My older brother, the Reverend Doctor Jim Robinson, is a very special man. Through the 65 years I’ve been his little sister, he’s been my friend, my rival, my tormenter, my hero, and when I came to the end of my caregiver’s rope, he was my rescuer. When I finally picked up the phone and said I can’t do this anymore, he picked up the reins and stepped in as Mom and Dad’s primary caregiver. It’s not an unfamiliar role for him. As a minister, he’s cared for the needs of various churches for over 50 years; and 15 years ago, he became one of the caregivers for his special grandson Kyle.
Jim already had several grandchildren when Kyle came along. He loves being a grandpa, and his favorite cap says If I had known grandchildren were so much fun, I’d have had them first. But Kyle was special. He was the first born of Colin, Jim’s youngest, and Jim was going to be at the hospital for the birth. Everything went well, and Jim immediately fell in love with the little boy with the big expressive eyes. And then, as Jim cuddled him in his arms, Kyle had the first of several seizures. For the next several years, the doctors examined and tested, trying to discover what synapses were misfiring or what signals were getting crossed in that beautiful little head. They finally agreed that Kyle had cerebral palsy and would spend his life trapped inside a body that refused to respond to his commands.
His family was determined that Kyle would not be isolated, and they learned how to communicate with him, especially Grandpa. From those first moments in the hospital, Kyle was Grandpa’s boy. When Kyle was two years old, I was spending Christmas in Arkansas with the Robinsons. One evening we were playing dominoes, and Kyle was sitting in Grandpa’s lap. With a mischievous glint in his eyes, he stared at Jim until he got his attention.
“What do you want, Kyle?” Jim said.
Kyle grinned and cut his eyes over to the glass bowl on the end table by the couch. Jim followed his gaze and returned the grin.
“You don’t want a piece of candy, do you?”
Of course he did, and he got it. Every child knows what an easy touch Grandpa is.
Through the years, Jim spent as much time with Kyle as possible. There were times when circumstances separated them by miles, but there was always a heart connection. Jim has never been afraid of or put off by the messiness of loving Kyle. He dresses him, bathes him, moves him from car to wheelchair to bed, feeds him, always with gentleness and caring, but also with a good deal of teasing.
“You don’t want any of Mimi’s chocolate cake, do you?” The answer is always a roll of the eyes and a definite nod. There’s always room for dessert.
“You’re such a nerd!”
When we were visiting last week, Jim elaborated a little bit about the “nerd” thing.
“I asked him if I should stop calling him that, and he said No. Nobody can call you that but me, though,” he said, shifting his attention to Kyle. “You’re Grandpa’s Nerd, aren’t you?”
The sparkle in Kyle’s eyes and the loving look toward Grandpa were all the answer that was needed.
Kyle is 15 and is doing well in school. He has an aide who takes him from class to class and takes care of his needs during the day, and he has an eye-activated computer that “speaks” and frees him from some of the constraints of his neurological disorder. It’s slower than speech, and he sometimes gets left behind in conversations, but when he speaks he has a lot to say.
There’s an old joke that says old preachers never retire, they just go on and on and on. Jim is no exception. He has retired several times only to accept one interim position or another. This time the retirement may stick, but he still fills an empty pulpit when called on. Kyle loves to go with him when he preaches. He sits on the front row and wins the hearts of the congregation with his smiling eyes and his sweet spirit. On one such occasion, he had something to say to Grandpa after church.
“If I could talk, I’d be a preacher.”
After the “nerd” discussion last week, I asked Kyle about it.
“I hear you told Grandpa you’d be a preacher if you could talk.”
He nodded his confirmation.
“Do you have a word processing program on your computer?”
He indicated that he did.
Kyle looked at Jim and I saw sparks fly in both their eyes.
“That’s a really good idea,” said Jim.
I don’t know if anything will come of that brief brainstorm or if it will be lost in the overflow of ideas that come at us every day. But I know Kyle, and he has an excellent memory. If that was really a spark of inspiration in his eyes, he won’t forget. If he really wants to be a preacher, he’ll find a way to make his voice heard. And if one of these days Grandpa and his Nerd fill the pulpit together, I want to be there, right on the front row.