On raising the sister of a special needs child + “Everybody Rise” by Stephanie Clifford

If an alien was to come down from the outerworlds and ask me about myself, the first thing I would tell her would be that I’m a mom and a wife (although usually I try to put wife first, but mom gets in the way so often lately). I would probably then say I was a writer, a reader, a friend, a daughter, a sister.

If the list went on long enough, I would probably get to the other kind of mom I am-mother of a child with special needs. Or maybe advocate. But that would come way down on the list. Because first off I am a mother.

A mother of two daughters. And only one has special needs.

And frankly, at times, she is the easier of the two. Because 12-year old daughter, that’s why.

Not that she’s particularly moody or eye-roll-y. Both of those do come up, along with raging hormones and moods that swing faster than a major league bat.

But the hardest part about raising this particular girl is that her big sister experience is different from her friends. Her little sister Katy has Down syndrome.

They’re only 15 months apart, so there really isn’t a point that she remembers without her little sister. For years they were just buddies, and Libby did things that every big sister does.

But, as they have aged, the gap in their development and maturity widened, and Libby began to notice. We took the time, but, in about second or third grade, we had to take time to explain what this meant, and that the gap was probably going to get bigger and never get smaller.

Libby didn’t like that at all, but she learned.

Mostly my daughters are normal sisters; they argue, they play, they get in each other’s way. But being Katy’s sister means you’re going to have to play Barbies for longer, you’re going to have to deal with her inability to button her pants, you’re going to have to deal with the fact that she can’t do everything you can do. At least not right now.

But there is the point where I have to force her to be herself, to forget about being Katy’s big sister. Just like any other elder sibling, she needs to help out. But she needs to not enable her sister, she needs to force her to do things on her own (sometimes not so loudly, but she needs to stick by those decisions).  She needs to remember (as I do, too) that Katy’s tears spill easily, and they shouldn’t make her go back on her decision.

She needs to find the spaces where Katy is not. She needs time with her own friends, away from Katy. Most of her friends know that Katy needs to be shut down early, otherwise she will hug like crazy and try to be part of their ‘big girl fun,’ but Libby needs to know that she doesn’t have to take Katy along with her everywhere. And I need to remember that sometimes it may be easier for me to have her to take Katy along, but it might not be better for her.

She doesn’t have to include her sister in everything, just because she has Down syndrome. She can have her own friends separately from her sister (although I NEED to know who they are, because I’m the mom).

But she also needs to know that she will always be Katy’s angel.

She needs to remember that she has a sister with special needs, that Katy will never grow out of her Down syndrome. But she needs to not let it run her life, or her sisterhood.

Just like me, I need her to know that she is a sister WAY before she is the sister to a special needs child. That should not define their sisterhood, and she needs to not let it.

Just like the rest of our family, Down syndrome should not define her.

I hope I’m doing a good job of teaching her the balance. It’s tough–she didn’t sign up for this when she was born (granted, she didn’t sign up for any of this). But it’s what she got. As a family, we embrace it, and deal with it, and find the humor in it all.

I hope she does the same.

Okay, onto Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford.

What happens when you betray your core values in an attempt to raise your own social standing? Evelyn Beegan is about to find out.

The Premise

Evelyn Beegan grew up just on the outside of privileged life. Her social-climbing mother pushed her into a prep school, where she didn’t quite fit it. After college, Evelyn is now living on the Upper East Side (not quite the right building, but close), and is working for a social media site built for the upper crust of the world. As membership director, Evelyn’s job is to use her ‘connections’ to get the right people to register and use the site “People Like Us.”

With the help of two good friends from prep school, Evelyn finds herself using subterfuge and exaggeration to swim upward into the world of the ultra-wealthy, old money crowd, using all her powers (and her credit rating) to fit in among the privileged crowd in the Adirondacks, Newport, and the Hamptons.

But when her lawyer father is indicted for bribery in one of his many class-action lawsuits, Evelyn’s real world starts to crumble, even as the lies she’s living on continue to propel her up, up, up. But how long can fake last when you’ve betrayed yourself?

My Thoughts

Very Edith Warton-esque, Everybody Rise is a great look at class struggle and trying to fit into a life that has its own, hidden rules. Other lessons: real friendship is hard to find, and a friendship built on lies is tenuous and unsustainable.

In Everybody Rise, the reader cringes along with every poor decision Evelyn makes, and relieved finally when her world comes crashing down. The fun in the book is getting a glimpse at a different way of life that many look at as charmed, but is actually shallow and devoid of real emotion or connection (at least in this crowd).

12023189_10207503545288156_190345803_nThis one is a fun read, but filled with lessons. Evelyn’s mother is awful, but also lovable. Her father is real, making mistakes for the right reasons. Evelyn is caught not only between two worlds, but also her two parents. And her learned lessons in real friendships and love are painful but true, all wrapped up in a fun, seemingly frivolous read.

4 Stars. Love it!!


2 thoughts on “On raising the sister of a special needs child + “Everybody Rise” by Stephanie Clifford

  1. Kyle, this is beautiful. I would love to share this with some of the families whose children I teach. Kudos on being able to identify what Libby needs but still being able to admit Katy’s needs don’t trump those sometimes.


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