September 21, 2009

CAT - Friend or Foe?

We do not have a cat - and considering I am allergic to cats I do not think we will ever get one. We do have mice though.

CAT is what my father used to call my family - we were the CAT family - Courtney, Alex and Tom. Guess I didn’t realize when I was naming my children how much fun my Dad would have with their first initials. I was happy to oblige.

I want to talk about how often I am asked about the CAT relationships. Particularly how Alex gets along with her siblings. This is a tough one - because I usually say - "just the same as any other siblings". But this is not entirely true.

Granted - being a middle child - Alex gets abuse from above and below. My children fight just like any other siblings I know. I have 14 nieces and nephews, so I have witnessed this first hand. They will fight when Alex gets something they don’t; they will fight over games and household responsibilities. They will argue and argue. Makes us crazy!

The current complaint from Alex is that Courtney has her driver’s license and she should be able to get hers. There is NO way I am letting Alex get behind the wheel of a car – at least for now. I have told her that she needs to learn to read a little bit better to pass the driver’s test. She does read at a 4th grade level – but I do not think her processing skills are quick enough to react in a questionable situation. I also do not think she would be the worst driver on the road – but I am not going to contribute to the high accident rate in the US.

There are adults with Down syndrome who do drive – and it is within the realm of possibility – but we are going to wait until she is 21 before we even consider this. So far she is okay with this – however I know the war will break out again when Tom gets his permit in a year.

There is always the fight about food – why doesn’t she get two cookies like Tom. Well I cannot say to my 16 year old that Tom is skinny and exercises so he can have the extra cookie. Instead I have chickened out and told him to hide it from his sister. The kids and I have created an unlikely alliance in the weight battle.

What I do want to share - I believe something different has happened in my family. I attribute this to having a child with special needs. I find my kids to be extra caring and concerned. They stick up for Alex in front of their friends; they tell me when they think she is struggling. They include her in activities and they love to give me advice about what I am doing wrong. Doesn’t bother me one bit.

I was once told, that in your child’s first parent/teacher conference you will be told about characteristics of your kids that will hold true for every parent/teacher conference in the future. I believe this – in both Courtney and Tom’s kindergarten conferences I was told that my kids were kind. They looked out for the others in their class. They were always helpful when other children were struggling. Perhaps they were born this way (not sure where that would have some from) – but perhaps there really is some truth in the nature/nurture theory. I do not know – I only know what I see, and I am grateful.

I grew up with three sisters – and there is nothing that beats the love/hate relationship that developed with sisters. Every day, I regret that Courtney does not have that relationship with her sister (at least in the way that I did). I am happy to see that Courtney and Tom are beginning to develop the relationship I had with my brother. They drive to school together and have private time together. They recently each shared with me they enjoyed each other’s company.

I do not know what Alex’s future holds – but I know what I will strive to create. I do not want Courtney and Tom’s futures dictated by what their sister needs. They should be able to go pursue their dreams and not have to worry about Alex’s care. This is a concern that all parents with children with special needs share.

This was not my first choice for my family. But I believe every situation is an opportunity. I know there are options for Alex – and I know I need to start working on this now. Just like every person Alex deserves a bright future - including good health, a worthwhile job, and a fulfilling relationship. Got my work cut out for me!

Afterall - we are the CAT family.

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