Yesterday was my granddaughter’s 9th birthday, her last year of single digits, as I like to say to all 9-year olds. We ‘face-timed’ and her aunties, Nanna and I all crowded around the iPhone to see her show off her ‘adorable’ birthday presents.
Siddy is always excited about her birthday. For months before, she and her Nanna shop through the American Girl catalog over the telephone. Siddy hints about what she would like to have, and is seldom disappointed. Even on some of her unbirthdays she receives postcards and packages. She isn’t spoiled though; her Mom and Dad imbued her with the spirit of sharing, and she regularly gives up some of her toys for others.
There is something heartbreakingly innocent about Sidra. She has had her share of disappointments in the course of learning her parent-imposed limits, but she still has unbridled enthusiasm, which she shows without the hesitation or embarrassment that will probably arrive with her teen years. Sidra is a wonderful child. The best.
She’s wanted a baby brother for eight and a half of her nine years. Just before she became a big sister, I interviewed her about what she thought it would be like to have a little brother. She told me recently that having a baby brother was even better than she expected. I am itching to re-interview her at some point, but she is so busy being a little girl, it never seems to be the right time. She treats little William like gold.
Although this is not the most graceful segue, there is a related issue that has been on my mind.
When a handicapped sibling is not part of daily life
It used to be that severely handicapped member of a family were kept out of sight or institutionalized. Years ago, in the US, many severely mentally handicapped were warehoused in large institutions, like the infamous Willowbrook. I believe this is still the case in some countries. Group homes are more the rule these days for those whose families cannot take care of them at home. Residents of group homes are invisible to families who do not make it a practice to visit. Incidentally, residents of these small-scale homes who are not able to speak for themselves and without advocates, are still subject to abuse.
Children of sibs of handicapped
Hypothetical situation: suppose a sibling of one of these out-of-sight handicapped individuals starts a family. When would it be appropriate to tell his or her own children about their absent aunt or uncle? When would an in-person visit be appropriate?
Would it be appropriate when the children were Sidra’s age? If Sidra, for example, were to visit a group home, would it destroy her innocence?
This is a situation I never had to face, personally. I survived exposure to my older autistic, low functioning and nonverbal brother (although some would argue that survival is too strong a word in my case). I am of the mind that of course, if I had children of my own, I would certainly introduce them to their uncle at an early age.
What would you do?