By Natasha, age 17

"When itís family, you forgive them for they know not what they do. When it's family, you accept them Ďcause you have no choice but to. When itís family, theyíre a mirror of the worst and best in you. And they always put you to the test and you always try to do your best, and just pray for God to do the rest, when itís family." 
Dolly Parton, 1991

Dolly Partonís words are very influential to me. I listen to her sing the song that I try to live each day. Throughout my life my family has been my support. They have taught me the values that I try everyday to uphold. Learning of these values has not always been easy nor has it always been fun.

I come from a very unusual family of twelve. I have four adopted sister, one who is a paraplegic and learning disabled, one who has a congenital absence of the right hand, one who is emotionally disturbed, and one who has facial deformities. I have five brothers three of them adopted. Two of my brothers are able-bodies, one is emotionally disturbed, one is learning disabled, and one has Hanhardts syndrome and is subsequently missing his lower jaw, left lower leg, fingers on his hands, and his tongue.

My family has not always been easy to accept. Throughout my adolescent years I tried to hide the differences that it possessed. Not remembering that it was my family that would be there to help me up the many times that I fell. I was embarrassed that I was not like everyone else. I learned early on that it is not easy to hide twelve people who do not want to be hidden. I learned that my family was not strange it was unique. The most important value that I learned was not to try to fit in. I through my family, realized that I was not a typical teenager. I have seen and experienced things that many adults have not.

The most vivid memory I have of my family is our car trip to Colorado. As we packed our car full of anything we might need on the weeklong drive the kids began to fight over what seat each was going to sit in on the first leg of the trip. Eventually the dispute was settled and we backed our fifteen-seater van out of the driveway. The bickering had stopped for the time and we relaxed hoping to enjoy our drive to the Colorado hills. As the van rolled down the highway we caught the attention of many people especially an old couple driving next to us. The couple was trying to figure just how many people were in the car and if we were related. As they drove beside us the woman began to count the number of people on her fingers. My younger brother immediately stuck up his hands and helped the woman out showing that indeed there were ten people in the car. The woman looked away quickly hoping that we had not noticed her gestures.

Over the years I have caught not only peoples gestures but their comments as well. I have grown immune to the looks, comments, and gestures. But before I grew immune to them I had to learn to accept them. That meant accepting the differences that my family has.

Dolly Parton says that the family members know not what they do. My siblings can not see the differences that they have. I can see their differences in appearances but I can see no differences in their ability as human beings. For all I can tell each one of my siblings are as talented as the next. They may not all attend the best school or make the most money in the family but they all contribute to the best of their abilities. I have learned how to laugh my way through the toughest of days from the smiles that I receive every time I walk in the house. I have learned courage from my youngest sister who has faced brain surgery with bravery not found in many eleven-year-olds. I have learned to walk with pride in myself from all my siblings that face every day adversaries with faith in themselves.

Who I am is a direct reflection of my family. They are happy with what they have and accept their limitations with confidence that they will achieve bigger and better things.

I uphold the values of individuality and non-discrimination because I have seen too many people walk away from the siblings that I love because they do not appear to fit the social norm. I carry with me the pride and hidden abilities of my siblings who may never graduate from high school. I take a piece of them with me when I am given opportunities. Their pride, their love, their courage, and their desire were given to me and I use the values I learned from them every time I walk out of my house. I was born with opportunities that my siblings will never have. I value the things that my brothers and sisters have taught me because I would not be half the person I am today without the lessons I have learned from them.

  personal experiences : family
  family : child's perspective