distance · family · love

"I hate it when you call me, ‘Bro.’"

(*a line from face/off we invoke often)
I dreamt this morning that my brother Ben and I were jumping around while singing this really funny camp song in the kitchen where we grew up. It’s this Hebrew
song called “Ochel,” food, that starts
with the word, Hummus, has the word Pizza in there somewhere, v’Steak – “YEE HA!”
I don’t know all the words, but somehow it’s stuck in my
neurons all these years. We learned most of these songs at sleep-away camp in
the Poconos mountains growing up.
Working in a synagogue now, I get to see parents of nursery
school children, Hebrew school-aged children, summer camp children, and I get
to notice something that as a child of course doesn’t strike you: Parenting
costs a lot of money, and our parents
shelled out.
We did all of those things. “Growing up” was a mixed bag, always, but
when it came to our education, our extracurricular activities, paying for
summer camp, they did. Granted, they were both full-time working parents, and
needed us to be somewhere. But, you don’t realize til you’re older that all those things were
value judgments for our parents, and they valued us in that way, the fostering
of our education, our fun, our play.
I was the kid with
the off-brand Troll doll, and got made fun of for it. I
was the girl who in 6th grade was told that there was a
bet for what I’d wear the next day, since my outfits were so few. We
did shop at the discount mall.
But, I also was the one who played Gin Rummy with my dad,
and my brother played chess with him. I was the girl who used the round white
plastic things they use in pizza boxes as Barbie tables with my best friend
from next door. And I was the girl who got to go away to camp, even though none
of those summers was perfect (teasing, breaking a tooth, waking up with a
spider on my face!).
But my upbringing was American, I guess. With “American values,” and
the striving to provide me and my brother the kind of life that they envisioned
as successful.
And in so many ways, they did.
Besides gratitude for knowing that song and its nonsensical
joy, knowing that flailing around loudly in our kitchen is totally something my bro and I would do, as I woke up this morning, I also felt a little wistful, wondering if Ben
and I would really ever get to do that again. He lives a life on the East
Coast; I see him maybe once a year if we’re lucky. Will we get to sing camp
songs, exchange movie lines, wallow in the hilarity of our non-sequitors?
I remember one day, sitting on the couch with him in the
house where we grew up, we were in our tweens. Somehow we began making up a
non-sequitor story that included the phrase, And then the tree crashed through the
window, scattering the gnomes.
How much fun would that story be to continue?! and it
was.
I know I write about it often, the distance from my family,
and how hard it is for me. And these are the reasons why. It’s not just about
“getting to see one another;” it’s also about
getting to share the one relationship that you are likely to have the longest
in your life, getting to share memories, laughter, and change with one another.
I instant message him sometimes during the day. They’re usually
short conversations, since I’m usually at work. But, I get to float a balloon
of humor and love in his direction and he gets to tell me how he’s adjusting to his move
to Baltimore. We each text one another quotes from Back to the Future or Bill
& Ted’s Excellent Adventure, to remind us both that we have this network,
this shared history and connection.
I’d tell you, “It’s enough,” but it’s not. But, maybe just
like feeling grateful for the way our parents raised us, warts and all, I can
feel grateful that we have the relationship we do. I know neither of these
things are commonplace. 

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