Uncle Theodore is coming to live with us. I've never met him before and now he's going to live with us. Every day. All day. And all night. I've got to share my room with my brother now. He's 9 and I'm 13 and it sucks. All my friends have their own rooms but not me. I have to share with Willy the Whiner. All he does is whine and complain about everything. And he doesn't understand privacy or personal space. But his old room is going to Uncle Theodore now and we're going to be roommates like it or not. And with me it's not. Willy likes the idea. He thinks it will be fun. Fun? Not my definition of fun.
My little sister Alice can't wait for the guy to arrive. Mom says he will play lots of games with her and that sold her right off. Mom said that Uncle Theodore is my Dad's brother and where he used to live got closed down or something and there's no other option. She seems glad that he's coming too. Everybody is except for me. He may be my uncle but he's still a perfect stranger. He used to live in the city in a big house with lots of other people and now they're tearing down the house and he has to find another place to stay. Dad and Mom talked about it and decided that he would come and live with us.
Uncle Theodore has Downs Syndrome. That means that he's not like other adults. I said that means he's not as smart as other people, but Dad says that isn't true. He says he's just different and that we should try to make him feel at home because he only knows Dad and Mom and the rest of us are strangers to him. He might feel uncomfortable living with three kids he doesn't know. In a house that he's never been in before. Mom said to try to imagine what it will be like for him. Why doesn't somebody try to imagine what it's like to be me.
He's coming tomorrow and everyone is busy trying to think of things to say and do with him, and all I want is my room back. Alice wants to show him her legos and Willy heard that he loves to play checkers. Mom and Dad are going to take us all out for ice cream in the evening. All I can say is it's a good thing we have a van or I'd end up riding on the roof! Oh and Uncle Theodore is going to have a job working at a car wash a few blocks away. I didn't know retards could work. Oops, I'm not supposed to say that word. Let's all worry about his feelings and forget about mine. I mean I call Willy Willy the Whiner all the time and he calls me Jealous Jay cause he says I'm jealous of all the toys he's got. He doesn't realize that I'm kind of past the stage for little kids toys. Anyway we call each other names all the time and nobody gets really upset or anything.
So tomorrow morning Dad is going to the bus station to pick him up and we've got to get used to it because it's for good. He's part of our family now like it or not. Willy's in my room already tonight and he asks me if I want to sleep on the top or bottom bunk. Like it matters. I say the top cause it's more private and he climbs into the bottom bed and calls out “Good Night” to me. Jeez what a baby. I mumble “Good Night” back and stick my head under the covers to try and escape reality.
Next thing I know Willy is shaking my shoulders telling me that Mom says it's time to get up. Dad has already left for the bus station and we want to make a good first impression or so she says. I sleepily get up and dressed and go downstairs to a breakfast of cold cereal. Mom tells us for the umpteenth time to not overpower Uncle Theodore and to treat him nicely and not to call him any derogatory names. I guess she's talking specifically to me on that one because I've let the R word slip a couple of times. Then she tells us that this is very scary for him and to be careful with what we expect of him and not to be surprised by anything. This worries me a bit because I'm not sure what she is talking about exactly. I mean like what does she expect him to do?
After a bit the door opens and Dad calls out “We're home!” and Mom runs into the front room and hugs Uncle Theodore. He's not at all what I expected. He's dressed in a suit and tie and looks pretty sharp. Until you look at his face. Mom warned us. He steps up towards Willy, who has followed right behind Mom. He extends his hand and says
“I'm Theodore, whats your name?” Willy shakes his hand and says
“I'm Willy. Do you play checkers?” Uncle Theodores eyes light up and he smiles excitedly.
“Yes, I'm good at checkers. Want to play sometime?” By this time my mother has grabbed me by the shoulders and pushed me forward so that I'm standing right in front of him.
“This is our other son, Jay.” He puts his hand out to shake and repeats his introduction. I grab his hand and he has a nice strong grip. I find myself wondering if he plays any sports, but chase that thought right out of my mind when I look him in the eye. I manage to mumble out a few words. I haven't completely forgotten my manners.
“Nice to meet you.” He smiles at this and then catches sight of Alice hiding behind my father's legs. He looks at her quizzically and Mom grabs Alice and pulls her forward.
“This is Alice, she's our youngest.” He repeats his introduction and Alice shakes his hand. I swear it is probably the first time Alice has ever shaken anyone's hand, but she does okay. Then he does something that surprises me. He bends over to her eye level and looks at her.
“Alice is a pretty name. I like the name Alice.”
“I like your name too,” says Alice now completely relaxed. They're going to get along just fine. Dad takes him up to his room and helps him unpack. Then it's dinner time already. Uncle Theodore has changed into jeans and a polo shirt. Mom shows him his seat between Alice and Willy. Surprisingly he has great table manners. Just for the record, I don't. I reach for things without asking and start eating before everyone else for example. I know what to do, I just don't feel like doing it.
“Please pass the potatoes” says Uncle Theodore to no one in particular. Dad hands the bowl to Willy who passes it down. Uncle Theodore spoons some potatoes unto his plate and passes it to Alice who can barely handle it. He notices this and helps her by holding the bowl while she takes some of it's contents.
The conversation is a bit stilted at the table but interestingly enough it is Uncle Theodore who keeps the
talk going. He has so many questions. “Do you have a dog?” “What's your favorite TV show?” “Who does the dishes when we're done eating?” And on and on and on. He is very curious about our family. Willy and Alice answer most of the questions getting me off the hook. But then he directs one at me specifically.
“Do you play basketball, Jay?” Crap! Now I have to say something. I swallow my mouthful of food.
“Yes, I play sometimes with my friends”
“ I saw the basket in the driveway. Can I play with you sometime?” Double crap. No way he's getting near my friends. I don't know what to say so I say the first thing that comes to mind.
“Uh, we already have a full team and we play mostly at school.” Both lies and my whole family knows it. I get stares from all of them. Thank goodness Willy saves the day by offering to shoot hoops with him some afternoon. But I know I'll hear from Mom and Dad later.
In the evening we all pile in the van and go to Twirly Tops Ice Cream Bar. We order ice cream sundaes. Mom, Alice, Dad, and Willy all order strawberry but I opt for pineapple. Uncle Theodore says he wants pineapple too because he wants to be just like me. Oh my God. He likes me. I'm the only one who hasn't been nice to him and he likes me. This is a wakeup call that I didn't expect. So I smile and say
“Pineapple is the best” and give him a fist bump. I'm really impressed that he knows how to do it. I guess that house where he used to live taught him a lot of good stuff that I didn't expect him to be familiar with and I think good old uncle Theodore.
I'm not going to say that everything was smooth sailing from then on in cause it wasn't. There were misunderstandings and some nasty remarks from some of my friends. You know the R word and the like. But those kids aren't my friends anymore. Turns out my friend James has a cousin with Downs
Syndrome. He said the next time she visits he'll bring her over and introduce her to all of us, including Uncle Theodore. And a neighbor of one of the other kids just had a Downs baby. We took Uncle Theodore over to see him and he's the cutest little thing. So I don't feel I have to hide Uncle Theodore anymore. He plays basketball with us some of the time. He's not too good at moving the ball but he blocks well and put him under the basket and pass it to him and he's sure to make the shot. He spends lots of time playing checkers and video games with Willy and helping Alice with her Kindergarten homework. Mom and Dad make sure he has his share of chores just like the rest of the family and he met a guy just like him working at the carwash and they spend a lot of time together.
Like I said there were bumps in the road of our progress but I think the icing on the cake was our Christmas card picture day. The photographer didn't how to arrange us so he sat Mom and Dad on chairs and stood Alice next to Dad holding on to his arm. He put Willy and I behind Mom. We all protested when he almost took the picture without Uncle Theodore in it. So he stood him behind Dad and then we were ready. After all, Uncle Theodore is a part of our family now. When the photographer asked how we wanted the finished product signed we unanimously agreed to leave it the way it had been the year before “The Clarkson Family.”