"Mom, do you think it's strange that [my brother] is older than me, but I know more than him?"
It was an innocent question asked in front of the brother in question while both gazed with a measure of concentration at their math worksheets. While I wished it might have been spoken in a more private moment, I was thankful as always for the cheerful disposition of the aforementioned brother who took the conversation in stride. He already knew what my response would be due to having had this discussion more than once between the two of us, often in his moments of frustration and discouragement.
"I actually don't think it's strange." This statement surprised the inquisitive eight-year old. He was already familiar with his adoption story and that of his brother, born to different birth mothers in Haiti four months apart but adopted together from the same orphanage by our family. I reminded him of these similarities, but then pointed out an important difference.
"The reason your brother has a harder time learning is because he did not have enough food when his birth mother was pregnant with him and for several months after he was born. Babies' brains are growing during this time and if they don't get the food they need, their brains get hurt. That's what happened to your brother. On the other hand, you always had more than enough to eat. So it's not his fault at all, but this is why he has a harder time learning than you do."
While his brother was nodding his head in fervent affirmation, I referred to a conversation we'd had during school just a couple of weeks before. "Remember when I said life isn't fair?" Both boys acknowledged their clear recall of this paradigm-shifting statement. "Well, this is an example of how life isn't fair. Is it fair that you had enough to eat but your brother didn't? Is it fair that you can learn easily but it's harder for him?" They solemnly shook their heads over this evident inequality.
"The encouraging thing is that even though this isn't fair, we can trust God to use these things in our lives. The Bible says that when we have problems or hurts, God can use us to help other people who have similar problems. So your brother can help someone else like him someday. And in your case, God can use this to teach you patience when you have to sometimes wait for him in school."
He took this last statement and ran with it. "I am patient! There was this one time ..."
As the conversation drew to a close and the boys returned their attention to the math page at hand, they chattered away companionably. I couldn't help but write down some of the things they said.
"Mom, when my brother goes to Haiti for his 16th birthday can I go with him? YES!" (thrilled shoulder slapping and cheering)
"I want Mommy and Daddy to be with me in all the birthdays that I have in this world." (animated agreement)
"I want Mommy and Daddy to survive for years and years and YEARS! Imagine if I could survive longer than Mommy and Daddy. I could, but I don't think so." (deep discussion of the probabilities according to eight-year old perspectives)
I love their friendship and enthusiasm. When I am tempted to worry about the future, and the disparities that may grow wider if they continue to be homeschooled together, I am encouraged by the special bond between them and how God can use even these challenges to teach them and mold them.
As it turns out, these learning conversations are not only for their benefit after all.