Last weekend, I hosted a PTO event at my daughter Molly's school. I had planned it months before Brady's sudden type 1 diabetes diagnosis. It was the last thing in the world I felt like doing after the emotional roller coaster we had been on.
I had an amazing team of friends who offered to run the event. But I had to go. My friend asked, "What are you doing here? Go home. Take care of Brady. Get some rest-anything." But I looked over at my daughter, smiling from ear-to-ear because I had arrived and I knew there was only one place in the whole world I needed to be. I came because it was important to my daughter. I came because my daughter gives up so much and gives so much to her brother or because of her brother-that I knew, that making sure she knew how truly important she is in my life-was the only thing that mattered that evening.
I know what it is like to be a sibling of a child with special needs. My younger sister is a remarkable woman with Down Syndrome. I know that you can feel a little lost or left behind. I know that you can grow to be resentful. I also know, in my heart, that my parent's never meant to pay more attention to my sister Robin than the rest of us, but they just had to, because she required more attention. As a parent of a child with special needs, I want to make sure Molly never feels that way...but I know there will be times she will.
It is an inevitable part of being a sibling of a child with special needs. At that same PTO event, I spent some time talking to a friend of mine who also has a sibling with special needs. Her sister and mine have been good friends for years. I realized I have never spoken to her about what it is like being sisters with such incredible and unique women like ours. I was telling her about how hard my husband and I are trying to include Molly in Brady's care and how much we talk to her about Brady's special needs and unique challenges. She complimented us.
She and I talked about how hard it was to not feel like we were left out of our parent's affections a little because they had to spend so much time focused on our siblings. We know that our parent's didn't care less about us...but as a child or teenager, and yes, even as an adult, it is hard to not feel that way a little bit. We discussed the days that were tough and the days when we felt that we were the only people in the world who could protect our sisters. I never want Molly to feel that her brother's special needs or challenges come ahead of any of her needs...big or small. I want both of my children to feel equally "special" and equally deserving of our time and attention. I want both of my children to believe in themselves....and each other.
Unfortunately, life is not always fair and even with the very best intentions, a child with special needs will always take up more time and attention than your other children. As a parent of a child with special needs-with unique needs-I must make a conscience effort to make sure Molly's accomplishments-big and small-are always celebrated with the same sense of pride that we do when Brady makes those little strides....that we never treat as little.
I have tried very hard to make sure Molly has things in her life that are all her own. Things that make her feel good about who she is as an individual. Things that make her forget-for a little bit-what her role in our family is and what her role will always be...that of her brother's protector.
So Molly dances. She dances a lot. She loves dancing, and she is very good at it. Her face lights up and her pride swells with each class. I am amazed by her flexibility, her sense of rhythm and her ability to pick up routines so quickly, but mostly I am transported to that special place she has formed for herself, where life is pretty magical and music and dance are the only things that matter for a little while. Sometimes, I want to tell her that I just don't have the energy or time or even patience to stop and watch...just one more dance...or that I have to feed Brady or keep an eye on Brady or give Brady a shot, but I don't. I stop and take those few minutes and give them to my daughter because her smile and her gratitude tell me everything I need.
My daughter is an exceptional little girl. She is wise beyond her seven years. She is kinder than any adult I know. She is fiercely protective of her brother...and her parents. Her laugh makes anything better and when she loves you-you feel like you can do anything. I know that because I feel that way, but I also know that, because when her precious little brother needs some reassurance he goes to her. Brady goes to his big sister for a hug, for a smile, for a twirl on the dance floor, for a high five or a "great job Brady".... and for a voice.
As soon as we got home from the hospital, with Brady's needles, medication, and more special needs...we tried to include Molly. She wanted so very badly to take care of her brother. She wanted so badly to feel the same worry and sense of responsibility we were experiencing. Molly has been through many of her brother's hospital stays, going to a relative's house and trying not to worry, then learning to adapt when he comes home.
Molly has helped us feed Brady when he couldn't do it or we couldn't do it. She has sat and watched the same video over and over again with her brother because she was so excited that he finally wanted to cuddle up with her on the couch and do something together....just like any other set of siblings would do. She has always been there for her brother. She has always tried to understand his special needs, why he can't talk, why he needs extra time to accomplish little things so many others take for granted and why he was made just a little bit different than all her friend's brothers and sisters.
With Brady's diabetes diagnosis...with this one more special need...Molly has jumped right in. Over the last two weeks, our incredible daughter has become the number 1 "blood sugar tester" in our house. Molly is not frightened by the needles and numbers. She tests her brother's blood sugar at least once a day. Her brother prefers her to both his parents. My heart bursts with pride as I watch Brady stick out his little thumb and let his sister gently take it, so his blood sugar can be read. She tells him good job and compliments the way he holds out his finger and she ends it...every time with a hug or a kiss. Such a sad act...watching your son have his finger pricked and his blood sugar tested...has turned into such special moments between my children.
I know that there will be times Molly feels left out. I know there are times Molly will be mad at us because she thinks we are paying more attention to her brother. I know there will come a day when I forget something that is important ot her because I am tending to Brady....but I also know that I will never forget about my daughter's own "special" needs...because all of our children have them and we must never forget to celebrate each and every one of those needs.
Click here to read Erin's latest blog about the constant worrying a special needs parent experiences.