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Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

siblings with special needsYou know when you can’t believe something that actually came out of your child’s mouth? Something profound, something funny, something embarrassing, or even something that stumps you. I’ve had my share of “Naia-isms” you just can’t make up that my daughter, Naia, has said — most of which have made me laugh or pleasantly surprised me.

Most notably was one that occurred this past Mother’s Day. In preschool, she answered questions about me and presented it as part of her Mother’s Day gift. Love that she thinks I’m 50 pounds, 1 year older than her, and that I “cook” a mean salad. Love that she thinks my favorite colors are pink and purple although those are HER favorite colors. 
 
But the answer to “My mom always says…” was the one that GOT me. I mean, REALLY GOT ME.  Her answer was “CAN YOU HELP DOMINIC?” She’s 4! So, admittedly, I expected an answer more like “I love you” or “You make me proud”. But instead, this was what came to her mind. Her teacher even told me “when I wrote it down, I took a moment to pause and think about that.” I am her mom, and I, too, paused to think about it. Almost 3 weeks later, I’m STILL thinking about it and can’t get past that white piece of paper she gave me for Mother’s Day. It still makes my heart feel something I can’t grasp.
I think about years ago before Naia was born. I wondered if our oldest, Anthony, would be his twin brother, Dominic’s, keeper. Dominic is our son with special needs. From a close distance, I’ve watched Anthony change Dominic’s pj’s or wipe his face from drool or food without being asked. I’ve seen him frustrated but also beaming with pride after getting Dominic’s stiff arms and legs through his pajamas. He has removed his brother’s braces and shoes and often, naturally, comforts his brother when it’s time for his daily medications. He has picked up his brother’s head when droops from fatigue and lack of muscle control. I’ve held back the tears and the urge to go in and help Anthony help his brother. It took a long time for me to realize that I don’t have to worry if Anthony will feel the burden of being his brother’s keeper. I realized that he would just innately become his brother’s best friend over anything else.
 
But now, this little girl believes that her mom always says “CAN YOU HELP DOMINIC?“.  It made me stop and ask myself, “Do I really ask her that much? And, if so, do I ask too much of her? Does she just believe this is one of her roles? More importantly, does she know that she is very much appreciated? Does she believe she is any different than any other 4 year old out there who does not have an older brother with significant special needs? Will she ever wonder WHY her brother needs help?” 
 
The biggest question that I asked myself when Anthony was at the age of 4, and what I am again asking again with Naia is, “Will they resent him, or me, for that matter?” My head spins with these questions that I don’t have the answers to. How I often wish someone would tell me how to not worry if my children will be their brother’s keeper when I am gone.

It is human to help.

I have to constantly remind myself that things do happen as they should — that things fall in to place as beautifully as they were meant to as I witness the genuine care and concern they have for their brother. We haven’t taught them how to be their brother’s keeper. We are showing them – in everything we do each and every day for all three of them.  It’s exhausting and rewarding at the same time. This mama questions herself – A LOT – if I’m doing it right.
 
I may or may not be alone in my search for all the answers to the questions above and may never have the answers. Special needs aside, our kids care for their brother. And, I couldn’t be more proud. I truly believe that this world could be a kinder place if we learn from our little ones who show true compassion at such a young age because it is human to care. It is human to help, and it is human to love and be each other’s keeper. We need to let that happen.

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4 Responses to Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

  1. Andrea Yumang June 18, 2018 at 7:09 am #

    Sherry,
    This is so beautiful and so raw with emotion. No one can really understand the true extent of what your daily life is unless they too have had to walk in your shoes. I think that it is only normal for you to wonder and ask yourself questions about resentment or the sense of burden, but our kids have shown us that they instinctively do these things and it comes so naturally. You have instilled kindness and empathy in your beautiful children and they all know how to care for each other. Anyone who meets D, gravitates to his cheery energy and his silly giggle. Naia and Nino will ALWAYS be their brothers keeper and it truly is the most precious gift. You’re right, if WE all could be as compassionate as our little ones, this world would be a much better place.

    You are an INCREDIBLE woman with INCREDIBLE children.

    • Sherry Milia July 8, 2018 at 7:41 pm #

      I love your feedback and your perspective that I know you share with your own little guy. Thank you dear Andrea for your support then, now, and always! Much love to all of you!

  2. Mary Ellen Malloy June 18, 2018 at 10:53 am #

    I love this article! My thoughts for you are that you often rephrase a gentle reminder to include D! Much different. As an oldest child, I heard this often. It reminded me to keep my brakes on and look around to the rest of the kids! Not a bad thing and we often widened the family circle to include the rest of the neighbors, cousins, newbies, etc. You and your family just enjoy life! What a pleasure! Thanks for sharing.

    I miss you all and enjoy the stories!

    • Sherry Milia July 8, 2018 at 7:40 pm #

      And you have been a valuable part of our family circle that we miss a lot! We hope you can visit someday soon!

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