Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Big Brother is watching you.

We bit the financial bullet and bought a digital video camera this year, hoping to capture shining family moments to burn for posterity on DVD. We’ve captured the shining family moments, now if we can just figure out how to beat a PC into submission to burn them to DVD. (Yeah, yeah, I know, get a Mac and iMovie; I would love to do nothing more, but transferring files from home to work is easier if we to stick to one platform.)

I’ve taken note as we’ve filmed the kids at various stages of cuteness; the mild-mannered one-year old is never in a frame for more than two seconds before the whirlwind four-year old blasts on scene, pushing said baby brother out of view. Ah, the recollections spring forth of times I’d asked my mother to see our home movies of me as a child. She’d set up the movie screen and we’d watch amidst the whirring of the movie projector. I would ask, “Where was I?" "Where are the movies of me?” “That was you right before your brother popped in,” Mom would say, referring to the five-second little white blip. “Aww, look at him in his little cowboy outfit...” The circle of life grinds on today as it did back then.

I think it just goes with the territory that the oldest sibling expects more attention—after all, their birth and safekeeping is the focal point of their inexperienced parents. Subsequent siblings realize that there are multiple chicks in the family nest and live accordingly, having never known any other way. Subsequent siblings are also prone to a phenomenon I’ve experienced personally; hero worship of the eldest brother or sister.

I’ve watched my son grin toothily as my daughter grabs his hand, trying to squeeze the blood right out of his fingertips. I’ve seen him laugh heartily as she banged on his “busy table” with his favorite plastic tractor. I’m sure he’d squeal gleefully, even if she burned his beloved stuffed whale on a pyre of his “Baby Einstein” tapes. That’s just the way idolatry works; your idol can do no wrong. Which is why I thought my brother was the coolest thing since the EZ-Bake oven when he tied me to a tree, told me I needed to learn about Houdini, and walked away. I really did learn how Houdini escaped his cords, albeit by coincidence. I clenched my fists and held my arms stiff as boards when he tied me up; upon relaxing my muscles I found the rope was loose enough to slip out of with minor rope chafe. Voila!

I also handle elevator breakdowns with peace of mind thanks to his claustrophobia experimentation. Brother would open up the den sofa bed and encourage me to climb through the horizontal gap between the mattress and the sofa back. This would dump me into a little 6’x 3’ “cave” that had absolutely no room for anything but laying flat down on the cold linoleum floor. He then would proceed to stuff the sofa cushions into the gap above, blocking out all light and escape routes. He would talk to me in hypnotist’s purring voice, saying things like, “just breathe deeply,” or “just relax” as my tension built and a freak-out became imminent. He would pull back the cushions in disgust after a minute or two of me banging and yelling from my upholstered coffin, my failure to thrive a strike against me. Eventually I could no longer fit under the sofa; at that age I secretly wished I could go down there to see how long I could last.

Teen hood brought an end to the mad scientist bond we shared, with both of us preferring the company of our peers. Sometimes brother would ask me to help him decode the notes of a guitar chord, or he’d play his “Tommy” by The Who album for me, but our time together was infrequent and low key. The days of brother worship were gone, but a mutual tolerance had developed that I could live with.

As my brother grew older and moved on to college, marriage, and eventually parenthood, our time together grew slimmer yet more precious. I would go to his house once or twice a year to visit, our time often spent enjoying good food and sharing cd favorites. Our canoe foray down a murky Dismal Swamp canal has become a highlight of fond memories. We didn’t end up anywhere of note and we didn’t see anything spectacular, but it was time together, to talk, and laugh at or with each other. That’s where I hope the wobbly circle of life takes my two children; to a point where they’ll cherish each other as adults, despite the tumultuous “experiments” along the way.

I used to get emails from my big brother with the cryptic number “1984” at the end of them. I finally called him one day to get the scoop, and he indignantly replied, “C’mon, Vick, the book '1984'—'Big Brother'...Get it?” I thanked him for clearing up the mystery, and noted to self that he was on a cerebral plane that I will never likely reach in my lifetime. But it doesn’t matter. I used to love him just ‘cause he was my big brother, now I love him ‘cause he’s my big brother.