A group of giggling children huddle down into two (somewhat) straight lines. As straight as excited preschoolers can, anyway. The word “Go!” is drowned out by cheering as the last child pops up, places their hands on the back in front of them, hops over the child just ahead, and quickly resumes their hunched position. The leapt-over child soon has their turn to be the jumper, and surpasses all the others, as the chain works its way to the finish line. Jump. Be jumped over. Jump. Be jumped over. Leapfrog. Each take their turn. An entire team wins.

Leapfrog was so much more fun when I was five.

I know my fellow disability parents already know what I’m talking about. A stage of life that goes by the same name, but is no fun at all. One where it feels like no one is the winner.

Before I joined the ranks of parents raising children with additional needs, I lived unaware of this cruel game of real-life leapfrog. I naively believed that all lives more or less follow the same pattern and progress at the same pace. I didn’t even know that I didn’t know, until I had two children: the oldest autistic, the youngest not autistic; and the possibility of Little Brother out-pacing Big Brother became a certainty. It was no longer reasonable for me to assume that Big Brother would graduate first, or be the first to date or drive. It was no longer reasonable to assume that Big Brother would move out, find a job, or otherwise “become an adult” before his younger brother. I had to adjust my expectations.

And I did. And I was ok. For years now, I have been at peace with the idea that my eldest is on his own timeline, and his life will be what it will be. He may or may not graduate in the traditional sense, but his cleverness will always impress. He may or may not have a career, but his eagerness and helpfulness will–at the very least–make him a valuable volunteer. He may or may not become a father someday, but I can already see him being the best uncle ever. I was really and truly at peace with my youngest surpassing him in ability someday.

I just wasn’t ready for “someday” to come so soon.

At the ages of 9 and 6, I am coming to terms with the fact that my youngest has already leapfrogged right over his brother. Academically, athletically, socially… and in so many more ways, my youngest has zoomed ahead, leaving my oldest behind. For a few years they were neck-and-neck, one inching ahead only to have the other catch up. Then for a few years they were even, just not the same; they had an even amount of strengths and weaknesses that were simply in different areas. Then, I began to notice that Little Brother was indisputably in the lead. Still, I was somehow ok. I was ok until the final stage of the leapfrog happened just a day ago on my couch.

My youngest noticed that his brother is behind.

I wasn’t ready.

I’m afraid I don’t really have a point to today’s post. There is no actionable step I’m asking you all to take. I’m just sitting with some feelings. Grieving, in a way. Tomorrow I will pick myself up and continue with the plan. The plan to love and support them both as the unique individuals they are. The plan to see them both grow, develop and change the world in their own way. Tomorrow I will stand up and resume my role as the kick-ass special needs mom I have become and know that I can be.

But today I am sitting. Thinking about the childhood game of leapfrog.

© 2023 Ashley Lilley – First time commenting? Please read my Comment Policy.

4 thoughts on “Leapfrog

  1. I have always felt in my heart that the younger son will one day be the protector and later on, his helper and mentor. It is harder to accept things when they don’t go as we had thought they would. I know as I struggle with that. But what I am learning is to trust in the sovereignty of God. I love hearing how your older son surprises you with all his positive changes that keep occuring. I too have seen the changes. You and Dan are doing everything possible to have your older and younger sons doing so well. I don’t think you see how much and how well you are doing as parents. This comment is in no way a dismisall of your post, but more of a I am trying to say, ” I hear you, understand you ( as much as I can with not living with a disabled child), love you guys, and that I see a big change in your oldest child. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I witnessed this happen a little, years ago, with some friends. It was certainly a challenge for them to adjust to (and continue to adjust to, I’m sure.) as it seems (especially to kids sometimes!) to “violate the natural order of things”. But of course, “the natural order of things” was defined by neurotypical, nondisabled, usually ableist people. Those who value diversity (as your family does) are certainly able to make the adjustment, and deal with a society that is much more rigid in their thinking. (No pun intended.)

    Liked by 1 person

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