My Brother is Special

In which it is revealed how truly smart my brother Teddy is…

If you happened to read my “Golden” posts a couple weeks ago, you’ll know that my mother thinks of my brother Teddy as “the smart one” of her four children. It’s important to note that in Korea intelligence is measured on an entirely different scale. We’re not talking remedial summer school, or even second-choice college material. We’re talking “not widely understood to be in line for the next round of MacArthur grants.” The collective Darwinian term my father favors for these unfortunate people is “Stragglers and Weaklings.”

When we were little, we didn’t have any toys. Consequently, I played with sticks and mud. My brother, on the other hand, was far more resourceful. He would fashion elaborate launching devices and real working mechanical vehicles with soup ladles, pots and pans, and rubber bands. Glimmers of his future brilliance were already emerging, but then he’d do something that would make my mom worry that she’d been too old when she had him, or that she had drunk too much Mountain Dew while he was in utero…

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Teddy's 1st BirthdayMy brother graduated from one of this nation’s finest universities with highest honors after four straight years on the dean’s list. He went on to law school where he became the editor of the law review. After passing the bar and going on tour with his band, he became a highly successful software engineer. Now he’s the owner of two businesses. But he didn’t always show such promise, and there were many times throughout his childhood when my parents must have broken out into cold sweats when they contemplated his future.

Teddy was three when we moved to a tiny little town in the deepest, darkest heart of Pennsylvania. My parents desperately needed to find some kind of childcare so my mother could go to work. This was back in the days before preschools were as plentiful as mushrooms after the rain. The only option in our little town was a preschool for kids with learning delays and disabilities.

Certainly any suggestion that their cherished and long-awaited son might actually meet the criteria for such a school would have been unwelcome to my parents to say the very least. This was how we knew my mother was desperate when she took Teddy, (short for Theodore, which means Gift from God, by the way) to the preschool to be interviewed.

The preschool director liked to put her young prospects at ease by warming them up with a few confidence-building, throw-away questions. She threw my brother the softest ball in her arsenal, “So Teddy,” she asked, “What color is the sky?”

Suddenly, the light was extinguished from his eyes, and a dull expression fell over his face like a mask. He gazed around the room disinterestedly, revealing what my sister likes to refer to as his “necklace of dirt balls.” “I don’t know,” he answered.

“What color is the grass?” the director gently probed.

“I don’t know.”

There was no need to continue. “You can start on Monday,” the director said brightly, ruffling Teddy’s hair.

Mother and son walked home in silence. Deeply troubled, my mother looked sidelong at her beloved boy and finally asked, “Teddy, what color is the sky?”

“Blue,” he answered promptly.

“What color is the grass?”

“Green,” he said, without a moment’s hesitation.

“Why didn’t you say that to the lady?”

And suddenly the dull mask: “I don’t know.”

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Teddy was so smart, he figured out how to game preschool admission at the tender age of 3!

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Golden, Pt. 3

My brother Teddy gave me permission to publish the speech he gave at my parents’ 50th anniversary party:

Teddy's speech

One day when I was about ten years old my father came home with a big metal hoop and a pile of twine. I thought it was strange. What could anyone want with this junk? But when I woke up the next morning he had woven a perfect net out of twine and strung it onto the hoop to make a fishing net, better than anything you could buy at a store.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. When I went to bed there was a pile of junk on the living room floor. When I woke up it had been transformed into something beautiful and valuable. I bet you didn’t know your daddy could do that, my mother exclaimed. Despite herself, she was very impressed.

Later that day my father and I went fishing. Not the lame kind of fishing where you stand around with a pole all day and go home with nothing. Dad stood knee deep in the water and every time he dipped the net into the water it came out full to the brim with wriggling fish. I was amazed. I thought, Who is this man? Even the fish obey him!

Within an hour we filled two gigantic lawn bags full to the top with fish. There were at least 200 pounds of fish all told.

We got home late at night and when we dragged the fish in to the kitchen my mother’s jaw dropped. It’s too many! How am I going to clean all these fish before they spoil?

We hadn’t thought of that.

My mother stayed up all night, scaling, cleaning, and gutting fish, and by the next morning, the mountain of fish had been filleted and frozen. I couldn’t believe my eyes. When I went to bed there was a waist-high pile of dead fish on the kitchen floor. When I woke up it had been transformed into something valuable.

I don’t know how she did it, but somehow your mommy cleaned all those fish, my father exclaimed. Despite himself, he was very impressed with my mother.

I’ll never forget this incident. Imagine what it does to the world view of a little boy to realize that his parents are complementary parts of a whole, that they complete and reinforce each other; that the reason they can take care of everyone around them is because they work together. This is the secret to becoming a pillar of strength.

My parents can move mountains. They can start with nothing and before you know it they will turn it into something that you couldn’t even imagine. Something you didn’t know you needed until you can’t live without it.

Together my parents built a seminary which has produced countless ministers, who are out teaching the gospel on every corner of the planet. What a monumental undertaking. It can only be understood as my parents’ labor of love. Love of the gospel. Love of God. And love for each other.

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It’s true. My parents can move mountains. But the most amazing thing they ever did for me was to build the loving family that has been my pillar of strength. They gave me the gift of three siblings with whom to navigate this crazy, complicated, sometimes painful, sometimes staggeringly beautiful life. As I watched my brother give his speech (through tears – damn him!), I was filled with a sense of deep gratitude for having had the privilege to grow into adulthood with these people. I think what I’ll treasure most about my parents’ anniversary party and the week we spent at the beach right after the party, is the time my brother and sisters and I had to reconnect and strengthen our bonds.

After that car ride to the restaurant, we made a special effort to spend some time with just the four of us again. One night, after all the children had been put to bed, we went to the Fenwick Boardwalk and shared stories that had us laughing so hard we were crying:

Our CrossFit gym-owning, paleo-diet following, clean-living, super-healthy brother even consented to take a token lick of cotton candy in solidarity with his not-so-fit sisters:

Now that’s love…and I couldn’t imagine living without it!

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One favorite moment

On Saturday we celebrated my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary with a party that my siblings and I have been planning for years.

It felt like a charmed day. We were celebrating the steadfast love and devotion of our beloved parents. The weather was perfect. The flowers were gorgeous. The venue was beautiful inside and out. On this happiest of days, we were surrounded by loving family and friends, some of whom we hadn’t seen in more than a decade. I’ll share more pictures later, but for now, I’ll just share my favorite moment of the day:

My siblings and I got to the restaurant early to set up. The car ride over and the few moments we spent in the parking garage before we got to work setting up, just us, for some reason was the very best part of that beautiful day.

As soon as the party was over, my tribe of seventeen people, from 2 to 78 years old, drove to the beach, where we all are now. I’m taking another short break from posting so that I can spend every precious minute of this time with the people I love most in the world. See you again soon!

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The Best Advice I Ever Got, Pt. 2

More random bits of great advice…

My sisOnce I was shedding bitter tears over a relationship that had gone bad. When my big sister heard me sobbing over the phone, she dropped everything to take a train from D.C. to New York to be with me in my hour of need. (It is so good to have siblings). With my sister by my side, I wailed about all the regrets I had. I bemoaned the years of my life I had lost by having misinvested it in a dead-end relationship. My sister quietly listened to every word I managed to choke out between sobs and then gave me a piece of advice I’ve returned to in my mind many times over the years.

“Live without regret,” she told me. “Every experience, even the most painful ones, make you more of a human being. Your life is richer and fuller for everything you go through. Maybe you learn how to be a more compassionate person, maybe you learn what to avoid in the future, and maybe you learn how it is that you really want your life to be.”

In retrospect, I realize that our mother would always give us a version of this truth when, as children, we confided our hurts to her. It would never fail to take us by surprise when she would say she was glad that someone had been mean to us, or had hurt our feelings. But then she would explain that now that we had experienced that pain, she knew we would never inflict it upon another person.

My second sisWhen I became a mother for the first time, I always sought advice from my second sister, the amazing mother of four. She has taught me a lot by example rather than with explicit advice. I admire the way she recognizes the kernel of goodness in each child and praises and nurtures it. She is also my role model for finding the humor in trying situations. One of the most useful practical pieces of advice she ever gave me was: “No matter what your baby is wearing, it can always be pulled down off the body rather than over the head. If you really can’t manage to pull it down and off the baby, you can always cut it off.” When her children were very young, she never went anywhere without a pair of scissors. My sister gained this valuable piece of wisdom the hard way and saved me a whole heap of trouble by passing it on to me. For those of you who have had babies, and have had the shocking experience of seeing mustard yellow poop shoot up the baby’s back and all the way to the neck, you’ll know exactly why this is such sound advice. (So much of parenting involves the management of all manner of bodily excretions)!

Aaand then there’s my third sibling:  my “little” brother Teddy. In response to my request for the best advice he‘d ever gotten, he wrote with his characteristic brevity: “Aim for the throat.”Oh, Brother

Yep. That’s my brother.

Friends have offered these pearls of wisdom:

K, (the mother of twins): “Keep twins on the same schedule, so Mommy can sleep too!” and “If it’s important to you, you will find a way. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse.”

R: “In fits of rage, take one big deep breath before responding.”

R: “Never put off until tomorrow that which you can do today.”

J: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

F: “When you feel like screaming at your child, WHISPER!!!”

Finally, here’s a favorite piece of  advice that the minister of my church gives every year at around this time to the college students in the congregation who are heading into exam period:

“Remember that your worth cannot be measured by grades, but has already been determined by the fact that you have been claimed as a child of God.”

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten? Or conversely: “What’s the worst advice you’ve ever gotten?”

Hope you have a wonderful, wonderful weekend!

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