Growing up I was considered the Middle Child. I had two older sisters and a younger one. The oldest was very independent, cool (in my eyes) and smart. I looked up to her, wanted all her clothes and wished I was as outgoing and talented as her. On the other side, I felt my little sister got away with more because she was the baby, along with a sense of jealousy because who doesn't want to be their parents baby...forever. :) But of course if anyone messed with my little sister I could come out of my middle child shell in a millisecond. Finally, there was my second older sister. She was born and diagnosed with mental retardation. Nowadays when someone uses the word Retarded or Retard it's considered slander or a put down. So to ease peoples minds I use Mentally Handicapped. But her Mental Retardation is it. *Get over it or get used to it*
Growing up with a retarded sister (yes..there's the word again - see * above.) was something that I have to actually think about when people ask me "how was it?" There was a time when I want to reply...well how was it growing up with brown eyes, or how did it feel eating wheat bread vs white bread? There's not much to feel. She was always there, she's my sister. But now I feel way less sarcasm and more empathy. Knowledge is power and I love sharing and providing insight to someone else. If it helps them to be a better person, I did good. So a better question would be "tell me more about your sister and how do you feel it helped make you the <awesome> person you are now." You don't have to use awesome...but I won't mind. ;)
My sister is a couple years older than me. And if I remember the facts correctly she had a difficult birth and had water in the brain. I'm sure a family member can correct me. She was rushed from the hospital to another that had the expertise to help a baby in this life threatening situation. I heard she was hooked up to tubes...but have never seen photos of that and it's not something my parents talk about a lot. Nowadays we have pictures galore and live feed births online and all that stuff...haha. Well, it wasn't until my sister was about a year old that my mom noticed she wasn't developing like other babies. She was beautiful but slow. That's when she was diagnosed. I was born about a year later.
I don't remember much about my sister as I was a baby or even into toddler-hood. My mom said that my sister picked me up once and dropped me and after that my mom wouldn't leave me alone. haha. Prolly bonked my head too hard...if you ever wanna know what's wrong w/ me...I really was dropped as a baby! hehe. Once I got older I understood more. She went to a private school to help with her development. She would always say she was special. She is special. Very special.
It wasn't all smiles and giggles. Our trips and outings were on her schedule. If she was having a bad day we all ended up missing out. The awesome thing is I don't recall ever being bitter...or see my other sisters upset towards that. It was just what it was. If we had to leave a restaurant or park it was what it was. Our dad was amazing though and he'd end up taking us all over San Diego on little adventures. We were far from deprived. I think it ended up making all of use less selfish and more emphatic towards others when we go out into the world. You never know what the other person is going through. You have NO idea how they grew up or what it's like behind their closed doors.
In elementary school I was so incredibly shy that my parents actually pulled me out my 4th grade year and put me in private school. That lasted only a year but it worked and I was able to socialize more. Nothing traumatic ever happened to me, I was just very shy. VERY shy. However, if anyone ever called someone a 'retard' or pretended to be a "retard" and do that slow talking and that hand thing to symbolize retardedness I would suddenly find my tongue and give out a lashing. "My sister IS REALLY retarded and that's mean!" haha. But coming from someone who never talks, it shut them right up. My friends would end up telling others to NEVER use that word in front of Lesley. I still remember the day my mom said something to me on the subject. She told me that the word "Retard" was just a word and that they weren't making fun of my sister and they didn't know any better and it wasn't worth getting upset at. It was like an ah-hah moment. Then I started thinking. It's socially acceptable to use the words 'dumb', 'stupid', 'lame' and those all are a REAL disability..just like 'retard'. I still don't use it or encourage it and I still don't like it...but I don't get all fired up and angry like I used to. It's just ignorance and this is my way to educate. Don't even worry about me taking out my soap box and climbing way up on it and even lecturing someone if they use it in a sentence. It really doesn't bother me like that. *slowly climbs her clumsy self down off the box*
I was blessed to have my sister go to high school with me. I was compelled to watch over her and volunteer in the Special Education class. My oldest sister went to college and is now a Special Education teacher. My children know their aunt is special and they love her. My 16 yr old has volunteered in Special Ed events and classes because of a close friend of ours with Trisomy 18. They aren't afraid to ask questions rather than turn away in fear...which sadly a lot of people are just afraid. The unknown is scary. But questions never hurt. I suggest to try and keep your questions respectful. Some "edumakated" people would ask my mom why she didn't put my sister in a special home. I thought that was uncalled for. She had a home. A very loving home. She's with her family, where she belongs. But people not living it can't imagine their lives being interrupted and scheduled around someone else like that. No reason for me to judge them or be angry with them...everyone is different. We don't know them behind closed doors either.
We all judge...but there should be a limit to what we let overcome us in our judgement. Everyone judges. Let me repeat that. EVERYONE JUDGES. E V E R Y O N E. You can't stop human nature. Judgment is a form of survival and we must do it or else we'd die. There are different ways to judge though. For example if you see someone swinging a gun around mumbling death threats..I would say one would judge him to be a threat to our life and we should run away. But just because someone is different than ourselves - we judge them...but we don't have to let our judgement take over and dismiss them. Our judgement should turn to curiosity and interest. Ignorant Judgment is judgement at it's worst and doesn't help anyone or anything.
So when asked how it felt to grow up with a sister with mental retardation. It felt great. I wouldn't change it for the world. She's hilarious and beautiful and I know I wouldn't be as empathetic or compassionate of a person if it wasn't for her. Don't let your lack of knowledge limit your desire to learn about something. Don't let your judgement affect your ability to accept someone different than yourself.
Stoll Family (click on photo to enlarge)
Stoll Sisters (click on photo to enlarge)