A New Understanding

Leto walked down the stairs, into the living room. She was about to turn on the TV, when she heard her brother yelled at her mom.

“Leto, come here and tell your brother to stop being so rude!” yelled her mom. Sighing, Leto put the remote down on the couch, and walked into the dining room.

“Haul, listen to mom, okay?” she said halfheartedly.

Haul rolled his eyes.

“Get in the car, both of you. We’re meeting your dad at the French restaurant today,” her mom said, gathering her stuff on the table and putting them in her purse.

Leto grabbed a bag and shoved her wallet, a light jacket and a book into her bag, along with her phone. Haul put on his sneakers without bothering to tie the laces, and ran down the stairs to the garage. Leto heard her mom mumble, “God, nine-year-olds!”

Leto slipped her sandals on and followed her brother. When she got into the car, Haul asked her, “Leto, why do you think mom and dad are taking us to a restaurant? We never go to restaurants except the pizza place near our house.”

“That’s not really true, Haul. Remember when we went to the Thai place in the city? And the Italian restaurant near your school?” she said, thinking back to when they went out.

“Yah, but that was for my birthday, because I wanted to eat Italian food. You won that basketball game when we went to the thai restaurant,” he replied. Leto frowned, thinking about what Haul had said. If they only eat at restaurants on special occasions, then why would they eat out today? She hadn’t done anything special since the last time they ate out, and neither had Haul. So why were they going to a restaurant?

“Sorry to keep you guys waiting,” said her mom, interrupting her train of thought. Her mom put her purse on the seat next to her, and started the car. While putting her seatbelt on, she added, “Leto, can you open the garage? I forgot to do it.”

Leto sighed, and got out of the car. Why was she always the one who had to do everything? Why didn’t her mom do it herself, or ask her brother sometimes? Leto pressed the button, and opened the garage. She got back into the car, next to her brother.

When they got to the restaurant, her dad was waiting. Her mom got out of the car, looking nervous.

“Hey, Haul. What happened today?” asked her dad.

“Well, I got an A on my math test, and I played with Victor after lunch, and then I had to do homework,” Haul rambled excitedly.

“You have homework? Already?” his dad said, looking surprised.

“Dad, I’ve had homework for like three years now,” Haul said, looking a bit annoyed.

“What about you, Leto?” her dad asked while checking his phone.

Leto began, “Well, um… I walked to school with — ”

“She yelled at me today,” interrupted Haul.

Leto rolled her eyes. “I didn’t yell at you, I just asked you nicely if you could please listen to — ”

“Leto, don’t be mean to your brother,” interrupted her father. Leto rolled her eyes again, annoyed. Why did people keep interrupting her?

“Leto, don’t have an attitude. Stop being such a ‘teenager.’ You’re only thirteen,” her dad said sternly. As a waiter came and showed them to their seats, Haul stuck his tongue out at her. Leto wanted to do the same thing back to him, but didn’t, knowing that she would get into trouble.

After sitting down comfortably in their seats and ordering the food, Leto and Haul’s father cleared his throat. “So Haul, Leto, um… your mother is pregnant,” he began.

“Yay!” screamed Haul.

“Shut up,” Leto whispered to her brother, smiling.

“But, um, the baby is, uh…” said her father awkwardly, scratching the back of his neck.

“Is it a girl? Is it a boy?” asked Haul, not listening to anything his dad said afterwards.

Leto smiled. She loved little kids, because they were so cute and innocent. Even though she knew she would have to take care of her annoying brother more, having a little sister would be worth it. She would be able to dress her up, and give her all of her old clothes. Even if it was a boy, she would have lots of fun playing with him. Even though she was still hoping the baby was a girl….

“Guys,” said her mother, “what your father is trying to say is that the baby has Down syndrome. And even though this is going to be hard, we have decided to keep the baby.”

Everyone fell silent. Then Haul asked, “What’s that?”

“What’s what, honey,” said his mom softly.

“What Down sym-syndr-drum?” Haul asked innocently.

“Abraham?” she said quietly, asking her husband to answer.

He cleared his throat, and said, “Um, well, Haul, Down syndrome is a disability that makes people have mental and sometimes physical problems. Some people always need to be watched, while others can go to school, and live a normal life. It depends on how bad the baby’s condition is. We don’t really know that yet, but we’ll see. If we give this baby the correct treatment when its young, he or she can live normally when they grow up.”

Haul looked stunned. Leto felt like she was having a nightmare, and she would wake up, and it would all disappear.

The waitress brought the food out, but they all sat in silence. Then Haul sloppily served himself some food, and began chewing loudly.

“Haul, close your mouth! You are so embarrassing,” Leto whispered, annoyed. This was all too much. What had she done to deserve this? All she did was help, and now this? Not that she didn’t still want a baby brother or sister. In fact, if it had been anyone else’s family, she would have thought that the parents were so brave to keep the baby. But why did this baby have to get Down syndrome?

“So dad, how did the baby get the Down symdrum thing?” asked Haul, before shoving another huge bite of food into his mouth.

“Well, when women get pregnant around the age of forty-five, the chances of the baby having down syndrome is pretty high,” responded his father slowly.

“Okay, well, I’m still getting a little brother, right?” said Haul.

“It could be a girl,” his mom said.

“I’m going to get a little sister or brother! Who cares if it has a disability? I get sick sometimes, too. It’ll get better if we take the baby to a doctor. So why is everyone so gloomy?” said Haul nonchalantly.

Leto wanted to scream, cry, and smile at the same time. Haul was right, of course. But he didn’t understand what Down syndrome really was. And he wouldn’t be the one who would have to do more chores. Leto knew her parents would ask her to watch Haul more often. They would reduce her ‘privileges,’ which most people called liberties. Leto didn’t know what to think. She was tired.

When the family finished eating, and went home, Leto immediately flew to her room, bag in hand. Once her door was closed, she took out her phone, and texted Nasryn, her best friend.

Leto: My life sucks.

Nasryn responded after a few seconds.

Nasryn: what happened?

Leto sighed, and answered.

Leto: My mom is pregnant.

Nasryn: that’s great! Why are u sad?

Leto: the baby has down syndrome

Nasryn: omg

Leto: I don’t know what to do!

Nasryn: just keep calm, Leto

Leto: I am freaking out! How does my mom think that she can handle a baby with down syndrome, when she can’t even handle Haul??

Nasryn: Leto, talk to to your mom!

Leto: what would I say? Tell her all my selfish reasons why I am freaking out about this baby?

Nasryn: u seriously need to calm down

Leto: but how am I going to do ANYTHING after the baby is born? Even now, my parents r like “Leto, put your brother to bed” “Leto, do the laundry” “Leto, go buy groceries at the shop”

Nasryn: THAT is why u need to talk to your mom! Tell her u can’t do it! Stand up to her!

Leto: my mom isn’t the problem. Usually, I help her because I want to. But when I don’t help her, Haul or my mom tells my dad. Then he’s just like, “Stop the attitude, bla bla bla”

Nasryn: then go and talk to your whole family

Leto: I can’t do that! Besides, this is supposed to be about the baby, not me

Nasryn: Leto, you have to talk to your parents. Is there any other reason why u are feeling anxious about the baby?

Leto: not really. I mean, I do want a baby brother or sister. But is the baby going to be okay?

Nasryn: you and I both know that your family is going to take great care of the baby.

Leto: I hope so.

Nasryn: Now go talk to your parents.

Suddenly, her father entered her room. Either he hadn’t knocked, or Leto had been too focused on her conversation with Nasryn to hear him.

“Texting again?” he said disapprovingly, as Leto turned off her phone. Leto knew that Nasryn was right. She had to talk to her parents about this. Leto went down stairs to the living room, where Haul was sitting and drawing.

“Nice drawing, Haul,” Leto said, surprised.

“Thanks,” he replied.

“Haul, can you call Mom and Dad, please?” she asked.

“Mom! Dad! Come here!” he called out, not looking up from the picture he was drawing. Her parents came to the living room, and sat down on the sofa. Leto sat next to Haul on the other sofa.

“We need to talk,” Leto said, gathering all of her courage.

“About what?” her mother asked.

Leto gulped, then began, “Well, um, I know that you’re very busy already, with Haul and — ”

“Oh yah, Haul, how was soccer practice?” her dad said, interrupting her.

“It was pretty good, except that Alex got hurt, because Jarek pushed him,” Haul said.

Leto sighed why did people always interrupt her? She cleared her throat then said, “ANYWAY, um, so I know that I should be responsible, and I like helping you guys out, but sometimes, it’s too much and — ” This time, and alarm went off, interrupting her. Leto groaned, annoyed.

“Oh, those are the chocolate croissants that I was making for tomorrow! Leto, can you go and take them out of the oven?” her mother said. Leto wanted to scream that she didn’t want to, but she couldn’t let the croissants burn.

When she went back to the living room, she started talking. She needed to let it all out without anyone or anything interrupting her. “I know that I’m the older sister, and that I should help you, Mom, and I like helping you. It’s just that I know that when the baby comes, you’ll be busy with the baby, and Dad will be at work, and you NEVER give Haul chores, and even if you do,” Leto paused to take a breath, “you only give him the easy stuff, like clean up your room or put your plate in the sink. And you don’t care if he doesn’t do it or if he says he can’t because he needs to go out and play. And usually I don’t mind helping you, Mom, but sometimes it’s too much. And — ”

“Leto, stop making the baby an excuse to not do some chores. Haul is younger than you, so he doesn’t have to do as much. He’s just a young kid, so stop comparing yourself to him. And don’t use your siblings as an excuse for having an attitude,” her dad said.

“Dad!” Haul and Leto said at the same time.

They looked at each other, surprised. Haul motioned for Leto to go first.

“Dad, every time I try to say that I can’t do this, that I want to go and play and not have to grow up too quickly, that I don’t really want to be doing housework all the time, you stop me. I need to live my life! You always say ‘stop being rude’ or ‘don’t have an attitude’ or ‘stop being such a teenager.’ You never actually listen to what I’m trying to say!” Leto said.

“And Dad, I’m not a ‘young kid’, ok? I’m nine. In two months, I’m turning ten. I can do chores, you just never tell me how! You treat me like a baby. I want to learn. I’m not going to be the baby anymore, but I’m not going to be the oldest either. Let me help Leto,” Haul said, emotionally.

“Haul, I know you think you’re all grown up, but you’re still my baby boy. It’s great that you want to help your sister. Clean your room, okay?” their dad answered.

“Dad, I already do that. You think I’m a baby. Look at the stupid art on the fridge. I drew that when I was five!” Haul said, clenching his fists.

“But honey, it’s so good!” his mother answered.

“No Mom. The people are stick figures, and the cat in blue! Look at what I can do now!” Haul said, showing them his drawing.

It was a beautiful drawing of a lake at sunset. The sky was pink, yellow, orange and purple. The lake had a reflection of the sky, but the image was rippled, because of the swans that were swimming in the lake.

“It’s beautiful!” gasped his mother. Haul smiled.                                                                            

“Please stop treating me like a baby, okay? Let me help Leto!” Haul said.

“And I’m not an adult yet. I don’t mind helping out, but stop making me do everything,” Leto said.

Leto’s heart was pounding. What would her parents say? Would they actually understand what she was trying to say, or would they think that she was being insolent? Would she get into trouble? Would she get Haul into trouble? What if they thought that she didn’t want the baby?

Leto cleared the depressing thoughts from her head. What happened now was completely up to her parents. She couldn’t do anything, so there was no point worrying about it. At least that’s what she told herself.

“Leto, stop — ” began her father. Leto took a deep breath.

“Abraham, stop it,” her mother interrupted suddenly. She had been silent most of the time, not really expressing her opinion. “Leto, I’m sorry we made you do so much. I never meant for you to have to be the adult already. From now on, you and Haul can decide how to split your chores. I promise I will listen to what you’re trying to say, although I can’t speak for your father. If you want to go play or something, just tell me,” her mother said.

Her father responded, “But Candace, she’s just trying to — ”

“Listen to yourself!” her mother said, interrupting him again. “Our daughter is trying to tell us that we’re not giving her a childhood, and you just choose to ignore her!” For a moment, the family sat in silence, and Abraham scratched his chin.

“Fine,” he said finally. “Leto, I’m sorry. I just thought that you were being a teenager. You’re my oldest child, and I’ve never had a teenage kid before, so I don’t really know what to do. But that shouldn’t mean that you have to be an adult. So, I’m sorry. And Haul, I guess I don’t want you to grow up so fast. I mean, it seems like just yesterday that you learned to talk! But I know that you’re not a baby anymore, and I need to let you learn and grow. “

Haul and Leto smiled at their dad, and said, “Thanks, Dad.”

Then Leto looked at her mom, and said, “Thanks, Mom!”



One and a half months later…

“Leto, come here!” cried Nasryn. Leto walked over to where her best friend was standing, holding a sleeveless light pink fluttery dress with a dark pink ribbon.
“This is so pretty! Your little sister would look fabulous in this!” Nasryn said, as she put it into the shopping bag.

“Nasryn, she isn’t even born yet, you don’t know what she looks like. Besides, she’s going to have to wear onesies for the first few months at least,” said Leto with a smile.

Nasryn replied, “She can wear the dress when she’s allowed to.”

“Fine,” nodded Leto.

“Now come on, don’t you want to get matching t-shirts?” said Nasryn as she navigated her way through the crowd. They were at their favorite clothes shop at the nearby mall.

Leto followed her best friend. She felt light, a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders. Leto knew her new sister had down syndrome, but she also knew that it didn’t matter. The whole family would take care of her, and they would all love her.

Nasryn held up a wine-colored t-shirt with vines, which read “Forever Free.” “Want to get this one?” she asked. Leto nodded. Suddenly, her phone rang.

“Hello?” she said, answering it.

“Leto? Um… How do you wash dishes?” she heard Haul’s voice ask.

“Well, you rinse the dishes, and put some soap on if it’s really dirty… then you put it in the dishwasher,” Leto replied, trying not to laugh.

“Oh, okay. Come home soon, ‘cause I don’t want to do this alone. But don’t tell Mom I said that,” Haul whispered.

Leto smiled, “Okay, Haul. See you soon!”

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