I have a sister who is crazy. I will just put that right out here in the beginning of this story and get it out-of-the-way. Mental illness is a part of my family that gives us character, we own it….she is not alone. She has five biological children and has adopted five special needs kids. Her name is Junene and she is a nurse who works full-time, while maintaining a home with two dogs, two horses, some chickens, and a partridge in a pear tree. It is my belief that she lost her sanity on the roadside on the way to adopt numbers four and five. She is a good and special kind of crazy though. We need more mental illness like this in our society. She might be delusional in her belief that she can make a difference in every kid that she meets, but what if she is right? What if my sister is completely sane?
As her attorney, I learned a long time ago to not try to dissuade her from expanding the family at the courthouse. That is what I was thinking yesterday as I was helping a client adopt a special needs kid. Junene was a foster-mother for several years to special needs kids….quadrapalegics, Down Syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome…they all had a place to call home within the walls of her house. Junene has had numerous kids come in and out of her life…she felt a need to latch on to five of them, to love them as her own. My life and hers are better for the additions to her family, I have to admit that. I tried, unsuccessfully, on several occasions to stop her from being a foster parent….as she was beginning to fall in love with every kid that was assigned to her….emotionally that can take a toll on a person. In the end, she decided to stop, on her own terms, and go back to her job as a full-time nurse….but there were now five kids under the age of 12 in her house. Junene is a single mother and is 53. You can’t argue with crazy.
Junene is not a perfect mother…she knows that her biological children, born to her in her earlier years have some valid complaints. Whom among us is not without faults? But the one thing she has that makes her a great mother…is the blind desire to make the life of a child better…one step at a time….one hug at a time. I can only visit Junene’s house for about two hours and then I start to lose my grip on the one thread of sanity I have left. I am a childless, middle-aged woman…I am too set in my ways and am used to complete silence in my house, save for the occasional yapping of my wiener dogs. The three-ring circus that Junene oversees, after working eight hours as a traveling nurse, is a sight to see. I doubt that she will mind my description of her house…it is structured chaos at its best.
One of my nephews is named Roy and I am certain he would be dead, if not for the care and love of his adoptive mother. Roy has severe autism and was born with several medical ailments…including the necessity to breathe through a trach tube for years. He is nine years old, happy and healthy as can be, as I write this today. Roy always has a broad smile on his face…he enjoys eating good food and Shrek….all things Shrek. What if Junene’s crazy had only one reason to be? What if the one reason was if Roy could just be nine and enjoy eating a grilled cheese sandwich, while watching Shrek on TV? Crazy has its place I guess.
I am writing this blog today as a love letter to my sister. She has had a tough time of it lately. One of her kids has been hospitalized…out of necessity, for his safety and the safety of the other children. Junene doesn’t miss a beat…although it is a heartbreaking situation, she makes the difficult decisions, never faltering in her job or in taking care of her other children.
Junene, my hat is off to you today! It is a good thing that there are other people out there like you. Those people who sacrifice their time, money, personal space, even retirement years…to reach out and help kids in need. I admit my hedonistic life is not comparable to Junene’s. We are as different as night and day…though only five years apart, and in the same gene pool. I couldn’t survive her country menagerie anymore than she could handle my urban lifestyle. In those differences though is a bond and an appreciation…she respects my “alternative” life and I respect the fact that she is bat-shit crazy.
My niece’s name is Ashley. She has Turner’s Syndrome, but other than that she is perfectly healthy. She is about 36 inches of personality and love…a smart as a whip six-year-old. I called her recently to see if she wanted to spend the night at Aunt Juju’s house. I asked her if she could just come alone…(wanting to curb the noise in my house, but also let me focus on one kid at a time). No! said Ashley, “where I go, my sister goes!” She refused to make the trip without her older sister, Lesley. The two girls are a matched set….Ashley, always looking after her older sister who has survived open heart surgery in her brief life and has learning difficulties. Ashley knows what it is like to have an older sister who thinks differently than you, but is a part of you. I can’t argue…I’ve got one of those too.