We live in a world of dualities, a word the Oxford English dictionary defines as an instance of opposition or contrast between two concepts or two aspects of something. Duality exists everywhere: in nature, in politics, in the arts, in families. And duality offers the world diversity: light and dark, happy and sad, healthy and sick, smart and stupid, etc.
My sister and I reflect what I suspect is a somewhat typical sibling duality. One introverted and bookish, the other extroverted and socially gifted, one athletic and one accident prone, one a rule follower and the other a rebel—an interestingly more fluid aspect of each of our personalities as we have aged and had different life experiences—and, one sweet and kindhearted and one more often sharp-tongued and snarky. None better than the other, each child loved for the whole sum of the various divergent parts, and, most importantly, one never compared to the other.
I am of the view that this duality, our diversity, should be celebrated, encouraged, and embraced at every opportunity … and I tend to surround myself with people who I believe share that same view, to include family.
My mother laughed at me the other night on a FaceTime chat with me and her sweet seven-year-old grandson who happens to beautifully sport an extra chromosome. I was recounting my response to earlier emails from my sister in which she had sent the PDFs of her two kids’ outstanding report cards, replete with As and honor courses. Mom met my reply with a head tossing guffaw and an incredulous, “You did WHAT??”
When those emails first arrived, I admit my first response was to chuckle, because sending around her report card to other family members is the LAST thing my sister would have wanted our mother to do! But my laughter was quickly replaced with tears and the inevitable feeling of a gut punch at the insensitive if well-intentioned slight. My amazing boy has Down syndrome, which, among other things, guarantees limits on his academic achievements as measured by typically developing kid standards. He is the only one in our family with an intellectual disability.
I am incredibly proud of my niece and nephew – they are smart, kind, and hard-working young adults who both have great futures ahead of them. My son shares these same characteristics, along with a riotous sense of humor and an increasingly bold streak of independence. But the unintended academic comparison sparked by the report card emails was not welcome, and coming from anyone other than my generous, patient sister probably would have sent me immediately into a friendship ending spiral.
It was hurtful and honestly broke my heart a little. I know there was nothing malicious intended in the act. I know my sister loves and cherishes my son as I do. And our entire family is nothing but proud of him – I practically burst with joy and pride at everything he does, from making fart jokes to memorizing his sight words to reaching the next Super Mario Odyssey kingdom! But why would you send those report cards? Despite my carefully worded response to those emails to my sister and my subsequent sharing of my feelings with my mother, neither has apologized.
Am I over-reacting? Maybe. Am I hyper-sensitive? Most likely. Are my feelings any less valid? Most definitely not. Was I wrong to share them? I most certainly don’t think so.
A dear friend, who also is a sister of circumstance, reminded me that those who have not walked in our shoes will never truly understand what it is like to be a parent of a child with a disability. Point finally taken.