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Never were there such adoring cousins

posted Monday May 26th, 2008

Growing up, I can remember my mom singing this really annoying song that started, “Sisters, sisters. Never were there such adoring sisters.” I don’t recall the rest of the words, but I do remember that she’d sing it when my younger sister Jenny and I were fighting — which was often.

Actually, it probably would have been better if we’d fought more. At least that would have signaled some sort of relationship. With four and a half years between us, and no common interests, we might as well have been living on opposite ends of the planet, instead of in adjacent bedrooms. Through grade school, high school, college, first jobs, grad school and weddings, we had nothing to talk about.

Then we both got pregnant within weeks of each other. Overnight, there weren’t enough hours in the day. Emails ping ponged back and forth on everything from creaky crotches (we both had them) to shower games (neither wanted them). Ben was born in May, Annabelle in July. A year later, Jenny told me she was pregnant again; within a week, so was I.

Kate arrived in April. In May, I called Jenny from my hospital bed and choked out, “They think Sophie might have Down syndrome.” “I’m coming,” she said. Before I could insist that she and her healthy newborn stay away, she walked into my hospital room with Kate in a baby seat, carrying a sweet Gund bear blanket for Sophie and a fake boombox for Annabelle that plays three grating songs. We still have it. Both girls love it. (I don’t think the batteries have ever died. It’s like a Hanukkah miracle.)

I freaked a little when Jenny called to say she was pregnant with her third. Ray wanted another — still does — but I know what the statistics say, and I know that another baby with Down syndrome might not be as lucky healthwise as Sophie has been so far. (Not that Sophie was all THAT healthy, two open heart surgeries down.) For a while, we were back on unfamiliar turf, Jenny and I. That passed.

Sam turned 1 earlier this month, and this weekend the girls and I are here in Denver for a visit. The cousins adore each other. Jenny and I, who never had a relationship with our own cousins (gee, our childhoods are sounding rather emotionally barren, huh?) love seeing our kids together. Both of my girls love Baby Sam so much it gives me pause — but so does the juggling act Jenny and her husband Jonathan have got going with their threesome. (Of course she’s not so busy that Aunt Jenny didn’t have to find the elusive single-serving chocolate ice cream I never did find, although with a tiny Elmo cake. We sang one final Happy Birthday to Sophie.)

What really stops me in my tracks is the relationship between Annabelle and her cousin Kate. Annabelle and Sophie have a terrific rapport. They really do. Sophie teases and pulls hair, but more and more, the two of them will disappear into Annabelle’s room to play together. I’ve never seen a soul as patient and loving as Annabelle, and Sophie adores her older sister. I can even fool myself into thinking our household is normal — til I see Annabelle and Kate together.

These two are truly BFFs, cracking up and playing intricate pretend games; she’s two years younger, but Kate keeps up with Annabelle almost effortlessly. They’re almost the same size; in fact, Annabelle sometimes wears Kate’s hand me downs. I look at them and see soul sisters in a way I fear I’ll never see it with Annabelle and Sophie, no matter how much they love each other.

I don’t know how Sophie will ever keep up. I put Kate and Sophie side by side on bright yellow swings at the park today. Kate’s only six weeks older; you’d never know it, and not just from their physical size.

This afternoon, Jenny and I left Jonathan with all five kids and ran around the corner to get pedicures. The woman sitting next to me in the pedicure chair — pretty, with perfect eye makeup and long red nails — was telling someone else there that she’s been blind for many years. Her service dog was the only thing that gave her away, that and her peculiarly beautiful pale green eyes, with turned out to be prosthetics.

The man talking to her apologized for so many questions, and the woman said no problem, she’s often asked to speak in schools. I was glad, listening to her; she was upbeat in a completely real way, matter of fact about her life. No self pity for her, at least none today.

About halfway through our pedicures, Jenny realized her cell phone had fallen into the water and was soaking along with her feet. On another day, I might have cried over that. I can say the same for her. Instead, we looked at each other and shrugged. Then laughed. (Although everyone in the salon seemed to have a piece of advice for her about how to save the phone, by the end of the evening she’d given up hope. I’m sure we’re headed for the Verizon store tomorrow.)

Watching Annabelle and Kate play on the train together tonight, as we rode Denver’s light rail downtown for sushi, I tried to think of the woman with the green eyes that don’t see, and shake myself out of my funk. Be happy that Annabelle has Kate, I told myself.

I’d like to tell you that it worked.

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My Heart Can't Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome is available from Amazon and 
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