Dedicated To Rosa: Yesterday was Mother’s Day and on Facebook our niece posted a Happy Mother’s Day to me. On the heels of yesterday’s piece regarding the absence of real friends for many special needs children, I remembered with gratitude how much our daughter’s cousin filled in the gaps for many years.
Cousins Rock: When my sister-in-law had a little girl two years and a bit after our daughter’s birth, they were living on the other side of the country. Oh well, at least our daughter has a female cousin who is close to her age. Maybe someday, when they grow up, they can be friends. But luck was with us and the family moved back east spawning a lasting friendship with cousinly love deep as the sea.
She Put A Leash On Me: Cousinly bonds can be sturdy as leather, flexible as soft plastic, and stretchable as spandex. In other words, cousins may tolerate stuff other peers would not. Our niece took a lot of heat, was walked by our daughter on a leash, played endless hours of dress up and taught her tons about social networking. Weekends and vacations together meant being there for the melt downs and the shut downs. Friends could not do that.
Fun, Silliness and The Tremendous Gift of Shared Humor: A chunk of the glue was provided by humor. Both girls were gag queens: that is they delighted in a good gag, funny faces and cute boys. They shared a passion for dogs. And they loved the malls, no matter what state they were in. But what other girl would tolerate going from store to store, while our daughter perseverated over a purchase for hours? I mean hours. And having done that once, what other girl would sign on to do it again, and again, and again?
Different Developmental Speeds: The two-year gap between the girls quickly closed and soon our niece was surpassing our daughter in major milestones: language development; motor development; social skills development: comprehension; reading, writing and arithmetic. I feared that soon the end would be in sight, the relationship relegated to the periphery of our niece’s active social life. But I was wrong. They remained close and precious to each other, even as our niece got her driving license, applied to college and worked part-time. Both have full lives in different states but when together, that bond is there.
What Would We Have Done Without The Cousins? There are more cousins, boy cousins and girls cousin, most are second cousins. Those cousins who lived far away and saw us infrequently, did have to adjust to this out of the box kid. There were many moments of “ouch” as when I watched a young female cousin blow our daughter off or roll her eyes in juvenile disgust at our daughter’s behavior. But with time and familiarity, thankfully coupled by an ever-increasing maturity on our daughter’s part, those moments dissolved into history.
No Choice? I have seen this phenomenon with many special needs families. The cousins kick in where peers would never tred. One could say that these youngsters and teens had no choice. That their families pressured them. To some extent, but I would call that kindness, awareness and generosity on the part of their parents, who understood difference and wanted their children to grow up to be empathic, and caring adults. These parents, the aunts and uncles and cousins, stretched themselves mightily to embrace our daughter and her difference and brought their children along with them. That’s how it works.
It Takes A Tribe: It takes a tribe to raise a challenged child. I want to thank our tribe, on both sides of the parental fence, for taking this journey with us. And a special thank you to Rosie Posie, who became the friend that no one else could have been, and to her parents who shared her with us, all these years. Gracias.
©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2011