Since he was very young, Max has had this endearing but monumentally awkward habit: he goes in for the group hug at every opportunity.
To be clear, while we are definitely a snuggly and cuddly type of family, the classic “group hug” was not exactly an ordinary occurrence in our household. So I really have no idea where he got this from. But boy, does he go for it with gusto.
Thanks to Max, I’ve now been involved in all kinds of group hugs: with ICU Dad (easy), Max’s grandparents (another easy one), our nanny (slightly strange, but okay), the dad of the little girl with whom Max shares said nanny (does a shoulder pat work, Max? No? A hug? right then), Max’s favorite preschool teacher (umm …), the super in our building (I had to draw the line at that one)…
Despite the rather hilariously awkward situations I’ve found myself in thanks to this habit, I’m so, so thankful for it. Max is the most inclusive person I’ve ever met. In fact, when you tell him that there’s something to get excited about, his first reaction is “Let’s do it all together!! Mommy and Daddy and Uncle S and Auntie H and Neenee and Papa and S…” (we normally have to cut him off at that point or we’d never get anything done).
I wondered how Max would react when J came home. He had only ever known his little brother as an abstract concept, someone that Mommy and Daddy had to leave him to be with, and who he saw every few weeks in a hospital.
The day after J arrived, I was getting ready to take Max to camp, and strapped J into the baby carrier.
“Mommy, why you putting James in there?”
“Because, buddy, we can’t just leave him alone while I bring you to camp.”
“I want to go in the carrier, Mommy. Let’s leave James at home.”
“Max, you haven’t been in the carrier in a year. How about you walk right beside me and hold my hand, and then we can go all together.”
I had said the magic words. “Okay, Mommy, good idea. All together.”
That was it. Now the “all together” list still starts with Mommy and Daddy, but James is a solid third. Max accepted him into our family without question. He helps with J’s bath, he pats him when he cries, he kisses his hands and feet when he walks by his chair, he gives J his monster truck to play with… not sure how much James appreciates said monster truck being driven over his face, but we’re working on it.
Since becoming a “special needs” parent, I’ve heard many people refer to their non-special needs kid(s) as “typicals” or “neurotypicals”. This grates on me to no end. Max is the farthest thing from typical. He’s special. Extraordinary. In fact, a statistics lesson: if your brother is one in a billion, then you, as his sibling, are also one in a billion. At least.
My love for Max, my responsibility and duty to him, did not change when J came roaring into this world. If anything, I see Max in a whole new light after enduring J’s nightmare ordeal: having a healthy child is an absolute bloody incredible blessing that you should be thankful for every day of your life. Every milestone Max hits, every day he sleepily crawls into our bed to snuggle in the morning, every hug, every “why?”, every race to the park down the sidewalk is something to be celebrated — I know, now, that these moments are as miraculous as they are ordinary.
Today we had a party for Max’s birthday. I’ve been planning it for weeks; I wanted him to have a day “all together” with our family and friends that was just about him and his special place in our world. No matter how much we tried to shield him from it all, and despite his nearly constantly sunny disposition, Max was affected by everything that happened this year. How do I know? When I asked him what kind of special cake he wanted for his party last month, he excitedly jumped up and down and yelled “a hospital ambulance cake, Mommy.” Errr…we settled on a construction theme instead.
Max is our treasure, our sanity, our everything. Happy birthday to my beautiful, miraculous, other-one-in-a-billion boy.