I was one of four, the second child. There always was someone to play with. I felt part of something larger. We were all friends even though we fought sometimes. I could always count on them to be there — my older sister and two younger brothers. I knew I wasn’t alone.
Both of my parents died young. My dad was 51 — cancer. I was 19. My mom died at 59 — cancer. I was 31. Without my sister and brothers, and the bond we shared, I don’t know if I could have made it through all that. But I did — and so did they.
I always knew that if my parents died, though not expecting them to die so young, that my siblings and I would have one another to lean on — and we do. The crucible of mom’s and dad’s passing fast-forwarded the four of us into adulthood, driving our collective relationship to a whole new level; we continue to depend on and look out for one another even today.
Now at age 65 my attention turns to my own son, an only child.
We adopted him as an infant and named him Trotter Jr. My wife Anne and I nicknamed him Trot right from the start, and then as he approached age 3, we began to see signs that things weren’t quite right. We had adopted a child with an array of special needs.
We had prayed and longed for a baby for years, and now God had fulfilled our prayers, yet handed us a challenge in the process. I always had imagined we’d adopt one or two more children in due time but this has not come to pass.
I don’t think Anne and I made a conscious decision not to adopt any more children. In my heart, I never gave up on the idea. But becoming absorbed in the day to day management of Trot and his challenges consumed us and the dream of more children got further and further back-burnered.
Having just turned 65, with Anne in her 60s as well, and Trot 22, I think about this a lot.
I wish he had a brother or sister — someone who could’ve grown up with him and, yes, someone who would have loved him and hopefully committed to caring for Trot, and protecting him once Anne and I passed away. Yet, I even struggle with this: Would we have been adopting that second child for Trot — not for us as a family and not for that second child? And would that have been fair?
Anyway, the years went on and we never did pursue another adoption though I think about it everyday. Even now, even though we’re probably too old to adopt, I still think about it. I look back and say to myself “God, I think we should’ve done it.”
The adoption discussion was a back and forth one between Anne and me that never really ended; we just ran out of time. It’s now a back and forth discussion within me.
When Trot was younger, I coached a baseball team of special needs kids including Trot. The experience was a joy though a painful memory remains as well. These kids would be out there with their brothers and sisters who were helping them. I felt envious, sad for Trot, motivated in those moments to adopt another child. But still it never happened.
This is the way life works, doesn’t it? We often want to do things — resolve to do things — know we should do things — and they never get done.
A friend with whom I shared all this asked me what was my most powerful siblings memory.
Christmas, I answered immediately.
Growing up, Christmas with my family was magical. My dad, a furniture retailer, was typically energized because Christmas sales usually went well; my mother always looked beautiful and buoyant. For my sister, brothers and me, our Christmas morning memories endure; they live within us, and we still draw on them for comfort and strength nearly 60 years later.
We would get up at 3 in the morning and go down to the living room where we could see gifts piled up, tantalizingly awaiting us. Yet dad, crafty guy that he was, would construct a wire barricade so we could view them but not open them until he and mom got up.
I could go on and on with sibling memories; in fact, I couldn’t even define myself, both then and now, without talking about my sister and brothers and the bond between us.
It seems these days that the more I think about Trot not having siblings, the more I think about the wonderful memories I share with my sister and brothers. This thought pattern is part uplifting and part unnerving. Wonderful memories should lift our spirits; these memories challenge my heart.
Trot’s journey into adulthood is unfolding. Where it will lead I don’t know. What I do know is that I wish there was a GPS to guide him to security and happiness — and that his brother or sister was behind the wheel.