Thursday, June 3, 2010

A different kind of big brother

Tonight, I was reading a book to Sabrina after Max had conked out, one from the adorable Charlie and Lola series—But Excuse Me, That Is MY Book. Lola's obsessed with a book called Beetles, Bugs, and Butterflies, and Charlie (her older bro) tries to introduce her to other kinds—one about Romans, a pop-up book, an encyclopedia. As we sat on the floor, Sabrina on my lap, it occurred to me that she is missing out on some of the benefits of having a typical big brother.

I don't sit around thinking about what's lacking in our lives or, in particular, Sabrina's. Mostly, I'm cheering on and celebrating Max's progress, as I did yesterday. It takes a book, a comment, an incident to spark a realization like this. Oh. Sabrina doesn't have the type of older brother who can introduce her to new books. Or teach her to ride a bike. Or explain things to her. Or protect her from other kids. It's all reversed—Sabrina's the one showing Max how to do stuff, and deflecting kids' mean comments. Once, on a vacation, the kids' club staff gave Sabrina a "Best Big Sister" award.

I've written before about how Sabrina can be Max's best friend, and worst enemy. That hasn't changed, though the intensity has. Lately, when she gets mad at him, she is so, so mad. She pushes him (and he pulls her hair back). She chants "Max loves GREEN!" when she knows he's all about purple. She says obnoxious things such as "Ewww, he smells like drool." But when she's sweet to him, she is tender beyond her years. Like this weekend at the beach, we were having a barbecue and she grabbed Max, pulled him onto her lap (she's got 10 pounds on him) and hugged him tight.

And yet, even as I sit here pondering the things Sabrina may not learn from her brother, I know there is plenty she can learn from him. The really big, important stuff that makes you a good person in this world.

I hope Max teaches her patience, which she could use more of.
And tolerance.
And acceptance.
And understanding.
And extreme kindness.
And empathy.
And sensitivity.

I hope she learns from Max that you can be different than other people, but still be a perfectly great person.

Most of all, I hope that her big brother's beautiful spirit, strength and perseverance inspire her—more than books or words ever could.


  1. Always remember that Max and everything that he is is ALL that Sabrina knows, no less and no more. And that is sufficient! We have an interesting dynamic in our own house, as my child with disabilities is the oldest biologically but is more like the youngest given how much care she needs. That makes my second really the "oldest" child and the baby really the "middle" child. I have to say that their adaptive place is very true and they are each "typical" oldest, middle and youngest!

    That last photo of your two is priceless -- his little hand on her arm --

  2. I am pretty certain that your hopes and wishes will come true--those two will teach each other a lot in the coming years.

    Elizabeth makes a great point about how kids adjust to their reality--what's "normal" is what is status quo for them. Sabrina won't miss what she's never had, nor will Max. She'll simply enjoy the relationship she has been given with her brother, as it is.

  3. Max is teaching Sabrina the most important things in this world...that is more than any other big brother can do!

  4. Not such bad things, really! I sure wish all of my little sisters had learned those things, it would have searved them all WELL! I don't think that there could be a better lifelong lesson to a child than to live with a special needs sibling! Max and Sabrina will probably be closer than most...YEAH!

  5. I truly believe that our younger son is already a more compassionate, kind soul because of his older brother.
    Lovely post !

  6. Beautiful post. Elijah is our oldest and only child. So, when I think of having another kid, I do wonder how it would change our family dynamics. I come to the same conclusion that you have...the life lessons of having a 'different kind of big brother' will be so beneficial to any future kids we have. And no, I'm not pregnant. ;)

  7. Beautiful post. Love the last picture with Max's hand on Sabrina's arm.


  8. Have you read about another big brother: Frederic Bilodeau?

    His "baby brother" is an Olympian:

    There are some other better stories about the family dynamic, but I can't seem to find them on Google and I should be out the door :)

    Thanks for the blog!

  9. Sabrina is surely Max's greatest teacher - and I strongly believe that he will be hers as well. No, they don't have a "typical" big brother/little sister relationship, but theirs will prove to be immeasurably beautiful.
    The picture at the bottom with Max's hand over Sabrina's melted my heart. Those are two awesome kids you have.

  10. One thing we learned much, much later from our second daughter was that she carried a lot of resentment and guilt about her relationship and feelings towards her "older but yet younger" big sister,Amber. Amber was born with Spina Bifida and used a wheelchair (paraplegic). She won Queen of Canoe, and Junior Camper of the Year, played on the Good News Bears baseball team and adored babies. She also struggled mightily in school, wished to wear jeans more than just about anything and hated doctors/hospitals. Heather, sixteen months younger, born healthy and normal was into the color pink, ballet for nine years, in the gifted and talented program, could be caught glowering at anyone who had the audacity to stare at her sister's wheelchair. Turns out she also had a lot of really big feelings that I wish I'd known were there. She resented being shuttled off to Mamaw's whenever Amber went into the hospital. She felt horrible watching Amber struggle so much with school when it was so easy for her. Sometimes, she felt embarrassed by Amber's disabilities such as the floating poop in the pool that closed the pool down. Uggh!

    The girls were best friends close and yet, hated each other at times. Due to Amber's spinal issues, she could not beat a respiratory infection and died in 1990 (it was twenty years on Cinco de Mayo...I hate Cinco de Mayo and I live in South Texas!). Those big feelings were so strong, Heather even commented at school that Amber would come back when they were in high school. I wish we had known about play therapy and sand tray therapy then so Heather would have had an avenue to share her feelings without worrying about how my husband or I would feel.

    I'm a teacher and have had many children in my class who have physical,developmental or emotional challenges. C.P. is a disability that four of my students have had, along with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, paralysis due to spinal meningitis, and mental retardation. Since Amber's death, I make it a point to share my "if only I could turn back time,I would" scenario so that the sometimes invisible "normal" sibling, can get that focus as well. (Not saying you don't....just sharing what I've shared with my parents.) I continue to learn from them as much as they learn from me, and sometimes the biggest cry baby on the last day is me...okay, always.

  11. BWakaBarbara from BostonJune 3, 2010 at 10:48 PM

    What beautiful pictures of the kids. What siblings of children who need more care gain is empathy, maturity, broader horizons, and an ability to share what they learn with their more challenged sib. Think about it - no matter how pissed off you are at a sibling don't let an outsider child pick on the more delicate youngster. There will be hell to pay.

  12. Beautiful and brought tears to my eyes as I often ponder the same thing...Olivia is the big sister...but to our family she's the youngest...but she has already taught them more than most people learn in a lifetime!

  13. Ahh. I just cried.
    She is such a sweet child. And Max is so darn cute.
    We also have the fighting among all six of the kids so it isn't just among the "special and normal". (I hate those words but couldn't come up with another way to put it.)
    But Jake has offered everyone a new look on life. It is a slower pace. We now take a lot of things in stride that before would drive us all nuts.
    I know there are moments it is depressing. I had one at physical therapy today.
    But kids like Max and Jake teach us all the really important things in life such as patience, unconditional love and perseverance. That is what she will remember.
    The last picture is just way too loving and special.


Thanks for sharing!

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