Monday, November 9, 2009

Aunt Barbie

Stella's Bubbie and Aunt Barbie

Stella goofing off at the Big K.

I couldn't resist.

The Brooklyn Baby Daddy and his sister.

Stella and Aunt Barbie (and Bubbie in the background) playing.

For the first time in her 18 1/2 months on this planet, Stella met her Aunt Barbie.

Barbie, or Barbara for more formal folk, is Dave's older sister. She has Down's Syndrome and lives a solid two hour drive from NYC in South Jersey, in a group home. Although we make a vow every year to see her much more, it seems that we always just manage the annual trip down, around or just after Halloween, when we take Barbie out for a lunch and then a mini-shopping-spree at the nearby mall.

Barbie is a complete gem. The minute we walk in the door, even though she only sees us once a year, she begins shrieking in absolute delight, "I'M HAPPY!" She remembers all of our names and never ceases to give us each a big, hearty hug. Although she is technically Jewish, she is obsessed with Christmas trees and Santa Claus, and loves to talk about what she's going to get for the holiday (which is almost always a fancy watch). She is warm and cuddly and non-judgmental and I wish I could see her at least once a week, selfishly, because she makes me so damned happy.

It was important to me that Stella meet Barbie as early as possible and then continue to see her as often as possible. Growing up, my parents had two separate sets of friends whose sons had Down's Syndrome. They were around my age, and I played with them from as far back as I can remember.

In fact, I remember one time that I was playing with Chuck, one of the two boys. I was around five, and suddenly it dawned on me that Chuck was different. When he and his family left, I went to my mom and said, "Mom, why do Chuck's eyes always look tired?"

My mom replied, "Chuck is a little different than you. Although is body will grow, just like yours, his mind will stay younger than yours. Even when he's a man, he'll feel like a kid inside."

I remember thinking, oh neat! I was even, if memory serves, a bit jealous. But never, not once in my entire life, was I afraid of mentally challenged people nor did I ever make fun of them.

The part of Kentucky where I grew up is not known for its diversity. Almost everyone is white, and a common question is "Which church do you go to -- the Baptist or the Methodist?" But I'm very proud of the fact that different levels of mental ability was something I was exposed to as a kid, and I'm sad that not everyone has that experience.

So, when Stella went into the home and met Barbie, I was disappointed, to say the least, that she began crying. My heart was ripped in two. Stella was obviously afraid -- an emotion I frankly don't see much of from her. Her lower lip quivered and she clung onto me for dear life. In retrospect, it makes sense; the house has a certain smell, there were lots of new people, and Barbie was loud and very close to Stella, excited to see a baby.

But I felt so disheartened, worried that my little girl wouldn't accept her Aunt Barbie, that she might even make Barbie sad. But I also hated the thought that my little girl was scared and confused.

But, as usual, I was worried over nothing. Once Stella got some food in her system and had a little time to chill, she began to love her aunt. We had a lovely pizza lunch and then walked around the local Big-K (that's a mega K-Mart for you NYC-centric folk). Stella and Barbie had a great time pulling random things off the shelf and assuming we'd buy them. Harriet, Barbie and Dave's mom, got Barbie a beautiful necklace and Dave and I got her a toiletry gift set with lotion and shower gel and a body puff.

Barbie kept stroking Stella's hair gently and lovingly, and the two of them enjoyed munching on some cookies that we had in the back seat of the car. I felt like my heart expanded to about three times its normal size watching the two of them together.

We're still working on getting Barbie moved to a home closer to us, so she'll be a more regular part of our lives and vice versa. And hopefully, when Stella encounters a kid who's mentally challenged, she'll think of her awesome Aunt Barbie, and won't be afraid.

1 comment:

Holly said...

What a heart-warming story. You are such great parents. I really hope you can find a home for Barbie closer to you, so you'll be able to visit more.