Entering the gates of the local pool I immediately felt overwhelmed by the number of bathing suit-clad patrons. The seating area was full, and swimmers were practically shoulder to shoulder in the four foot section of the pool. In the wading area toddlers were clamoring for a spot on the little slide. My immediate thought was, "We've got to get out of here!"
I looked down at my toddler, Liam, who was glowing as he surveyed the sight before him. His little hand was already wriggling to get out of mine, his plans of a great escape toward the slide and shooting water overriding any fears he had before we passed through the entrance. I gripped his hand tightly and glanced at my two guys behind me. They only had eyes for the spiral slide.
"Come on, Uncle," my eight year old said. "Let's go get on that slide!"
"Alright, Spence," my brother said.
I called reminders about check-ins, and where our table was, and sunscreen - but my words fell on deaf ears. Those ears could only hear the water rushing down the slide chanting the names of my guys, begging them to come for a ride. I watched as they trotted off together laughing. I watched as they walked up the stairs to embark on the adventure down the yellow tubey thing. I witnessed them going down the slide, Spencer first. Spencer waited at the stairs to give his uncle a high five when he got out of the water. Hand slapping completed, the boy took the adult's hand and led him to the next adventure.
This friendship between my guys is something I never dreamed might happen. My brother is protective of all of my children, but there is something special between my eight-year old son and my youngest brother, who is 31.
The remarkable aspect of their friendship hinges on the fact that my brother has a developmental disability, more specifically a brain injury that has forever trapped Erik vacillating somewhere between a child and an adult.
My brother, Erik, riding bumper cars.
Erik has been thrilled with the birth of each of our four children, and has encouraged me to have more. His love for his nieces and nephews is apparent in the gifts he showers on them and his willingness to give them his most prized possessions if it is what their hearts desire.
However, with Spencer something is different. As Spencer grew into boyhood I noticed that their relationsihp, my brother and my son's, was changing. I noticed that Erik was sitting on the floor playing with matchbox cars, or dinosaurs, or reading books to his nephew in his slow and difficult-to-understand speech. I noticed that Erik joked with his nephew, and laughed at Spencer's ridiculous 1st grader jokes. I noticed that they had arguments over what game to play, and would even storm off angry, and then make up and start the whole thing all over again.
I noticed that for the first time in his life my brother had a friend.
Dress up with Uncle two summers ago.
There is something about their friendship that kind of kills me. Theirs is a pure friendship. My two guys genuinely like and love each other for no other reason that mutual admiration. Spencer thinks his Uncle is the coolest guy in the world (especially when he buys him junk food and toys at the Family Dollar store), and in truth does not think that there is anything Erik cannot do. I have tried to explain that Erik is not truly capable of adult decisions but Spencer will have none of it. In his eyes Uncle Erik is amazing. After all, he plays the drums, piano, guitar, and vacuums like no other. Erik has money and his own room, two things Spencer deeply desires, and Uncle can stay up past his bedtime. What more is there in life?
My parents and I have worried about Spencer outgrowing his Uncle Erik. Truthfully, that may be a reality. After all, Spencer will move on to things that Erik never will; driving a car, having a girlfriend, going to college, getting married, having children. The list could go on and on. But I also think that Erik's friendship with Spencer has inspired him in little ways.
This week Erik and I were talking about jobs that he would be good at. We discussed bagging groceries and shelving books at the library.
"You couldn't talk to people, though, Erik. You couldn't follow them out to their cars talking about Rush or Montgomery Gentry. You would have to just do your job. Could you do it?"
"Yes, yes I could. I could be quiet and do my job," Erik confidently answered.
We both silently pondered opportunities. I could tell Erik had something on his mind so I asked him what he was thinking.
"If I got a job could Spencer come with me?" Erik sweetly asked, the question revealing deeper things.
My only answer was a reassuring hug and reminder that he, my brother, will never be alone.
My guys. I sure love my guys.
Erik, Spencer, and Ella, the new puppy.