Recently I was introduced to the concept of a glass child. Glass child is a term used to describe the sibling of a person with a disability. The word glass reflects that often others see right through the typical sibling and focus only on the person with the disability. The word glass denotes that these children are more fragile than they appear and breakable.
The first emotion that came up when I read about glass children was no surprise. It was guilt. I do not remember many resources available to Todd and me to help Justin adjust to our unique home life and having a sister that required so much attention. Did we even have Google in 2000? (I need to Google that to find out.)
Justin was always an easy kid (even before his sister came along). When he was an infant, we often took him to the movies. Justin would rarely cry or throw a fit. We flew with him to Louisiana when he was a toddler. He did great. We drove across the country when I was pregnant with Emily. He was a great traveler. He was always easy to entertain. When we were at a restaurant with our friends and other toddlers, Justin would sit at the table and behave. He never got up and ran around the restaurant.
I never questioned as he got older that his sister played a role in his mild-mannered personality. He had a mild temperament before Emily was born. I was an easy-going kid. I attributed his personality traits had more to do with genetics than exposure.
We always tried to make sure Justin had time with us away from Emily. Todd and I took turns taking Justin to his activities. We encouraged Justin to pursue chess club, music, and other activities there were just about him. Todd and I were leaders when he was a Boy Scout. I volunteered in his classrooms when Emily was at her early intervention programs for a few hours a week.
When Emily was old enough to participate in the after-school program provided by AbilityFirst, we took advantage of this invaluable resource. The services allowed us time after school to do things with Justin. We were able to support Justin and actively participate in some of his functions.
Justin spent many hours during his early years going to medical appointments and therapy with his sister. I know this is not typical for most preschool kids. I am sure he has early memories of listening to doctors and therapists assess and dissect his sister and her progress/delays. During these appointments, he was expected to be quiet, content, and entertain himself.
I hope that he remembers other things too. The time he dyed Easter eggs on the kitchen floor. Mom let him and his friends get messy and dirty. Mom remembers because she got to clean up afterward. I hope he remembers me dancing around the house and singing silly songs. (Let’s be clear, I still do this.) Learning to ride his bike in a church parking lot. The camping trip that Dad took him on in the snow. There were also countless trips to Disneyland back when a SoCal pass was under $100 per person. If you added parking, it was $129.
There were train tracks! Lots of train tracks. Our small home usually looked more like the Township of Sodor than a home. Train tracks and trains ran through every room in our small home, except the bathroom. (Even Thomas and his friends need limits.)
As I was writing this article, I asked Justin about his childhood. He only had positive things to say. If you think he is responding politely to spare my feelings, then you do not know Justin. He is not one to mince words or frame things delicately to soften the blow. He has a gift of punching you in the gut with his tongue if he feels the situation demands it.
Raising humans is a tough job. No one does it perfectly. I could beat myself up for the way I did things when my kids were little. I am not sure how that helps me. Instead, I am choosing to give my younger self grace. I will not hold a grudge for things she did or did not do as she navigated raising two children. She showed up the best she could with the knowledge and resources she had.