Today is my little sisters 21st birthday. For most people that means wild parties, binge drinking and possibly a one night stand. (No, that is NOT a description of MY 21st)
But for Kari, it’s different. With Kari is so much more. Because no one thought Kari would make it to 1, let alone 21.
After my parents had me, they decided that was enough. 2 kids, one boy and one girl, it was the perfect balance. So my dad set up an appointment to be snipped. The week before it was supposed to be done my mom went in for a checkup. That’s when they got the good news that she was pregnant again. (I still think my dad was secretly glad for that. This way she could have her tubes tied after the birth and nothing would have to be done to him.)
But something went wrong with the pregnancy. My mom started hemorrhaging very bad and went into labor early. 14 weeks early. She nearly died.
When Kari was born so early, the doctors advised my parents not to see “it”, not to name “it” and not even to get attached to “it’s” sex. Because “it” likely wouldn’t live out the week.
But she did.
The first time my father held his daughter it wasn’t in the crook of his arm, like in most pictures of proud fathers. She was curled up in the palm of his hand. At birth she weighed less than a pound and it took her ages to put on any weight because her stomach wasn’t fully developed. For the first year of her life she wore Cabbage Patch Preemie clothing and it was still too big for her. Her lungs weren’t developed either, she had to have a tracheostomy put in her throat. The scar is still there today, we call it her second belly button.
When she was 3 weeks old she underwent her first major open heart surgery to replace a faulty valve. Her chances of survival were slim. My parents had no insurance and the surgery cost them upwards of a million dollars. Local churches helped us to raise the money. My family lived in the Ronald McDonald House across the street from Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, so that we could be close to her.
Kari came home from the hospital for good when she was 3 years old. It was Mother’s Day, my father drove out to Chicago to get her as a surprise gift for mom.
Though she had survived her health problems, the future still looked grim. The doctors told my parents she would likely never walk, never talk, never really recognize them, never be a real person. But Kari, like all of us in the family, has that good, stubborn German blood in her veins. When someone says we can’t, we prove to them that we can.
Kari has a box in her room filled with gold, silver and bronze medals from the Special Olympics for running, walking and relay races. She enjoys music and loves the Backstreet Boys and Brittany Spears. When no one is in the room she’ll sing along with the songs. The song we sing every time we’re together is Yellow Submarine. Her favorite actors include Lindsey Lohan and the Olsen Twins. She’s rather shy about talking, but loves to be around people. Two years ago Kari graduated High School. Her favorite subject was math and she hated gym. Her goals for next year including taking a class at Harper college and trying to get a job at Walgreens.
In one of her classes, they were teaching her about poetry, rhyming and freeform. I have her freeform poem up on my wall.
It’s called My Favorite Thing:
“My favorite thing is being with my big sister because she plays games with me and takes me out places and sometimes she even buys me things like books, movies and sometimes even candy. So that is my favorite thing, is being with my big sister all the time.”
Often when I say I have a handicapped sister, the response in a quiet and sincere “I’m so sorry.” But seeing her now, and the things she’s been strong enough to live through, I’m completely positive that if she’d been born ‘normal’ she might have taken over the world by now.
So please, join me in wishing my little sister the happiest birthday she could ever have. Because, as she put it earlier this week, she is turning
“The big two one!”
Happy Birthday Kari.
Being with you is my favorite thing too.