6 Lessons I Learned From Having A Sibling With Special Needs

6 Lessons I Learned From Having A Sibling With Special Needs

Whoever said that life is like a box of chocolates -- he knew what he was talking about.
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Meet Jack:

He’s outgoing and enthusiastic. He likes Netflix, as most Americans do. He indulges frequently in peanut butter -- reduced fat, if we’re getting into the particulars (but only because it has more sugar). He cheers for his school’s football team so passionately, he might as well be the mascot (although his position as assistant team manager will suffice). He’s well known around town -- for example, workers at our local McAlister’s Deli know his order by heart, and if it's a Tuesday night and the chocolate milk is running low, they'll hide one for him in the back. He also happens to be missing some genes on his seventh chromosome -- a genetic disorder known more commonly as Williams Syndrome, which affects roughly one in 10,000 people worldwide. It’s this last characteristic of my brother that rocked my and my family’s world when the diagnosis was made.

Having a sibling with special needs comes with its fair share of ups and downs, but surprisingly, more of the former. One of the many ups is that my brother’s taught me a lot. Here are six lessons I’ve learned from having a sibling with special needs.

1. You can’t plan your life and expect it to play out in that way.

Jack wasn’t diagnosed with Williams Syndrome until he was three years old. That means that for three years my family was imagining him growing up just like every other kid -- learning to drive, sneaking out to parties, heading off to college, you know the drill. That was a whole three years before the doctors dropped the G-bomb -- genetic disorder. Nonetheless, my parents took the news with stride, and life’s worked out in so many amazing and confusing and wonderful ways we had never before imagined.

2. Just because it's said, doesn't mean it's so.

Just like you can’t expect your life to go as you plan, you also can’t take certain news as fate. Just because an authority gives his or her word on a matter, doesn’t mean it’s correct. When Jack was younger, physical and occupational therapists predicted trouble ahead. And even at the time, his lack of ability to reasonably perceive depth made him terrified just to step off of a street curb. Despite these predictions, Jack’s developed a taste for action and adventure, including basketball, bike riding, and even cliff rappelling, as the opportunity has presented itself.

3. You share a lot more than just a last name.

When your sibling struggles in ways that many don’t, you become much more emotionally attached to his or her journey. You sympathize with his or her struggles, and you celebrate exuberantly with his or her successes. You share perspectives, as he or she shows you life with new eyes and appreciation for new things. You also share a bond that is stronger than any you’ve shared with anyone else. When we were younger, Jack and I would put our hands together in the shape of a heart, and then pinch our fingers down to make an infinity sign, saying “I love you times infinity.” Even though he no longer does this, being seventeen and "too cool for school," I know from his genuine and energetic greeting every time we get on FaceTime that we’re just as tight as we’ve always been.

4. You have to be the bigger person, even when you don’t want to be.

Growing up, whenever kids gave my brother a hard time, every bone in my body wanted to rip them a new one. I despised them, not understanding how people could be so heartless. As I grew up, I realized that people act in certain ways for various reasons, and although a certain comment or action might be unjustified, fighting fire with fire isn’t the way to make the world a better place. People may disappoint you in life, but when you stand tall and swallow your pride, you’re bound to come out on top.

5. Disabled does not mean incapable.

There are many things my brother struggles with due to his disorder, but hey, doesn’t everybody struggle with at least a thing or two? While there are certain things Jack struggles with, there are so many more that he excels at. He’s a pro at networking, thanks to his outgoing and cheerful demeanor. And when he was younger, there was no Transformers product he couldn’t transform, despite the unsuccessful attempts of everyone else in the family. And now, he is on track to becoming an Eagle Scout. Jack has obstacles, but to those, he says, “Challenge accepted.”

6. There is a God, and God is great.

Some people might think that a diagnosis of a genetic disorder would erase one’s faith on the spot. After all, how could a God call himself great and loving after giving so sparingly and unjustly to one of his creations? But it’s not like that at all. When you have a sibling with special needs, you focus in a little better on what actually matters. Rather than feeling like you’ve been thrown a curse, you realize you have been granted a huge blessing, one that presents itself in the form of countless little blessings. For me, they’re the mercilessly tight hugs I receive each time I come home from school. They’re the way my brother sits down beside me when I’m upset and gently tells me to “turn that frown upside down”. They’re the unnecessarily but wonderfully excessive introductions to strangers: “Hi, I’m Jack Davis, a member of [Boy Scout] Troop 72 at your service.” God may have thrown us a curveball when he gave us Jack, but I can speak for my parents and myself when I say we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

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I'm The Girl Who'd Rather Raise A Family Than A Feminist Protest Sign

You raise your protest picket signs and I’ll raise my white picket fence.
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Social Media feeds are constantly filled with quotes on women's rights, protests with mobs of women, and an array of cleverly worded picket signs.

Good for them, standing up for their beliefs and opinions. Will I be joining my tight-knit family of the same gender?

Nope, no thank you.

Don't get me wrong, I am not going to be oblivious to my history and the advancements that women have fought to achieve. I am aware that the strides made by many women before me have provided us with voting rights, a voice, equality, and equal pay in the workforce.

SEE ALSO: To The Girl Who Would Rather Raise A Family Than A Feminist Protest Sign

For that, I am deeply thankful. But at this day in age, I know more female managers in the workforce than male. I know more women in business than men. I know more female students in STEM programs than male students. So what’s with all the hype? We are girl bosses, we can run the world, we don’t need to fight the system anymore.

Please stop.

Because it is insulting to the rest of us girls who are okay with being homemakers, wives, or stay-at-home moms. It's dividing our sisterhood, and it needs to stop.

All these protests and strong statements make us feel like now we HAVE to obtain a power position in our career. It's our rightful duty to our sisters. And if we do not, we are a disappointment to the gender and it makes us look weak.

Weak to the point where I feel ashamed to say to a friend “I want to be a stay at home mom someday.” Then have them look at me like I must have been brain-washed by a man because that can be the only explanation. I'm tired of feeling belittled for being a traditionalist.

Why?

Because why should I feel bad for wanting to create a comfortable home for my future family, cooking for my husband, being a soccer mom, keeping my house tidy? Because honestly, I cannot wait.

I will have no problem taking my future husband’s last name, and following his lead.

The Bible appoints men to be the head of a family, and for wives to submit to their husbands. (This can be interpreted in so many ways, so don't get your panties in a bunch at the word “submit”). God specifically made women to be gentle and caring, and we should not be afraid to embrace that. God created men to be leaders with the strength to carry the weight of a family.

However, in no way does this mean that the roles cannot be flipped. If you want to take on the responsibility, by all means, you go girl. But for me personally? I'm sensitive, I cry during horror movies, I'm afraid of basements and dark rooms. I, in no way, am strong enough to take on the tasks that men have been appointed to. And I'm okay with that.

So please, let me look forward to baking cookies for bake sales and driving a mom car.

And I'll support you in your endeavors and climb to the top of the corporate ladder. It doesn't matter what side you are on as long as we support each other, because we all need some girl power.

Cover Image Credit: Unsplash

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The Revival Of The Coal Industry Is Unattainable

Clean beautiful coal will never be a reality. President Trump's backing of a declining industry is misguided and will have despairing environmental impacts.

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The coal industry and its workers were placed at the forefront of American politics during the 2016 election cycle. President Trump promised a revival of the coal industry and promised to secure the jobs of coal country. The President, halfway through his first term, has so far taken measures to do just that. Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement, threw out Obama's Clean Power Plan, and did away with an Obama-era regulation that would prevent coal ash from entering streams and other bodies of water.

On one hand, it's quite extraordinary for a politician to do good on his campaign promises. On the other hand, is anyone considering whether or not the President is putting all his eggs into the wrong basket? Coal has been on the decline for about a decade now. Even without environmental regulations, the energy produced by coal is expected to reduce by 20% by 2030. Renewable energy such as wind and solar are replacing coal.


For an election campaign, it's easy to see why a candidate would align with coal. States like West Virginia and Pennsylvania are key when running a national campaign. The votes are there in those counties that support the coal industry. They will vote for any candidate who sides with their industry. But from an environmental standpoint, there's more on the line than just an election. It's about our clean air and water. Climate change is real and the effects of coal will only accelerate the process.

Coal ash that finds its way into water streams can damage that water supply for good. It could also impact the wildlife within the area. Coal also pollutes the air we breathe. Clean coal is a myth. Plain and simple. Coal is anything but clean. Clean coal sounds good in a stump speech, but we all know it's a fallacy.

Mountaintop mining also has a deep environmental impact. The Appalachian mountains have been destroyed from surface mining. West Virginia residents hold their beautiful mountains in high regard. Now, some of them look very different and the destruction is permanent. If the mining continues, the mountains of the Appalachia region will be gone. It would be a shame if you went to West Virginia to admire their mountains, and none were left.

In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt passed the American Antiquities Act of 1906. Roosevelt protected 230 million acres of land during his presidency. Roosevelt understood the importance of conservation and preserving our nation's natural beauty. The same natural beauty that God envisioned. We should not take that for granted. We should restore our mountains, forests, and lakes so that our children's children can reside in the richness of our natural environment.

President Roosevelt also ended the coal strike in 1902. The United States was much more dependent on coal in the 20th century than it is now. Roosevelt knew the coal strike had to be resolved because the cold winter would have been fatal. The change of the Republican party over a century later is quite intriguing to ponder. The party went from a strong conservationist in Roosevelt to Trump, who is willing to move mountains for a dying industry.

All of these facts surrounding the coal debate cannot be ignored. The rest of the western world will move on to new forms of renewable energy. While the United States will be stuck in neutral, reviving coal. Renewable energy should be strongly considered if we are to protect our water, air, and lands.

Disclaimer: I understand the risks coal miners make when they show up for work. I know that safety regulations are not always up to par and that coal mining is a very dangerous profession. I also understand the viewpoint of coal miners and their reasoning for disagreeing with me. I know they want to work and provide for their families. That's what we all want to do. As I write this, I wish not to offend coal miners, I only aim to critique the President and his policies about the coal industry.

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