March 15, 2011

More on Sisters

Courtney has learned more about acceptance and the gift of Alex in eighteen years than I have at my advanced age. I would not change this experience for anything.

This is Courtney's college application written over a year ago. I am so proud of who she is now and who she is becoming.

It is easier to rip a newspaper along the grains. There, the paper is uniform and the tear is clear. I had envisioned my life to be along the grain. I wanted to be the same as everyone else. My school, my clothes, and my music resembled everyone else's in my grade. My family, however, didn't.

In 1st grade I realized my sister was different. This meant that I was different through association. Alex will only ever be as smart as a middle school student- her standardized tests scores can attest to that. I have a sister who won’t be able to live on her own.

School was mine. I entered the decorated classroom and forgot my family at home. I had new friends and they were the social group of the grade. What eight-year-old kid doesn't want to be the center of attention? As far as anyone was concerned, I was just like everyone else.

But I really wasn’t. My sister called for me from across crowded hallways and across the congested playground every day. Eyes would turn to me, wondering how I was going to react. When I heard her, I turned the other way and didn’t respond. My cheeks would burn and I wondered what people were thinking. I wanted to get away from her and I couldn’t. She was always the next bedroom away.

Eventually, I stopped trying to live my life in the control seat. I stopped living my own life in general. People saw me through my sister, so that is what I became- Alex's sister. I sat in the corner while she was out talking to people and singing her off-key songs. I became what I thought people perceived me as. I was quiet and reserved, and I gave center stage to my sister.

I don’t remember exactly when I realized that I didn’t have to be second to her. Alex participates in a lot of activities for children with disabilities, one being therapeutic horseback riding. I spent a lot of time with my sister at her horseback riding sessions, where I watched her confidence grow and her fear become insignificant. She was a real person, and could handle herself well. Who was this girl that caused me so much grief? Did I make her up?

The newspaper was ripped, and there was no going back. I took another look at my life. I saw my sister as a girl who, yes, loves to be the center of attention, but at the same time grew as a real person. She wasn’t afraid to be herself around new people, or around friends. What I ran from in school wasn’t my sister, but it was the idea of a child with Down Syndrome, a child whose different. It was unnecessary energy that I put into hiding from her that I should have spent understanding my sister.

Every weekend, I watch Alex as she jumps out of the car before I turn off the engine. Watching her makes me warm even on the coldest winter days. I love my sister as a person, and through our differences, I’ve come to realize she has helped shape the person I am. My friends aren’t along the grain, they are far from it, and I love them for always being themselves. By keeping my world open to opportunity, I’ve stopping looking at how far I’ve deviated since elementary school and have come to realize how close my life is to the one I’ve always wanted.

Beautiful Courtney!


  1. Yes, and in understanding Alex, you understand yourself.

    You also confront your shadow side which you externalise into the "girl who is different".

    Personhood is so important, in the warmth and deviance of humanity.

    And I love your words on opportunity.

    It's good for the teenagers who are reading this.

    (And you and Alex share the love of being the centre of attention, whether in a social group or in an activity).

    First among Equals. Keep ripping that paper, even as we live in a paperless world.

  2. I'm writing this comment through my tears. This is amazing! Such a beautiful description of growing up with a sibling who has Down Syndrome. Many of the situations are the same that my daughters experienced over the years. I read this through their eyes. Thank you for sharing this.


Thanks for your note, we love hearing from you!