Gia has a brother…his name is Nicholas.
In the same month that Gia received her apraxia diagnosis, Nicholas started wetting his pants. In just two weeks time, Nick went from a once a day oops, to a six or seven times a day habit. It got so bad, that just leaving my house with him gave me serious anxiety. I felt like I was potty training my son all over again; the son that had been potty trained for a year and a half.
Nick’s preschool teachers were sending home a bag of soiled clothes almost everyday he was there. After about a month, his teachers finally spoke up, “Is there anything that’s changed at home? Have you recently moved? Is there anything different going on that we should know about? Anything?”
I racked my brain.
“Well…” I said, “I guess there is something different.”
It never occurred to me that Gia’s recent diagnosis could be the culprit of this dramatic statement that Nick was so obviously trying to make.
I remember my drive home that day vividly. The kids were in the backseat fighting, while I was in the front seat connecting dots.
So many little things about Nick had changed in such a short amount of time. In between all of the pants wetting, there was so much more. My sweet and compassionate little guy had become angry and combative. He cried a lot. He stopped doing the things that got him the positive feedback he normally thrived off of. He almost seemed to prefer negative attention.
Nick didn’t like Gia anymore. Everything about her bothered him. Everything – the way she played, the way she laughed, the way she hugged, all of it. Something about his sister just irked him to his core. Gia is no wallflower. She didn’t put up with a second of her brother’s mistreatment. She fought back and she fought back hard.
My days were spent breaking up fights that had become downright vicious at times. I watched my ‘Irish twins’ go from being best friends to the worst of enemies.
It was one of the most stressful times in my life.
Doesn’t Nick know I don’t have time for this? I have Gia’s apraxia to worry about!
Just days after my conversation with Nick’s teachers, and still under my cloud of apraxia grief, I walked in to the lobby of FDH with both of my kiddos in tow. It was just another day, just another speech therapy appointment. A family followed in behind us, and in typical Nick and Gia fashion, they made a beeline for the two kids. The kids were a little shy, so the mother quickly spoke up and said, “Hi there! What’s your name?”. Nick jumped in first, “My name is Nicholas”. The mother’s body language then turned to Gia. Just as I was preparing to explain why Gia wouldn’t be participating in the conversation, Nick wrapped his arm around Gia’s shoulder and pulled her close.
“This is my sister, Gia. She talks a little funny. You have to listen very very carefully, and you have to be very very patient.”
I had spent so much time in my head, going over what I might say in this inevitable situation. Nick’s spontaneous explanation was so innocent but perfectly executed. I couldn’t have said it better myself. He taught me something that day. His words made such an impact on me, that I featured his statement in my apraxia awareness video.
I never explained Gia’s apraxia to Nick – after all, he was too young to understand.
I never coached Nick on what to say in this situation – after all, he was too young to understand.
I never demanded that Nick speak up for Gia – after all, he was too young to understand.
But was he too young to understand?
He showed me in that moment that he knew more than I ever gave him credit for. Which meant he had all of the feelings that went with that knowledge. His life had changed too. He was grieving the same as I was. His grief just came from a different place, a different perspective. The shift in our house was immediate and dramatic, and he felt it. He felt it all.
He was listening to me talk about Gia. He was riding to therapy for Gia. He was seeing me cry over Gia. He was watching me write about Gia. He was hearing my husband and I argue about Gia.
That day in FDH was a turning point for me. I knew Gia was going to be okay; that Nick would protect her, always. But I needed to protect Nick. It was my job, my obligation to create balance in my home again. Somewhere that Nick would feel safe, confident and important. Nick had joined me under my cloud, and it was my duty to lead the way out.
It was time to parent more consciously.
If Nick is talking, I listen. If Nick does something good, I praise him. If Nick helps me, I thank him. I try to be more present, make more eye contact. We get him involved in Gia’s speech therapy at home. We set aside alone time, just him with mom or dad. We give him positive reinforcement and reward him for good behavior.
So things got better. Then they got worse again. Then they got better. Then worse again. Then better. Then worse. You get the picture.
It’s been a little over a year since ALL of our lives changed. Nick’s struggle to adjust to apraxia life continues. His feelings toward his sister ebb and flow. Some days he embraces Gia, helping her with hand cues and sounding out words. Other days he loathes her, screaming that he “hates her words”. I tear up just writing that.
He resents her apraxia, but doesn’t want her to make progress. It’s confusing but it makes so much sense. Gia doesn’t need his help like she used to. She can introduce herself now.
So what is it that Nick needs, to feel like his value is the same as Gia’s apraxia? I still don’t have an answer to that question. Nick is just trying to find his place in all of this. What he needs may just be time.
Nicholas Tufano is one of the neatest people I know. There is something so special in his heart and in his mind. He is a deep, emotional and highly sensitive human being. He’s very intelligent, and that intelligence makes him complicated. So. Very. Complicated. He’s a genuine soul – like no one I’ve ever met. Sometimes I want to fast forward, just for a day, just to see who he becomes. That kid brings me so much joy. He’s my first born. He made me a mom.
If only he knew.
Nicholas has a sister…her name is Gia.