74: Joseph’s Wish

74: Joseph’s Wish

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum

Joseph’s Wish

A brother is a friend given by nature.

~Jean Baptiste Legouve

It was almost Christmas. Most of our shopping was done, and we planned to spend the next few evenings wrapping presents, baking cookies, and watching Christmas classics.

“Mommy, there’s a new Christmas movie on tonight called Annabelle’s Wish. Can I watch it?”

“Sure, Joseph,” I replied.

Joseph, my enthusiastic four-and-a-half-year-old, could barely wait until Christmas. Even during the brutal year following his younger brother’s diagnosis, Joseph was full of joy.

“Why can’t Stuey talk?” he asked one day.

“Because he has a boo-boo in his brain.” In another year or so, Joseph would be ready for us to share with him the words we heard that black April morning. Stuey has autism.

Joseph cuddled up with my husband, Stu, to watch the adorable animated movie, while I spent the hour guarding our Christmas tree. Stuey loved to grab the ornaments and smash them on the floor. He would celebrate any successful attempt by clapping and jumping on his tippy-toes.

Annabelle’s Wish is the story of Billy, a young boy living on a farm, who has been mute since surviving a fire in which his parents died. Early in the movie, a calf named Annabelle, born on Christmas Eve, becomes Billy’s Christmas present. Billy and Annabelle’s friendship grows stronger with each passing day.

Every Christmas Eve, when Santa arrives, he sprinkles magic dust over the animals and says, “Let the talking begin.” The animals receive the gift of speech for one day.

On Annabelle’s first birthday, she learns that Billy can’t speak.

“Oh, that’s so sad,” Annabelle replies. And she decides that next year she will have a special wish for Santa.

A year passes, and Santa arrives to share his magic dust. Annabelle whispers in Santa’s ear and he nods. On Christmas morning, Billy finds a golden box under the tree. It appears to be empty, but as he lifts it over his head and turns it upside down, some of Santa’s magic dust falls gently upon him.

“There’s nothing in here,” Billy announces.

His grandpa jumps up and runs toward him.

“Grandpa, I talked!” Billy exclaims as his grandfather cries and embraces him.

Billy runs out to the barn, shouting, “Annabelle, I can talk!”

“Moo,” is all Annabelle can reply.

“She gave her voice to you,” Annabelle’s mother tells Billy. “To hear you talk, that was Annabelle’s wish.”

After the movie, Stu tucked Joseph into bed.

“I’ve got my Christmas wish for Santa. I’m gonna wish that Stuey could talk,” Joseph said and then closed his eyes.

Stu walked downstairs and told me what Joseph said. My husband’s eyes were red and glassy as he tried but failed to fight his tears.

“I want him to have his dream. How can I tell him his wish won’t come true?”

The next morning, Joseph described the movie as he slurped cereal.

“Will you watch it with me after school?” he asked.

I managed to have two kids fed, washed, and dressed for school, clothes ironed and lunch boxes packed, but I wasn’t ready to talk about this movie. “Okay, go get your coat,” was all I could say.

I could think of little else while Joseph was gone. All of us wanted Stuey to talk and to be a part of our family in every way. Stu and I were hopeful it would happen someday, if we worked very hard, and if Stuey got the best treatment possible. How could we tell our dear Joseph, who saw a solution amid the promise and magic of Santa Claus, that this would be a lifelong journey.

Joseph popped in the video as soon as he arrived home from school. As he snuggled against me, I could see his thoughts as clearly as the veins of an autumn leaf revealed by a ray of sunlight. When the movie ended, I called Stu at work. “We have a problem.”

“I agree. I’ll talk to him tonight,” Stu promised.

The warm glow of our Christmas tree flowed from the living room into our kitchen. Joseph was coloring at the table while I stood at the counter, chopping carrots, deep in thought. In the year leading to Stuey’s diagnosis, I learned how to function on three hours sleep, how to keep Stuey from running away or flipping the furniture in our home, how to work with and advocate for my disabled son while serving as Joseph’s class mother and play-date-broker. I learned to bear up under pressure, exhaustion, and despair. But, I didn’t have the strength to break Joseph’s heart.

Joseph and I began to chat, and he dropped hints about his Christmas wish. I knew it was impossible to avoid the issue any longer. “What do you want Santa to bring you?” I asked, feeling a growing sense of strength from within, and beyond.

“It’s a secret,” Joseph said.

I never loved him more than I did at that moment. No matter what else I had to deal with, I had a son who cared more for his little brother than he did for himself. He gave me the strength to face the truth, and now I had to share that truth with him, no matter how much it hurt. As his hopes climbed with each passing moment, I knew they would have that much farther to fall.

“Joseph,” I said, waiting for him to turn toward me.

“Santa can’t make Stuey talk,” I said softly, when his eyes met mine.

“Why not?” His shoulders slumped, and he began to cry, my words shattering his dream of talking and playing with his brother on Christmas morning. I knelt down and embraced him. The sum of our pain was immeasurable. My attempt to be strong failed, and I sobbed with him. We held each other and cried for what seemed like hours. Finally, I explained.

“Joseph, Annabelle’s Wish is make-believe. Santa doesn’t have that kind of magic. But Stuey can still get better. If we work hard with him every day, slowly he’ll begin to talk. You’ll see.”

Christmas has come and gone fourteen times. With the grace of God, and the dedication of his family and many professionals, Stuey has slowly improved.

“JoJo!” Stuey exclaimed when he heard the car door slam. He ran to the driveway and embraced his big brother, home from his first semester of college, where he studies Special Education.

The warm glow of our Christmas tree flowed from the living room into our kitchen. I stood at the counter, chopping carrots, as Joseph and Stuey decorated our Christmas tree, reciting the names of the ceramic Disney ornaments as they gently hung them on the evergreen branches.

There was no magic dust for Stuey. But he has been given a greater gift. A brother who has a magical love for him, like Annabelle loved Billy.

~Terri Manzione

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