PORTRAITS IN WORDS AND PICTURES
by Gail Rosenblum and Richard Tsong-Taatarii
Sometimes, Janelle Blasingame has to gently remind her 7-year-old son, Aaron, to step back and give his twin brother, Elijah, a chance. And sometimes she has to gently remind Elijah to take that chance.
"Your brother can help," she tells Elijah, "but it's not his job to do it." Twins were common on both sides of Janelle's family, but the news still came as a surprise to her and the boys' dad, Keon Blasingame.
Elijah and Aaron arrived at 26 weeks gestation, spending the next 10 weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit of Fairview-University Medical Center. Mom quietly worried as Aaron latched on easily to nurse, while his identical twin did not. When they were a month old, cerebral palsy was diagnosed in Elijah. The condition is more common in multiple births, says Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare Medical Director Steven Koop, and also more likely with identical than fraternal twins.
"It was a blessing to find out while he was still in the hospital," says Janelle, of Bloomington. A physical education teacher who works daily with children of different capabilities, Janelle knows well how to play to each boy's strengths. Through Courage Center, Elijah competes in basketball and track and field, and is a voracious reader. Aaron loves riding his bike and playing keyboards.
"Mentally and intellectually, you're all there," she tells Elijah. "But sometimes, I do find myself pushing him more because I know the benefits of it." Nobody is a bigger advocate than Aaron. "C'mon, bro," he says. In kindergarten, he popped a kid who called his brother a name. Janelle understood his frustration but told Aaron, "You can't hit anybody." Then, she thought: "This cannot be happening already."
As Elijah recovered recently from lower-extremity surgery at Gillette to improve his mobility skills, Aaron distracted him with games and cookies shaped like basketballs.
"He's been helping out, like, a thousand times," said Elijah. "Can I draw on this?" helpful Aaron asks, pointing to an Iron Man note pad on his brother's bed. "Nah," says Elijah. Janelle laughs, happy when the boys just act like brothers. "They fight over toys," she said. "Or, 'Mom! He's looking at me.' Rock-paper-scissors solves a lot of arguments."
DO YOU KNOW A SPECIAL DUO?
“DUETS” IS AN OCCASIONAL FEATURE THAT CELEBRATES UNIQUE RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN TWO PEOPLE. SEND IDEAS TO GAIL.ROSENBLUM@STARTRIBUNE.COM OR CALL 612-673-7350. PLEASE PUT “DUETS” IN THE SUBJECT LINE.