My Big Girl and Her (Like A) Baby Brother

Parker 2013

7:47pm tonight

Me: Parker, I just want to tell you how proud I am that you can do all of your nighttime stuff yourself… I’m proud that you go to the bathroom and brush your teeth and put away your step-stool all by yourself – that’s a really big-girl thing to do!

Parker: Does Owey do that stuff his-self? (She’s almost five – I’m typing this as close to our exact words as I can)

Me: No – he can’t do any of that stuff by himself yet like you can.

Parker: When will he?

Me: I don’t know, honey.  Maybe not for a while.

Parker: Yeah, because he’s younger than me.

Me: That’s right!

Parker: And also because he had that really bad stroke before he was born in his head. Remember that? That’s why he’s still like a baby even though he’s ‘free and a half.

Stunned silence while I swallow enormous lump in throat and try to still quivering chin.

Me: Yes, honey.  That’s right.


I wish I could say that this has never happened before.  That these types of conversations between me and my not-yet five year old daughter had never transpired, but they have.  My breath is taken away each time.  The first time she said something like that to me was a few months ago as I was driving her to school in the morning.

“Mom, I have to show you something.  I have two strokes over here on my leg.  Just like Owey.  But I have two and he only has one.”

I am so grateful that kids under 60 pounds have to ride in the back seat (she weighs a whopping 36 soaking wet) and that I was wearing sunglasses that bright morning or she would have seen the tears that almost immediately started streaming down my cheeks.

Parker is an inquisitive and bright child.  Scott and I had to make some sort of a plan as to how much to tell her about Owen at a pretty early age.  We agreed that we didn’t want to lie to her and wanted to use as much of the correct language as possible, but that we also needed to find some way to explain his condition to her that was both age-appropriate and something that she could handle emotionally.

So we told her the truth.

When she asked why her brother didn’t sound like her friend’s sibling that was the same age, or why he acted so much younger than kids that had a birthday near his, or why he had to go to so many doctor and “feh-wah-pee” appointments and why he wouldn’t be able to go to her school with her; we told her our best version of the truth that we could.

We told her that he had gotten a “boo boo” inside his head before he was born when he was still in Mommy’s tummy and that it was called a stroke.  We explained that it didn’t hurt him at all, but that it was why one of his legs didn’t work as well as the other and why he had so much trouble talking and acted so much younger than other kids his age.

We have since spoken with many therapists, doctors and psychologists – all of whom have assured us that we gave her an appropriate amount of information for her to process.  To have kept her in the dark – or even attempted to – would have done her an injustice.  She is too smart and too curious of a child for this to have passed over her head for much longer, and we feared that trying to sweep it under the rug would have been doing her a grave disservice later in life when she eventually found out the truth.

So I get these statements from her sometimes.  I somehow simultaneously expect them and am completely taken by surprise every time.

But I think we have taken the right path for our family, for our child.  I don’t believe I can ask her to be empathetic if she doesn’t know why.  Without an explanation, she would likely only think that we were showing favor to her brother rather than helping him out of necessity.

And sometimes this knowledge makes her more protective of him.  And sometimes she feels jealous of the places he “gets” to go with me while she’s in school (like the Neurologist or Geneticist – always a good time!).  And sometimes he frustrates her.  And sometimes she feels sad for him.  And sometimes she feels sad for herself (where I suspect those two strokes on her leg came from that day in the car).  And sometimes they get into huge boxing matches and I’m worried less about past traumatic brain injuries and more concerned about them causing new ones to each other.  Or them spilling juice on the rug while they’re fighting.

Because they are also just three and four years old.

And sometimes I need to remember that.

And I need to remind myself that these huge statements that she makes that give me that lump in my throat are usually sandwiched in between larger questions about life like whether or not Doc McStuffins is a real doctor or not and which bathing suits I packed for camp for the following day.

And I need to remind myself that we are neither making nor breaking her with each parenting decision we make.

And that sometimes she is less fragile than I give her credit for and stronger than I ever thought.

Because she has a lot on the kid-sized plate of a preschooler.  She has a brother who outweighs her, yet is too cognitively behind to understand how much pain his fists can inflict.  She has learned to understand that sometimes she needs to wait to show me something because he is on the stairs and can’t come up or down without a “spotter”.  She is generous with him – so many times offering to let him watch his favorite show before bed rather than hers when he gets upset or saying “Okay Owey, you can use it” when she is playing with a toy that is suddenly desirable to him.

But not always, because typical sibling rivalry doesn’t just magically disappear because one of the kids isn’t “typical”.

Most of the time she handles having a brother like Owen with grace. And sometimes tantrums. And empathy. And love. And then more tantrums.

Because she is still four. And three quarters.

Because she is my “big girl”.

Because she is mine.


  1. says

    Oh, this is lovely. They are so big and so small at the same time, so mature and so childish, aren’t they? She sounds like a wise, thoughtful child, and it seems to me (though of course I know nothing and don’t pretend to) that you gave her the right amount of information just right. I’m a believer in telling them the truth, too, though of course in the appropriate terms. xoxo

    • says

      Thank you, Lindsey. She is such a thoughtful child and the things that come out of her mouth often seem wise (and many wise-ass!). I cannot wait to see what she is like when she is older. I do hope you’re right about the information sharing – I DO believe that the truth shall set you free – and them… xoxo, J.

    • says

      She stopped calling him “Bo” a little over a year ago… I miss it, but we will always have it in the earlier posts here. And I will always tell them about her little nickname for him. So there’s that. 😉 xoxo, J.

  2. Sue Gulliver says

    This is fabulous . I find it so impressive how in touch with everything you are and what an incredible mom you are to both your wonderful children. You are learning so much from your kids and you are doing such a great job in teaching life lessons.. to them.. and to others around you

    • says

      Thank you, Sue! What an incredibly generous compliment! I can never tell you how much all of your support – the comments, the messages, the…everything(!) – that you give to me and how much it all means. xoxo, J.

  3. says

    Oh, this may be my favorite post of yours — I love every bit of how empathetic and thoughtful and amazing and smart Parker is, and that’s thanks to you. I don’t pretend to know what’s right, but I feel in my gut that you’ve done EXACTLY the right thing. (Love your line about how you aren’t making or breaking with each little decision. We could all benefit from remembering that!)

    • says

      Thank you! Favorite post, huh? Now I feel some pressure! Honestly though, I hope your gut and my gut are right… Isn’t it scary that you can cook a chicken and it only takes about an hour to figure out if you’ve done it right; but it takes twenty years or so to figure out if you’ve gotten the recipe right for a child? I don’t know if I have that kind of attention span! xoxo, J.

  4. Shieva says

    “And I need to remind myself that we are neither making nor breaking her with each parenting decision we make.”

    Omg. Great quote. Need to have tshirt made up to remind us all!!

    • says

      If you make the t-shirt, I will wear it! I can type that, and know it in my heart, but still panic and obsess about those decisions in the moment, right? Don’t we all or is it just me? xoxo, J.

  5. says

    “And I need to remind myself that we are neither making nor breaking her with each parenting decision we make.”—-> that is such an important insight. Really touching post. Thanks for sharing that conversation and the situation in general.

    • says

      Thank you, Nina… I have learned so much from your website – like how to navigate Twitter (x3), for one! – and I truly appreciate such wonderful support from someone I also respect as a writer! J.

  6. Kate says

    Beautiful story. My 7yo had a stroke in utero. He has a 4 yo little sister who once told me that when I die, she promises he can come live with her kids. No idea where this concept even started. We are blessed to give our kids a sense of humanity and inherent kindness that few kids get to experience.

    • says

      That’s incredible, Kate. What an empathetic little girl you are raising – how lucky your entire family is for that. I appreciate that you’ve shared here and hope you’ll keep reading and sharing more of your story… J.

  7. upliftingfam says

    This is a sweet story. It is amazing how other siblings pick up their brother or sister’s disability and do what they can to help each other out. My daughter was born deaf and when my children went to daycare together, if my daughter didn’t understand something that they were asking of her my son would step in and try to help communicate with his sister.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    • says

      Thank you for sharing YOUR story here, upliftingfam! That is so sweet, and gives me such optimism for the relationship that Parker and Owen can have in the future. I would never put that responsibility on her, but I truly hope she will take the initiative on her own like it it sounds like your son has… I hope you’ll continue to share here. J.

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