Thursday, 5 July 2012

Should My Daughter Be Her Brother's Keeper?

When my daughter Natalie was about three, her favourite game was 'hospital'.  This involved her lying in bed with toilet paper wrapped around her leg, making a cast.  The whole imobilized limb was then strung up with a skipping rope over a hook on ceiling creating a makeshift 'traction' device.  To top it off, she demanded a bottle to drink her 'medicine'.  One does not need a degree in clinical psychology to figure out that Natalie was doing a very good imitation of her brother.  

My "Young Carer's Rap" post on July 3rd got me thinking about Natalie, my daughter.  Last night Natalie and I were chatting about her thoughts on whether or not she thought my husband and I asked her to help with Nick's care too much or too little over the years.  We agreed that too few demands meant a lost opportunity to learn about empathy and responsibility.  Too many could lead to resentment and even an aversion to looking after others, including one's own children in later life. 

When Natalie was about ten, I asked her to help with Nick's tube feeds - a slow push of formula in a large syringe while watching morning cartoons was her job.  I was in the kitchen, watching out of one eye while I made school lunches or breakfast.  Nat sometimes wanted more responsibility - and one of those times I will never forget.  It was a day in August of 1996.  Moving day, to be precise.  We were moving from London, England, back to Canada and the kids woke up early, very excited.  Nicholas was in bed while I pushed extra clothes and supplies into our carry-on luggage.  Suddenly, I heard a thump followed by an almighty wail.

I ran down the hall to find Nick on the floor with a bloody lip and Natalie standing, her hands covering her mouth.  Nat was only four, but that didn't stop her from thinking that she could hurry our departure along by being helpful and getting her seven year old brother up and out of bed.  Nick couldn't sit or stand, so the resulting kaboom was predictable and of course, forgivable.  I hugged Natalie before Nick and soon enough, we wiped the blood from Nick's mouth and got ourselves to the airport and home to Canada. 

Did we ask too much or too little of Natalie?  That's a question I will always ask myself and I don't think there is a clearcut answer for any parent who has a couple of kids, one of whom has disabilities.  Maybe the trick isn't about how much you ask, but how you talk about it and keep talking years later.

This is Natalie today - still busy going places!  

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