Learning to think on your feet: Cymbal Kid, Autism, and the Family that Makes Us

Andrew "Cymbal Kid" Pawelvzck with our Son Nishanth
Andrew “Cymbal Kid” Pawelczyk with our Son Nishanth

A Friend of the Family, Andrew the Cymbal Kid

One week ago my son’s best friend Andrew Pawelczyk (Pa-Vel-check) was thrust onto an international stage–he is the YouTube sensation “Cymbal Kid”.  A month ago during the last middle school band performance, Andrew, an accomplished drummer who usually plays the “quad” 4 drums, was asked to play the cymbals.  I was sitting dead center with my husband and daughter while our son sat in the trumpet section at first chair.  

When the cymbal strap broke, we all felt bad.  Seconds later when Andrew saluted, we all loved it and began to laugh.  It was indeed EPIC for us and mostly we were thrilled at the amazing recovery that our friend made in a very tough situation.  I lead the standing ovation for Andrew at the end of the song.  What you don’t see in the video is our son turning beet red watching us laughing and Andrew saluting.  Six million views later, you have become part of our slice of life in Darien, IL.

A Family of Champions Lives with Autism

What you don’t know is that Andrew didn’t just start thinking on his feet that night during the concert.  Cymbal Kid is part of a family of champions who deals with the unpredictable world of living with an autistic older brother named Ernie, Jr.  Ernie Jr. is 15 years old, has limited communication skills, is prone to outbursts, has many medical challenges and has been given the best family around him God could have created.  There is no “normal day” in the life of a family who lives with autism.  Each day Heidi, Andrew and Ernie Jr.’s mom, fights to keep her elder son at home, struggles to give Andrew a normal teenager’s life, and manages to keep a remarkable partnership with her husband Ernie Sr.

Often kids with as many challenges as Ernie Jr. cannot live at home anymore and must be placed in institutional care.  This family of champions works as an amazing team with a community of family, friends, social service workers, health care providers, and the school system to keep rolling with the punches that this disorder throws at them all.  Ernie Jr. is blessed to have Andrew as his “big” little brother to look after him, play with him, encourage him, and jump in when simple things in life turn into major crises.

Heidi, Ernie Jr., Andrew, and Ernie Sr.
Heidi, Ernie Jr., Andrew, and Ernie Sr.

The Family that Makes Us

Who we are and who we become is shaped immeasurably for good or bad by the family that makes us.  Andrew is resilient because of the family that surrounds him.  A family photo is not something easily come by for the Pawelczyks, life is too unpredictable for such a luxury.  Given that all my blog photos are my own original photography, we had to set up a special photo shoot that would work for Ernie Jr.  These photos are the result of good planning and fair amount of God’s grace.

Wrestling with God, Finding the Blessing

One of the most challenging characters in the bible is a guy named Jacob.  He was a deceitful naughty younger twin son whom God chose to bless to be a blessing to others.  Jacob ran away to his uncle’s house to avoid being killed by his older brother–from whom he stole his father’s blessing and inheritance rights.  After marrying two wives, having many kids, and making a living for himself, he had to return home because he had worn out his welcome with his uncle.  There by the river, facing the mistakes of his past, Jacob wrestles with a man all night.

“Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’ … The man said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and humans,  and have prevailed.'” Genesis 32:26, 28.  To read more of the story, go here.

The struggles of our life, the demons in our closet, the challenges from our past will hold our future hostage until we wrestle with them long enough to find God’s blessing in it for our lives.  Do not let the hand that life has dealt you keep you from finding the strength within you.  You are fearfully and wonderfully made and God seeks for each of us to be a blessing to others in this world.

Heidi is a champion mom standing next to her very supportive husband Ernie Sr.
Heidi is a champion mom standing next to her very supportive husband Ernie Sr.

A Mom Growing in Faith

Heidi and I sat on their couch and talked for awhile.  She let me know how much her faith has grown over these last 15 years.  “I have learned that God has a tremendous sense of humor.  I have learned to change the way I live and accept the life I have.  God often pushes me to my limits, but I have learned that when something happens, God will be there for me.  I have learned to let God guide me.  I wake up each day and think, ‘God, what have you got for me today?'”

Cymbal Kid is a loyal brother, a good friend, and a blessed child growing up in a champion’s family.  May they continue to be a blessing to others in this world.  Amen

To find out more about autism go to the National Autism Association.

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