Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Sibling Speaks

I've been pushing this off for a while now. Staying Afloat has a request out for adult siblings of special needs children/adults to share their experience. I have something that I'd like to share.

As most of you know (and if you don't check out here and here), I have a sister with special needs. It's just the two of us, and we've always been very close, though now, unfortunately, we've grown apart. It's hard to be close to someone like my sister because she can't really communicate. She lets us know what she wants in terms of physical needs (hungry, tired, thirsty, etc), but other than that she's pretty unresponsive. She understands everything we say, and she shows excitement, affection, anger, and frustration, but there's a limit to how close you can get to a person with whom you can't have a discussion. Part of friendship and sisterhood is the sharing of ideas and secrets, neither of which I can share with my sister.

I grew up lonely. I'm an introvert by nature, so I was mostly happy with my books, my studying, and my self. Mostly happy, but not totally happy. I had few friends because many were too intimidated by my sister to spend time with me. I always felt disconnected from those who did befriend me. It was like they had something that I didn't. I realize now it was childhood and innocence.

There's a certain maturity that comes from being the sibling of a special needs child, a certain adulthood that was thrust upon me that few back then caught up to. I always felt so distant from girls my age. There were times when I thought that I was abnormal because I had little interest in what other girls found interesting.

This was all when I was younger. At a certain point I became mature enough to almost hide the differences between myself and my friends and act normally. While I still have little interest in shopping and the like, I do have lots of friends. Friends who don't judge me based on who my sister is.

I don't look back on my childhood with sadness and regret. Children by nature are scared of what's different; I don't hold that against the peers of my childhood (in fact, I am friends with many of them now). I worry how my children will react to my sister. Will they show the same fear that my friends felt? Will they have the sensitivity to love her as she deserves to be loved?

Will I?


itsagift said...

Children often follow the example set by their parents. If you show your children that your sister deserves to be loved for who she is with real, unconditional love, they will do the same. If every time you see your sister, you give her a smile and a hug, your children will, b'ezras Hashem, follow your example.
And I am still amazed by this post. You have used the difficulty Hashem gave you to grow and become better and more mature. That is very special!!

kristen1218 said...

I can definitely relate to this post in certain ways. Bringing friends who are not always comfortable with your sibling can be really hard and REALLY scary. I was lucky enough to grow up in a Quaker environment where everyone accepted my brother and I was sensitive to realise that I didn't have time for those who couldn't handle my brother. Sometimes I wonder if I've missed out on friendships but then I realize that the people who can't except my brother lack a fundamental emotion that I cannot have friends without-compassion.
I also agree with the comment above. If you show the same sort of acceptance of your sister to your future children, they will grow to love and enjoy your sister as much as you do.

MusingMaidel said...

itsagift - thanks. I try.

Kristen - in a way I really don't think the problem with little kids is a lack of compassion. Sometimes it's just fear. One particular girl that I was very friendly with until 2nd grade told me that she stopped being friends with me because my sister would crawl to her and kind of jump on her, and we wouldn't take her away. Yes, she may have been a little insensitive, but she was only 8. I've thought about it a lot, and I really think it's a simple case of being scared of the unknown and the different. I know I've done that. Even with my background as a sibling, I've shied away from other kids who are even more "different" than my sister is. I had my first look from afar, shuddered, and then went on to be really friendly and nice. I don't think there's anything wrong with being scared at first as long as you can overcome the fear to accept the person as s/he is.

Staying Afloat said...

Thought I responded to this.

Thank you so much for writing this. I learned a lot from it, and will be able to really use that knowledge. I'm grateful to you for opening yourself up for us.

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