Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Uncle Ken

Me and my brother, Ken 1974

(UPDATE: See the bottom of this post)

I have hosted this blog for ten months now, and I usually try to keep my topics fairly upbeat and lighthearted. But I can't deny what is in my heart right now, and I want this blog to be honest. Anyone who knows me also knows the one topic I rarely discuss but that always shapes my perspective on life. Friends send me cards around this time of year -- those real, true friends who never forget no matter how hectic their lives are. And it is so important to me that they still remember. Especially since this event happened exactly twenty years ago on Halloween.

I was one of those girls who needed a boyfriend or I questioned my self-worth. So silly to think of now, but I am being honest. In seventh grade, I met a boy named Blaine* who I thought was the equivalent of heaven on earth. And in a shocking twist, despite my total insecurity, he became my first boyfriend in eighth grade. I was smitten with him as only a young teenage girl can be, and this first love lasted well into my high school years. Only it didn't last that long for him. We had a strange on-again, off-again sort of relationship. But during one of our on-again moments, I came back from a short vacation to my grandparents to the phone ringing. It was my friend, Hannah.* She called to tell me that I should brace myself because something happened while I was away. Blaine was now off the market. His girlfriend? None other than Hannah herself, gleeful to tell me of her apparent victory.
* Names have been changed to protect the guilty.

I hit the lowest point I can remember in high school. I had known many of my friends since nursery school, and I couldn't believe that a "friend" or a boyfriend who I thought was so amazing could be so completely disloyal. And the best part was that I got to watch them hand in hand, smooching, and Hannah deliberately eyeing me while she pulled Blaine closer. I felt like I was starring in a really bad remake of a John Hughes film. And while I can make fun of myself at how much I allowed my self-esteem suffer over a ridiculous high school romance, it really felt like the end of the world to me. I started to think terrible thoughts, and those thoughts consumed me.

Ken and me, 1984

What pulled me out of my rock bottom existence? Well, I had friends that didn't give up on me, despite how miserable I was. But my brother and a few of his football friends really helped the most. My brother, Ken, and I didn't usually discuss the nitty-gritty details of our respective boyfriends or girlfriends, but one day, Ken sat down and asked what was going on with Blaine. We were receiving endless hang-up phone calls night after night, and it was driving all of my family members crazy (remember, it was pre-Caller ID). I told Ken that I thought it was Hannah, and then explained the chain of events. In his big brother way, he was furious that a) Blaine would break my heart -- again, and b) that my "friend" made me question so many of my values. To get even, Ken -- a towering 6'3," 200-pound football player whose build was so muscular that the arms on his shirts didn't fit -- walked me down the hallway to one of my classes every day. When Blaine crossed our path, Ken and his football friends would make snide remarks or step in his way. I know; it wasn't very nice, but I appreciated them sticking up for me and my fallen self-respect so much. And speaking of respect, Ken was extremely well-respected by both his peers and his teachers, not only for his athletic talents, but for his unbelievable SAT scores and his famously witty (albeit goofy) sense of humor. He was honor society president and graduated at the top of his class with a scholarship to an extremely competitive college. In my mind, he personified success. He had everything, and even when we had our typical sibling squabbles, I was so proud he was my brother.

Fast forward a few years to Halloween night of my first semester in college, many hours from home. I came back from choir and band rehearsals to my phone ringing as I opened the door. I didn't make it inside in time to answer, but I listed to my answering machine and had several messages from campus security. OH NO! I thought. I knew what had happened. During one of their routine freshman room checks, they had found my toaster. We had been warned that such items were strictly off-limits and that they would be confiscated and the owners would receive appropriate punishment. I was certain I would have to beg them to allow me to stay in college and not expel me. What would my parents think??? Just then, a friend came by as the phone rang again. It was security again, and they needed me to report to their office immediately. I convinced my friend to accompany me for moral support.

When I got there, I met two security guards who escorted me in another room where my resident advisor (whom I had talked to about twice) was sitting. I was handed the phone.

I still wish it was the toaster.

On the other end of the phone was my mom. I was very confused. I don't remember the conversation. I only remember the news.

My big brother had committed suicide.

I still can't say that -- or write that -- without tears. My world was shattered. Twenty years later, my feelings are not much different. My childhood hero and my only sibling is gone. How could he have helped me through my own depression, yet never told anyone about his own? My family and I have been deprived of so many moments we should have shared. Every milestone is difficult to achieve without him: my college graduation, my first teaching job, my marriage, and, of course, my children. My husband would have bonded with him over Monty Python, horror films, and 80s heavy metal. And my boys would have loved their Uncle Ken, his silly jokes, his made-up songs, and his infectious laugh more than I can imagine.

After every store puts away their back-to-school merchandise, I dread the constant reminders of the day that is looming. And turning the calendar over to October year after year has never gotten any easier. I often wonder if it would be less ominous if Ken's death had not occurred on Halloween. The anniversary of anyone's death is difficult, yet every year, when the leaves begin to turn, I am met with an increasing supply of ghosts, skeletons, and dead creatures seemingly reminding me of the day that is quickly approaching. But this year is even harder. Ken took his life when he was twenty. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of his death. That means that after this Halloween, with each day that passes, the amount of time Ken has been gone will outweigh the days Ken spent here on earth. I have difficulty writing that, too.

If you saw my last post, there is evidence that I have come a long way. Before having children, I would have never even considered donning my doorstep with pumpkins or any festive decorations -- most certainly not a ghost. But my needs take a backseat to my little boys' needs, and I understand the childhood excitement and anticipation of Halloween. But my Halloween will never be a "happy" one. It will always be a reminder of the loss of all that once was and all that could have been.

And Big Brother, you would have made a terrific Uncle Ken.

And I still love you more than words can tell.

To read more about my brother, Ken, you are invited to visit his memory blog here.
UPDATE: You can also read my anniversary post on Ken's memory blog here, which includes the story of the original song I wrote about him when I was eighteen, which you can listen to here.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Pumpkinland (May contain added Peanuts)

We went to the most kid-friendly orchard recently to pick out some pumpkins with the boys. One of my friends suggested it, and she was right! There was so much to do and see:

Peanut loved the painted pumpkins. He picked a small one for himself and a miniature pumpkin for his little pumpkin of a brother.
This was a corn husk tee pee. The boys enjoyed running endless circles in it. Our apologies to the nice family who was just trying to capture a serene moment with their own children in the tee pee while our children attempted to crash their photo-op.
Yes, of course I dressed my own pumpkin in a pumpkin outfit. What you can't see is the best part; the hood has a green leaf with a stem at the top. Pumpkin flatly refused to wear the hood, despite the cold wind that day. I guess there is only so much a mommy can get away with in the boys' cute department.
They also had several of these wooden cut-outs which were a big hit...
...with all three of my favorite boys.

Then we paid a whopping fee (!!!) for each of us to go through the hay bale maze. It's for little kids, so how hard could it be? We stopped asking this question after running into the same two families over and over again. I think we were in there for a good forty minutes when we decided to go out the entrance because we were afraid we would end up sleeping in the maze that night. With a few cheers and claps when we exited the entrance, the kids were none the wiser.

Another great part of this orchard was this adorable playground with wooden apple carts, tractors, and castles to climb and play in. Don't ask how fast Peanut got to the top of this castle and how long it took him to get down. Apparently, I passed on my fear of heights and inability to slide down fireman poles.

Even our lunch was entertaining. They had numerous choices of foods and snacks, and we were serenaded by a band as the kids marveled at this juggling clown on stilts.

Oh, and there is one piece of evidence that I was there, too. But every pic of me and the boys turns out like this. Hello...the camera is over here, guys.
When we got home, Peanut wanted to decorate the house with pumpkins and the silly ghost he picked out. (The painted pumpkins are decorating the dining room.)

It was a great time! I can't wait to go for Easter when they change Pumpkinland into.....Bunnyland! :)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Serves me right...

...for trying to get another sweet picture of the boys together.

First, this happens:

(Check out Peanut's "mean face.")

And then, this happens:

(I don't think I have to explain the issues I have here, do I?)

Oh, well. Our boys are obviously not lacking little personalities, right?!? Besides, if all I had were pictures of them both looking angelic, they would certainly not have genuine momentos of their respective childhoods. Just remember that I am trying to preserve their true characters if you get a Christmas card photo with a grimace or a belly shot, okay?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Boys will be (sweet) boys

On our trip home from the in-laws this weekend, my husband and I heard some delightful words in the backseat:

Peanut: I love you, Pumpkin.*

Pumpkin: I love you, Peanut.*

Peanut: Wanna share my helicopter?

Pumpkin: Sure! (Peanut gives Pumpkin his helicopter.)

Peanut: Can I see your car?

Pumpkin: Okay! (Pumpkin gives Peanut his car.)

Peanut: We just shared, Mommy and Daddy.

Mommy: Great job, guys!

Pumpkin: Cough, cough.

Peanut: Are you okay, Pumpkin?*

Pumpkin: Yeah, I'm okay. Wanna see my helicopter?

Peanut: Okay! (Pumpkin and Peanut trade toys again.)

Peanut proceeds to sing his made-up counting song that begins at one and ends at ten thousand. Pumpkin joins in to the best of his ability.

I bring this perfectly sunny example of their loving brotherly relationship to you not to brag or to bore you with happily-ever-after stories, but rather as proof. Sometimes, when everything gets incredibly hectic -- when Pumpkin is cranky and has thrown the millionth Thomas the Train track while Peanut is patiently trying to put it together, or when Peanut trips on a leaf in the grass and Pumpkin laughs which upsets him even more, or when the boys decide that it's time to jump on Mommy's back while I am trying to play with them after a rough day at school -- it's good to remember that these times do exist. It's good to think back to a sweet sitcom-esque situation and remind myself that -- whatever the dilemma -- it will not last forever, and we will indeed get "back to normal" (whatever that is) soon. Today, when I was listening to their exchange, I couldn't help but imagine them as older boys, with Peanut sticking up for his younger brother and the two of them still the best of friends. I realize this is awfully idealistic of me, but it is a wonderful possibility to daydream about. And I just had to put it in writing as proof to me, their daddy, and perhaps --someday -- even proof to them that they were often this sweet to one another. Please try to remind me of this the next time I am in the middle of calming a nasty tantrum, okay?

*My children actually call each other by their real names (in case there was any doubt), even though Mommy often uses their nicknames (and many derivations of those nicknames).

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

It's hard being five and a half...

That's right, just around the corner of the calendar from his little brother, Peanut is five and a half today. And it's not that easy being five and a half. For example:

  • Even if the character from one of your favorite shows is making an appearance at your local zoo, that doesn't mean you actually want to meet said character.

  • You have to share all of your toys with your little brother, but when you want him to share a toy with you, he throws it across the room instead.

  • Every day at recess, the same kid pretends he is shooting you, and you know that playing that you are shooting isn't allowed. You tell the teacher but it still happens every day. Then when you shake hands too hard one morning with the "shooters kid," you get in trouble and have to sit in "the thinking chair."

  • You wanted to shop with Mommy for your Halloween costume, but the stores with the costumes are all too scary.

  • If you do the same thing your little brother does, it's not okay because "you know better."

  • Your parents make you eat your food at dinner and not just the butter on top of the food.

  • Your mommy wants to kiss you all of the time and you want to wipe them off, but you know that makes her sad.

  • You are too big for your parents to carry you around now, even when you are really, really, super tired.

  • Your parents get annoyed when you get out of bed for the third time, but this time it was just to remind them that you love them.

Happy 5 1/2, Peanut. Despite all of the hardships of being a kid your age, you are a great big brother and a bright kindergartner, and we love you soooo much. (Just don't tell anyone how many years-and-a-half Mommy is today. Your great memory is dangerous!)