Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Time flies when family is concerned. It seems to do so more now than when I was a kid in my parents' house yearning to be free of the obligatory visits, the cards, the gifts, the constant remembrances that hold families together in these times when - more often than not - extended members live farther away from each other like never before.

I deeply, almost desperately wanted a sibling when I was younger, in part because most of the other kids I knew in school had one. I somehow felt I would be less alone if I had a brother, but, when telling people my mom was going to have a brother didn't seem to hurry it along, I managed to let go of the idea until I was fourteen and Mom said, "Guess what?"

My teenaged mind then rolled its eyes and thought, "Great timing."

I felt by then that I had to hold back on voicing a lot of smartassed thoughts, as my strategy until I was out of my parents' house was to keep my head down and my nose clean and then my chances of getting what I wanted would be greater. I did make it clear, however, that I wasn't going to be the default babysitter for my brother. It's a decision my parents mostly complied with, and one that I now regret that they did to a certain extent. Then again, dealing with a formerly colicky infant who was then in the midst of being potty-trained while I was looking at colleges wasn't on my list of things I thought I should be handling.

It became even clearer as the years passed that my parents were raising another only child. It wasn't just the age difference that made this so - I'd grown up in a Texas metropolis, and my brother came of age in small-town Pennsylvania due to my dad's job-related moves. I didn't really play catch with my brother until he was near the end of his high-school days. Friends of his jeered at him for telling the truth about his big sister. "Oh, yeah? A sister?? Where IS she, then?" The most I could do at this distance was chat with him occasionally across the phone lines, see him occasionally at family gatherings, listen sympathetically to Mom when she told me about one or another of his escapades, not all of them benign.

But when it came to my brother's college graduation, I knew I was going to be there, even if it involved piling into a rented Suburban with most of my extended family and heading to upstate New York to sort out hotel rooms for ten-plus. It threatened to rain the day of the ceremony, but it managed to hold off until after all the graduates had walked through the central memorial on campus, as per commencement tradition, and had their names called to accept their degrees. Journalist/anchor Judy Woodruff gave the address, correctly stating that graduates probably won't remember her or recall much of what she said - hell, my family remembers much more than I do about my college graduation (it kinda helped that this guy gave our student address).

Perhaps it was her particular perspective on my brother's generation and its challenges. Or the injections of reality into her address that told the class of 2011 they would likely fail at some points in their lives, and, in considering the current economy and job market, the class members would probably have to move back home for a while. Or it was my brother asking me about a potential job in Metairie, then dismissing it when I told him biking to work in the Causeway-Veterans Blvd. area could be a dicey proposition. Maybe it was my enjoying a beer at a bar with him for the first time...but I started to worry some about the future for my brother. I still worry about it, to a certain extent.

Having my head in the interwebs, my kid in school, and my self in a city struggling to keep its dirty existence alive and well has probably sensitized me more to the fact that, more even than demonstrable ability and undeniable skills, a certain selfish cunning, desperation, and dumb luck is needed to get by in the world today - and I don't know how well we're training these future generations in those realities. The best any of us can really hope for is that, when that learning comes, it won't crush our kids too badly. Ideals like my brother wanting to bike to work may fall, and there will be compromise. It may even eat away at many, many souls...but that is life in all its insane glory.

How well equipped are any of us for all of this, when all is said and done? We won't know until those bridges will have to be crossed somehow. What I wish for my brother is that he do all of it with style and grace and with not a little of the chutzpah in his genes. Goodness knows there's a great deal of it: I learned a few things about my dad this past weekend that make me wonder even more how he could've survived his wild days. The door's always open to him down here, no matter what he decides to do.

This little brother of mine's come a ways in his twenty-three years. Here's to the beginning of his long adult road.

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