Do you remember where you were 28 years ago? I was only 6 years old at the time, but I can vividly remember 10 seconds of this day — May 21, 1986 — with eerie clarity. I was sitting in a chair in a 2nd floor room at Oakwood Hospital, holding my new baby sister. Before that moment, I was taking in a lecture from both Mom and Grandma about supporting the baby’s neck and head. “They’re kinda wobbly at first, so be careful…”
I settled myself into the hospital chair, with its wooden armrests and 70’s yellow plastic covering, and put my hands out, ready to see this thing that we’d been talking about for months now. My left hand got under the neck, properly supporting it as I had been told, and my right hand under the legs, and BOOM — I hit her head on the armrest. They said nothing about actually protecting the head from hard surfaces. How many hands did they think I had, anyway?
She didn’t cry, perhaps because she was momentarily knocked out. It was 1986, so the diagnostic technology was sketchy at best. Mom and Grandma did their best to pretend like everything would be fine, though they watched over the next several years for any signs that I, her big, well meaning big brother, had voided the warranty. Thankfully, she turned out okay, though it is hard to think about what might be if I hadn’t hit her head so hard.
That’s what big brothers do. They take away potential. No, wait. That’s not right. What I mean to say is that big brothers take care of their little sisters, and it mostly goes ok. That pattern continued throughout our childhood — She was hungry, so I tried to feed her, but it was a milk bone. I tried to let her enjoy freedom in the front yard, but she got across the street to the neighbors and cried as a dog barked at her. I was eager to do good, and it almost always worked out well.
And it all started on this day, 28 years ago. I remember that moment. It’s a very happy moment. Yesterday was my sister’s birthday. Today is that day that she showed up in my world.
By the way, I learned. I never hit any of my own kid’s heads on any armrests, ever. Even today, armrests make me nervous. They make my sister nervous, too, for some reason. She gently pats the back of her head and tries to remember. But it was her head, not mine, that collided.
You might say that neither of us were ever the same after that moment, 28 years ago today.