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The Power of Sisters

Photograph by Getty Images

We were all singing songs from the soundtrack of the movie Frozen—it was really all so jolly—then Mimi (little Tess's twin sister) said something:

"A kid on the playground called me retarded."

I knew that this day would come. For almost nine years, this was the day that I feared—the one for which I was preparing myself.

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Mimi has cerebral palsy, epilepsy, ADHD and dyslexia (that's a mouthful). The combination of strong anti-seizure drugs and significant brain damage leaves Mimi needing a lot of academic intervention. She studies all of her core subjects with a teacher in an "Exceptional Children" class—what I grew up knowing as Special Ed. In addition to the academic challenges, Mimi has physical challenges. She can't use her right arm (I think about that a lot—she can't zipper her jacket, tie her shoes, put her hair in a ponytail or carry anything that requires two hands). She limps and loses her balance, which causes her to fall, a lot.

I knew—as soon as the doctor told us when Mimi was born that she had suffered a stroke—that someday, someone, some little asshole would say something hurtful to my daughter. And I knew that my rage would be hot and instant.

My eldest daughter, Claire (16) was in the front seat with me when Mimi told us about this boy; she snapped her head around and shouted, "Whaaat?! Who the hell said that to you?"

"He's an older boy, in 4th or 5th grade. His name is Jake, but I don't know his last name. He's got blond hair…" Mimi said.

I shoved my tongue into my lip and vice-gripped the steering wheel. I was trying not to outwardly express the explosive pain I was feeling in my gut.

I took a breath. "Well that's weird," I said. "Why would anyone say that to you? That just makes no sense at all." My heart was breaking.

I was so grateful that Mimi didn't seem nearly as upset by the name calling as her older sisters and I were.

At the same time it occurred to me that if that schmuck had said the same thing to one of my other daughters, I would have been irritated, but would've let it go. And that's the hard part about having a child with special needs—when is teasing truly mean and hurtful, and when is it just a normal kid thing?

I knew this day would come. The day when a kid said something mean, intentional or not, to my daughter. And after close to nine years of preparing myself for it, I still had not idea how to handle the situation.

As we drove home, I was so grateful that Mimi didn't seem nearly as upset by the name calling as her older sisters and I were. My pain subsided as I realized how fierce, loyal and strong my daughters' love for one another is. Claire and Camille (the older of the four) quietly plotted how they were going walk to the lower school at recess and find out the name of the kid was who insulted their sister. I am certain that there would be additional intimidating looks thrown in the boy's direction from my big girls (which was fine with me).

We came home and settled in our cozy, warm kitchen. I finished shucking the oysters, while the girls all watched Long Island Medium. Later, we had Oysters Rockefeller Stew and Parmesan Toasts.

And always—forever always—I knew my girls would have each other's backs.

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Oysters Rockefeller Stew With Easy Parmesan Toasts


Oysters Rockefeller Stew

2 pints raw oysters, strained from their liquor—liquor set aside

2 cups fish stock (look in the freezer section)

2 cups water

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 large shallot, chopped

4 garlic cloves, chopped

1 baking potato, peeled and cubed

10 ounces fresh, baby spinach (prewashed for ease)

4 ounces (1/2 a brick) light cream cheese

2 tablespoons Wondra flour (or AP flour)

6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

16 ounces light cream (or half and half—light cream has slightly less fat)

Easy Parmesan Toasts

thick slices, good quality bread

butter, softened

garlic powder

Parmigiano Reggiano cheese—the good stuff


Oysters Rockefeller Stew

1. Bring oyster liquor, fish stock, water, wine, shallot and garlic to a simmer. Cook gently for 10 minutes. While the stock is simmering, chop the raw oysters in halves or quarters depending on size and set aside. Blend the cream cheese with the Wondra flour and set aside.

2. Add baby spinach into the bubbling stock, as well as the cream cheese/Wondra mixture. Simmer until the spinach is limp but still bright green, about 5 minutes.

3. Use an immersion blender to purée the soup.

4. Add in potato cubes, chopped oysters and bacon, and simmer 5 to 7 minutes.

5. Finish with light cream. Taste and adjust seasoning—you will probably NOT need salt.

Easy Parmesan Toasts

Lightly toast thick pieces of bread, smear with butter, sprinkle with garlic powder and cover in parmesan cheese. Broil until cheese is melted and slightly golden. Serve with soup.

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