by Dena Castellano-Farrell

It’s nearly dinnertime. I’m sitting in the living room, savoring the smell of food coming from the kitchen, and smiling at my three boys. Garrett, age six is leading his brothers in an energetic version of Ring around the Rosy. Braeden, age five, is putting his heart and soul into the song as he teaches his little brother Griffin, age two, the moves. Griffin is giggling so hard just watching his brothers that he can barely stand up. Ashes, Ashes, we all fall down! The three of them collapse and the giggling escalates. When Griffin does stand up unassisted, you would think he just hit a grand slam. “Mommy! He did it!” his brothers chorus. “Griffin stood all by himself!”  “Way to go, Griffin!” Of course I’m smiling; I am the luckiest woman on earth.

When Griffin was diagnosed with Down syndrome, I had so many worries about what this would mean for all three of my sons. Garrett and Braeden had just turned three and four years mold. How could we manage this? I worried that we wouldn’t be able to give them enough attention because we would be devoting all out time to Griffin’s special needs. (I thought for some reason that Griffin would require round the clock care and our undivided attention). I dreaded the seemingly inevitable neglect of their needs. I even planned ahead, teaching them at their young ages to write their first names, figuring I certainly wouldn’t have time to teach them once I was consumed with Griffin’s care. And as I envisioned the older boy’s future, I worried that they would somehow be burdened with their brother. I imagined that would have to take over the role of parent to a grown child someday, sharing the responsibility of caring for Griffin.

I worried that our marriage was not strong enough for this. Sure, I always felt that we were happy but this was something we had never been through as a couple. We had gotten through challenges before, such as unexpected job changes and parenting two boys born thirteen months apart. But could we handle all three of these brothers?

I also worried about how I would handle these difficulties on a personal level. Would I feel resentful of this child who would no doubt take up most of our time? Would he depend on us for the rest of our lives? In my darkest moments, I worried that I wouldn’t love him as much as his brothers because he wasn’t my idea of “perfect.”

Most of all, I worried about Griffin. Would he suffer? Would he be able to attend his brothers’ school? Would he be teased?  Would he ever be independent? I cringed at the words “group home” when reading the literature from our geneticist and couldn’t even utter the phrase without crying. I equated allowing him to live in a group home with sending him away to an institution; I couldn’t begin to fathom that situation.

Well, Griffin is now two, and my heart is much more settled. No problems with loving him-I’m totally smitten!  Andy my fears about resenting him or favoring him have been laid to rest. We spend three hours a week with Griffin’s therapists; one each for speech, gross motor skills, and fine motor skills. Part of their job is to show us how to incorporate his therapies into our family life. Whether it’s chasing his brothers through a tunnel, letting them “read” to him, or teaching him the fine art of dumping water in (and out of!) the tub. Garrett and Braeden are the best models and motivators Griffin could have. But we don’t always make Griffin our focus. His three therapists understand that Griffin is not our only child and we shouldn’t take away from our other boys for his sake. So Garrett and Braeden get their turns in the spotlight too!

Griffin does not make us worry any more that out other boys.  We no longer worry about his dependence; instead, we are planning for his independence. I no longer worry about his future; instead, I wonder about it.  I used to think I knew what was in store for him. Now, I realize that I honestly have no clue. He might go to college. He might get married. He might live with us if he wants to-although, considering his desire to do everything his brothers are doing, I don’t think he will!

Most importantly, his brothers adore him. They see him as any other little brother, sometimes annoying, sometimes getting into their toys. Yet they fight over who gets to help change his diaper (unless it’s a stinky one!). If Griffin needs or wants to live with one of them someday, arguing over who gets him may just tear them apart! But, I don’t think that will be the case.

I think they will be competing to see who gets to be best man at his wedding!