(I’m on vacation this week … So here’s a post from the archives. Enjoy!)
Leading the way, thoughts about sisterhood and Down syndrome
When Polly was born and we learned of her diagnosis of Down syndrome, I grieved the child I expected. I didn’t know much about Down syndrome. My mind quickly flipped to un-flattering images of a child sitting alone at recess, or a mother in her golden years walking slowly through the aisles of Wal-Mart so that her adult daughter, still a child, could keep up. Sadly, it took me a while to let my guard down and fall in love with Polly.
Polly’s older sisters led the way. From the moment they met her, they dripped with love for her. They loved everything about her: “Oh, look at her pudgy little hands! Look at her wispy brown hair. Isn’t she just the cutest little thing ever?” When we later explained to them that Polly had Down syndrome, and that she would need a little extra help doing things, they didn’t bat an eye. “I guess it’s good that God gave her older sisters, huh, mom?” Elaina said.
Three years ago, when Evangeline joined our family, Elaina and Zoya took the lead once again.
Elaina stayed with me for seven weeks in Ukraine until the adoption was finalized. She spent long, Kiev days tickling Evie and helping me take her outside for walks as we waited for the paperwork for the adoption to go through. Once again, I struggled, and my kids led the way.
Snapshot from today:
A toy came home in Polly’s backpack today from Kindergarten. It’s one of those birthday favors. You blow on it and it flings out in front of you. What fun! Polly figured it out right away, and I was thrilled that it wasn’t the one with sound.
A little while later while I was finishing up an email on the computer, I saw Polly bring her new toy into the kitchen. Evie was sitting up on top of the table (one of her new favorite perches in the house), kicking her feet off the edge.
“Look, Evie,” Polly said, moving carefully, climbing up on the bench and then sitting down next to her on the table. “Look, Evie, it blows out,” she said, and then promptly gave a demonstration. I fought the urge to intervene. Evangeline is easily spooked and she is not Polly’s biggest fan. Most people love a happy, in your face five-year-old but Evangeline could do without. But I took a breath and waited to see what happened.
“You see that, Evie. It’s red. It’s pretty. It’s fun.” Polly blew on her toy again. “You like that, Evie. Do you?”
And the most amazing thing happened. Instead of reaching out and grabbing the toy. Instead of crying. Instead of getting the heck out of dodge (read: getting down off the table and away from Polly a.s.a.p.) Evie laughed.
Polly blew her toy again. Evie kept laughing. And for about five minutes they seemed like they were, I don’t know what’s the word?, playing together.
It was magical.
When Polly was born, I worried that she would feel alone but I learned quickly that her sisters would never let that happen. When Evangeline joined our family, I worried, I still worry, that we won’t be able to reach her. Some days she is very far into her own world. And then today, Polly initiated a game with Evie and Evie, just a little, for a few moments, let her in. Polly had Elaina and Zoya to prod her along in her development, and now she is starting to lead the way for Evie.
The magic is now gone. Polly broke her toy because she kept twisting the blow out part. Evie stole all of Polly’s pretzels out of her favorite ice-cream bowl. Polly is running circles around the house yelling, “hey, Evie, leave my snack alone” and Evangeline has climbed off the table. As I type she is eating pretzel bits off my, um, super clean kitchen floor.
But I don’t care. I’ll take the five magical moments when I saw Polly work her sister mojo on Evie.
Sisters are the best therapists in the world.