Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Max's best friend—and worst tormenter

She's one and the same person. She's Sabrina.

I can't say I'm unfamiliar with sibling rivalry; my sister and I had a long-running case of it (hi, Judy!). I was pretty much the tormenter, and I don't think she'd argue with me on that. When we were toddlers, I can vividly recall chanting words that struck fear into her heart: "YOU'RE NOT GOING TO HAVE A BIRTHDAY PARTY! YOU'RE NOT GOING TO HAVE A BIRTHDAY PARTY!" We fought over everything: whose half of the sandwich was bigger, who colored better, when to turn off the lights at night in the room we shared (I'm a night owl, she's not). We're best friends now. My little sis is due to have her first baby next week!

There's a different dynamic with Sabrina and Max, though. She may be two years younger than he is, but she is more mature, capable and cognizant. She also understands that he is not like other kids. She is also jealous of the extra attention she gets. She is also not great with the sharing thing yet. And, not for nothing, she has ten pounds on him.

She's his best friend when...she helps him do stuff, like pick up things he's having trouble grasping or holding.

She's his worst tormenter when...she grabs stuff he has, out of jealousy. Even when I buy each of them the same exact toy, inevitably she ends up wanting his over hers.

She's his best friend when...she translates what he's saying, like "Max says he wants to ride his bike!" or "Max wants to wear his Cars pajamas!" or "Max says he wants to watch Hannah Montana" (sometimes, we suspect she is not exactly translating what he wants).

She's his worst tormenter when...she pushes him down. Max is not so steady on his feet; when Sabrina gets mad at him, I've caught her giving him a shove and he inevitably falls. I've also caught her pinching him.

She's his best friend when...she lets him sit in her car seat. He always wants to sit in her car seat.

She's his worst tormenter when...she refuses to let him sit in her car seat, just because she knows he wants to.

She's his best friend when...she draws stuff for him. On every single drawing she's done lately, she writes both "Sabrina" and "Max."

She's his worst tormenter when...she does that "Na, na, na, na, na" thing—as in, "Na, na, na, na, na, you can't catch me!"

She's his best friend when...she gets all protective of him. Even downright motherly. Like when she wants to help rinse the shampoo out of his hair in the bath. Or when she holds a cup of water for him to drink from. Or when they're in a new situation and Max is feeling unsure of himself.

These videos, taken at the amusement park we visited over the weekend, pretty much sum up their relationship.

I totally forgot Max's swim gear (Space Cadet Mommy alert!). So I dressed the poor boy in a t-shirt and a Swimmies diaper I found in the trunk of the car. A Little Mermaid Swimmies diaper, no less. Max didn't seem to care and I figured nobody would notice, since the shirt was long. Not with Sabrina around. What she's saying to him: "Look at that tummy! Look at that tummy!" Like she's one to talk!

Now check out this video. Max was a little afraid of the sprinklers; Sabrina kept wetting her hands and running over to wet his face, getting him to enjoy the water.

Ultimately, I know her love for him runs strong and deep.


  1. Sounds like your two are typical siblings! Something to keep in mind for when Sabrina is about 6 is SibShop. Most areas have them (but you might have to dig to find it). It is a support group for kids who have siblings with disabilities. My girls (8 & 10) attend and LOVE it. They have the opportunity to talk about the good and bad of their sibling (non-verbal autism) with other kids who understand. There is a wide varitey of disabilities represented in our group. Our SibShop also gets together with 3 others in the area and they have group outings 4 times a year, to places where the might not normally get to go.

  2. You guys do the most fun things together!!! I won't let BC look at those or he'll be demanding more excitement and fun in our weekends ;-).

    On a serious note though, I see different but similar things going on with my 2 boys already. I will be curious to see how the dynamic changes when there's 3! I will definitely be looking into 'Sib' support groups when the boys get older. I think they are a wonderful innovation the let siblings know that they are very special too.....

  3. So cute, Ellen! Sometimes I wonder if Faith is missing something, being an only child. Faith watched the videos and she got a big kick out of them. She kept signing "more"!

  4. Sounds EXACTLY like my two boys. JD is two years younger than T but is more mature and capable and seems like the older sibling (acts like it too!). They have a wonderful sibling relationship and JD is sort of T's protector.

    Your two are so cute! The sibling relationship is something to always treasure.

  5. Sabrina actually sounds better than most siblings I can think of. My brother and I were still full-on fighting right up until I got married. My husband tortured his own brother for at least ten years. Sabrina seems a lot less intense that what I remember and Max doesn't even seem to mind when she's being "mean."

  6. I love hearing about their adventures. I have wondered if it would help Jude if we had another child, but then I decide I don't want to go through the pregnancy again.

  7. Hey, Ellen, I am gonna put an idea in your head. I think you should write a children's book, starring Sabrina, that details her relationship with her brother Max (and includes vignettes of both teasing and love). I think it's a very sale-able prospect and certainly a very different approach from the run-of-the-mill "Joey has (fill in name of disease or disability)." With a good publisher, it could even turn into a series!

    You're a great writer, why not write for the little ones? You certainly have the talent to articulate the everyday and the familiar in ways that are fresh and new.

  8. Awwww. I love this. They do look and sound so typical! I really hope my kids can play like that some day. Really.

  9. I loved those videos. Loved them. I think it's awesome that they fight and act so typical with each other. I'm sure it can get old when they fight...but imagine if there was no relationship at all. For a while, Gavin really ignored Brian totally. He's just starting to try to interact with him - playing with the same toy or crawling up and touching him. To me, it's miraculous that Gavin is capable of this relationship. Is that weird? Probably. But to's amazing and probably why I felt so happy for you when I watched those videos. Am I making sense? Probably not- I'm the space cadet today!

    Oh, and I totally love Felicia's idea about the Max & Sabrina series. I'd want it in my library!!


  10. What fantastic pictures. Sibling love is so complicated yet so strong.

  11. Poor little Violet. We really rocked her world when we brought Emmett home! They are 22 months apart, and just starting to play together. I hope that she ultimately ends up loving Emmett as fiercely as he loves her.

  12. Ok, so I forgive you - I will assume that all the torture was done in the name of sisterly love (I don't remember the birthday party thing but I do remember other things).

    Sabrina, in her own unique way, is one of Max's biggest fans. When our mom was visiting Ellen last week, Sabrina proudly told grandma how Max climbed up the stairs all by himself and then she went and gave him a big kiss.

    The videos are priceless. Can't wait for my baby to meet her amazing cousins.

  13. Great post and even better videos. I can't wait until Audrey is Fletcher's "big" little sister. I think that relationship is awesome and was one of the reasons I went to such great lengths to have Audrey.

    Oh, and I'd like to pre-order my Sabrina & Max book, too!

  14. Janet, I've heard about SibShop, and it's definitely in Sabrina's future.

    Dianne and Jenn, I still wonder about three sometimes. Dianne, I will just live vicariously through you, for now!

    Katy, the video is Sabrina Lite. Trust me, she can be really evil to Max at times.

    Felicia, you made me LAUGH with "I think it's a very sale-able prospect and certainly a very different approach from the run-of-the-mill 'Joey has (fill in name of disease or disability).'" And it's a great idea! You are officially hired as my agent. Let's work on the movie rights next! Seriously, I am going to consider that. The big question is, who'd want that book? That's what book publishers would ask! Thanks, as always, for your incredible encouragement.

    And Judy, thanks for forgiving me. Did I ever tell you that I used to wipe boogers on your pillow when I got really mad at you? Maybe not.

  15. Thanks for posting this!! I'm pregnant with number 2. The sibling thing has been huge in my life and I want my little guy to have all the love/hate relationship that it brings. And even more now with all his issues, I hope they'll learn a lot from each other.. Hope they're somewhere near how cute max and sabrina are.toghether. - Susan

  16. We're starting Sibshops in October. It's really hard sometimes. One of my kids has crossed the lines from equal time to mega-annoyed.

    How do you react when she does it?

  17. to cute thanks for sharing. so nice to see them playing together

  18. Ellen, I think any kid (not just special kids) would LOVE the Sabrina and Max books,--and any publisher worth his or her salt would see that in a heartbeat and snap up the concept! Libraries would clamor for it, it would be on every summer reading list--it really does fill a void in children's literature--that kids with disabilities actually have LIVES and sisters or brothers who both love and tease them.

    They're not all saintly, patient, stoic "role models" who explain to people via the written word that "My brace helps me walk" or "I use my wheelchair because my legs don't work" or "I go to the therapist to make my hand stronger"--most of them are first and foremost, just kids (who hate the therapist, the braces, and all that stuff they know they need) and they can be brats, too, who steal their sister's toys or push their brother off the swing!

    The way they're portrayed in most books, they're the (usually saintly) "other," and not part of the pack. And we never hear from the relatives!! A Sabrina and Max book could change that approach.

    The fact that Max has challenges is just a compelling "layer" to the story of sibling rivalry, fights, affection, fierce defense--the whole schmear, as it were. Heck, a whole book could be done just on why Max gets "cut some slack" and his consequences for misbehavior aren't the same as Sabrina's...all from HER POV, of course (that's not FAIR!).

    There's some rich fields to plow in that whole dynamic...and a brother and a sister team just 'work' I think from the Kid Lit perspective! Something for everyone! And like I say, you have an eye for making the everyday event an important should grab that and go for it.

    Every kid thinks their situation is unique (hey, aren't we all born thinking the world revolves around US? The trick is to get over that attitude!!) and if they see that kids from all walks of life and situations deal with sibling issues, it makes that aspect of their lives a bit more universal. It's a "connectedness" thing.

    I also think Sabrina and Max are such strong characters, they could carry not just a book, but a series.

    I say think about it...and then go for it!

  19. I love the picture of Sabrina cupping Max's face with her hands. So sweet!

    I have no doubt that she has her moments where she wants to torment him, but I bet she will be a great defender for her brother too!

  20. Very cute video, she certainly knows what to do for him.

  21. I think you summed up their relationship perfectly!

  22. I was the same way with my sister and she was always bigger than me even though I was older! Tell Sabrina if she wants to see a big belly, I am happy to show her mine : ).

  23. Ellen,I love reading all your stories of Max and Sabrina. So real and so touching, thank for sharing with us. You guys are so inspiring and strong.

  24. My visiting older sister who is 3 and half years older then me watched Keri my 10 year old daughter who has CP and is deaf w/ CI's and Emily my 8 year old daughter.Upon my return she said,In that way they're like us.Always fighting yet loving.That brought some normal.Hey if the only thing normal in our lives is sibling rivalery so be it.


Thanks for sharing!