her place

Katie, Aug 2010

**

Katie stopped and sat down on the stairs on the way down to breakfast – never a good thing on a school day morning. There’s just enough time for eating, toileting, dressing, tooth brushing, medicine taking, vitamin picking (can’t have two gummies the same color or apparently the world comes to an end), hair brushing, toileting (yeah, again), communication log book filling, lunch making, library book hunting, backpack filling, shoe finding, running late and hurrying out the door. There’s NO time for sitting on the stairs.

“I don’t feel well, Mama,” she declared in her best “I don’t feel well, Mama” voice.

I looked at her. She had her arms wrapped around her tummy.

“Sorry, baby,” I said, “But I’m not buyin’ what your sellin.”

She looked at me, surprised. And then she remembered she wasn’t supposed to be feeling well, so she quickly changed “surprised” face back to “Oh yeah, I’m not feeling well” face.

“Sweet girl, you made a fatal error.”

She looked incredulous. “I did?”

I nodded. “Yup. You asked me last night if you could take the day off today. ‘Member?”

She looked down at her feet. “Oh yeah. That.”

“So what’s really going on here?” I asked.

“I’m scared to go to school,” she said. “I don’t want the kids to tease me about my eye.” Two days before she’d tripped on a stone wall. She’d gotten a pretty decent gash above her eye that landed us in the ER, but it was now, thanks to the incredible medical advance that is DermaBond, pretty much a non-issue. So, yeah. Still not buyin’ it.

“Katie, love? Your eye is fine. Call me crazy, but I think we’re just needing some attention here. And I’m pretty sure there are MUCH better ways to go about it. Starting with breakfast. Off your bottom, kid.”

She got up looking dejected and followed me into the kitchen. She pulled her chair closer to mine as we sat down to eat.

“Mama,” she said. “I really do need some attention.”

“I know baby, and we’re going to make time today, OK? Just you and me. I promise.”

Her face eased a little. “Promise?”

I nodded emphatically. “I promise.”

I knew we needed time together. Real time. Alone. And I knew it wasn’t just her that needed it. We both did.

I knew the other day when she handed me a tattered piece of paper that read, “I’m Sorry.” I knew when we sat on her bed and both of us quietly cried. I knew because when I asked her why she was sorry she had said, “I don’t know, Mama, but I haven’t been good lately. I just know it.” I knew because sh-t rolls down hill, and there’s been a lot of sh-t rolling down some pretty steep hills around these parts the last few weeks. I knew it because my girl was struggling with some vague sense of having done something wrong only because she was standing at the bottom of the hill.

I would find time.

We carved out a couple more minutes between toileting, hair brushing and shoe hunting to talk again. I told her that I knew that we’d spent a long day the day before focused on her sister. I told her that those days can be emotional for me and I suspected that they are for her too. She nodded and grabbed my hand. I squeezed it and told her that I guessed that sometimes it can be confusing, figuring out her place in all of it. She blinked back tears. I told her that I loved her and promised that we’d find more time.

Last week, I filled out an application for a Sib Shop for Katie. She has one at school, but I thought it might be nice to branch out from the same kids year after year. One of the questions on the form was, ‘Are there any particular topics that you’d like to see the group address?”

I started to think about it, but realized I wasn’t the one this was about. So I asked Katie. I thought she might hem and haw, or simply demure with a typical fourth grade, “Whatever.” She did neither. In no time at all she answered, “I want to talk about how to deal with being embarrassed and how you can make new friends when they don’t know about your sibling.”

I smiled and said, “Great, I’ll write that down,” but every internal organ had cringed. Of course she does. Of course. Katie doesn’t have a lot of girls over to the house. There are new girls in her class this year. She has yet to ask for a play date with any but one. Of course. How did this not hit me before?

I thought the sib shop was free, but it turned out that due to the ubiquitous funding cuts, there was a fee. We’re trying desperately not to spend money right now, but I didn’t hesitate in writing that check.

On Monday, Luau and I arranged to pick the girls up from school in separate cars. Katie and I headed out without a destination.

When I made a wrong turn I said, “Oops, I just turned this way by accident.”

Katie said, “Mama, I don’t think it’s an accident at all. I think it’s an accident on purpose.”

She then explained that she thinks that when we do something ‘by accident on purpose’ it’s because we are doing what God wants us to. She then added that she really thought I should make turns down any and all streets that we didn’t normally travel on, as long as they were headed away from home. She then said that if we didn’t know where to go at any given intersection, we should go left.

I nearly pulled over to e-mail my friend Carrie immediately, but instead I chose instead to simply tell Katie that Mama has a dear friend who believes the very same thing.

After driving for a while, we wound up in town, sharing a treat from the bakery. I took the opportunity to school her in the laws of baked goods. I told her that it’s a punishable offense to order a fruit treat without an accompanying chocolate one. The elderly ladies at the bakery giggled. I shrugged and nudged Katie as I said, “Hey, we are law-abiding citizens, right kiddo?”

We got our nails done in matching, God-awful dark purply blue. We walked in and out of shops. We found the dog that lives at the local toy store and spent some time playing with her and deciding that as adorable as she may be, she’s no Winston. We went to a pub for soup when the evening turned cold. And we talked.

We made up questions for each other – all the more fun for their lack of context. Vanilla or Chocolate? Beach or mountains? Italy or Hawaii? Soup or stew? Candy or ice cream? Bath or shower? Bed or sleeping bag? Party or play date?

As we got into the car to head home, Katie reached for my hand. “Thanks, Mama,” she said. “I really needed this.”

I looked down at my girl. My beautiful, brilliant, soulful girl. “Me too, baby,” I answered, “me too.”

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32 thoughts on “her place

  1. hankie alert! seriously, “being embarassed”, can I tell you that she is not alone and of course you know that don’t you. Conor has been “embarassed” on a few times, and it breaks my heart. sweetie much love to you and the babes….

  2. Thank you for this, and bless Katie and you. My daughter is only six months old, but I often feel for her since her older brother (who she ADORES, and only cries anymore if his pitch changes to angry) requires more time and attention. I struggle sometimes when I consider that he will *always* need a little more, which means (unless I’m cloned) that she will *always* get a little less. I appreciate you showing me a way that I can make up for that when the times comes.

    For now, though, fifteen minutes of raspberry blowing and letting her lick my Oreo before I put it in milk seem to do the trick. ;)

  3. You are the best momma…you are amazing. And sweet Katie is just incredible…most of don’t figure out what we really need until…well…for long long time.
    Love to all of you…

  4. ahh another “same thing here” situation. i just want to offer the advice that you give katie her days off with you.

    now that my neurotypically developing daughter is in 7th grade (and really since she was in 3rd or so) she can’t take days off of school. there is way too much for her to get done at school with standardized testing, homework, and blocked schedules where classes meet every other day. we recently had our first evening alone in so long! i just encourage you to take an occasional day off while katie is so young. the years fly and katie will be off and running after school with many social activities. it’s possible brooke will be home with you far more often. the time alone with katie is so precious and hard to carve out. that she can recognize her need and articulate it so well is quite a bonus for you. have fun with her. the other kids without disabled siblings take it for granted but your katie will really appreciate it.

  5. It’s so hard to be the one standing at the bottom of the hill…no matter what kind of sh** is rolling down. So glad you got the time together and that Katie’s getting some of what she needs, too, through the sib-shops and special mama-time.

    As painful as it gets sometimes, I hope you never lose sight of the fact that you are an excellent mama to BOTH your girls. We’ll be here to remind you if you forget, though. xo

  6. My worst fear … that my oldest son is missing out because his twin brothers (who are only 14 months younger) both have autism. We try to make time, here and there, but it’s hard in the every day chaos of school and work and activities. And we’re also really thankful for our extended family who makes time to take him out for one-on-one time. We all know that he needs that. In the end, you do the best you can and hope it’s enough.

    You do an amazing job with the balance … making accomodations for Brooke who somtimes needs them and also taking the time – even when you don’t really have it – for Katie when she needs it, too. Amazing momma. Amazing kids. So inspiring …

  7. Jess, you are an amazing mama and your girl astounds me with her ability to communicate her feelings to you. You two have an amazing bond.

  8. I love, “accident on purpose” :)

    Hope life has, at least, landed on a plateau for a bit…

    Good job reestablishing your “places”.

    You set a great example which is awesome enough. But then when you can actually wrap words around it ~ you’re quite extraordinary.

    Hope your injury is healing.

  9. So pleased for both Katie and you. …and yes, Katie is an incredible communicator. I do believe she comes by this quite honestly.

    Love you,
    Mom

  10. So pleased for both Katie and you. …and yes, Katie is an incredible communicator. She always has been.I do believe she comes by this quite honestly.

    Love you,
    Mom

  11. i love how well you guys communicate. she needs attention, she asks for it. that’s really an amazing thing. her maturity level and intelligence are incredible, but not surprising. with parents like you guys, she is learning from the best.

  12. Katie is HOW old? As I’ve said before, she has an old soul.

    I think that all children with siblings need special time alone with their parent(s). How much more the siblings of children who “demand” extra attention?

  13. I am following your wonderful example! Even though it’s difficult I do make time for THE DIVA to be alone with me an hour here and there through out the week. She has the double whammy of being the middle child and having a special needs sibling.

    She goes to dance class with just either me or Big Daddy and we let her stay up later then the rest of the kids one night on the weekend.

    Thanks for showing me the way.

    xoxo

  14. Thank you for the reminder that my darling girl needs me as much as my son does. She’s so amazing that I forget that sometimes.
    You’re such an inspiring momma!

  15. Thank you for the reminder to find time with for the sibling. Mine is only 2 years older than her sister and is a WONDERFUL big sister but does need time to be just herself.

  16. I was this little girl, 40 years ago. There were no sib shops, and parents did not recognize the need for “quality” time with kids. It hurt. Thank the Lord that things have changed.

  17. This really hit home for me… I really admire the patience you showed her even though you knew you had no time in the morning for any “extras”… My son requires A LOT of attention and we are in the process of diagnosing him with ADHD and ODD… my little girl I know always gets less from me… and it breaks my heart. Working and raising children in general I feel like both of my kids are missing out on that special one-on-one time… and your story really just put it all in perspective for me… Thank you… I really needed this… You’re a great mamma with a good head on your shoulders… :)

  18. This is a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing it. Like you, I try to find time for my younger one, as my oldest one get a lot of attention with his autism, with therapy, school and stuff. I have signed up with ECFE with my youngest so we get time to play together with other children. So, we get some momma and little guy time. :o) Thanks again for sharing your story. :o) Oh and Katie sounds so sweet! :o)

  19. Going through the exact same thing right now with my newly aquired 10 & 12 year old. The 10 year old was not diagnosed until I got her and I am just trying to get the 12 year old to understand so we can all get along. Now the 10 year old has begun to look and act different and it is noticeable. My 12 year old’s friends don’t understand and try to tease. It is so hard all the way around. Between therapies and everything else, I feel that I don’t get enough 1 on 1 with either one of them and I feel lost so much of the time. Glad to know I am not alone and my kids are not either.

  20. Thank you for your beautiful story!! I have 4 year old twins and my son has autism and my daugher is sooo wonderful to her brother but I feel she has grown up sooo quickly. She has become quite the mother hen. I am going to lock this article in my archives to remind myself to have special moments w/her. Thank you again : )

  21. It´s so important the feelings of brothers and sisters of autistic children, we must know how to step out for a day, or at least for a few hours, from “autism world” with them. We must manage to have our own space and that will make everybody feel happier. Thanks for sharing this story

  22. Pingback: big sister as little sister « a diary of a mom

  23. I know just what Katie is feeling like..I feel like I need my mom to myself sometimes too.. And i get embarassed too about having friends over and stuff like that all the time because of my little brother

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