Today in the park I took my eye off the ball. And by the ball, I mean Oscar. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt today, it’s to never take my eye off the ball. Especially in a children’s playground. I’d taken Oscar and Alfie to the park whilst Daddy was out cycling (how nice a wife am I, letting him cycle on a the weekend, hey? ;0) I’d been shadowing Oscar around the playground, whilst Alfie happily sat watching us from his pushchair. I heard Alfie start to cry and I’d realised he’d dropped his biscuit (Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I’m one of “those” parents who give their kids biscuits to keep them happy/quiet). I rushed over to pick it up and before I had a chance to get back to Oscar, I heard lots of shouting from a bunch of other parents (“No, no no noooooooo! Stop!!!!!”) only to see Oscar charging towards the big boys and girls swings, where a couple of big kids were seconds away from decapitating him. Thankfully one of the mums got to him in time, but it was close. Very close. Oscar, in front of the whole playground, had done one of his “breakouts” and I, the parent in charge, was on the other side of the playground picking up a biscuit for child no 2. I felt embarrassed. To clarify, I was embarrassed of me, not him. I should have thought about the dangers.
You may wonder what relevance this has to anything but when I had Oscar, in addition to a kergillion other concerns about what effect having a child with Down Syndrome would have on us, I was also concerned about what effect having a child with Down Syndrome would have on our other child/children, if indeed, we were lucky enough to have more. At the time we didn’t have any others. Oscar was our first. But it was something, always at the forefront of my mind.
It’s apparently one of the top concerns listed by women who choose to terminate, following a prenatal diagnosis, but it is no doubt also a concern of mums who choose to continue as well. The results of research are surprising.
• 96% had affection towards their sibling with Down Syndrome;
• 94% were proud of their brother or sister with Down Syndrome;
• 88% felt they were better people because of their sibling with Down Syndrome.
Also, 91% of the people asked, said they felt like they had a good relationship with their sibling who had Down Syndrome. Dare I say it, but are 91% of the general population happy with THEIR relationship with their sibling? Unlikely, is my thinking.
The incident in the park today, got me wondering. Was Alfie going to suffer because of the extra care and attention Oscar is going to need for the foreseeable future?
When I brought Alfie back from the hospital, Oscar was only 16.5 months. He wasn’t bothered at all about the new bundle of joy that we were all cooing over. He literally couldn’t have cared less. But every once in a while, the telltale signs of jealousy would crop up. He was cruising then, not walking, but when I’d be feeding Alfie on the sofa, if I wasn’t looking, Oscar would side step over and bite Alfie’s foot. To hurt him? I’m not so sure… I’m guessing it was for attention.
As Alfie got older, Oscar started to pay him a bit more attention. When Alfie started sitting up, Oscar would find it hilarious to push him over. When Alfie started to crawl, Oscar liked nothing better than to body slam him to the floor, until I came along and prized him off. Yep, he still does this at times.
I guess this is all typical behaviour of any two year old. And he’s gotten a lot better. Now that Alfie’s a little more robust, Oscar’s nowhere near as heavy handed. I think he may have figured out that pretty soon Alfie’s more than likely to turn around and bop him one back. Their relationship is starting to blossom though. Every once in a while, I’ll catch them giggling together. Who knows what about? But they obviously find something funny. Or they’ll wrestle together with Chris (why we’re encouraging rough and tumble I’m not quite sure but they’re having fun). We definitely haven’t grasped the whole sharing toys thing, but they like each other, I can see that. When Oscar followed me in to Alfie’s room to get him up from a nap earlier, Oscar peered through the bars and Alfie laughed. Those moments are priceless and confirm the fact that having Alfie was the right thing to do… for all of us. They warm my heart.
I’ve spoken to friends of mine who have two or three children, one with and one or two without Down Syndrome and they tell me the bond between their children is like no other. They say, without even needing to make an issue of it, the sibling/siblings without, have this inbuilt protectionism that kicks in when it’s needed. When we’re not there, because I guess we’re not always going to be, I’ve always said I hope Alfie will look out for his brother.
One of my initial biggest fears when we had Oscar, was that I was worried how a new sibling would feel about him. Would they love him as much as we do? Would they resent the extra attention he’s more than likely to need? Would they feel we weren’t giving them the time? But I kept coming back to other children I knew with DS who have the most amazing relationships with their siblings. And since writing my blog, the amount of people who’ve contacted me about their brother or sister with DS, who couldn’t be more grateful for having had them in their lives.
I see already how my boys are bringing each other along. Alfie tries desperately to keep up with Oz. To stand like he does, to move quickly like he does. At the moment it’s just as it should be. Big brother teaching little brother the ropes. But I know, that in time, the gap between them will get bigger. Alfie more than likely, will overtake Oscar in language, understanding, physicality. We’re aware of this and we’re ok with it. What I do know is that Alfie will help Oscar come on, but in turn, Oscar will be OUR biggest teacher.
When you fall pregnant ADS (after down syndrome), you can see the worry for you in some people’s eyes. Will she have another child with Down Syndrome? Will she be able to cope with the worry of knowing she’s potentially carrying another or not knowing either way? People worry for you. Fact.
But honestly, from my own experience, I only ever wanted a family network for Oscar. A supportive environment for him. A friend for him. A helping hand for him. Someone to watch his back in the playground should he need it. It didn’t even occur to me that we shouldn’t go for a second baby because of Oscar’s diagnosis. He got a brother.
Just recently we went on a day out to a farm with our local support group. At lunchtime we all sat and had a big picnic together. There were a lot of children with DS, with their families there. I watched on. This group of people were just families having a lovely day out. It wouldn’t have even dawned on you, until you looked closely, that amongst them were our beautiful kiddies with their own extra special chromosomes. They were all impeccably behaved. I noted this and felt relieved. As I looked around, I realised, not one of their siblings was rolling their eyes at them or looked embarrassed to be with them. No one was pitying their brother or sister with Down Syndrome. They were just getting on with their day. In their world, everything was just as it should be.
This afternoon Chris and I took the boys out shopping. We’d just finished lunch and Chris decided to whiz into a shop to pick up some coffee capsules. The boys and I were waiting for him, when a man approached us.
“He’s adorable,” he said gesturing towards Oscar. “I’ve been watching him with you and he’s so cute.”
It’s not usual for people to approach us these days, and I don’t mean that to sound cocky, but it IS unusual for a man of his age (late 30’s) to approach us as typically it appears to be women or older men. Just as I was thinking, we don’t normally have men of his age approach us…
He went on to say that he has a brother who has Down Syndrome and that the age gap between him and his brother is roughly the same as my boys. We talked for a while about Oscar and his progress, about the man’s brother and their life together. Anytime I come across anyone who has a family member with DS, you instantly feel at ease, like in a strange way, you have a bond. I felt this today.
It was a brief exchange and was over in a minute or two but as he walked away he stopped and turned back to add one last thing “Unconditional love,” he said “They’ll have unconditional love for one another… Forever.”
“Thank you,” I smiled.
He had no idea, but he’d just made my day. In that very moment, he had just reaffirmed the fact that I had ABSOLUTELY done the right thing.