His Brother’s Keeper


It is a cold snowy afternoon, and the boys have just finished doing their homework. George – eleven years old now and as tall as me – is sitting on the couch trying not to cry. I am on the floor with my back up against the couch, holding his foot in my lap. I start ministering to his sore toe as gently as I can, knowing that no matter how hard I try, it’s going to hurt.

For the last couple of weeks, George has been plagued by an ingrown toenail. He was at the doctor earlier in the week – a feat in itself for this boy with autism who finds doctors to be mysterious and scary – and I am carefully following the care-and-cleaning instructions that I have been given.

He tries so hard to be brave as I clean and bathe his toe, but he cannot help getting distressed. As he cries out in pain, James suddenly appears in front of us. James – nine years old and full of energy – is just in from throwing snow in the back yard. His gaze moves from his brother on the couch to me on the floor surrounded by First Aid supplies.

“I want to do it,” he says.

“You want to do what?” I ask, not understanding.

“George’s toe,” he says. “I want to do it. George is my brother. I’m the one who gets to take care of him.”

I regard my son, blown away yet again by how much love and compassion is within him. I think about the practicalities of him dressing George’s toe and how I have already been kicked several times during these First Aid sessions. I don’t want James to get hurt.

But my Spidey-sense is telling me to listen to James. I switch places with him, and following my instructions, he calmly takes care of George’s toe. George is still crying but he is visibly less distressed. Maybe James’s small, light fingers are gentler than mine. Or maybe George is responding to the love of his brother.

James uses a little bit too much of the antiseptic lotion, and the dressing and bandage are a little haphazardly applied. But none of that matters next to the waves of kindness that are radiating from James.

With the job done, James gently kisses the newly applied bandage and gets onto the couch.

“You’re my George,” he says, wrapping his arms around his brother.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit to the author.


Brotherly Love

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Last week, George lost his footing while trying to climb a tree, and he had a nasty fall. There was no lasting damage, but there were some scary-looking cuts and scrapes. That night, George had a hard time sleeping, probably because he was aching all over and couldn’t find a comfortable position to lie in.

We decided to keep him home from school the next day. He was a little shaken and we felt that he needed time to recover, and a cut on his back was looking kind of angry. While James was puttering around getting ready for school, George was lying on the couch looking a little the worse for wear.

James, who had been present when George had fallen, was deeply concerned. He fussed around his brother, covering him with a blanket, making sure the TV was tuned to George’s favourite channel, and bringing him some of his Mr. Potato Heads to play with.

It was really very sweet, watching James take care of his brother with such obvious love and care. Being the sibling of a child with autism must be so hard at times, and I know that George sometimes drives James around the bend. But James’ compassion for George never wavers.

When we went to the grocery store yesterday, George started melting down. Although grocery store meltdowns are far less common than they used to be, they are harder to control. George is a tall-for-his-age nine-year old, and it’s not as easy to physically contain him as it was when he was, say, five. My husband and I were debating whether one of us would have to take him out of the store, but then James saved the day by letting George play with his Leap Pad.

This was just the distraction that George needed, and from that point he quite happily walked around the store with us while we got what we needed to get.

All James had to say about this was, “The only thing that makes me happy is if George is happy.”

And that, it would seem, is what brotherhood is all about.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)