By Wayne Chan
Northwest Asian Weekly
In about 10 days, our oldest son Tyler is heading off to college. Maybe I need to provide a little background.
Tyler is indeed our eldest child, but since he is a triplet, he’s only older by about three minutes because he came out first. Whether he was born three minutes or three years ahead, you can still say that he was born to be a leader.
Even the doctor remarked that Tyler was the one who got the whole delivery started when he broke his mom’s water. Evidently, he didn’t want to be stuck in there with his brother and sister anymore — he wanted out! I don’t know how the doctor determined that Tyler was the one who broke it — unless there’s some in-utero interrogation technique that I’m not aware of.
For the last 18 years, his mother and I have raised him the best we could. Of course we wondered: What kind of person would he turn out to be? What will he do with his life?
I know we probably put more pressure on him to make the most out of his life than many others. Some of it undoubtedly comes from being parents, but I’m sure a lot of it has to do with the fact that we all have had to deal with the fact that his brother and sister are autistic.
Since the age of 2, Tyler’s life has been surrounded by a near-constant presence of doctors, special needs therapists, alternative therapies, and just a generalized feeling of organized chaos. Understandably, we, especially their heroic mom, focused most of our attention on what needed the most attention — Tyler’s brother, Ethan, and sister, Savannah.
With so much effort being spent on Ethan and Savannah, we also wanted to make sure Tyler could grow up in an environment that was as “typical” as it could be. So, we decided early on that we would not let his brother and sister’s diagnosis stop us from doing anything.
We went on vacations — flying all over the world. The first time we took the three of them out for dinner as a family, we brought along a triplet stroller, three baby carriers, a backpack filled with diapers, and enough milk to open a dairy. After fellow diners watched what we had to do to get through a simple dinner, they stood up to applaud our efforts as we got up to leave.
Then, there was the time we decided to take the triplets to the San Diego Zoo to visit the newly opened panda exhibit. As I was pushing the triplet stroller near the panda enclosure, half the people in the panda line left to surround us as apparently, we were the more exciting draw.
Looking back at the last few years, as far as I can tell, Tyler has become just your average American boy, sometimes irritatingly so.
When he was about 6 years old and we were in the car on a car trip, as he was looking at me from the backseat as I was driving, he pointed to the back of my head and said he noticed a gray hair. Since I was still in my 30s and didn’t appreciate having any gray hairs, I asked Tyler to pull it out. He started digging into my hair and suddenly said, “I’m like your personal monkey!” And for the record, he ended up pulling about 10 perfectly black hairs out while leaving the solitary gray hair in place.
This is a boy who started playing tennis with me and, after a few points, innocently remarked to me, “You know, you don’t have to hit it so soft to me.” I told him, “I’m not trying to hit it soft to you!”
Then the next time we played, I deliberately tried hitting the ball harder, and he said, “You know, you’re definitely hitting it a little harder to me now.” I told him to stop talking.
And the last time we played (and I’m pretty sure it will be the last time), he said, “I want to beat you while you’re still young enough to play.” Faint praise, indeed.
Still, we’ve discovered that having him grow up with two special needs kids has affected him — and I couldn’t be any prouder of him for it.
In high school, he started a club called “Best Pals” in which he would recruit other students so that they could spend time at lunch with special needs kids just to keep them company.
For his senior project, he started “Aceing Autism,” which is a group of volunteers that gets together every weekend to teach special needs kids how to improve their hand/eye coordination by learning tennis.
And in middle school, when he saw a group of bullies towering over a special needs kid during lunch — he stepped in front of the boy and stood up to the bullies and got them to stop.
When he was younger, as I tucked him into bed every night, my last words of the night to him were, “You’re my hero.”
As he heads off to school at UCLA, those same three words keep running through my mind.
Wayne Chan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.