“National Sibling Day”

Background: I’m an adult of divorce. My folks split up when I was in law school. Today is “National Sibling Day” apparently. I was lucky enough to get a stepbrother I adore in the divorce and remarriage stakes.  The text below is an edited version of something I wrote in August 2007.

When I was a child, I had a fairly typical child’s view of family. Crayola stick-figure people, proudly standing in front of an improbably-colored house. Mommy, Daddy, Me. There was a vague notion that another small stick-person might come to join us one day. It happened to other people, after all, it might well happen to us. But for the time being, MommyDaddyMe was a fixed constellation, a part of a larger system that also contained star-clusters like GrammyGrampa, and UncleAuntCousin.

I remember one kid in my first grade class whose parents were divorced. It was so outside my six-year experience that it was frightening, an unknown condition that was potentially contagious. As time went on, of course, it happened more and more often as the mid-70′s wound down into the late 70′s and all through the 80′s. Other people’s constellations were more like volatile molecules, whizzing around and bouncing off of one another. MommyDaddyMe, though, we continued. We mostly stood still like one of those time-lapse movies where people flow like a jittery river around a statue or monument. Everything else changes. The monument endures.

I like to joke that my life turned into an after-school special when I was 26, when my parents divorced. It used to be a way to deflect unwanted sympathy – make people laugh so they don’t feel they have to try to figure out how to make it better. Now it’s just something I say: an old, tired laugh-line I have a hard time letting go of. The fact was, the monument was gone, and its component elements entered the shifting, passing flow.

Entering the speedy world of the molecule after spending years in the still, changeless silence of space can bring on some sharp shocks. About 25 years after I had stopped wondering about the possibility of another little stick-figure, I suddenly had a stepbrother, eight years my junior.

This does strange things to the part of your brain that controls definitions. People ask me now if I have any siblings and my automatic answer might be a halting, “No.” And then, “Well, sort of.” After all, it’s pretty silly to call Brian “My father’s second wife’s son” when there’s a perfectly good three-syllable word for his place in my constellation. At the same time, using the  term “stepbrother” seems disingenuous. We didn’t grow up together – I didn’t get to lord it over him until he got bigger than me (I could say he’s my made-to-order big little brother). There’s something strange about calling someone your “brother” when you’ve never lived in the same household. Yet anything else is inefficient and inaccurate.  We have learned that we have an uncanny and yet comforting/comfortable affinity.  We finish each others’ sentences. Our partners have a hard time believing we are not biological siblings.  Bri and I have discovered that we can define our own families.

Speaking as one who never thought she wanted a sibling, my brother is an unearned, unexpected joy.

Happy Sibling Day, Brian.

Conversations with my brother

My brother (well, stepbrother, but that seems a silly word for him somehow and we call each other “brother” and “sister now – even “bro” and “sis” in a kind of self-conscious, auditioning-for-Leave-it-to-Beaver kind of way now) is making a brief, work-related visit to us.  We stayed up rather too late last night, but a snippet of our conversation remains in my head while he’s still sleeping:

Me: “…Well, after all, I am middle-aged.”

Bri: “You’re not middle aged!”

Me: “Dude.  I’m 41.”

Bri: “Well, if you’re going by numbers…”

Love that guy.

Marred for life.

I am using the last of my precious winter break Metro time to do some pleasure reading.  Having sated myself on crime fiction, I got Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan from the library (which I thoroughly enjoyed – highly recommended to people who like YA, adventure, steampunk, alternate history, or breathing) and ripped through it in about two days.

Waiting in my pile was a book on writing my wise mother handed to me during her last visit, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.  I’m pretty sure she refrained from saying “You’ll love this,” and I think we may have discovered another way around my reflexive filter.  Just hand the thing to me without a deadline for completion.  I’ll happily get to it in my own sweet time.

I have had this book (along with “Writing Down the Bones”) recommended to me at length, and often enthusiastically, which is probably why I hadn’t gotten to either of them before now.*  Predictably, I am loving it.**

As much as I am loving Lamott’s book, one of the charms of getting to read it in the way I did is the scattering of a few tiny post-it notes my mother tucked among the pages.  These notes have cryptic remarks jotted on them which I understand well due to our shared history but might well be written in Urdu for all the sense they would make to a stranger.

Lamott’s book is especially good in one way because it offers you interstitial assignments – they’re not listed as such, but if the reader decided to take them that way, it is very possible to pull literal instructions from every chapter.  In the early going, there is a section on writing about school lunches to break a mental logjam.  Lamott is right when she says that this topic is fertile ground for stories and descriptions.  She herself writes a few humorous paragraphs about the “code” of lunches – what was acceptable and what labeled you as “other” in the eyes of your classmates.  I recognized exactly what she meant, even if the specifics were different when I was growing up.

My lunches, I am afraid, were never up to code.  Mom made lunches that a 40-year-old foodie would swoon over: homemade multigrain bread, real cold cuts (no bologna in my mother’s kitchen), and often bean sprouts.  These were thick, hearty, character-building sandwiches in every sense of the word.  Once, a classmate snatched a tangle of sprouts out of my sandwich, screamed, and flung them away from her as if they were alive.  They stuck to a window high over our heads and remained there for the entire school year, closely resembling the desiccated corpse of a spider.

The other thing I remember about my school lunches were the notes.  Mom’s missives, often illustrated with quirky doodles, were like a quick squeeze of the shoulder or a warm smile.  I remember them as full of love and humor and topical information like, “Christmas Tree decorating tonight!” or “5 more days until vacation.”  Mom’s handwriting somehow manages to be both loopy and strong, so finding this note tucked into the pages of Lamott’s book was like something out of a time capsule:

“Sprouts!  Marred for life.”

I laughed like an idiot on the Metro and didn’t care who noticed.

*See above re: “You’ll love this”
**I only said I have a reflexive reaction to over-enthusiastic recommendations.  I didn’t say it was smart.

Laughter, drifting down from on high

This week is one of those funny, stubby weeks – a few days of work, a few days off, John is picking up my mom from the airport and working an odd, late day tomorrow due to a faculty senate meeting.

As a result, we have that semi-giddy, let-off-the-leash feeling you get when life is off kilter.  We watched Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch this evening – growing up in Red Sox Nation, we felt both the hero and the heroine’s pain.  And also their triumph.  It was a surprisingly nuanced movie.  If you like sport, or love someone who likes sport, I can recommend it.

I’m not ready to go to bed yet, and I can hear John upstairs laughing at Milo.  It’s a good sound.  Hearty and loud.  It makes me look forward to the holiday weekend.

Happy Holidays to all

This morning started with some Santa Hat silliness:

Simon, modeling the Santa hat.

Some of the zoo were less into this idea:

"Do.  Not.  Want."

Dash wants nothing to do with this nonsense

And some are game for anything:

Toshie Claus

John got power tools, because he’s been a very good boy this year:

John got TOOLS for x-mas

Brian and I took a walk with Tosh:

Bri and Tosh

And all that’s left is to make and eat a fabulous dinner and wish everyone a safe, happy, and healthy new year:

Nutcracker

All the best to you and yours.

WALRUS.

Several years ago, we brought my brother Brian and his then-boyfriend Matt to Linden Vineyard .  It’s in a lovely, bucolic spot, and Matt, a bit of a city boy, spied a large, white ruminant lying on a hill as we drove past.

"Is that a cow or a goat?" he asked.

My brother turned and calmly replied, "It’s a walrus, Matthew."

For some reason, this struck all of us as incredibly funny.  And all of this is simply backstory to the video below.  This one’s for you, Bri.

Nativity play

We had a good Thanksgiving.

Some cats had some nice lounging

Sunshine LoLo

Simon bliss

The meal seemed to go over well:

Holiday table

I made a particularly pretty pie:

Pretty pie

And Mom indulged in the creation of a bunch of teeny sweaters – it was like a particularly cute obsession acted out in scraps of leftover sock yarn:

Mom's teeny sweater obsession

And finally, we’re currently sitting here deconstructing the performance art piece that is John hanging lights on the Christmas tree.  It’s rather nice.

One heckuva dinner party

We’re doing Thanksgiving at our house this year – our usual routine is to go to my aunt’s, but she’s had an emergency in her family, so we dropped back, punted, and John’s brining a turkey this very minute.

As the household baker, I am in charge of pies.  Mom and I powered through pumpkin and had the apple in the oven, when I came in to see Dash on the counter and this:

Dead cat.  Dead, I tell you.

Dead.  Cat.  Walking.

You wouldn’t think he was evil, to look at him:

Arty Dash

Anyway, there’s another pie in the oven. Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends, and happy Thursday to the rest of the world.

Thanksgiving still-life

Further photos from Maine

I’m still way behind on my homework, have a ton of miscellaneous things to deal with, John has a nasty cold, and I have class tonight, but it was brought home to me that I have not yet posted enough about Maine.  More photos and brief commentary after the cut. [Read more...]

I’m back…

I’ve spent the last week in the great State of Maine (since Milo is busily making himself at home on my lap, I first typed that as the "Great Sate of Maine," and when you consider the amount of good food that was consumed, it’s just as appropriate).

It’s awfully pretty there.

John near Bubble Rock

And we had a very good time. Brother Brian also took some great shots, which you can see here , and we also talked about restarting Literagraphica , which has been on hiatus since Bri’s spent the last year and some doing piffling things like starting new businesses and winning awards and silly things like that. He says he’s got things sorted now, and wants to restart the project, so that’s very cool.  I took a pretty nice shot of him also:

Brian at Bubble Rock

And an arty shot of my own:

Aht

That’s pretty much it. We’re trying to get back into the swing of things here – which is always easier if you take an extra day at home before jumping in to real life.  In our infinite wisdom we… didn’t do that.  I’m already really looking forward to the weekend.