sister friends

“Katie, are we sisters or friends?”

“Both, Brooke.”

~ Sunday morning


Brooke and I were attempting a surgical strike, but I knew it would never work out that way. Our last stop of the day was the big commercial craft store. We needed just one thing – ribbon for the party favors. Nearly everything else was in place for her eighth birthday party next weekend.

I’d explained that we were going straight to the ribbon, told her that we were NOT going to buy anything OTHER than the ribbon and, as back-up, reminded her that she was clutching two brand-new Elmo’s World DVDs from our trip to the toy store.

We made a bee-line for the ribbon aisle, which seemed to be the hoppin’ place to be. The rest of the store was nearly deserted, but apparently all the cool kids were buying ribbon.

As I honed in on her choice of pink, pink and more pink, Brooke spun off in a different direction. With at least three ‘Excuse me’s, I corralled her back in and managed to find what we needed.

And then time stopped.

An elderly woman stood to my left, staring intently at the rows of color. Not much taller than me, her shoulders were hunched slightly making her appear even smaller. She made no move to pick up or examine any of the ribbons. She just stood in front of them, mesmerized.

She continued to stare into the ribbon until her companion appeared. With hands on both of her shoulders, she gently turned her in a different direction. “Let’s go this way,” she said. “I’m going to see if I can find it over there.”

The first woman nodded slightly.

“You wait here,” said the second. “I’ll go look and then come back.”

Despite their nearly matching silver-haired bobs, they looked dramatically different. While the first was tiny, the second was relatively tall. While the first had facial features characteristic of intellectual disability, the second did not. Nor did she have the bright red ring of chapped skin around her mouth that stretched from nose to chin. And yet, there was no missing the familial resemblance. Or the long-practiced ease in their interaction. They had to be sisters.

Despite having everything we’d come for, Brooke had no interest in leaving the store. There was far too much to see. This was our last stop of the day, so I let her loose to explore.

She found the feather boas first. Wrapping herself in a deep purple one, she said in her best Joanne Jonas voice, “Come ‘ere, Jesus, I got somethin’ to show ya.” She found styrofoam globes and loudly declared them snowballs, touching each and every one of the twenty or so in the bin. She found coloring books and looked through each of them, again and again and again, telling me which characters were missing from the Sesame Street books. “Prairie Dawn isn’t there,” she said sadly. “She’s sleeping inside the house.”

And as we travelled from aisle to aisle, we continued to bump into the two sisters doing the same. Just as I caught Brooke attempting to wrap a faux pashmina scarf around her head like a turban (and gently took it away), the older woman tenderly pulled her sister from a display where she had started to pick at something stuck to the floor.

Half-formed thoughts swirled through my head. Will my girls .. ? Do they live together .. ? Is that what .. ?

We finally managed to pay for our ribbon, but alas, we weren’t leaving yet. At the checkout counter, Brooke began to dance from foot to foot and declared her immediate need for the bathroom. We paid for our purchase and headed back in. Again we passed the pair of sisters. This time the younger sister was licking her shirt while her sister poked through the artificial flowers.

When we emerged from the bathroom, at least one of us was exhausted and ready to head home. Brooke seemed to be on board, excited to watch her new Elmos at home.

As we walked through the store’s wide center aisle, Brooke suddenly threaded her arm through mine and yanked. “We will dance!” she yelled. And we did. We spun around, square dance style, right there in the middle of the aisle. I was dizzy as all get out. “Let’s unwind, baby,” I said with a giggle, prompting her to switch sides and spin the other way.

We laughed loudly as the store spun in the background. I was slightly nauseous. And in heaven. Our arms were still linked as we walked to the car.

As the doors opened, I fantasized about running back in. About finding the older sister and quietly telling her that I knew in my heart that her mother was proud and grateful – so very deeply grateful for her loving care of her sister. That I was sorry that she carried the responsibility, but too, that I hoped that she felt she had found some gifts along the way. That I hoped she wasn’t too weary to see the love in her sister’s eyes. Because I could, even from the cheap seats. And that I hoped that she’d been given the gift of feeling free to square dance once in a while.


Ed note: Diary reader, Cheairs at Redefining Typical is compiling a list of posts or links referencing my letter to the President so that she can include them in HER letter to the First Lady. If you’ve written a post about or linked to my letter, please leave a link to your post in the comments below. Thank you!

Ed other note: Look out, friends, I’m trying my hand at Tweeting. If you’re so inclined, please follow me @diaryofamom. I have no idea what I’m doing yet, but I’m working on it. Hope to see you there!

32 thoughts on “sister friends

  1. I have had moments like that, too when I see older people clearly deep on the spectrum or intellectually challenged, out in the care of family members. It’s moving and also sobering all at once. I love what your fantasy was, and hope along with you that the sister sees the love, and knows the world of good that she does.

  2. 60+ years ago there was no light it up blue campaign, nor was there any real understanding of what special education could do for all those with special needs. And without love, compassion and acceptance from family, our kids struggle even more. Kudos to y’all for doing such a wonderful job encouraging sisterly love.

  3. What a lovely way to start the week. Thank you.

    (p.s. – I forwarded the link from your letter to the President to Governor Malloy. I asked that he consider lighting our Capitol Building blue. Will let you know if I hear anything!
    ~ A “Sister” In CT)

  4. Oh, so breathtakingly, achingly beautiful to imagine the two sisters. In my mind’s eye I pictured the two sisters from the Waltons (yeah, ok, dating myself here).

    I should know better than to read your posts before I have to get in the car to drive. Can’t see!

  5. Beautiful post! I often wonder how my two (my son on the spectrum is 7 and my daughter is 3) will interact with each other when they are older. I wonder if she’ll be there to take care of him long after we are gone.

  6. Beautifully written. I always manage to end up in tears at the end of your posts….
    I fervently hope my two girls will have each other long after I am gone.

  7. This is just beautiful. I love that you described it as watching ‘from the cheap seats’ but I think when it boils down to how we are all truly connected by the love for a person who needs our extra care, we’re right on the sidelines cheering each other on.

    The friendship between sibs can be the most precious frienship of all.

    Thanks for sharing, Jess!

  8. It’s our greatest fear, isn’t it? What will happen to my baby, when I’m no longer there to fight the demons at his side? You beautifully illustrate in your post the power of love, the bonds of sisterhood, the possible answer to that greatest of fears. My baby has both a brother and a sister to help guide him should he need the guiding. I worry for all three of them equally, but especially for my two nypical children because I know to my core that should anything prevent me from caring for my little cherub, my other two children would without hesitation step into my oversized red shoes. And you know what? Their feet would grow to fill them, and one day their toes would burst forth, breaking the seams. Thank you, Jess.

  9. Thanks for this Jess. I often find moments to do a dance with Jeff which always leaves my heart full with love and gratitude.

  10. Thanks for this Jess. I often find moments to do a square dance with Jeff, always leaving my heart full with love and gratitude.

  11. This is a great article, though I am somewhat sad because I have 2 children, both with PDD-NOS and I don’t know what their future holds, and I think a lot of who will take care of them if my husband and I were not here. I have an identical twin sister though and I know she would in a heart beat- a different twist to sister friends. Thanks for sharing.

  12. What a lovely post. I have seen my son and daughter interact in much the same way with their 26 year old brother and I am so grateful for it. They take outings with him to restaurants, sporting events, stores, etc. Now he is in a group home but I know they will ALWAYS be in his life. They love him!! I am just glad they do not have the burden of trying to decide what will happen to him when we are no longer here but I know he will always be welcome in their homes and hearts.

  13. Your ability to communicate with words impacts me every time I read your blog. I can’t quite adequately express how much you touch my heart. I want to say something without taking away the beauty of what you have written. Plans need to be in place right now for our children in the event of an untimely death of parents….when siblings might still be too young to care for other siblings. Guardians need to be chosen and discussions need to be had with them.

  14. love katie and brooke’s conversation at the beginning.
    oh, i know what it’s like to have a sister friend. it makes you know you’re never alone. in her own way, i think rhema knows she has a sister friend. i know brooke knows.

  15. “Katie, are we sisters or friends?”

    “Both, Brooke.”

    Beauiful. And what a beautiful post. You are so observant. Amazing what you see and how you can relate it. My older sis always watched out for me when we were little. I’ve always wondered what I did to deserve such a great sister. I secretly hope we’ll get to live together when we are old.

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