National Siblings Day was officially on April 10th, but I think it should be celebrated every day, which is why I’m excited and a bit biased about our featured profile this week. From the moment Catherine was born, Christina has been a loving and devoted big sister and I thank God every day that I am blessed to be their mother and they are blessed to be siblings.
Christina Flakes was only seven years old when Catherine was diagnosed with Down syndrome in utero. She was too young to accompany her parents to their doctor’s appointments, but she remembers her mom sitting her down and explaining what was going on.
“She actually sat me down and had me watch the Oprah Winfrey Show. She was doing a show on children with special needs, Down syndrome and autism. I remember I watched it and mom told me, ‘This is what your sister has. She’s going to have special needs. She’s going to have different capabilities and be special in a different way.’”
Christina accepted the news even though she was still confused and unsure what was going to happen when Catherine was born. She knew her baby sister would be different and as Catherine grew, what her mother had told Christina began to make sense. She envied her friends who had brothers and sisters, so she was excited to become a big sister. “I remember when my mom would pick me up from school and she had Catherine in the car, the first thing I’d do when we got home was take her out of her car seat, give her a bottle, change her diaper, almost like she was my personal baby doll.”
Being protective of a younger sibling is part of the job as an older sister and Christina took her role very seriously.
“When my parents would leave for work or something, I was old enough to stay home alone with the nurse and Catherine. I would be my parents’ extra eyes and I would run down what I didn’t like and what I did like to my parents. I’d tell them, ‘I didn’t like the way the nurse was changing Catherine’s diaper or putting her to sleep.’ I knew how I’d want to care for my sister. Not to say any of the nurses were bad or anything, but if Catherine liked something a certain way and they weren’t doing it, I would definitely make sure that it was correct.”
Christina also called on her faith during the tough times when Catherine would spend weeks, sometimes even months in the hospital.
“I would always pray with my parents and ask, ‘Why is this happening to us? Why is Catherine so sick?’ I didn’t understand, but they were really honest with me. They would say they didn’t know, that God gives you challenges that he wants you to overcome. I think this made my faith really strong. I wanted them to know I was okay, that they didn’t have to worry about me, that they could focus on Catherine.”
After a bumpy start to her life, Catherine is thriving. She recently turned fifteen and Christina is enjoying watching her baby sister transition from a pre-teen to a bonafide teenager, giggling about boys and interested in doing her hair and makeup.
“Catherine is the life of the party. She has a big personality and an even bigger heart. She loves to dance. I call myself her sister mom, because I feel in a lot of ways I helped raise her and I love that I can be here now as she’s heading to high school and entering her teenage years. We have a really, really close bond. She’s been my rock during quarantine, keeping me sane. If I didn’t have Catherine, I don’t know what I would do.”
And the feeling is mutual. Catherine and Christina love eating string cheese and they can’t get enough of butter pecan ice cream. Every two weeks they hop into Christina’s car, pop open the sun-roof, blast music and have a dance party all the way to the nail salon where they get mani-pedis.
After having so much bonding time with Catherine over the past year, Christina doesn’t want to think about how sad she’ll be when she moves to New York for her job. But she knows that Catherine will have their parents and her friends at school to keep her company and she has an exciting future ahead of her.
“I think the sky is the limit for Catherine. I see her going to college. We’ve been talking a lot about that. I’m still trying to explain to her what they would look like, what that would mean for her. She understands it would be a new school and a new experience.”
New experiences and fun adventures are what Christina wishes for her little sister. International travel, Girl Scouts, swimming, horseback riding, the possibilities are infinite.
“Honestly, I want whatever Catherine wants. I’m really thankful for our relationship. She’s taught me so much of what it means to be a sister and to be a good role model. She really pushes me to be the best version of myself for her.”
Written by: Tamara Devers