18 March 2012

#Scintilla Day 4: Leaving Home

The prompt for Day 4 came through Twitter, and was to talk about a time we left home. The most obvious time I could think of was when I went away to college. I still had the previous day's prompts in my head, though. Prompt B from yesterday was What's the story of the most difficult challenge you've faced in a relationship? Did you overcome it? What was the outcome?

I convinced myself I didn't have any stories like this. Certainly not with romantic relationships, as I've been strangely lucky in that area. I only ever had one boyfriend, and I married him. I can count on one hand the number of times in ten years we've had anything even resembling a fight.

What about other interpersonal relationships, then? Nah, I thought. I'm easy to get along with, forgive more of people than I probably should, and refuse to let worry and stress take up much of my time. Nothing to talk about there.

De. Ni. Al.

The truth of it is, I've had those difficult challenges in certain relationships, but I have no desire to share. Fear of judgment, maybe. Perhaps because I haven't yet overcome the challenges. To be honest, these are stories I haven't even hashed out on the blank white page. My reluctance share could be a result of my shy and introverted nature. Attention makes me nervous already, so I'd rather not shine a spotlight on the negative.

When the day 4 post came through on Twitter, I was still thinking about relationships,and the night before I'd heard a heartbreaking story on the local news that reminded me of someone, and somehow it all seemed to converge into whatever this is I'm writing now. So let me tell you about a little boy, who isn't so little anymore, but who will always be "my baby".

College was six and a half hours from home. It was a separation I'd dreamed of for years. Sometimes you can be too close to those you love, and a little space is all you need to smooth over the cracks. That's what I was looking forward to. That, and the chance to spread my wings and become whoever I was going to be. I wasn't the type to call home once a week, or even once a month. I'm still not. I was a pretty independent kid, and that didn't change. My family and I have a much better relationship now that we aren't all stuck in the same house. I think I could have drifted farther from my family once I went to college, if not for something that happened five years before.

My little brother, Ian, was born.

I was smitten from day one. I adore cute babies anyway, but as Ian got older and was able to communicate, he easily became my favorite family member (sorry everyone else lol) and even one of my favorite people in general. Given my age when he was born, and the fact that I was the oldest sister, I got to do a lot of maternal things when our mom was working, or running errands, which might account for the special bond we have.

He was a quick learner, inquisitive, funny, and the sweetest baby. He went through a phase of insisting that he was going to marry me, which melted my heart even more, if that was possible. While Ian was a smart kid and seemed to develop ahead of his age group in that respect, his physical development didn't follow the same path. We have this picture of him "standing", with the help of someone holding his hands. I remember him pulling himself up on the low windowsill of the picture window in our living room and "walking" by holding on and taking steps sideways. We never got to experience the milestone of watching him walk unassisted. Ian was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (Type II).

It's impossible to deny that this condition further strengthened the bond with my little brother. He could crawl, but as he got bigger, he wasn't able to do that as well, either. If he wanted a drink, or a snack, or to change the tape in the VCR, one of us had to do it for him. And as I said, if my parents were in another room, or out at the grocery store, I did a lot of those things for him. We have a lot of personality similarities, too, so we'd do things together just because we wanted to. We'd watch the Powerpuff Girls and Dexter on the Cartoon Network. He'd tell me (and anyone, anywhere, who would listen) all about dinosaurs. When he started going to school, one of our afternoon habits became watching Dragonball Z together.

Five years of bonding with my baby brother before I left for college. He was the one I missed the most while I was gone. He was the one I liked talking to most when my parents would call me at school. He'd fill me in on what I was missing on Dragonball Z, or what he was learning in school. I got e-cards in my inbox from my parents email address, but when I opened them they'd be signed Love, Ian. He sent me valentines and little pictures or notes in the mail. My younger sister became the default helper (aside from my parents) since I was away. Sometimes, when I came home for break or vacation, he'd call me by her name out of habit, and I'd be lying if I said it didn't make me a little jealous, even though I knew it wasn't anything personal. I liked being the special sister, and I missed being there for him.

When I started dating my now-husband my freshman year of college, I knew he'd have to have Ian's seal of approval. Needless to say, my husband passed that test with flying colors. He passed down his old Nintendo64 to Ian, and my brother and I found a new shared love: Zelda. We played Ocarina of Time together, and then Majora's Mask. In addition to the fun of the games, I saw his reading improve over the time it took us to play the games. (If you've played any Legend of Zelda games, you know it can be dialogue-heavy at times, but it's all written. The character's don't actually speak.) I loved hearing him read the text and helping him pronounce words, or explaining the meaning of words he didn't know.

Ian is 16 now. I still can't believe it. He has facial hair! It's surreal to me, sometimes. And he's still my favorite family member (again, sorry everyone else, haha). We still have a great relationship, and I still feel like he's "my baby". His SMA means he's confined to a wheelchair, and it poses plenty of physical and other challenges that our family has faced and overcome.

I have my own emotional challenges that I don't usually let show on the outside. I cried after a phone call from my mom once, when she said Ian might need to be put on oxygen and a machine to help him breathe at night. It turned out to be a false alarm, some mistake in test readings or something. He does use a CPAP machine at night now, but the impact was different when he was just seven or eight years old. He's been hospitalized with pneumonia a few times, and I always worried then. I cried again, privately, when he had to have a spinal fusion. He's had two.

This kid makes me so proud, so happy. He's inspiring. I love him more than I can imagine loving anyone. And yet I do struggle with those moments of nearly crippling sadness, and anger. Once or twice I've had dreams where he was walking, and once I woke, the guilt and tears weren't far behind. No, I wouldn't change him for anything. Everything about him, including the SMA, is part of the brother I know, and has shaped the relationship we have. But I'm still susceptible to the it's-not-fair blues from time to time.

When I left for college, I thought maybe it was the start of an exciting life lived in faraway places. I still want to travel, and my husband and I have moved to a few different places and will probably move a few more times before really settling in one spot. But one thing I know now is this: home is where my brother is. And I never want to be too far.


  1. Touching post. My 6 y.o. godson has severe spina bifida. From the time I held him at less than 3 pound in the NICU he had a big part of my heart. Hugs to you and to your sweet brother.

  2. What a heartfelt story. I hope the best for you both. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing your very touching story. Big love to you and your brother.


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