This blog originally appeared on The Arc Baltimore website

It all began with the scrambled eggs.

Chris visited me in NYC about six months after our father died. We had a blast doing many fun activities ranging from visiting the top of One World Trade Center to wearing funny balloon hats at the Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue. While Chris was amazed that the elevator for the new World Trade Center can go up 100 stories in ONE minute and he felt like a movie star with people asking to take his picture while wearing his two eyed balloon hat, the topic he talked about the most after the trip was how he made scrambled eggs! I learned this after speaking with the staff at The Arc Baltimore. This story made me rethink how I was approaching my relationship with Chris and gave me hope for something bigger.

I never really thought about the question, what it means to have a relationship with my brother who is developmentally disabled. I am the oldest of 5 children. Chris was born 15 months after me. While Chris is now 56 years old, his intellect is youthful as he enjoys watching The Munsters or slapstick humor and calling people silly names–mine is Daddy Long Legs- for being tall. He is also a responsible adult who works for Home Depot helping people load their cars. He has worked there for 18 years and loves his job, boss, co-workers, customers, and they love him back.

I chose to move to NYC after graduating from college and never returned to Baltimore, visiting once or twice a year. Chris lived at home until his late 30’s and then moved out and shares an apartment with his friend from the first grade – Arthur. Chris and I continued to engage in our favorite activity when I visited which involved taking long bike rides where we would race like young children to see who could ride faster or get home first.

Fast-forward to 2017, both parents have passed away rather suddenly within 11 months of each other. Chris was extremely close to my late father, having spent most weekends at his cottage on the Eastern shore of Maryland. At my father’s funeral, everyone rallied to support Chris, who was still in a state of shock. While my heart ached for my brother, I realized that I didn’t really know what Chris needed. I wanted to take action, so I volunteered to shoulder the lead role in regard to managing the family’s relationship with The Arc. This led me to three questions.

  1. How do I think about adults with developmental disabilities?
  2. What does it mean to have a relationship with an adult with developmental disabilities?
  3. What is my role with The Arc and Chris – transactional or transformational?

I must come clean that I am an executive coach who focuses on helping business leaders be more impactful and effective. I have spent my life transforming business leaders. So, I think “what about Chris?”

I return to the scrambled eggs. I wondered if I was so surprised that Chris bragged about his cooking scrambled eggs because I thought of Chris as a disabled adult with limited potential? In other words, I was thinking of Chris from a fixed (versus growth) mindset, as described by the renowned Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck in her seminal book, Mindset. As his sister, I was embarrassed to admit that I still viewed Chris from a fixed mindset, which meant that I saw his abilities as set in stone. Chris had a good job, friends, was an active member of the The Arc community, and enjoyed many activities from bicycling to bowling. What more could a person with an intellectual disability want? But, Chris’s excitement over mastering scrambled eggs made me realize that I had an outdated view of my brother.

When Chris came to visit me, he was crying every day and running to the bathroom constantly. I asked him if he knew how to care for his upset stomach. Chris said he was given Pepto-Bismol, which I concurred was a good idea. I asked if he knew what foods to eat that might not upset his stomach. He said “No.” As it was breakfast time, I suggested that scrambled eggs and toast might help settle his stomach and asked if he knew how to cook them. He said he didn’t, but that he did know how to cook certain things such as hamburgers. I asked if he wanted to learn, which he did.

Chris embodied an enthusiasm for learning as he struggled to loosen up his wrist while beating the eggs. I explained that he needed to beat the eggs until bubbles appeared. Chris being very strong preferred to muscle the eggs and became frustrated that bubbles weren’t popping up. So, I put on some playful music and we both laughed as we danced in our pajamas attempting to loosely beat the eggs together. Eventually Chris started swooshing the eggs to the music. In that moment of dancing and swooshing, Chris appeared to forget the loss of our parents, and I realized that Chris had a lot more potential. I just needed to make the learning process playful and safe. The next day Chris made the scrambled eggs for both of us—mostly on his own. He beamed with pride when I told him how much I enjoyed his cooking!

I left our visit inspired. Realizing that the key to Chris’s recovery—and mine—was to start viewing him from a growth mindset. This is the belief that Chris can continue to grow. My job is to stay curious about how Chris learns best, which seemed to be when we keep things light and playful. I became energized as I determined that my role with The Arc—and as his sister—is transformational; leaving me to wonder, “what is our next learning adventure?”




8 Responses to Scrambled Eggs and Hope

  1. Sonia Fernandes says:

    Great Read! Thank you for the insight on the growth mind-set, so often we box people, even ourselves sometimes and lack the courage to push towards full potential.

  2. Roxana says:

    Love it! Thanks for sharing your story and journey in your relationship with Chris. You are lucky to have each other to continue to grow and learn together.

  3. Margaret says:

    Kathryn: You continue to amaze me with your approach to life! Discovering a new way to relate to your brother is a gift….perhaps the last gift from your parents! With much admiration! Margaret

  4. Lee Innocenti says:

    I loved reading about you and your brother. The childhood picture is so clearly you! Thank you for sharing your learning with us.

  5. pandora says:

    What a great read – Thanks Kathryn – doesn’t it just go to show that we are never to old to keep learning and growing and discovering more about each other as human beings. Something we miss when we get set in our jobs and adult ‘patterns’ – and isn’t it really quite a gift when it happens. Thanks for reminding me.

  6. Sandra Carey says:

    Kathryn, I love how your instincts guided you to make great choices for you and your brother. Something as simple as playing music and being silly dancing while scrambling eggs made all the difference in connecting the two you and enabling Chris to succeed. You paid close attention to him effortlessly. More fun to come, I expect.

  7. Mirian Mueller says:

    I love reading about your stories and your brother Chris. You’re such an inspiration to so many people. I’m your biggest fan! I’m looking forward to the next Story. Thank you so much for sharing the black and white pictures are so awesome and it brings you back to the closeness’ you both have. Family is so important to have please try to enjoy more time with Chris. Thank you for sharing this amazing story! Mirian

  8. Mirian Mueller says:

    I love reading about your stories and your brother Chris. You’re such an inspiration to so many people. I’m your biggest fan! I’m looking forward to the next Story. Please keep Chris close to you. Family is everything.