Mom, Why Isn't Elias Like Other Four-Year-Olds?
Vitali sat up straight on the top bunk of his bed. He had one more deep thought before closing his eyes. Aaron stood by the bed talking with him. Two deep thinkers were connecting, taking pleasure in finding answers.
In the last month, Vitali has noticed that his little brother isn’t like other four-year-olds. He asked me, "Mom, why doesn't Elias play with me like other four-year-olds?" I answer quickly, “Everybody is made differently.” He continues playing, but I’m not satisfied with the answer I gave him, and my heart feels a little bruised. In this moment I find myself dreaming of what Elias would be like if he didn’t have Down syndrome, how he would be able to play with Vitali. They could ride bikes together and talk about what happened at school that day. But instead, Vitali notices that Elias acts more like his little sister.
Aaron leaned over the rail of Vitali’s bed. They were talking about our friends with Down syndrome and how much we love them. Then they started talking about people with Autism and how sometimes they can be incredibly smart in a particular area. Vitali’s eyes opened wide and he cracked a smile, “I have Autism!” It was like he had come to realize why he was so smart. Aaron explained more. “You can be smart and not have autism. You know what’s cool, Vitali? When God made people, he made us in his image. We have value because we bear God’s image,"
While Aaron was reasuring Vitali that we were all made exaclty how God intended, I was being reasured too. I have days when I feel very confident about how God made Elias. I have other days when I feel guilty because I want Elias to do things that a typical child his age would do. Days when I love how unique our family is, and other days when I feel sad that Vitali can’t talk to his brother like he would be able to if Elias didn’t have Down syndrome.
Now I’m writing all of this down and thinking about the emotional roller coaster I have been riding since Elias was born. It hurts a little to think about the days when I feel disatisfied. There are days when I realize that I am still letting some of my dreams go. I remember when the ultrasound tech told us that Elias was a boy. I cried happy tears thinking of all the things these brothers would do together. How they would play and go on adventures together. What life would look like when they were teenagers going to football games and prom. Who they would be like as husbands and fathers. After we found out Elias was a boy, I rubbed my life-filled belly and told Aaron how God knew exactly what Vitali needed: a little brother. I was right, but I had no idea what God’s plan was and what kind of little brother Elias would be.
Then I stop. I listen to my boys wrestling in the other room, and I think about Vitali’s question. “Why isn’t Elias like other four year-olds?” I pretend I answer him again…because God knows you need Elias, and Elias needs you! God knew that you needed someone to teach you to find excitement in the littlest of things, like cheering on the army of ants marching along the sidewalk, and yelling with gratitude when a hot burger and salted fries are put in front of you. God knew that Elias would need you to help his imagination run wild in the backyard. He needs you to show him how to build a skyscraper out of materials that someone else would call junk. If he didn’t have you, who would show him how to fight off the bad guys and be an honorable superhero?
I watch Aaron as he kissed Vitali goodnight and tucked his blanket next to his sleepy face. He was satisfied knowing that we are all made unique. But I knew that the next day he would ask me another "why" question about his brother, and that's okay. I need his honest mind to help me work through things, and to help me find rest at the end of the day in knowing that Elias is made in the image of God. No matter how many "why" questions we have, it doesn't change how precious and valuable his life is.