Our daughter Molly was 3 1/2 year old when her brother Brady was born. She had spent the first 3 plus years of her life as a pretty typical only child. She was doted on by everyone, could do no wrong in her parent's eyes, was used to getting her way and was just a tad bit spoiled. She was an over achiever even as a toddler. She walked before her 1st birthday, spoke to us like a mini adult at age 18 months and was always our sidekick and pal.
She has many things in common with me. She doesn't like to make a mistake, she is a bit stubborn, she loves to shop, she has a big heart, that can break a little bit and she has a sibling with special needs. Just like her mom. My thirty-one year old sister Robin is a person with Down Syndrome. She is my youngest sister and my own personal hero. My sister is a remarkable person. She works very hard at everything she does. She is one of the most loving people I know. She wears her heart on her sleeve and she always remembers a birthday, anniversary or holiday with a card. She is a remarkable godmother to her godson Brady. I have always tried to treat Robin as my equal and make sure she never feels different...only special.
I will not pretend though, that life with a sibling with special needs is not challenging and frustrating, because it is. As a sibling, I understood that Robin needed my parent's extra attention and that my parents shouldered much worry and sleepless nights, but it didn't make it any easier on my sister, brother and I growing up. I always felt like I needed to be my sister Robin's protector. I wanted to protect her from any bullying or ever feeling "different". I never wanted her to feel like there were limits in her life. I guess, I also never wanted my family to be seen as "different" either.
I will never forget a time when I was in eighth grade and I was at the bus stop waiting for my junior high school bus. My family had just moved to our neighborhood and most people didn't know my sister Robin yet. A few of the boys were joking around when the special needs bus drove by and yelled out to watch out for "the short bus" and hey "idiot" or even the dreaded "r" word. I will never forget the feeling I felt when I heard that. My heart broke and the tears filled my eyes but also the blood rushed to my face and anger rose in my throat thinking about how hurtful people can be. I thought about my sister. I know that she is a strong, bright and loving person who does not need to be protected, but I will never feel like that is not my role.
I know my seven year old daughter knows exactly how I have felt all these years. At only seven, Molly has already taken on the role of protector for her brother. She walks in front of him clearing a path so he won't trip, she gets him out of the fridge when he climbs in there, she has gotten so good at reading his clues and knowing what he wants even when he can't tell her and she is quick to praise him when he makes a new sound or masters a simple task. A phrase I constantly hear Molly say to her brother is..."that's ok Brady, I know you are trying your best." If someone asks her why her brother can't talk or why he trips so much, she does not hesitate when she says, "he is trying his best and he will do it on his own time." She listens to the worry in my voice and knows when the tears have filled my eyes when something doesn't go according to plan with Brady. She is patient and kind with her brother, but also with her mom.
She is truly a remarkable sister (and daughter), but she gets frustrated. She wishes her brother would sit down and play make believe with her. She has been patiently waiting for the day when her brother will sit down and truly play with her. She once told me that she loves her brother very much, but sometimes wishes she had another brother or sister just so they would play with her. She gets frustrated when he doesn't listen to any directions she gives or destroys something she has created. She worries. She worries that Brady will fall or slip and hit his head so hard that he passes out. She worries that he won't ever be able to talk to her. Just the other day, she was playing with her brother and dad, and looked at my husband and said, "Brady will be able to talk someday-won't he?" We don't know the answer to that question and we wonder the same thing, but my husband reassured he would, in some way, at some time.
I worry that some day, Molly will also hear someone make fun of kids with special needs and realize they may be talking about her own brother. Sometimes I worry that she is worrying too much. But then I stop and I remember that she worries because she cares and she gets frustrated because she loves so deeply. My daughter has 13 first cousins. I am grateful that she is part of such a large family. My fifteen year old niece Rachel, is very much the big sister to Molly. My middle sister, Shannon, has three little ones under four and Molly cherishes her role as big sister to them. She has so many cousins, so many ages, that she gets to learn and play and lead and take on so many roles with them, so I know she gets to experience all the amazing things about being a sibling.
I try to stop worrying about Molly missing out on the simple things kids share with their siblings...and I try to focus on the big things Molly and Brady share. I also know that I could not ask for a better person to look out for my special little boy, than his big sister.