I guess I should start by admitting, grudgingly, that you are not a baby. You are seventeen years and some months old (I’m in denial). You are less “baby” and more “babe” these days. Long limbs, long golden hair, gleaming green eyes. You are, if I do say so myself, beautiful. You are also, if not the baby, then surely the baby of the family.
It is the first time in 12 years that I have not two but one child to pose for the required “back to school photo.” The last time your brother was six and even then you were lurking alongside. I took more photos of the two of you together than I did of him alone.
One of them, a favorite, shows him crouching in the gravel talking gravely to you. You are similarly crouched soaking up every bit of wisdom his six year old self could impart. The next year you stood proudly next to him, thrilled to start school yourself.
You were a kindergarten student in a pink plaid skirt clutching a Care Bears lunchbox. He was a worldly man of First Grade. He held your hand and led you to class every day for two solid weeks before the Principal intervened.
For the next few years various staff members delighted in telling me how you always ran to hug him if you passed in the hall. When he moved up to Middle School, leaving you behind in the building that housed kindergarten through fourth grade, you announced you would not be going to school anymore. You also steadfastly fought attending on any day when he was home sick. The very idea of going there without your big brother was unfathomable.
From the beginning you wanted to do everything he did. You wanted to run faster, climb higher, and fall further all because he did that too. It made you tough, strong, and lightning fast.
In many ways having an older brother made you the “perfect girl” if someone’s idea of a dream girl was a lady who expected to be looked out for — and also had a killer corner kick and a mean right hook. You played with boy toys and on all boy teams. On the rare occasion you cried you learned that your brother would wander in with a casual “who do I have to kill?” and mean it.
In a world that grows ever larger and horizons that expand, your older brother is like a safety net. Maybe a lead line. He goes out further and further and you follow behind, in his footsteps.
When you were six and he was eight you cried bitterly because you were going to a different day camp than he was. Even you couldn’t worm your way into Boy Scout camp.
As you sobbed he said, “don’t cry. Just think of it this way. Your feet will be on the earth, and my feet will be on the earth, and we will both be touching the same earth!” I thought that was pretty smart for an 8 year old. It worked like a charm. You had his back and he had yours. Through 13 years of schooling.
Last year of childhood
Now he has graduated and is off to college. You are standing in front of me, tall, blonde, gleaming and sassy. There is no one to lean on or into. No brother to playful tussle or give a peck on the cheek while he grimaces. The rock you have posed on since infancy seems bigger when holding just you.
Suddenly I hear a screen door slam. “Hold up!” He stands beside you tall and tan. Hair tussled from sleep. He doesn’t have class today but he got up and came out anyway. “We have to get a pic!” He stands up straight and you lean in.
Grow big, strong, and spread your wings. A wise friend says that healthy birds fly. As you are poised to finish your last official year of childhood, realize that age, grade, and time don’t matter. You will always be “the baby” around here.
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