My brother/nephew

My family soap opera.

My sister is 5 years older than me. She was always a “problem” child. Not sure why. Stories that she lacked oxygen during delivery that led to mild brain damage, but I don’t know if that’s true or not. She had surgery on a “lazy” eye as a youngster that may have caused some of her problems. It was back in the day when parents weren’t allowed to stay overnight with their children. Who really knows what happened then?

I grew up with a sister who was fairly unstable, but just close enough to normalcy to pass for normal with a streak of weird. She stabbed me in the hand once with a butter knife enough to break the skin (ouch), and threw a fork at me once where it stuck into the wall (so glad it didn’t hit me). She would have outbursts at school that would get the counselors to call me into the office to see what was going on at home.

She was a cute little kid, but you could see in photos that something was different. Hard to put my finger on. Something about the eyes, the smile. I look at her pictures at 3, 4, 5 years old, and wonder what my parents thought of her then. Was she precious to them the way mine are to me? Did it break their hearts to see her grow up and see where she ended up?

As a kid, we played a lot together. We also fought a lot. But I remember playing barbies with her, playing house, playing Connect 4 and Life and Monopoly. We played card games together. In elementary school, she was held back in kindergarten as being immature, but she was mostly in regular classes. I was skipped a grade, so mentally, for a while, we were pretty close together despite being 5 years apart.

She graduated high school and went to community college, where she met and married a boy. She got married on my 16th birthday in a very small wedding. She doesn’t look happy in her wedding pictures, at least not the ones with my parents.

She had a baby in 1988. I was still 16. He was born almost exactly 9 months after the wedding. I wasn’t excited as I was not interested in babies. Two months after he was born, he was hospitalized failure to thrive. He was taken from her home, put into foster care. My parents scrambled to get foster care approval for us and our house, and he came to live with us. The plan was that my parents would care for him while my sister and her husband would try to get him back by taking parenting classes and having a home. He was so accustomed to neglect, he didn’t even cry when he was hungry. He was used to not being fed. He weighed less than when he was born. His knees weren’t dimpled chubby baby knees, but skinny and knobby.

Every week, my mom and I drove Carl to my sister’s house on Thursday evening for his visit. We had to take this baby we loved and leave him in her squalid shack of a house. I’m not even exaggerating. The floor in the bathroom was rotted so you could see the ground beneath the house. Dogs were chained up outside. Dirty laundry filled the bathroom, so the door couldn’t be opened all the way. She would leave Carl in a dirty, filthy baby carrier (similar to infant car seat carriers, but not a car seat—they don’t make them anymore). The whole weekend.

My mom and dad would pick Carl up from her house as early as possible on Saturday. The visits were supposed to be Thursday-Saturday, but in reality, it was really just Friday because we’d take him as late as possible on Thursday, too. We would see him through the window, listless, in his filthy chair. Usually wearing nothing but a diaper. He looked depressed and alone. As soon as he’d see us or hear our voice, he would light up and start kicking and reaching. My mom would change his diaper, dress him, and we’d take him home. Often, he had a bleeding diaper rash that we carefully took care of and cleared up before his next visit.

It was agony. I loved him. I loved holding him, singing to him. I didn’t want to give him back to my sister. In fact, I wanted to be his mom. I was 17 shortly after we got him, and no way I could adopt him at that age, but I did everything a mom would do. I woke up with him in the middle of the night and fed him and rocked him. I read that co-sleeping was best, but my mom still insisted on the crib (which was not even a safe crib as it was the one I had used 17 years earlier). He learned to cry, and cry he did. A Lot. He learned that someone was listening to him. I was the only one who could calm him down by singing and rocking.

Eventually, my sister got pregnant again. During the pregnancy, she signed her parental rights away to Carl as did her husband. Carl was over 2 years old at this point. My parents were able to adopt him formally. When her second child was born (she got her tubes tied at this point), she lasted about a month as a mom and then left her husband and baby. She is currently on her second divorce and has been homeless for 18 years.

So afraid were we of losing Carl, that my parents never claimed the second baby. I didn’t meet him until he was a teenager. He was raised by his other grandparents, and then by his father who remarried a stable woman. I regret that Carl and his brother didn’t grow up together.

I regret that Carl went to daycare. (one summer, I wasn’t working, so he stayed home with me all summer). I’m sad that my mom didn’t stay home with him as she did with us. She told me a couple years ago that she wanted to quit her job and stay home but my dad didn’t let her. He wanted the money (we could have made do without her income, my dad made decent money, but he also loves to spend it). That hurts because Carl would have done so much better with my mom home. He did great for the summers he stayed home with me.

I regret that Carl didn’t get raised by me. I wish I had taken him instead of my parents. I think it would have been good for him. I regret that once they moved to Oklahoma, I basically had no further contact with him. He’s practically a stranger now, and it’s so weird that the little boy I loved more than anything is a 21 year old man I know nothing about.

He’s coming for a weeklong visit this July, and I’m eager for my kids to get to know him, and for me to get to know him again.
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