Ryan was looking totally adorable, like a summer day, with his blonde curls and big blue eyes. It was one of my favorite pics and made an ideal desktop background. I was on the computer and could sense Ben standing behind me. He approached the computer screen, inching closer and closer to the image of his younger brother:
Yes, very good, Ben, that’s your brother.
This same conversation played out three times this past weekend. That’s because we have three computers, all of which currently feature only Ryan’s mug. I know, bad Autism Dad! Now in my defense, I wasn’t even aware of the Ryan monopoly until Ben, if unintentionally, brought it to my attention. I’ve often featured Ben’s pic as my desktop background; lately, though, Ben has been so scattered, that it’s been a challenge to get nice pics of him.
How did all of this affect Ben? It’s hard to know. Because of his autism, it’s impossible to have one of those “enlightened” father-son discussions that might go something like this:
Ben, how are you feeling? Did Daddy do anything to hurt you?
That’s not going to happen, so we’re left to speculate. Was he jealous, did he feel excluded? The more likely scenario is that Ben was simply recognizing and identifying objects, like a photograph, that make up his proximate world. He saw a pic of his brother and he put a name to it. Maybe I understood this rationally. But emotionally, it was a different story. I felt like a bad parent, as if I’d bought Ryan a treat at the candy store, and allowed Ben to walk away emptyhanded.
And apparently this guilt was worrying enough that it seeped into my soul while I was asleep. What else could explain why I awoke in a panic at 2:30 a.m. this morning? What else but guilt could cause me to turn on the computer at that insane hour, sift through my photo albums, and change the background pic on three computers, like some CIA mole.
I’d never encountered this dilemma before. Maybe it’s comparable to that feeling you get when your girlfriend calls to say she’s on her way over. Oh shit! You try to anticipate and avert any potential crisis. Maybe you start by making sure her pic is featured on the fridge. (I kid the ladies.) Not in the corner, but if you know what’s good for you, you give it prominent, premium position. I’m talking front and center.
All I know is that I am relieved that I took care of this now, because starting Tuesday, the boys will be staying with me, and I don’t ever want Ben to feel he receives second billing. There will be no more Photo Management Failures, commonly known as PMFs. You see, good old-fashioned guilt — the fear of hurting those we love most — is a great motivator! But it’s also worth noting that guilt couldn’t exist without love. If parents feel guilty, it’s because they care. Sometimes too much.
Before I went back to sleep, I did one more thing. I walked into the kitchen and stood before the fridge. Last weekend, the boys had been playing with the magnetic letters, moving everything around. As a result, my pics of the boys had been pushed to the side and, even worse, a photo of an old girlfriend was now staring at me, uncomfortably so. I promptly removed her from the fridge. A recent shot of my boys that I adore now occupies that premium position. That’s right, Ben and Ryan are again front and center. On my fridge, on my laptop…
…and in my life.
Now that my conscience is clear, may I go back to sleep? 🙂