Wide Awake: A Gift
Knowing who you can count on

When I was about 10, my brother was in high school and dating the woman he has now been married to for 43 years. But when they went on their very first date, my mom made him take me and my sister along. I may have even sat in the front seat of the car between the 2 of them.

So when my brother was 17, he went to his high school’s football game with a girl he liked plus his 2 sisters – we were 10 and 14. And there’s a really good chance we didn’t like football.

Since then, I’ve seen my brother do things many times where I wonder if he’s thinking, “Do I really have to do this?” and yet he agrees, because I’m his sister.

In grade school, I had something of an easy time because my brother and sister had come before me. When my brother was in 8th grade, he rang the bell to start school every day. (He actually stood in the school yard and rang a very large hand bell.) He also raised the flag each morning and took it down every afternoon, and he was an altar boy. I mean, in Catholic School, those could be considered the makings of a saint. He was clearly liked among the nuns, and all those good feelings they had for him immediately transferred to his younger sisters. So on my first day of first grade, my brother had positioned me for a pretty good life.

When I was a freshman in high school, he had his first baby, and my nephew became an integral part in our lives. My brother was in law school and he lived with his young family across the street from our house, so my sister and I babysat every day after school. We changed diapers, we fed him, we understood what his cries meant. Once, when he was learning to walk, I was with this adorable toddler on the second floor and he fell down the stairs. He didn’t clumsily roll down the steps, he was airborne from the top until he hit the bottom, hard. He cried for several minutes, but that was it.

So when Joe and I had our first baby, I already knew how to change a diaper, soothe a crying baby and remain calm if she fell or got hurt. I had seen this all before. Not many first-time parents can say that.

Since then, my brother has been our attorney several times. A few hours after we settled on our first house, I was feeling a little overwhelmed and I whispered to our trusted attorney that maybe we had made a mistake. Was there a way to get out of this? He looked at me with such calm and said, “It’ll be ok. You’re going to love your house.” He was so at ease. I knew I could trust what he said.

Years later, when I was in a pretty bad car accident, I remember being rolled into the ER and seeing him waiting down the hall. I watched his face change from terrible worry to relief, and I saw him mutter “Ok. Ok.” When I was pushed passed him, he looked me in the eye and said, “You’re ok.” It was like he said it out loud to make himself feel better, and to let me know so I could feel better too. I knew I could trust what he said.

There have been so many times when I’ve texted or called him for advice and he’s never too busy, even though I know he always is.

Probably the toughest thing about my brother is he’s impossible to get a gift for. In my family, we do Pollyannas for Christmas (so we each pick a name out of a bowl, and that is the person you buy for). I think when people reach inside the bowl, they are secretly praying they don’t get my brother. He doesn’t need anything. And he doesn’t like a lot. Selecting anyone else in the family is better. Anyone.

This year, though, I was the lucky one. And as I fretted over what to get him, I started thinking I would like to find something that would let him know what I think of him. So he would know what a constant, loving presence he’s been throughout my life. I wanted to somehow get across that I’ve always known I can count on him. I can trust him. And I’ve learned so much as I watched him build an incredible life. Most of all, because of him, I understand the importance of helping people who are close to me.

So, I’d like to wish my brother Jim all good things in the year ahead.

Read more Wide Awake. 

January 2022
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