My brother and my sister-in-law

by c-mama

Originally posted May 22, 2007

I just finished watching a video on youtube that was a tribute to firefighters. My brother, 4 years younger than I, is currently in training at the fire fighter’s academy. I’m very proud of him. After watching the video and being reminded of how dangerous that job is, I’m very proud of my sister-in-law as well.

Click here for the link.

But, that’s not all. They also have a daughter with Down Syndrome. Now, Kallie is just about the sweetest little girl you will ever meet. But I can only imagine how difficult things must be with the medical aspects and having to deal with an ignorant, uncaring culture that would rather make fun of people like my niece than to take the time and actually shed one ounce of caring.

My sister-in-law posted an essay that was written by a girl whose sister has Down Syndrome. You see, my brother and sister-in-law have another daughter who is younger than Kallie. She will have to suffer sometimes because of the ignorance that abounds in this society.

Here is the essay:

Christina’s post

FAMILY | Like sticks and stones, words can hurt Retarded by association: When you make fun of my sister, it hurts me

My sister, who has Down syndrome, has a gift for shrugging off your taunts, but I’m not so lucky. By MEGAN McVAY TeenStar

When Caroline McVay left a class wearing a red hat that wasn’t hers, her sister Megan tried to find out why.

I’d sworn to myself I’d never let somebody hurt her in my company. But I had never calculated that I’d get hurt more than she ever would.

Nothing’s funnier than someone with Down syndrome. Really. Have you ever seen EBaums World, where it’s nothing but a two-minute reel of faces of people with Down syndrome? Hilarious.

I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. I know you’re just like me you see a kid smiling dimly with those almond-shaped eyes and flat face and you laugh. Just like everyone else.

You do it because you think it’s funny, because it’s not normal, because it’s not you, because you’re so obviously above that mental stage. No one would think to call you a the r-word, because you’re so obviously above that mental stage. You aren’t the one who deserves it. They do. It’s a commonly known fact, don’t you see? Are you retarded?

Maybe I am. You decide.

My little sister, Caroline, was diagnosed with Robertsonian translocation at birth, a common strain of Down syndrome. She has a disability, one that leaves her just low-functioning enough to be ridiculed but just high-functioning enough to know it. She won the genetic lottery, the one that happens in a split second, months before a baby is introduced to a world that already hates her.

To water it down to teenager-friendly words, she’s retarded.

But because we have the same mother, am I retarded, too?

Scientists say no. Discrimination laws say no. My indignant moral compass says no.

My high peers, however, sometimes say yes. And when that happens, being a the r-word stops being funny.

I remember the first time I became retarded by association. I was picking my little sister up from youth theater class.

Caroline looked up at me and smiled. She does that a lot. Her face scrunches up in a comical lopsided grin big enough to warm any heart. She’s 11 now, a big sixth-grader who says she can do everything by herself.

She’s constantly worrying about her wardrobe, hair and friends, typical of any middle school girl. To me, the only difference between Caroline and other girls her age is that she cares a little bit more about other people than she does herself. That and she’s constantly smiling.

But that day something was amiss. The red hat. She didn’t have a red hat when we got into the car for dance class & she has one now.

Caroline? Caroline. Look at me. Whose hat is that?

Mine.

No, sweetheart. You didn’t bring a red hat to dance. Where’d you find it?

Well somebody gave it to me. It’s mine.

There is no need to finish this conversation. I gently turn Caroline around and tap her to get her moving. We’re walking back into the building to find (and apologize to) the owner of the mysterious red hat.

We don’t walk far. Caroline marches emphatically up to a tall (read: attractive) teenage boy with slightly mussed hair, as if a hat had once graced his head. Blushing slightly, I sauntered up to him and his equally good-looking friends.

Hey, sorry to bother you? This, uh, isn’t your hat is it?

Yeah, he laughed, but don’t worry. I don’t want it back.

Oh. Uh. OK.

Yeah, didn’t you hear? It’s supposed to be National the r-word Day.

My blushing came back. But not the good kind.

Excuse me? My little sister and I have to leave, but we can’t do that with your hat on her head.

At this point, he started blushing a little bit, too.

Glancing at his buddies, he stammered, Oh, well, wouldn’t want to do that. You’ll, uh, probably both be late for your life skills class. I bet you’re counting change today. Ha. Ha.

I wish I could say I slugged him. Or that I had some fantastic comeback that left him speechless. Instead, I smiled tartly, grabbed Caroline’s arm and headed for the car.

While still in sight of the now seemingly young, immature, hateful little boys, I yanked the red hat off Caroline’s head and slammed it forcefully into a nearby trash can. I wouldn’t remember tearing off my headband to give to a devastated Caroline, who had genuinely wanted that despicable red hat. I wouldn’t remember her giggling as she toyed with it in the backseat, arranging it in different ways on her head.

What I would remember was quietly shutting off my car, letting us inside the house and walking calmly up to my room. I would remember locking my door, picking up a miniature glass horse figurine and, with precision, shattering it against my wall.

It was the first time I had been called retarded.

It wasn’t the first time somebody had made fun of Caroline to my face. But it was the first time something bad had happened to me as a result of protecting my baby sister. That first time is always a shock.

Naturally, I had come to my own terms with the fact that I’d hear people say some pretty awful things to or about Caroline. Of course I had anticipated that people wouldn’t understand. They’d be mean. They’d hurt her.

I’d sworn to myself I’d never let somebody hurt her in my company. But I had never calculated that I’d get hurt more than she ever would.

It never ceases to amaze me that of all the hurtful things people say to or about one another, many are directed toward those who are developmentally disabled.

My little sister has had some heart-wrenching (and unprintable) things said to her, and it has yet to faze her. Whereas I break down at the hint of rejection, Caroline seems to have the ability to redefine it.

Of course, I’ll hear the word ‘the r-word’ in a derogatory sense for the rest of my life. People will continue to use the word to hurt or tear down someone they know.

But that’s all right. Call me crazy, but there are times that the word, in all its low and hurtful glory, reminds me that I, too, am capable of more than simply succumbing to the labels life hands us.

Reach Megan McVay, a junior at Blue Valley North, at teenstar@ kcstar.com. She originally wrote this essay for a class.

Todd and Christina, Kallie and Brittany, I love you guys. May the Lord continue to bless you and protect you as you continue to touch other’s lives. (((hugs)))

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