On an early spring day in May, 25 years ago, my grandparents loaded me into the back seat of my grandma’s red Ford Topaz, a car with an equally red cloth interior, and drove us along a gravel road, leaving their farm behind in the dust for the day. We turned onto a two lane highway and followed it through the middle of our small town and out the other side, past horses, an elk farm, and field after field of cattle and bison. Then, finally, we reached the outskirts of the city, passing the airport and driving straight downtown. We followed the train tracks north, pulling into a parking spot in the shadow of a massive building.
I’ve made this same drive into the city more times than I can count, but this particular trip on this particular day is so important to the story of my life that it’s worth relating in great detail. This particular trip on this particular day was special because the night before I’d become a big sister to not just one, but two baby brothers! As Ransom Riggs has famously said, “. . . like anything that changes you forever, [it] split my life into halves: Before and After.” Despite my suggestions to name them after Fred Penner, a Canadian children’s entertainer, and Barkley, Big Bird’s dog on Sesame Street, the boys were christened Davis and Cameron. In the “before” I was simply Kirsten. In the after, I was a part of something larger, better, and inherently more exciting: “Kirsten, Davis, and Cameron.” The massive building we’d just parked in front of was the regional hospital – I was about to step into the after. I would finally have someone to play with!
I wish I could say that meeting my brothers for the first time was extraordinary, but mostly I remember clambering into bed with my mom to steal some of her hospital food when the lunch tray arrived, as well as my excitement afterwards when my grandpa suggested that we go to Dairy Queen for an ice cream cone. However, in the quarter century since, there are many adventures with my brothers that I do remember. I remember playing a game with them as soon as my parents set their carseats down inside our house for the first time, dressing them up in the little blue glasses from my Fisher-Price medical kit and delighting in how cute the glasses looked perched on their tiny squishy noses. I remember desperately wanting them to go down for a nap so I could do a craft with my mom, but I also remember wanting them to wake up as soon as they were sleeping so I could play with them again. I remember the many July afternoons spent swimming at the old outdoor pool or playing on the yellow slip-and-slide in the backyard. In elementary school, I remember that I was so pleased to be a big sister that I brought the boys as my show-and-tell items, parading them around in front of my grade two classmates with pride. I remember the year we had an absolutely epic Disney-themed Halloween costume: me as Cruella deVille and the boys as dalmatians, and I remember sitting around the kitchen table, bartering with one another and taking part in complicated trades for our favourite treats. Regrettably, I also remember the time I ruined the treasure hunt at their pirate-themed birthday party by giving away the location of the pirate chest. I remember the time our mom went on a trip to Europe and we took a tub of cookie dough out of the freezer and hid it downstairs to eat with plastic spoons so our dad wouldn’t see. I remember many early Saturday mornings spent driving to various hockey, volleyball, or basketball games. I remember all of the tubing and boating and camping and fishing. I remember the bike rides and playing on the bales at the farm. I remember when, unwisely, we turned an old chicken coop that was surrounded by stinging nettle into a “playhouse,” and I remember hiding an impressive collection of pennies, nickels, and dimes in a metal tin on the roof as our treasure. I also remember too many games of Monopoly that resulted in the board being flipped in a fit of competitive rage. Without my brothers, growing up would’ve been awfully dull.
As I’ve gotten older, graduating from a teenager into a student, and finally into a real adult, I’ve realized how very lucky I am. Home from university one summer during a time when my life was in complete chaos, I remember the afternoon a gigantic thunder storm knocked out our power, so in an act of ingenuity the boys carried the microwave outside, set it on a skateboard, hooked it up to the generator, and cooked me some pizza pops in the driveway. Later, arriving at my parent’s house to announce an engagement to a guy who was a manipulative jerk, my brothers, in all seriousness, pulled the guy aside and offered him money to, “leave now.” Upon meeting my current husband, a mechanic, they were thrilled to see his grease-stained hands, saying “hey- this guy has a job!” As adults, playing a board game together is still dangerous. On our last trip together the VRBO rental house had a Scrabble board in the living room, and someone thought it would be a good idea to occupy some time on an especially smoky day during wildfire season. Our games included questionable ethics like playing letter titles as blank ones by secretly flipping them over, as well as using Google to search potential words and check for correct spellings. It also resulted in plenty of tears. To keep the peace I won’t name names about who did what, but even when our competitiveness and knowledge of how to get under one another’s skin results in a board being flipped, I’m really glad that we could all get together to sit around the board in the first place. I’m really glad that I have someone to play with. The rest is just secondary. Quite simply, without my brothers, I wouldn’t be me. They even stood up for me when I got married, taking on the roles of “brides-men.” Larger, better, and inherently more exciting: “Kirsten, Davis, and Cameron.”