He entered the world as the resolution to a hotly contended bet in a third grade gambling ring.
I was sitting in Sr. Marilyn’s classroom when the school secretary came to the door.
“Kelly, there is a phone call for you in the office.”
A collective gasp, like the opening of a soda can under pressure, filled the room, followed by twitterings of “This is it,” and “It’s happening.” We all knew the call could be coming today, and every time I heard footsteps in the hall I wondered if it would be for me. Now it was. I felt the excited eyes on my back as I headed toward the office. When I returned I would have what they were all looking for: the answer to whether they had placed their bets wisely…and the more subtle yet implied declared victor in the battle of the sexes.
I took my phone call and walked back to the classroom. I tried wearing my best poker face, but I didn’t even really know what poker was. So I very quickly let a smile slip out and announced, “It’s a boy.”
Every eight-year-old male in the room leapt to his feet and cheered in celebration. This officially made the count two baby brothers born to our class that year, so this clearly meant that boys ruled and girls drooled. Though I knew I should have felt like a traitor not helping out my fellow females by bringing them the news of a baby sister, I was secretly really happy. Because I had been hoping for a little brother all along.
I already had a sister, so I didn’t need another girl putting her grubby mitts on my Barbies or wearing matching outfits with me. And there is just something about a baby boy that awakens the mini mother in a third grade girl. Probably because boys are dumb and need the very mature direction of girls who know what they are talking about because they have read almost all the books in The Babysitters Club series.
And boy, did I get just about the cutest little baby brother ever. He lured me in from the get-go with his Butterball turkey physique, then cemented the deal with giant blue eyes and irresistibly fluffy blonde hair. He quickly became a bird-legged little toddler with a Nuki always in his mouth, a cloth diaper draped around his neck as a cape, and snow boots on his feet. Even in the summer.
Thanks to my brother, I no longer had to play with the annoying kids down the street when I wanted my “boy toys” fix. Because now they were right in my own house. Superheroes, He-Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, matchbox cars, Ghostbusters, Pogs. And let’s be honest: watching him act out Batman during the old Adam West episodes was hi.lar.i.ous.
I don’t remember fighting with my brother very often. Well, except for all those times he would get mad when my sister and I tried to play with his luscious hair. Or when I would relentlessly call him by the random nickname I gave him: Chili Dog. Or when I would finish any of the food in the pantry. Apparently all the food in the house belonged to him. All the time. But other than that, we got along pretty well. Maybe it was the age difference. Maybe it was because it was easy to want to make the baby of the family happy. Maybe it was because he was so endearing with that sweet smile of his. Maybe it was because you had to love a preteen who was a pretty hard-core Weird Al Yankovic fan. Maybe it was because I felt such pride and excitement watching him play high school volleyball. Or maybe it was because he was always just a good kid. Even during that unfortunate phase when he liked wearing studded dog collars.
My baby brother isn’t a baby anymore. He is, like, an all grown up man kind of person, with Irish good looks from our mom’s side of the family and hard-headed German common sense from our dad’s side. In fact he is so grown up, he is getting married this weekend. He has a house and job and a truck and talks about things like profit shares and distribution and markets and other things I don’t really understand. He is a wonderful uncle and godfather to my kids. But I still catch glimpses of that little boy he once was when I see him do things like play Guitar Hero. I am reminded of his unique taste and style every time my son wears some haphazard concoction of clothing…with snow boots. And of course, my sister and I still mother him. Who else is going to pick out his Christmas presents for our parents? Sigh. Baby brothers.
I am so happy for my brother and his bride-to-be. I wish them all the happiness and love to last them a very long lifetime. And on Saturday, I will feel as proud of him up on the altar as I did watching him take his first steps in our family room, or reciting lines from Goodnight Moon, or surviving the crap thrown at him by grade school bullies, or winning volleyball championships, or graduating from the same university as me. But I might have to call him Chili Dog just once on that day.
All those boys in my third grade class sure did think they had won the bet on that day in 1985. But it is pretty clear to me that the phrase, “It’s a boy,” meant I had won the real jackpot.