Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What a disabled sibling teaches their brothers and sisters

One of the first comments I get when people meet Janelle is I don't know how you do it with all those kids and dealing with all those doctors. You see my almost five year old is disabled. She was born with two chromosomal abnormalities. I once saw a t-shirt that said: I have designer chromosomes. I like that term much better than "abnormalities". I'm not going to get all PC about what terms are wrong or right to use when talking about a person with disabilities. That's not what this post is about. Getting back to the comment people make to me I always respond by saying Nellie is my heart and the other kids love her dearly too. That's what this post is about the lessons a child learns when they have a disabled sibling.

My children don't see people for their disabilities. They see them for who they are. It's not even something they have to think about they just do. I guess when Nellie came into the world and they heard the comments people made about her eyes they learned fast. They never saw her eyes shake, they never noticed her delays at all. They just saw their sister who laughs at them, plays with them, and loves them too. We were once at Children's hospital for one of our all too many appointments when a little girl came down the hall in a wheel chair. Her legs were much too short for hr body. A few other kids stared at the girl or began whispering. Not my kids though, they were the ones who walked up and started talking to her as if she were any other kid in the hall. Now I know they noticed the girls legs because later Emma asked me what had happened to her, but never once did they look at the girl funny whispered behind her back.

They learn ultimate love. This is a lesson I guess I kind of taught them. They see me day after day meeting theirs and Nellie's needs. I show them how to be a parent. They know you can't pick and chose what happens to your children, but you do what you can and love them even harder. If my kids go on to have kids with disabilities they will do everything possible and fight for that child like they saw me do.

My kids have an unbreakable bond. Yes, they fight like cats and dogs, but when it comes down to it they stick together. They are protective of Janelle. If someone says something about her they will come right to her defense. Poor Leanna has actually lost friends when she refused to play with them anymore when they laughed at her sister. This has crossed over into their lives outside the house. My kids do not bully. They are nice to everyone. It breaks my heart when Sara comes home and tells me about a child being teased for being "different" whether by disability or appearance. It breaks my heart for a child being teased period. Some parents seemed to have missed the chapter on teaching kids to be accepting and tolerant in the Good Morals Handbook (A post for another day). 

They learned to read people. Nellie didn't speak until she was 3 years old. She made a lot of sounds, faces, and gestures and the kids understood them. The knew instinctively when he was sad, happy, wanted to play, or even what she wanted to eat or drink. Reading people is an art and my kids are great artist!

Patience, this is something my whole house has a lot of when it comes to Nellie. She doesn't always do things properly or in a swift manner. She often times forces us all to walk just a little slower, or holds us up on the stairs as she goes up. She needs help with a lot of things and the first ones to her aide are her siblings. They don't complain when we are late or if they have to help zip up her coat.

These are just a few examples from my long list. Understanding, staying cool in emergencies (a skill I still don't have), and in the words of Jesus, and the greatest of these is LOVE. Every time I see them comfort their sister or hold her hand, I know they are better off having a sister with disabilities. Every time I hear Janelle laugh with them or hear them stand up for her I know they'll be better adults. When I watch as the help her and guide her, I know they'll be better parents for having Nellie in their lives.

One could argue that they miss out on a lot to and maybe in some ways that's true. We can't go hiking as a family, for a long time we couldn't go anywhere near water. We avoid sit down restaurants and museums because we know Nellie can't go to these places. It's okay though, we go to parks, zoos, amusement parks. We have bar-b-ques and make smores. Yes, Janelle requires more care, but her siblings love being a big part of her care. They actually argue over who she'll live with as an adult if she can't live alone.

People say Nellie's lucky to be in our family, but we are the lucky ones. She has taught us so much and brought so much love into our lives. I could never imagine our family without her. I will never question if my kids have missed out on anything by having Nellie as a sister. I will never think twice if she will always be cared for. Her siblings will always be there for her because of what she has taught them.

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