Something happened recently. There’s been a shift in pity. Lately, it’s directed at Haley, and it’s not always welcome. People assume that Haley is missing out on childhood because of her sister. They make comments. They always hit me with them when I am in the middle of parenting my children, which makes it hard to address. I am not always the best at advocating in person. That might be why I choose to blog. I am not quick with reactions. It takes me time to digest things. So, I’d like to share these incidents in the hopes that they change perceptions.
The girls take a gymnastics class at the same time on a weekly basis. Haley goes in the big gym with the 4-6 year olds. Sienna and me go to the little gym with the 1-3 year olds. Admittedly, I haven’t had much time to interact with Haley’s coaches.
This week was parent visitation week and I split time by visiting both of their classes with both children. It was a nightmare. There were so many obstacles that Sienna couldn’t navigate. I spent the majority of time chasing her. I didn’t observe Haley in the way I wished I could. One of her coaches came up to me in the midst of this and asked if Haley was moving up to the older class next semester. Haley is ready for it, but we can’t fit it in. It doesn’t work for our schedule. We aren’t alone in this. This is not a special needs thing. This is a balancing all my kids’ actvities survival thing. When I informed her of this, she said, “I’m sure Haley has to make lots of sacrifices for Sienna. She’ll be fine in the younger class next session, but she is ready to move up.” It was at this moment that Sienna ran away and I had to chase her.
We had a similar interaction while Haley tagged along to an orthotics fitting. Haley was not doing a great job listening and I scolded her. The salesperson witnessed this and I noticed a judgmental glare. She began to measure Sienna’s feet, and Haley asked the salesperson how orthotics were made. She complemented Haley and said that was a great question and explained. Before we left, she came back in the room with a lollipop for Haley, not Sienna. She said, “You deserve special attention too, you know. It’s great that you’re so patient when you have to go on so many appointments for your sister.” Pardon my french, but what in the actual eff?
If I’d have had the time and energy, here is what I would say to them. ALL siblings make sacrifices for each other. In fact, Sienna sacrifices quite a bit of time when I take Haley to her dance classes for two hours a week. She certainly doesn’t get pity in the waiting room. She doesn’t get a lollipop. Don’t assume that because my kid has special needs that her sister is missing out.
In fact, she’s gaining something. She is exposed to something very few children get to witness. She has learned about empathy, love, and hard work, because of Sienna. Yes, sometimes she has to give up an activity. Sometimes, Sienna has to make a sacrifice for Haley too. That is what families do for each other.
When we were on our way home from gymnastics, Haley told me that every kid in her school, even the older ones know her. I laughed. I am glad she isn’t lacking in confidence. I said, “That’s because you’re such a nice girl and you talk to everyone.” She said, “No, Mom. It’s because of Sienna. It’s because you came into school and taught about her. Everyone thinks it’s cool that I have a sister with Down syndrome. She had a huge smile on her face.” So, don’t feel sorry for her. She’s got this.