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?
Very thought provoking post Jack. It is quite a problem isn’t it – on one hand group homes are not easy environments to imagine taking young children to (often) but it may be too disruptive to someone living there to take them outside for visits. I guess it will always be a problem where people end up in institutions.
Your granddaughter sounds lovely – must be a great source of enjoyment to both of you.
Yes, I imagine that it could be quite frightening at too early an age, even with plenty of preparation. Too late an age would become, “You mean I have another aunt/uncle?”. Who knows what that would conjure up in a child? Untold stories of a parent’s life perphaps?
Its something I guess we will face in the future. At present our beautiful daughter aged 15 is nonverbal etc etc lives at home with us. She is an integral part of our family and attends most social functions with the family. My nieces and nephews now have young children and it is heartwarming to see the interactions that they have with Stef. Its almost like they have an innocence that accepts her for the big person she is who loves baby toys….rattles and music/light toys are her favourites. Acceptance for the person she is and the efforts she makes to remain socially acceptable is everything to us and she does try hard.
We would like to start a different sort of group home, one where family interaction is the norm…..
Your nieces and nephews have surely been great parents to have accepting children. That doesn’t happen by itself.
Good luck on that group home idea. That will be a lot of work, but would do a lot of people good.
Thank you for your comment.
Yes, it acceptance doesnt happen by itself, but also there is an expectation by us placed on them that Stef is a part of the family. Some don’t accept her as well, one brother excludes us from his functions as their home is full of knick knacks and they refuse to put them away or make any allowances for a girl who doesnt understand. He is very self centred and only thinks of his own problems and life. That’s ok by us, its not a huge loss to not have a selfish man in our life. Another brother of mine is wonderful and goes out of his way to include Stef in everything. His children (the parents of the young ones) have also been very accepting. He and his wife have taken care of my children while we had a break away and it opened their eyes to the challenges we face on a day to day basis. It changed everything.
Yes, there is nothing like putting one’s self in the shoes of the caregiver to foster understanding of the difficulties. I had a similar experience when I took my brother on vacation. (I blogged about this a while ago – It was a two part piece called ‘My Vacation with Michael’). It gave me a deep appreciation for what my parents went through.
That kind of understanding does change everything.
Thanks for your comment.