Raising AJ


Kassem Ossman

My brother reminds me to keep my childlike wonder in the back of my pocket.

I wrote four different outlines of what I wanted this article to become. Questions of my intentions kept running through my head, and now I stare at the blank screen of my Chromebook, listening to Lo-Fi music. AJ sleeps less than five feet from me, sprawled on my bed because he wanted to stay up until I came home but he failed his mission.

I know what my angle will be.

Aldo Joseph Perino (or AJ) is a short, stocky eight year old with messy dirty-blonde hair, glasses he always forgets to wear and two huge front teeth that are still growing in that show when he smiles. He loves playing with Barbies, listening to jazz music and waking up at the butt-crack of dawn to get me up. He hates not having a schedule for the day, stores that are crowded with people, loud noises and when his brother stays at school past his bedtime.

AJ was also born with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). He was diagnosed at age six. It has been a struggle at times to handle his diagnosis, but with the help of his mom and I, we have made our home as comforting for him as we can for him.

Before AJ was born, however, I was always told that I didn’t act my age and was branded the mature child. Being an only child for nine years, you have the tendency to be surrounded by a lot of adults, so I was raised with a cup of joe and today’s newspaper in my hand while I waited for my oatmeal to be ready. But when he was born, I took on the enormous responsibility of being a big brother, a position I took pride in.

Growing up alone was not the greatest experience, so I wanted AJ to have the joys of playing toys with someone and going to all the fun places he wanted to go even if Mom was working. It can be tough to handle both his schedule and mine with his therapy and my extensive after school programs but when we have the time, we go on adventures.

I mean I have memories that stack up higher than Mount Everest. One of my favorites would have to be one Saturday afternoon, we had been sitting in the house all day and if you know AJ, you know that is his hell, so he comes up with the bright idea to take a stroll through the neighborhood–in the pouring rain.

So I obviously object, “AJ we will get sick,” but that, of course, is followed by “I promise we won’t.” After 10 minutes of this debate, we are standing outside. Rain soaking up through my shoes into my socks. AJ ran ten steps ahead of me out of the safety of the umbrella only for him to stick his face into the clouds and just stare in awe at how water is literally falling from the sky.

And at first I’m thinking “dude, it’s raining, there’s nothing too crazy,” but then I look up and the droplets start pouring on my now exposed face and then I think, “Wow. Water is literally coming from the freaking clouds.”

I had to grow up fast, which comes at a big disadvantage because I tend to think about every single issue and problems in the future that wraps me in my head, but AJ slows me down. He lets me look at the world for what it is and choose to enjoy every part of it. For me, a rainy day means staying inside all day working on homework but for AJ, that means a day to play in the puddles and watch water magically appear from the sky.

But AJ makes me stop my busy life and look at the details that make the world such a unique place.

Coming home from Peoria after the state speech competition is another memory that comes to mind when thinking of him. It was a crazy day, with a jam packed schedule giving me less than 10 minutes to even recognize that it was the last time I could perform with my team.

I was already an emotional wreck. I didn’t sleep well, I didn’t get into the finals, and I knew it was my last speech experience.

But on the late ride home, AJ called and a wave of emotions hit me.

Sadness because I missed him more than I missed the comforts of being in my own bed. Anger because it is four hours past his bedtime, and he should be sound asleep. Annoyance because the kid then proceeded to call me every ten minutes until I got home.

When I finally got home, he held his arms out wide, showing me a letter and gifts he had handpicked for me the day prior as he smiled. He waited over six hours past his bedtime to ensure he was the deliverer of his presents and that I had a huge hug from him. Even in writing this I am tearing up because he cared so much about my well-being and wanted to make sure I was going to be OK before I fell asleep.

AJ has impacted my life. He has made me into the person I am, and he has taught me to be curious about everything, passionate and proud of the things I do and above all, show compassion to the people I love most. He has changed my life. Being an older brother comes with its challenges, but I would never change anything about it.