"It's Not About the Toothpaste" by Susan Anderson (CatholicMom.com) Copyright 2017 Susan Anderson. All rights reserved. Title added in Canva.

I was recently invited to offer my two cents on sibling rivalry. “Moi”?!?! Do I look like I have assembly with my ½ dozen, then seven, if you count my husband; Oh wait! One more! Because then there’s me?! If I’ve learned anything these past 27 years of being a mother, it is that I can’t change anyone. It is difficult enough to change myself.

But, I can influence, and that’s a lot of responsibility.

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Holidays can be tough. There’s so much expectation, so much pressure to be all, and do all. Relationships at these times often reveal what’s really going on with one personally, one’s relationship with God, and then with one’s neighbor. Another conclusion I’ve reached, is . . . wait for it . . .

You can’t separate the first two commandments. Wow. Really? You just figured that out, huh?

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.

Then, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

So if your relationship with God is any way askew, guess what?

Your interchange with your neighbor is going to reflect that.

Then it’s revealed that the relationship with my neighbor tells how much I love God.

The two go hand in hand.

This was never so apparent as when my oldest autistic son’s toothpaste went missing.

Now, I could go back to when the kids were little, later middle school, then high school. But, because relationships never end, they just change, I’ll start with the most recent.

We have three grown sons and three nearly-grown daughters.

At Thanksgiving, we did the usual gobble; ate, played charades and trivia games.

We’d taken the annual family photo.

We drank coffee, played guitar, walked the dog, and exercised in the basement, with the music really loud.

Overall, it was a great time.

But then came time for the younger sons and their girlfriends to leave and return to their homes, hours away.

Some of us were sitting in the living room when my autistic adult son bounded up the stairs with fire in his eyes, arms folded rigid over his chest, and his legs scissored at an angled stance. It was obvious that he was asserting his position as well as defending himself from any reciprocal lashing return.

“Did-- some--anyone-- (jerking his hands in the air) feel like they could just take my toothpaste?! That I should share it and that’s wrong if I don’t want to share it?!” When he gets angry, his words break off into fragments. I have to translate and piece them back together. No wonder the icon image for autism is a jigsaw puzzle piece.

Of course he was accusing one brother in particular, because the other had already left a day earlier. He was the only one who would be the culprit. I find this impressive because I’ve seen lately that my autistic son is trying to learn nuances, and speak indirectly. He’s learning discretion and the finer rules of conversation. But of course, he’s at the ‘rough draft’ stage of this game. A little rudimentary. Come to think of it, my other son is too. He’s not used to seeing his brother take such detailed notice.

I calmed my older son down with these statements, “It’s okay. When we have guests, sometimes they forget stuff like soap, a razor, or toothpaste. We also give our guests a towel to use. We can be gracious and let them use our toothpaste. It was on the counter, right? Try not to get upset about it. We can buy more toothpaste.”

He huffed a bit, then walked out of the room, stimming his way back downstairs, clapping and clicking.

My other son looked at me and said, “I guess I won’t brush my teeth ever again when I’m here.”

Heavens. I was fairly depleted after Turkey Day with all the fixins. I sat on the couch in a lifeguard hoodie and warm socks, hugging a cup of hot tea for my edgy throat.

I said to the younger, “You know, you could humble yourself and apologize. I do it all the time. It’s how we keep the peace. Your brother is learning, you know.”

I said further, “It’s not about the toothpaste. It’s never about the toothpaste. Think about road rage. Is it really about the other driver not using his blinker? There’s a bigger picture, here.”

“Put yourself in his place. Here you and your brother come home for the holidays, with your own cars, your own girlfriends, and your own lives. You stay for a few days, have a good time, then you go back home to your own independent careers and schedules. Your oldest brother is still here at home, with his parents. He doesn’t drive and he’s about to have another birthday. How do you think that makes him feel?”

We settled down a bit. It was quite a reality check for all of us. With autism, it always is.

Sibling rivalry, like everything else, is exaggerated.

The sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches are sometimes as acute as a search light blaring in your face, a stench that makes you plug your nose, a swallow of a chili pepper that you have to chase with ice water, and hot as a gas lit stove.

We need lots of empathy around here and lots of compassion.

And everyone needs his own corner of the boxing ring sometimes to cool off.

Here’s my take on sibling rivalry: it’s not about the way the toilet paper rolls, the way the dishwasher is loaded, or how the towels are folded.

Again, it’s not about the toothpaste.

It’s never about the toothpaste.

Copyright 2017 Susan Anderson