Her Sister’s Keeper

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Since the beginning, she has been her sister’s keeper. There was no way she could know, or any of us could know, how challenging that role could be. A big sister is special, like a second mother in many ways, especially as we get older. I’m sure I’m not the only mom who has ever pondered the question, “What would happen to my kids if something happened to me?” We see tragedy around us when young mothers pass too soon and leave children behind. From my experience, this has most often been from cancer, and it is devastating. I know that my girls would be taken care of lovingly by their father and by their relatives and church family if anything ever happened to me, but it comforts my heart to know that my girls will also have each other, always, no matter what the trials of life may bring.

I don’t brag on my children much, at least I don’t think that I do, and I probably should do it more often. I am very proud of each of them and I love them fiercely. I try not to brag because I want my children to be humble and aware that situations beyond our control often affect the lives people live and the opportunities they have, and because I understand what it’s like to be the parent whose child isn’t at the top of the class or winning awards. I never share report cards or class awards, and I’ve definitely never shared all of the details I am sharing below. So, I hope that no one sees the positives of this post as bragging as I highlight the differences in my oldest girls. And I hope that other parents with striking differences between their children will read this and know that they aren’t the only family trying their best to get it right. Like all children, my girls have unique personalities, strengths, and needs.

Most things come easily for my oldest daughter. She’s identified as Academically & Intellectually Gifted and she was close to topping out the tests, CogAT at the end of 1st grade and the WISC and WIAT in 3rd grade (99%). She showed strengths in all areas (reading, math, and nonverbal testing). She had the highest iReady score for math in the entire 3rd grade. For years she moved up a higher grade level for math. She often knows more than I do about how to figure out and fix things. We were surprised her keyboard was working again because we thought it was broken. We didn’t have any D batteries, but she knew that aluminum foil was conductive so she completed the circuit by placing the foil in between the C batteries that we had and the keyboard’s connector. Once when her sister’s bike wasn’t working correctly, she took off the tire, got the tools, and fixed it. I was looking at her like when did you learn how to do that?

But anyone who knows gifted education, knows that the highly gifted bring with them unique challenges. She is easily frustrated and occasionally overwhelmed if she cannot immediately find the answer to a problem. She believes that she should know the answer to every math question and does not want to work anything out. She does the math in her head, usually very quickly and efficiently. She gets upset if she has a lot of work to do because she becomes stressed over how she can get it all finished on time. She can be lazy and has to be pushed. She will rush rather than always producing quality work so that she can do other things that are more exciting to her. She isn’t very competitive and is happy to see everyone do well. Grades are not that big of a motivation to her. Gifted kids are often described as being “too much of everything” and they face extremes in many ways from underachievement to perfectionism, hyper activity to depression. Believe it or not, she has gotten into trouble at school several times. The first time we knew she liked pranks was in 1st grade when she crawled under all the stalls in the school bathroom to lock every door so the next child who went couldn’t get any of the doors open. She didn’t tell anyone, just went back to class and waited. Sometimes we could barely hide our laughs at the silly incidents once we reigned in our shock, but sometimes she had really done something bad that needed consequences (like locking stall doors and putting slime in a boy’s water bottle). She is so loved, no matter what.

My middle daughter struggles academically and will be repeating the 2nd grade next year. After years of working with gifted students and looking for 90% and up on testing, it was heartbreaking for me to see scores of 5% on my own child’s testing for both Working Memory and Reading Comprehension. Her focus during testing was bad and so the scores may not be valid, but they were still very deflating. I read that report over and over and cried and thought, “Lord help me to meet the needs of my very different daughters.” While Willow has an Individualized Differentiated Education Plan (IDEP) for Gifted Children, Belle has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for Exceptional Children.

Belle is very smart in her own way and she has the cutest personality when you catch her being unexpectedly silly. She can be incredibly sweet to her sisters, but also very mean. She continues to have trouble controlling her emotions and her actions at times. At school she would sometimes just shut down and sit, doing nothing and not responding. The first time that happened she was in Kindergarten. When asked why she just sat there she responded, “Because I need help.”

At home her behavior manifests in explosive tantrums. She still has some anxieties that produce fight or flight response so we have to prep others for those and help her as best as we can, while trying to help her grow and overcome challenges at the same time. When we tried to sign her up for dance classes last year she cried against the wall and wouldn’t participate. This year she did participate, and loved it, but Willow was in her same class and that helped her tremendously. Seeing her participate in dance classes with a group, and perform at the Christmas show, was so special for us. There were some days she would sleep the whole way to dance and then it was almost impossible to wake her up and get her to attend because of her sleep apnea, but we are thankful for those teachers and all the other people in her life who love her and show patience with her and want her to be successful. She is usually very shy around new people but once she comes around, she will always give you a big hug. She is so loved, no matter what.

Willow spent the night with her cousins last night and I was glad that she was there, and not here today, when BelleReve had one of her really bad fits. It felt like it lasted all day. Willow needed a break, and I’m glad that she got one. She is more patient than is probably reasonable to expect from a 10 year old. She does get upset. She does get frustrated. She does get her feelings hurt, frequently, and she has cried because of the way her little sister treats her. It’s not easy but I forget that it’s not easy for everyone, not just for my husband and I, but for Belle’s sisters too and for Belle herself. Belle missed Willow the entire time and wanted her back at home. As soon as she woke up she asked me, again, when we were going to get her sister.

For almost 8 years, Willow has loved BelleReve. As they grow up, I know there will be times that they will lean on each other and not on me or their dad. They will share secrets and adventures that we won’t even know about. And they will love each other in a way that only sister’s can. They will learn over the years that this kind of love runs deep and survives all the “I’m never talking to you again” moments.

I hope that Willow will always be her sister’s keeper and I hope that someday, BelleReve will be her sister’s keeper as well.

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