"How do your other girls understand and interact with Claire and how has it changed as they grow?"
First there were the twin years, Makenna and Claire were the same size while Makenna was 2 to 4 years old (at that time Claire was 4 to 6). Claire's delays brought them close together in development as well. They both didn't know any different and truly loved eachother for who they were, no questions asked. Makenna and Claire knew there were other people with Down Syndrome because we had play dates with them and did the DS events but they didn't understand what it meant. It was as simple as some people do and some people don't: Claire has Down Syndrome, Ella has Down Syndrome, Makenna doesn't have Down Syndrome, Mommy doesn't have Down Syndrome...
Makenna grew well past Claire and now Alice and Claire are frequently mistaken for twins. They are two peas in a pod. Alice and Claire play so well with each other. If there is a disagreement they can usually work it out on their own. Alice has a laid-back personality and such a giving heart. They also enjoy the same kinds of games (stuffed animals, dress up, doll house, imaginative play) and can transition from one activity to another quickly with no issues. If Alice wants to be a cat and Claire wants to be a princess, no big deal, it's princesses and cats.
Makenna and Claire are butting heads a lot more these days. Makenna is a leader and Claire can be stubborn so when they disagree no one backs down. Makenna is not a go play kind if girl. She always wants to be with Me or Nate asking questions and wanting to participate. If Makenna is doing something independently, usually a craft project that involves some sort of huge mess, she wants me to watch her. Totally not Claire, she wants to play independently, play with one other person or be alone. They are still good buddies but their play takes a lot more compromise on one part or the other. I think it's just their ages, personalities and also probably just a phase. I don't believe their squabbles have much to do with Down Syndrome as much as the fact that some kids like different things and are inclined to bug each other more. We see this with our friends and foster children a lot.
Once Makenna started preschool at 4 she figured out when people typically "do things." For example she would come home from preschool and tell me "when you are 7 you can read but Claire is 7 and she can't read..." Claire and Alice still thinks of Down Syndrome like an eye color but Makenna now understands that there is more to it. She can pick out people who have Down Syndrome by seeing their faces and she understands some of the challenges they face. She knows it's not normal to have 8 teachers (gen ed, special ed, paras, therapists...) or have two classrooms like her sister does. She knows she is passing Claire physically and developmentally and she knows it's because she does not have Down Syndrome. Parenting is more of an ongoing conversation then a moment where you sit down and have "the talk." It's lots of little conversations, snippets with Makenna that have gotten us to where we are in her understanding.
Makenna has really taken on the oldest child role, she is "the big sister." It was time for Makenna to lead Claire and Alice. The old parenting 101 statement "you are the oldest, please set a good example for your sisters" didn't work. Claire is the "oldest" and Makenna is the "biggest." She likes being the biggest because she understands that her responsibilities (mainly setting a good example) come with privileges.
When kids or even adults gets frustrated with Claire we talk about it but I don't EVER say "well, Claire has Down Syndrome..." It's so tempting to let Claire get away with something that I wouldn't let slide with Makenna or even Alice. When Claire is on a role she will do the same behavior over and over to see how long it will take before I give in and let her get away with it. I don't want to give in for so many reasons. For her siblings I don't want to plant that seed in their hearts that "Claire gets away with everything" or "you give her everything." Growing up as a triplet I know how poisons that thinking can get. It's so tempting to compare your life to your sibling and become bitter when you're all going through the same things near the same ages. So far this has not been an issue, it's just something I check myself on a lot. (Side note- Honestly if anyone said "it's not fair Claire gets..." it would be hard to resist not painting out all the things in Claire's life that she struggles with on a daily basis that are just not fair.) One piece of parenting advice you'll get from seasoned DS parents is "treat them just like your other children." Okay, wise ones, we are trying but I'll be the first to say, easier said then done!
I'm constantly thinking about our daughters relationships with each other and how I can nurture their bond and compassion for one another. I want to do everything I can to make them a team. I wish it were as easy as telling Makenna and Alice "Claire is so special, you should love her and protect her." Makenna and Alice learn how to treat Claire by the way Nate and I interact with her. When Makenna loose her temper with Claire the words coming out of her month are the very same words I use when I looses it too with her too. Yep, I just admitted that, Claire can be very frustrating and sometimes I do loose my composure. It's a huge wake up call to here Makenna use my words. We teach our kids how to teat others and how to expect to be treated by the way we treat them. That could really be a whole post on it's own.
P.S. I write a post about siblings every year. If you feel like a blast form the past.
2012 Siblings and Down Syndrome -Balancing all the extra attention that goes into a special needs child and their siblings. Basically, everyone gets extra special attention.
2011 Big Sister -Claire's just a sister with her baby Alice.
2010 Claire's Best Friend -Claire and Makenna's special bond. Man did they get into trouble together as toddlers!
BONUS!!! Be the first to name the musical that the title for this post got it's name from and I'll send you a Claire "be a fruit loop in a world full of cheerers" button.