Instantly, little C's hands fly up to his ears, and his whole body tenses in panic. He begins to cry, and my heart breaks. Again.
I hate it. I hate every damned second of it, but I know that a lifetime of waiting to vacuum until he's asleep, or at a friend's house, or even in another room, will do him no favors. At some point, he will be at someone else's house, or at his preschool, or any other random place that vacuums are wielded, and he will need to not go to pieces when he hears that noise. He will need to keep calm, hold his ears, and take a deep breath - whatever he needs to do to stay in one piece.
This moment is bigger than the vacuum. This moment will be a stepping stone to the motorcycle engine, the firetruck horn, the deep bass of the movie theater.
For the many life moments that simply can't be predicted as easily as a vacuum cleaner, I need my boy to do this - starting here, at home, where he has a soft place to fall.
So I grit my teeth, and start vacuuming, careful to keep my actions as seemingly casual and natural as possible.
And still he wails, and I feel like the worse parent on the face of the earth.
Conditioning is suck-tastic that way.
Big C is sitting on the couch, watching whatever program is flickering on the TV. This is old hat for him, and he is seemingly unfazed both by the machine and his brother's cries.
Or so I think.
With all the energy that is so envy-inducingly present in a 4-year old's body, he springs from the couch, and starts running around the room like a maniac, screaming and waving his arms in the air.
I think at first that he is mocking his brother, but then I see it.
He stops, and looks at little C with that conspiratorial grin on his face that I know will mean the death of me one day. Then he starts again.
And, magical moments of magical moments, little C takes off after him, his little body shaking with laughter now instead of fear. His hands are still planted firmly on his ears, and he keeps a cautious distance from the vacuum, but it is a start. His brother has made this a game, and that is - for the moment, at least - good enough for him.
To this day, every single time I turn on the vacuum, my little boys do the maniacal vacuum dance routine, and it makes me smile. It also gives me perspective, and hope. I had no idea what to do to help my little man scale that mountain that he was facing. I was prepared to grin and bear it through who knows how many weeks of cleaning routines, to condition him, but I didn't know how to make it easy for him the way that his brother - instinctively - did.
I hope - desperately - that they will always retain that bond, that brotherhood will always transcend the perceived boundaries of disability.
I pray that long after I'm gone, firstly that little C will no longer need the maniacal vacuum dance - but more importantly, that if he does, his brothers will never be too old or grown up to dance it with him.