Niki went to prom last night with her boyfriend, Zach. Confused? Let me clarify. There is a month in age difference between Zach and Niki and both of them have their birthdays at the beginning of the school year. It just so happened that Niki started Kindergarden when she was just barely five and Zach started Kindergarden when he had just barely turned 6. So, this is Zach’s senior year of high school.
Zach hasn’t gotten any blog time in awhile (he’s probably happy about that) but I thought it was about time he showed up again because we kinda like him. Okay…we kinda like him a lot.
Prom last night – Tyler (Zach’s twin brother), Zach, and Niki
We’ve known Zach and his family for many, many years now. I vividly remember the very first time I heard about Zach and Tyler from Les. It was our second year at summer camp. Niki was 9 and I was her counselor while Les was the counselor for the boys’ junior cabin. (Same age group as Niki) I was walking down to the cafeteria with my girls when I saw Les coming up behind me. I waited for him to catch up and he told me, “I’ve got to point out a boy to you in my cabin! I hope our sons turn out as caring and responsible as him. I’m utterly impressed with him!” He was talking about Zach. (At the time, we only had one child – Niki. No brothers on the scene for another couple of years.)
Zach’s twin brother, Tyler, is autistic. A couple of years prior, I had been a teacher in a classroom for severely autistic children. I was immediately intrigued when Les started his story. That morning, Zach had laid out an outfit for Tyler to put on and gave his brother a rundown of the morning schedule. Then he stepped back and just made sure Tyler stayed with the group without constantly giving him instructions. It was quite obvious that he had been taught to look out for his brother but also let his brother do his own thing.
I soon got to know Tyler during our daily activities since my girls did all of our activities with the junior boys. Tyler was so loving and sweet. He had a fascination with fairy tales and he would tell you all about them. He was SUCH a joy to be around. My experience with my classroom of autistic boys was VERY different from my experience with Tyler. It was so obvious that Tyler was brought up in a loving home where his parents worked tirelessly with him. In my classroom, I’d come home with almost daily wounds – especially on my hands – from the boys who acted out physically because they were frustrated with their inability to communicate with you. It got to the point where Les literally banned me from telling stories about my day at the dinner table because they were too much for him. I fell in love with Tyler that week. I had no idea that my time spent talking to him that week would leave a permanent impact on me and help mold me into the person I am today. He taught me that caring parents and patience to work with him could take a child with special needs a great distance. The lessons I learned from Tyler that week had affected how I approached my boys and their special needs. His parents were my inspiration. Tyler is the sweetest boy you’ll ever meet and it’s quite obvious that all the time his parents put into his therapies and guidance paid off!
A few years after this experience at camp, Les and I somehow got on the topic of kids getting married. I’m not even going to pretend to know why it got brought up but I’m sure something happened for the topic to be brought up at that point. I told Les that if arranged marriages were still acceptable, I’d hope Niki could marry Zach. He asked me why and I told him, “Zach genuinely cares and looks out for his brother, Tyler. An experience like that never leaves you. It permanently impacts your life. He would take care of our daughter.”
So, needless to say, the first time Zach called our house to talk to Niki – I was literally doing the happy dance in the other room.
Cindy and Eugene have raised three remarkable sons. I don’t know Gus as well as Zach and Tyler simply because he was always in the older group than Niki at camp. I know that Niki thinks of him as her older brother and he thinks of her as his younger sister – sibling teasing and all.
I feel blessed to have Zach’s family in our lives as they inspire me to raise our sons to be as caring as theirs.