’ll need their bathing suits of the one pieces. Can you tell me that?”

I knelt by the side of the tub and launched into our routine. It’s what we do. It’s what she needs. It’s how we connect.

Later that night, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I knew I shouldn’t turn around. I knew, damn it. But there it was. In my house. The cloud of toxic smoke.

Katie was seven then.

Brooke is eight now.

There is no point in comparison. There never has been. There never will be. They are different children, different people, developing radically differently.

Autism or no, they are simply not meant to be compared.

No, I will not give it air.

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31 thoughts on “comparison

  1. It is so hard as a mom not to compare the milestones that children have. I first had a son – no issues. We watched him grow. Compared him to other children his age..I knew no different. He was fine. He did things different. Ok …no problem. Then I had twins. A boy and a girl. Each different …but still the same age …easier to compare and compare I did. Then my daughter started having seizures. She was way behind her brother. Thats when I knew that I wouldn’t be able to compare the twins. But I still compared the brothers.. Who wouldn’t. Then things started to change and I couldn’t compare. The seizures stopped on my daughter ..she caught up to her brother and passed him. We knew it wasn’t right. Thats when I stopped comparing ..thats when I knew my son had “issues” as I called it back then. I started researching what I knew and came up with autism. I knew what it was and tried to grasp it. My youngest son I would never be able to compare…with anybody…because he was going to do things as he wanted to when he wanted to if I wanted him to or not. But isn’t that really all of us? Doing things in our own time – when we want to if we want to? I know that there are other elements involved. And yes..a couple of years later we did get the official diagnosis. Severe autism non verbal. The label I hate.. the label that defines…the label that keeps me from comparing. I love your writing – it brings me to tears most times – because what you write is my life – here on paper (or computer). I am not bitter – I am accepting. This is my life – I accept – I share – I learn – I teach.

  2. Sometimes it just hits you like a mac truck…and then it switches gears and goes in reverse. My little lady has a twin brother so the comparisons were constant very early on, but there were also a lot of excuses. She is not talking because her twin is talking for her (um, no! he was never actually getting her a juice box or a snack), She is acting out for attention…totally normal in twins! It took a while before I could stop the comparisons. It is still hard and there are times that it creeps up on me and I have to consciously ignore it. They are two different people. She can put together 1000 piece lego sets in an a few hours. He runs for student council. She can type like the wind! He can talk for hours! She can perform a 2 hour movie…verbatim. He can create a power point presentation with is friends.
    As only Bono can say…
    “One love
    One blood
    One life
    You got to do what you should
    One life
    With each other
    Sisters
    Brothers
    One life
    But we’re not the same
    We get to
    Carry each other
    Carry each other”

  3. You are not alone in those thoughts. They are there for so many of us. There are different triggers: sibling comparisons, holidays, birthdays, the first day of school.. It’s hard not to think about the stark differences sometimes. The battle is to not let those thoughts take over. Some days that is just impossible. This too shall pass.. Or at least that’s what I tell myself on those days.

  4. It’s got to be the hardest thing to do. I had no one to compare Cymbie to. I had NO idea just how far behind, and how different she was, until I really stared payig close attention to other kids her age. With my second one on the way (2 weeks from today, in fact) I know one of my biggest challenges will be NOT to do this. Especially with the horrid fear of having another child on the spectrum, I fear the comparison will go both ways. But you’re absolutely right…typical or not, you simply can’t compare. They are two totally different people. with different personalities and different abilities. Another lesson I need to remember along the way…

  5. My oldest son was dignosed when he was 2 months older than my daughter is now, I constantly compare them and can’t figure out how I didn’t know sooner. How did I not see the signs earlier, how did I write off everyone that suggested it?

  6. Katie is just amazing – you know that, right? Wise beyond her years. If you had put Ethan (my sort-of-typical guy) into that situation at 7? Well, let’s just say we wouldn’t have been staying at THAT inn.

    As you know, like some of the others who have commented before me, I also have twins, in my case fraternal twin boys. So from the beginning there was comparison. How can there not be when you are watching their development, side by side, and it is so NOT going in lockstep? Most days I am able to shuttle those thoughts to the side, to be with and enjoy each of my children for who they are.

    But then there are the days when it sneaks up on me, when I am deep in conversation with Ethan and Jake comes into the room and it becomes all about autism. Or when there’s some place new I want to take Ethan to, now that he’s 9 and his understanding of the world is so expansive. And it hits me that if Jake comes along too it changes the whole dynamic and becomes all about making him comfortable and keeping him from disrupting the experience for others, and not about exploring the amazing place we’re at, hardly at all. Sigh.

  7. I can so relate to your story. I also waited too long to be concerned about my son’s development because I was told by the school system his older sister (2 years older) was so ‘advanced’ and also, ‘you can’t compare a boy to a girl’. Hence they refused to evaluate when he was just turning 3, and I walked away thinking I was an overprotective mother. A year passed and it became more and more painfully obvious he wasn’t keeping up with peers, so I enrolled him in speech. My youngest son approached age 2. He was also developmentally behind, so he started therapy with Early Intervention. With therapy my youngest son made leaps and bounds and started to move past my middle son in development in some ways (puzzles, pretend play, ability to recall letters, numbers). It was absolutely heartbreaking to watch. That’s when I finally really started looking for answers, and recently (age 5) he received the diagnosis of PDD-NOS. I didn’t mention that over the last two years I’ve asked to school to evaluate him THREE more times and each time they have refused. Now I’ve hired an attorney and they are finally conducting evaluations. Go figure.

  8. It’s human nature to compare, whether it’s kids or apples and oranges. And sometimes it’s helpful. With my first born, I had no comparison, so I could say, he’s on his own time table, everyone gets to these milestones at different times. I could bury my head in the sand. When his little brother came along, and was doing things at 2 that his older brother had yet to do at 5, I finally looked up and said whoa! And I secretly thank him for that. Now, I don’t compare, because I can’t. It’s so apples and oranges. Like you, I flip a switch to be the mommy I need to be at the moment. Scripting and routine and following his lead with one, conversations full of big words, big ideas, and big reasoning that to me would seem to be beyond his 4 years of age. I am two moms in one body. Sometimes I wish I could be just one, but to keep my sanity, I’ll be two.

  9. Nor should you……..and you are too good as a mother and as their best advocate to do that, so don’t waste the energy. We all second guess ourselves as a normal check on ourselves and our motives, but you are so far above the rest of the world in you motherhood and humanity to ever doubt yourself. In short, you are the BEST any child could have. And your girls are the best of the best because of what you give to them.
    Love,
    Dad

  10. Good for you for being strong enough, even if just in that moment, to deprive it of oxygen. I think I’ll try that phrase next time. I need some help in that area. That is exactly the realization that threw me into the spiral that has caused me to go anti-social for the past few weeks. My 7 year old NT has completely passed my 9 year old developmentally. The comparisons are hard to ignore.

    Not only did I allow the comparison oxygen, I gave it all of my own. This serves absolutely no purpose.

    Now that I’ve got air in my lungs again, I’ll add that go-to phrase to my arsenal. “No, I will not give it air.”

    Thanks for the weapon, friend. :)

    • Oh Luna, I have been in that exact same place. My kids seem to be the same ages as yours, with the NT being younger (and in some ways so much older). I also tend to go anti-social when it happens. Parallel lives.

      But my kids are a couple years older so I’ve had a bit more time to work on not feeding the flames when the next explosion hits. Hang in there. And thanks Jess for expressing the anguish so many of us face.

  11. It’s so hard not to compare. My two oldest daughters have autism. Their younger sister is NT. My girls are so dramatically different. Daughter 2 has cognitive delays in addition to her autism. Her challenges far exceed those of her sister. After daughter 3 was born I questioned every stage of her development. Was this normal? The only thing I had to compare her to was here sisters. She’s doing well,though I still find myself watching her, wondering if she exhibiting any autistic traits.

  12. It is very hard…yes indeed….it is something I think we all struggle with as others have stated. I find it to be mixed blessing in our case we have a set of twins (3 yrs) and older son (6 yrs) . One twin is “typical” and the other not….autistic & brain disorder. It is hard not to compare the twins but I know that they are both helping each other and their mother get through each day…day by day.

  13. No, dont let it trick you, don’t compare. Let’s better see how marvelous each one is. Let’s better talk and focus in how amazing they both are thanks to the fact that they both are theirselves. That each one helped the other to be the perfect girls they are now. Let’s talk about how Brooke helped you see the world In a most empatic way, in an ” open heart in your hand all time” way. To see a different world and then to create a new way to raise Kate watching that world with you and luau. Let’s talk about how marvelous is Katie and how she helps you and me and everyone that reads. This blog to see that there are kids growing around our kids hat WiLl help them, that will accept them and respect for how great they are and that won’t try to change them. That there are kids raised with siblings that helped them also to see this world as the great world it an be if we just accept each other as we are.

    Let’s talk an focus inthe fact that WE are ALL different, so different we make the world a better place to live just because of that, and we can learn so much of everybody because we are all different.

    Your girls are great amazing human beens :) you are too and your husband and you 4 had taught me so much there is no way to thank you.

    Hugs

  14. Those moments sneak up on you, even when you do your best not to compare at all. But sometimes they find you anyway. It’s human nature, I think. Watching them play with peers at a park. Seeing their artwork hung up next to their classmates’ at school. Remembering a moment from a sibling’s past. Those moments can hurt. But I always try to think about the child, about how far they have come in the last few years, or even months. Katie is an amazing person, and it would be hard for anyone to live up to her at times. Brooke is an equally amazing person. Like so many of ours, she just moves in her own time, and definitely in her own way.

  15. I love your blog, my daughter does not have autism but is apraxic with a possibility of minnor autism. This hit home with me, I had to stop reading the articles on what your child should be doing at this age or that age, because all it did was tear me down. No my daughter may not be able to tell me what she did at preschool, but she is the light of the room and loves to communicat without words. My high is hearing my daughter say star for the first time and saying more than once. It is so hard to not compare but just know that we live for the little moments that mean so much to us, that the rest of the world may not realize was a mountain for our child to get over. Thank you for the blog it keeps my sanity and allows for the smile and tears to flow. You are a amazing mother and no one can take the joys of your child from you not even a comparison.

  16. Since Nigel is older, I’m always trying to calculate at what ages they were the same emotional age. I have to keep reminding myself that no good will come of it, but it’s hard not to compare. Really hard.

  17. Oh, it is so HARD not to compare. Our son is an only child, but we have friends with children the same age and it is hard for me to hear what they are doing sometimes. The worst thing is hearing that their younger siblings are passing him by too. But, there is consolation in knowing that the progress is so much sweeter, knowing the work that it took to get there.

    Thanks, I really enjoy your blog.

  18. It’s hard not to compare, it’s human, I think. Having identical twins makes it next to impossible NOT to compare them. (Certainly everyone we meet does so!) Most days, we all go with the flow but sometimes, like your day yesterday, it just hits you and that’s that. Knocked down, wiped out, exhausted with the reality of it. I so can relate to that. xo

  19. I don’t think comparing is always a bad thing. As long as you don’t get upset that one child isn’t as “fast” as the other, or reaching milestones at the same time. My 6 year old is NT, and my 1 year old is NT as well. But I’ve always grown up having friends that have been disabled in one way or another. I think I have Aspergers, as I pretty much fit into the diagnoses completely, but I digress…. To compare is human. I compare my 2nd to my first all the time, even though they are different genders. It’s more because I find it interesting to see how one compares to the other. Not upset that my son doesn’t meet the milestones my daughter did. He’s almost non-verbal at 15 months, yet my daughter and I were both pretty much fluent by that age. Not upsetting though, every child is different.

  20. I also have twins like several of the other commenters. There hasn’t been a time when they couldn’t be compared but I think that fact has made it easier for me and taken the toxic smoke out of the situation. I find it’s the random moments that sneak up on you and hurt the most.

  21. Good for you for not giving oxygen to THAT fire. It’s not just parents of multiple children that compare. Believe me, I have to fight HARD on a daily basis to not compare my son to other children when we’re in the store or even at one of his therapies. So damnably hard to avoid yet so unbelievably fruitless. xo

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