Younger brother creates big change in family.
Some of you may have seen my post about the day my brother was born and how proud I was of having a baby brother. I immediately took the role of a "little mom" at five years old. I coddled him and spoiled him with attention. He had the brightest red hair and big blue eyes. He was a small baby- less than 7 pounds. As a child, my older brother and I didn't know that grief that my parents were experiencing. They found out that this beautiful child of theirs had Down syndrome.
This was during the 1970s when many children with severe disabilities went straight to institutions or were kept isolated at home because it wasn't typical to see people with disabilities acclimated into society like we see today. My parents didn't even know what Down syndrome meant, but the words, "Your child has mental retardation," caused much grief. All the hopes and dreams we all have for a healthy, normal baby were shattered. Society's skepticism and stereotypes of children with disabilities didn't help matters.
Grandpa Dean came to the hospital room to visit with Mom and Dad and told my parents, "We are going to take this baby home and love him like any other child in our family. We are going to make life as normal as we can and bring out the best in him." He said to Dad, "John, you have the patience to teach many things. He is going to learn what he is capable of learning." My parents made a countercultural choice by taking their son home and including him as a normal part of the family.
I didn't know all of this at five, so I was smitten with a brother. People have asked me what it was like to have a brother with Down syndrome. Was it challenging? I say it was normal for me. I didn't know any different. We teased each other, played games, did activities with cousins, and always included him in all social events. Normal for me was a wonderful journey. Am I making it out in rose-colored glasses? I've been told I have, but I look at life this way. All children have their ups, downs, challenges, and triumphs. Having a perfectly healthy child doesn't change that. No child, whether with a disability or not, is his/her own person with individual strengths and weaknesses. There is no perfect child. Life doesn't work that way. I have told my own children that they aren't perfect, but they are perfect for me. And, as a big sister, my brother is perfect for me. I couldn't ask for any a sweeter, kinder, more loving person in our family. And, yes, a stinker, too. More of that later.