Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Confessions of a super sister

Remember this song?

Here I am again/Overwhelming feelings/A thousand miles away/Your ocean home/Part of me is near//Thoughts of what we were invade/The miles that stand between/You can't separate no/You're all I hoped you'd become/Sister, I see you/Dancing on the stage of memory/Sister, I miss you.

My brother and I used to love this song, and each of us started loving it without mentioning it to the other. My brother, four years older, was abroad in Scotland back in '96 and I was still sludging through High School. I secretly thought it was an amazing song, but never considered bringing it up with him, who I knew would find this Nixon's masterpiece entirely uncool, especially for a world traveling college guy. 

And then, maybe a year later - and I won't ever forget this - he asked me if I knew this song, he told me it made him sad when he was in Scotland because it made him think of me. This situation was not dissimilar to being told by a boy you totally but secretly love telling you he likes you back just as much. But the brother version of that. We had our song. 

I don't know if he remembers any of this, including the song itself, but I like to think that if it comes on someday when we are together, that he shows even just a tiny shred of recognition. That will be enough to appease the magnified relevance I have placed on this poor song.

My brother is the guy who convinced me that instead of putting pictures of Tom Cruise and George Clooney with hearts around them on my homemade paper bag book covers in Junior High, I needed to instead cut out startling newspaper headlines from current events like "Bush declares cease-fire" and "Genocide continues in Rwanda". I will also point out that at that period in my life, I had very little idea what the hell was going on in the world except that one of my friends had a dad in the army who went to Kuwait and she sang a verse of "Heal the World" at a school chorus concert and dedicated it to her dad. 

And yet, after my brother was finished guiding the makeover of my academic accessories, my textbooks were full of random world tragedy headlines because, as he drove the point, that was what was important. I understood this much: that these things, which I didn't know anything about, were more important than anything else. And also that my brother was a God and that I was now ready and willing to defend my textbook covers against even the cutest of scoffing seventh grade boys. 

He also started a band in high school called Cold Buddha, which practiced in our attic and only sang U2 covers. It was during this time, when I was maybe 12, that I became convinced that U2 was far superior in talent and depth and all the good things about music to all other bands ever in the history and future of all bands ever. That was his opinion and then it was my opinion. At 12 years old, when I believed every song was in some way about two teenagers falling in love, it took some creative willpower to decide that "Sunday Bloody Sunday" was probably about a really bad breakup that happened on a Sunday and that "Bad" was about a girl who liked a bad boy and just couldn't stay away(!) (versus the *actual* theme of the song... heroin addiction). As a side note, he will cringe deeply when he reads this paragraph (but not as much as I'm cringing as I write it).

I had opinions back then about plenty of things, but when it came to stuff he cared about me caring about... I couldn't help but just... also care. I was wobbly then, as all of us really are, and he was doing his job as my older brother just right. An unfiltered, raw, propulsion of opinions about right vs wrong and cool vs meek and meaning vs absence flung in my direction faster than I was able to think. But all of this between us, it was right. Not always smooth or kind or forgiving, but right. 


My daughter, Gracie, is 2, and my son, Noah, 5. She loves Sesame Street. He loves Wild Kratts. Some afternoons, the kids get to choose a show to watch together.

Me: What show will it be today?
Noah: Wild Kratts! Wild Kratts!
Grace: Wild Kratts
Me to Grace: Really, you don't want Sesame?
Noah: You want Wild Kratts, Grace!
Grace to Noah: Yeah, Wild Kratts!
Grace to me, quietly: Sesame... (looks at Noah). Wild Kratts.
Noah: YEAH! Gracie wants to watch Wild Kratts! She chose that, so I get to choose which episode.

Oh... brother.

Some of Grace's most commonly used phrases include "Herego Noah, hereto" and "Where Noah go?" and "Noah, hold your hand!" She runs around the house with her arms behind her, hands pointed to the ceiling, back hunched forward, yelling "Falcon!" as she has seen her peregrine brother do so many times before. 

Most mornings, the kids end up in bed with me. Whether he comes first or she does, it's pretty much the same. "Hi Noah. Hi Noah. Noah...hi. Hi Noah." And finally, a tired little boy's voice, "Hi Gra," followed by a satisfied, "Hi Noah." 

I look over at these moments as I'm still adjusting my eyes to the day and I sometimes see their holding hands, just lying there, entwined. Giggles begin and one child rolls too close to the edge of the bed, the other hurls himself on top of the teetering child, I freak, and we are up, up with our wobbly legs.

Last week, Grace and I left Noah off at his karate class and I headed to the car with her to run a quick errand and looked down to find her rubbing her eyes and crying. 

"What is it, Gracie? What's the matter?" I asked her. 
"Noah," she moaned. 
"What about Noah?" 
"Miss him. Need him. Need him!" Yes, yes I know.

I took this picture last week too. Noah's had better photos taken of him, but here is the way she looks at him. She could lay sprawled across him all day, lying still and laughing joyfully until he puts a stop to it. 

If we are lucky enough to meet our heroes the day we are born, even if that hero needs a supportive set of adult arms to hold us in his tiny lap, we absorb him as we evolve, as he in fact does us.


My brother is the guy who didn't flinch when I sullenly introduced him to my imaginary enemy (he already knew my imaginary friends) when I was 5. He taught me humor, dry, silly, surprising, all of it. Introduced me to Mystery Science Theatre 3000 (which I only found a little funny when I was just a kid), Dr. Katz (which I found brilliant, but I was older then), The Burbs (amazing, always), the Daily Show with Craig Kilborn, many other hilarious people, but most of all, himself, the funniest person I know.

When we were both done with college and out in the world, we got to be in our 20s together. One night, he met a bunch of my friends at a bar. "Janet, that one guy I was talking to... I liked that one... he's good, genuine." That was John, a person I knew well and my brother had not yet heard anything about. Years later, John and I were married.

When my mom's cancer returned and I felt vaporized, I called him or he called me. Whether it was brotherly protection or his genuine reaction to the news, he talked my tears dry, explaining from his PhD in biomedical engineering (that's right) perspective the specific treatments that were being discussed in mom's case in finite detail. He talked about how promising it all was and why and how it could be so effective, and then, that night, I slept.

He is still the one I worship, always will be.

So yeah, Gracie girl, I get it. Probably seems like a whole lot of give and maybe not much take right now. But did you ever notice how your brother FREAKS out if you put small, inedible objects even close to your mouth? How he reaches down and hugs you for no particular reason? How he panics if you stand up on a chair or a seem unstable on the stairs? How he loves this song, loves singing it... with you?

Hey brother/there's an endless road to rediscover/Hey sister, know the water's sweet but blood is thicker/Oh, if the sky comes falling down for you/There's nothing in this world I wouldn't do/Hey brother, do you still believe in one another/Hey sister, do you still believe in love, I wonder/What if I'm far from home?/Oh brother, I will hear you call/What if I lose it all?/Oh sister, I will help you out/Oh if the sky comes falling down for you/There's nothing in this world I wouldn't do (Avicii).

As powerfully persuasive an older brother can surely be, he will hopefully be the same person who will grab your hand and nudge you forward when you need it, drag you through sadness when you can no longer handle it, bring up laughter that has been dormant, and respect your advice enough to always ask for it.