Where the grey carpet met the corkboard flooring was where I learned to love.
Not knowing the full capabilities of a Jack and Jill style bathroom, my brother and I waited patiently. The rule was clear. When the first number on the clock turned to a seven the reins were released and we were set free into my parents’ room. It looked like Christmas Day, but sounded like the Kentucky Derby. I was never much of a rule follower: always speaking without raising my hand or wearing stripes with plaid, but this rule, the “lucky seven” we called it, was one I never had trouble with.
We were young. Maybe three and five, maybe six and eight. I don’t remember. I don’t remember the conversations we had either. I couldn’t tell you if we talked about pancakes or dogs or space, but I remember we talked. From whenever we woke up until the first number turned seven, the words were non-stop.
My brother and I not only bonded during the countdown to seven, but we taught each other the secrets of life.
He taught me how when dad tries to teach me to throw a football, just listen. How he doesn’t actually care if I throw it in a perfect spiral every time, he just wants to spend the limited time he has with me. Or when Mom asks me to play basketball with her, she isn’t trying to relive her glory days but instead to show me that being strong, in every sense of the word, is beautiful.
But what he taught me the most, without even realizing it, was the importance of love.
Once in the winter, I have no memory of what year but just that there was snow outside, he told me about the volunteer work Mom does. How she coaches and teaches and raises money for people who needed that help. (I now much better understand the inner workings of a non-profit and philanthropy, but mind you I was near five at the time.)
I decided, that morning, sometime between 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m., that sometime between now and eternity I was going to care for people the way my mom did.
So I tried. I coached energetic, rambunctious kindergarteners the same way my mom coached me many years ago, but she always bested me: her drills more creative and ball handling skills unmatched. But my eight players left every time with a smile on their face and new skill in their back pocket.
When the frozen ponds and sledding turned to warm lakes and sailing, I took up being a camp counselor on Burt Lake. There I spent my summers yelling camp songs until I lost my voice standing on a rickety wooden bench to let my young campers know that singing and messing up the words is infinitely better than not singing at all.
But, again, my off-pitched singing was matched as my mom went down in the counselor Hall of Fame at her beloved summer camp in Indiana.
Sitting on that same grey carpet now, I can clearly see that of all of the things my brother taught me, to pay close attention to our parents because they will not always tell me, but show me how to love.
I realized that my mom didn’t care if I was an All-State player, but rather that I would learn strength. Nor did she care where I spent my summers, but rather that I had positive role models and would in turn become one. And most importantly, she didn’t care whether it was 6:59 or 7:00, but rather that my brother and I both knew how to love.