Running to the tree, being careful not to break the bright red ornaments, I grabbed the rectangular box. I knew what to expect. I anxiously ripped the green foil wrapping paper from the box to see which Bratz doll was inside. There she was – Yasmin in a crisp clear box – wearing a white midriff tank top and a black leather jacket with red lightning bolt patches. She had denim bellbottom jeans and black ankle boots. She sported sunglasses on top of her blonde highlighted hair and wore bright red lipstick. My shriek startled the baby. Yasmin wasn’t the only doll I got that year. On December 20, 2005, I got my own real life baby doll, my baby sister Catherine.
A New Normal
As an only child, I looked forward to having a baby sister. However, my real baby doll wasn’t as perfect as I thought she would be. The first day I saw her she was in her clear box, so sweet and fragile waiting to breathe the fresh air. The nurses took her out of the incubator and I touched her small fingers and toes. She was just barely breathing. I didn’t want to hurt her. When it was time to take her home, I helped pack a bag full of diapers and wipes only to find out that they weren’t her only accessories. Unlike most newborns, she came with an oxygen concentrator, a feeding tube and a pulse oximeter.
I could dance around with Yasmin and bend her limbs in every direction with no problem. But, I couldn’t do these so easily with Catherine. Her countless doctor visits and endless days in the hospital weren’t fun. Watching my real life doll get pinched and poked was difficult. I just wanted to put her back in her box. I couldn’t take her back to the store and exchange her; she didn’t come with a receipt. Instead, I adapted to a new normal.
Usually the last child in aftercare, my afternoons consisted of drawing pictures of what I thought home life should be. I didn’t mind waiting because I knew getting my sister’s accessories in the car was a grueling task. Going home meant eating a grilled cheese sandwich while Catherine got her feeding through her tube; doing my homework and mom filling out the hospital insurance papers; taking a bath while mom carefully took off Catherine’s tubing to bathe her; and before bed taking my vitamins while Catherine received the final dosages of her different medications.
A Broader Understanding
After the medical conditions were minimized, the intellectual challenges became apparent. Catherine has Down syndrome. Soon Catherine prepared for pre-k and mainstreamed into the school system. She had a difficult time adjusting to the flow of the classroom. Often times, my mother would receive a phone call asking her to pick up Catherine because Catherine had one of her “episodes”. When Catherine has an episode, she tightens every muscle, making her hard as stone. Trying to get her to move is like trying to pick up a two-ton statue.
When I look at Catherine, I can predict what she is feeling, whether she’s frustrated and about to break into a tantrum, or if she simply wants to color. I sometimes watch others as they watch her with curiosity; I want to ensure she is not mistreated or overlooked. She is the sister who gets into my stuff and picks a fight, but will also hug you at a moment’s notice and sneak snacks for us to share. These days she has her own dolls.
Our Bond Today
I am away at college now and do not get to see her every day. My mom warned me that time away from her would be the most difficult, “you’re going to miss us but parting with her will be the biggest challenge.” I have to admit I miss her like crazy sometimes. I am grateful for Facetime and look forward to those late afternoon calls from her where we share a virtual kiss; she asks about my day and when I am coming home. Catherine brings out the best in me and is an integral part of my childhood memory and future dreams. Most importantly, when traveling life’s journey it’s good to have a sister’s hand to hold on to (Unknown).
— Written by Christina Flakes