I have often written about how I wished that Joshua had a big brother or sister to look out for him – someone on his side at school and to take care of him when we have gone. I would have like him to have had a sibling to protect him against bullies potentially and to defend him in the street when people stare. I heard an interesting feature on Radio 4 yesterday, as I had a long drive for work : two ladies spoke about what it was like to have had brothers with disabilities, who both died as teenagers.
They spoke with passion about their family experience and made me think about the perspective of the sibling, as I had never considered it before. As young girls, both had felt neglected by their parents as the needs of their disabled brothers always dominated family life, and there was a part of them that resented the attention that they received. They had become angry when their friends had made comments about their brothers who were not the same as them. Then as these big sisters had grown into teenagers, they had developed a desire to be the same as everyone else and to blend in, so then their brothers became a source of embarrassment to them, before they had the self-confidence to defend them. One lady was mortified now that she had disowned her brother in front of her friends. Then their brothers had both died in their teenage years and so the ladies felt guilt over how they had treated them and again, their parents were so absorbed by grief that they felt neglected again. They were promoting the need for counselling for siblings of children with special needs, to enable them to express how they were feeling.
It was a fascinating feature and it got me thinking about my idealised view of how Joshua and his imaginary big brother or sister might have been in reality. They would have found it hard in our family too to get attention, Joshua dominates most of our decisions and so it is hard to know how we would have found time for another child. I am not sure how families I know manage to make the ‘normal’ child feel important and to get their own time from parents, when the one , or even two, with special needs take priority. Joshua may not have a sibling, but he has his parents to himself, he does not have to share us and we can put his needs ahead of anyone else’s. I guess, like in most things, there would be both positives and negatives in any family dynamic and so we will focus on the positives and make the best of our family situation.
I have already written about my parents and what they mean to me, so now it is the turn of the other person who has known me all of my life : my big sister. My sister was 2.5 years old when I was born and apparently she was very possessive of her new baby sister and she was reluctant to let anyone else near me when I came home from hospital; her first memory is of a temper tantrum that she threw when somebody else dared to feed me a baby rusk. We did not really play together as children, as my sister only wanted to play schools,where she was teacher and I was the pupil, whereas I was much happier floating around the garden wearing fancy dress, but we were always companionable and talked a lot together. But as we have grown older, I would say that we have become much closer :
- We are in contact everyday; we may not speak to each other daily, but we send each other messages throughout the day. In times of family crisis, such as now when our Mum is in hospital, we are in more regular contact and we have been phoning each other too. We share and keep secrets with each other and we have always got plenty to say to each other, but are both good listeners and advisers when needed. Mum is fortunate enough to have three sisters and I have seen how they have rallied around her while she is unwell too, their family unit is similar to ours, except there are more of them.
- We are fiercely protective of one another; so if somebody hurts my sister’s feelings or upsets, her, I am ready to protect her and fight her corner. I will always take her side, and I know she will be the same, and perhaps ask questions later. It is true that blood is really thicker than water, and this applies not only to my sister but our offspring too, so we are also protective Aunts too. My sister adores Joshua and I feel the same way about my niece, and we have both appeared at hospitals for them when we have been needed, no questions asked.
- Although we are very different in personalities, my sister and I share our parents and their principles in common.. So we would almost definitely approach problems in a different way – I am always more bolshy and spontaneous than my sister – but we will always be moving in the same direction. Of course there is room for both approaches, neither of us feel that we are inevitably right. Physically, I am very similar to our Mum , while my sister resembles our Dad more, so we do not look like sisters.
- We enjoy each other’s company, so we have often shared holidays and spa days together and those are always fun times. We are going on a spa day in two weekends time and we will laugh and talk all day long I expect. In the year that my sister was 50 and my niece was 21, we 5 went to Florida for a fortnight together and had such a fun holiday. I was anxious before hand that we might wind each other up as my sister loves a plan , whereas on holiday, much of the joy is waking up each day, without a plan and being spontaneous about what we might do with the fresh day. In fact it was this fundemental difference in our approach to holidays, that had made me hesitate when she first suggested the idea. I only agreed on the basis that my sister and niece tried not to plan too much. But we had the best time, that we have enjoyed other holidays together since – long weekends in Center Parcs and a week in Majorca for my 50th. So it is a real bonus that we like as well as love each other. For the first time last Autumn, we went away with Mum and had a fabulous ” Girls” weekend in Harrogate and we had such fun, that we are hoping to make that an annual event as all three of us laughed a lot.
So thank you to my sister for everything that you do for me, we are lucky to have each other and you are a critical part of my support system. You not only support and protect me, your little sister, but you have embraced my husband and son too and welcomed them both into our family unit with your generous, open arms.