Scattered thoughts raced inside my head. ‘A brother? Cool! No, that means…mom… pregna…Ugh. Are you kidding me?’
“I guess okay?” The words spilled from my mouth, uncertain how the effects of empty nest syndrome played into my parents’ decision to welcome a new family member.
“Good,” she chuckled, “because he’s seventeen and moving in this weekend.”
His name was Rob and to say he had been dealt an unfair disadvantage was sugarcoating his life. His mother passed away while he was a toddler. Several years later, his father lost his life in a motorcycle accident. Rob landed in military school, and eventually, he ended up in my home town, and a short time later, my childhood home.
I imagine he experienced a bit culture shock when he moved in with two educators, who now shared dual roles of foster parent and teacher. (Trust me, it’s not easy being a TK.) But he joined our family and fit in, like he always had been a part of us.
Some weekends, he would stay at my house, helping watch Cassie, while I caught up on housework. Brother and sister bonding time, a necessary part of family life we hadn’t been afforded until then. Then he’d meet his friends, and inevitably, he would arrive past his curfew, begging me not to tell mom and dad he was late. I kept that secret for 27 years.
We were there for the milestone events of high school: proms, homecomings, wrestling seasons, and graduation. We watched as he recited ‘I do,’ and then as quickly as he entered our lives, he moved away. I had not heard from him for nearly 20 years until we reconnected on Facebook a few months ago. On his birthday, I sent a message relaying the opening story of this column.
“I’m glad you said ‘yes.’ You did say ‘yes,’ didn’t you?” He asked.
Thankfully, he had remained in contact with my parents, phoning home and checking in. When he faced a difficult situation, he would call our mom and get her level-headed, no-nonsense advice. “What would Barb do?” That’s what my sister-in-law tells me he’d say; then he’d dial the ‘rents number and ask.
Across the United States, over 463,000 children live in foster care. Almost daily, I hear radio ads – public service announcements – asking people to consider becoming foster parents. It isn’t glamorous work – parenting isn’t, by nature – but the rewards make it worthwhile. Without foster parents, life can become a bleak road for children living in the system.
I think our family made a difference in Rob’s life, a lost soul found and shown a better way of living. And I like to think that some of his laid back, rough-and-tumble approach rubbed off on our parents.
On January 16, my mother called, relaying news I wasn’t prepared to hear.
“Rob passed away today.”
Brother, of course I said ‘yes.’