Not the typical discussion between an 18 year old and her mother but, far from upset, I was elated. My parents, high school sweethearts who’d had two daughters early in their marriage, were about to add a third “later in life” baby to the mix. And, with any luck, it would be a boy. You see, I’d been wishing for a little brother for most of my life. My sister and I were a great team and we had a ton of fun growing up, but I always thought it would be cool to throw a boy into the equation. Someone who would be great at lifting heavy furniture when we wanted to rearrange our room and would gladly take on the responsibility of killing spiders. Every penny I threw into a well, every star that shot across the night sky, every dandelion puff I blew into the wind, the wish was always the same: please let me have a baby brother. I continued to wish that far beyond any reasonable amount of time and into early adulthood. Turns out my persistence (and pennies) paid off.
I returned home that summer to a glowing Mama, an excited Dad, and a job as a lifeguard at Pennelwood, a local summer resort that catered to city folk looking to spend a week in the woods. One hot July day, just after I’d finished the morning swimming lessons, I was beckoned to the lodge over the walkie-talkie to take a phone call from my mom. This was before the prevalence of cell phones, so I had to actually talk through a device connected to the wall by a curly cord. My mom had just returned from her 20-week ultrasound and she was too excited to wait until I got home that evening to share the news—she was having a boy. Oh, the excitement that swept through our family! Her cousins threw her a baby shower (It had been 18 years since her first one) and the color blue took over all of our preparations. We even helped pick out his name, Brendan, after our favorite hockey player on the Red Wings.
That fall I went back for my junior year of college at Grand Valley State and anxiously awaited yet another phone call from my mom. It came three days after the opening of deer hunting season. I walked through the doors of the apartment that I shared with my best friend Emily who excitedly informed me that my Mom had just called and they were headed to the hospital. Too excited to pack, Em helped me throw some necessities into a clothes-basket (the official suitcase for college students) and followed me out the door with instructions to drive safely and kiss the new baby for her. I arrived at the hospital a few hours later, just in time to see my baby brother make his entrance into the world. I’m not trying to brag (much), but I was the first one he looked at. And, from that moment on, he had my heart.
Having a little brother was everything I’d dreamed of and so much more. My parents would bring him to visit me at school, wearing his dark blue GVSU hoodie that I’d bought him from the bookstore, and I would take him around to all of the apartments in my complex and show him off to my friends. Every trip home was a roller coaster of emotions: a few days spent snuggling with my sidekick followed by a tearful drive back to school with an aching in my heart from missing him already. I loved receiving pictures of him in the mail (before the instant sharing allowed by Facebook and Instagram) hanging out in the stands at my little sister’s softball games, dressed as a Bumblebee for his first Halloween, or riding with my dad on the lawnmower. My apartment was covered with photos of his little chubby face.
When I graduated and returned home for a brief stay before moving on to the next phase of my life, I finally had a few months of constant time with my little guy. He would hang out upstairs with me in my room and I taught him to clap at the appropriate time during the opening theme song of Friends. Now a toddler with much older siblings, my sister and I thought it was hilarious every time he repeated a naughty word, and we may have encouraged it a time or two. (Be honest, there are few things funnier than a two year old saying "shit"...unless, of course, it's YOUR two-year-old...sorry, Mom.) Little did we know that he was in the process of forming a heavy dose of wit and sarcasm himself.
One of my favorite memories of Brenny Boy (yes, we still call him that) was when I brought my boyfriend (now my husband) over to visit for an afternoon. We were playing on the hillside at my Grandma’s house and my date thought it would be funny to tackle me at the bottom. We looked up to see a two year old sprinting down the hill as fast as his little legs could carry him, on a beeline toward us with fire in his eyes. Leaping into the air, he wrapped his arms around my husband’s neck and tackled him to the ground. The message was clear: nobody messes with his sister.
And, THAT is why I always wanted a brother.
I have a built-in protector and a “No Questions Asked” bodyguard. For life. This is not hyperbole. Despite being 19 years his elder, he has already taken on the role of Defender-In-Chief. Last year, while my husband was out of town on business and I was home with our three children, I heard a loud bang on my door in the dark hours of the night. A little scared but not sure if I wanted to hit the police button on my alarm system; I barricaded us in my bedroom and called my first responders instead. Within four minutes (they lived 8 miles away) the cavalry arrived driving a Chevy Silverado and burnishing a deer spotting light. They made a few wide sweeps of the yard and the barn and I soon got a call that my brother was on my front porch. I unlocked the door and there stood my 14 year old brother in nothing but a pair of shorts and armed with his trusty 12-gauge shotgun. He smiled and said, “Hey Sis, it’s all clear.” That’s what a brother does. When his sister is in danger, he jumps out of bed, grabs his gun, and runs out of the house so fast in his underwear that his Mom has to throw him a pair of shorts to put on in the truck.
I think I made the right choice in naming my son after him. My own little boy is his biggest fan and I can’t wait to see what adventures they plan together. From taking him fishing to letting him play video games in his bedroom, my brother is the kind of uncle that every seven year old boy dreams of. Whenever my son gets sad that he doesn’t have a brother of his own (as he did during the Ninja Turtles movie and every time he sees brothers together in the locker room before a hockey game), I remind him that he already has a big brother, he just calls him Uncle. It doesn’t stop my son from throwing pennies into wells and breaking chicken bones to ask for one though. I understand his desire and admire his determination: brothers are worth every wish.
This past Saturday I had the honor of pinning on my little brother’s boutonnière for his very first prom. As I glanced up at his handsome face (he’s taller than me now), I couldn’t help but see the tiny little boy who used to run into my arms. In that instant a flood of memories rushed back: his first time on the ice, his kindergarten graduation, the time he got a battery-motorized four wheeler for Christmas and spent the next six months doing “tricks” on it in the yard, the vision of him in a diaper and his green frog boots hiding behind a tree and “hunting” for turkeys.
Soon he will be leaving for his own adventures as college and a career are in the not-too-distant future. He will return home to play with his nieces and nephews and they will cry every time he leaves to go back to school. We will sit around the summer campfires and listen to his tales and talk about his plans. One day he will even stand at the end of an aisle while the love of his life walks toward him in a flowing gown of white. He will have kids of his own and my parents will be blessed with more grandbabies to spoil. But, to me, he will always be that little guy running down the hill. I sure am glad I didn’t waste all of those shooting stars on something silly; I’ll take a brother over a pony any day.
(Photo courtesy of Caryn DeFreez Photography...like her Facebook page for amazing photos)