Dawson was never particularly excited at becoming a big brother. Even when she was born and the first thing everyone said was that she looked just like Dawson – he wasn’t excited. He especially wasn’t excited when she came home and cried basically non-stop until she was a year old. He got mad at her when she used to move his matchbox cars that he had so meticulously set in rows. And the one time he was really really sick – like go the ER with bronchitis sick – she one upped him and had an emergency appendectomy the same day.
But despite all the outward displays of displeasure at our decision to provide him a sibling he truly loves his sister. When he was about five years old he and Teagan were playing in the PlayPlace at McDonald’s (a.k.a. Fight Club for Toddlers) and a little boy came up and sucker punched him. He was shocked/hurt/scared – no kids he had ever played with before had just walked up and punched him. So he started out of the play place, not exactly crying but not sure what the heck had just happened. He got about half way out and went back for his sister and grabbed her hand and started leading her out too. He was hurt and had a quick path out going down the slide but instead turned around and went back for little one year old Teagan to make sure the bully kid didn’t hit her to.
So when you find out that your little sister has a brain tumor – the little sister that you wished would have been a puppy instead of a baby – what do you do? I don’t know. I know that you get thrown into this terrifically confusing world of hospitals and doctors and surgeries – a world that your Mom & Dad are having trouble understanding and explaining. And if Mom and Dad are having trouble handling it – how do you handle it at age 9? I don’t know. If Mom and Dad feel hurt, fear, guilt, anger, anxiety, lonely, exhausted – how does a 9-year-old cope with those same emotions? I don’t know.
The reason I don’t know the answers to these questions is because Dawson does not talk about it. He never truly “acted out” in any way – occasionally he might get mad or angry about something but it wasn’t like he was holding his breath until he turned blue or breaking things or anything. I can’t remember why I was picking him up from school one day – he was sick I think – and his lovely 4th grade teacher met me in office. His teacher pulled me aside and informed that Dawson seemed to be struggling a bit and while he understood our family’s situation and our need to take care of our daughter that we shouldn’t ignore Dawson. The total shock that someone had actually just said that to me didn’t quite hit me until I was in the parking lot – which is a good thing because had it actually sunk in completely in the office I’m pretty sure the teacher would have suffered a black eye …. or two – maybe a broken rib.
I was devastated. See this was just a few short months away from our chemo treatments being complete. So, according to his teacher, I had been failing my son for about 16 months at this point. The next day at chemo I reported this to Dr. Goodman and Ms Molly who immediately told me that no one should have ever said those things and the person who did was horribly underestimating our situation. They comforted me and that made me feel better, but I’m still not 100% convinced that there wasn’t some truth in the teachers words. Guilt is my friend.
From nearly day one of this long strange trip I’ve said that it probably had to be the hardest on Dawson. I gave him things to read that were written by other siblings of cancer survivors who talked about their feelings like feeling guilty that they were healthy or feeling upset because they weren’t getting enough attention and then feeling guilty for being upset. He looked at them. He would always listen to me when I told him I knew this was hard for him and it was OK if he felt left out, or angry, or guilty, or mad. He would just shake his head. But he’s never commented on the situation.
So since I’ve spent a month talking about Teagan I felt it was only fair to give Dawson a little time. Throughout the whole 18 months that Teagan was going through treatment he never really treated her any different. He was still her big brother which meant he could boss her around if he wanted to. And the current Love/Hate relationship that they have now was only strengthened during her treatments. For those who don’t know how their Love/Hate thing goes they are either best pals who are trying to outdo each other or they are screaming at each other and slamming doors. There isn’t any in between. And as a parent I can’t tell you which is worse. Dawson never treated her any different – he just acted like everything was normal.
He gives her encouragement when she needs it. He’s pushed her in occupational therapy and more recently in soccer to do better and try harder. He has stood up for her when someone makes fun of her – because in his mind he can tease her but no one else can. He rarely tells his friends what’s “wrong” with her when they ask why her arm and wrist don’t work right or why she walks with a limp. If anyone gets credit for keeping her “normal” it’s him.
And even though now it’s a daily coin toss to see if they are going to get along or be at each others throats you can still see that she looks up to and admires him. And he does love her even when he wants to kill her for turning the channel on the TV or taking his Xbox controller. He still is the kid that turned around and went back into the PlayPlace to lead his sister to safety — I think through this whole thing that’s really all he’s ever wanted to do.