I remember my Mom’s stomach getting bigger and bigger but I don’t really remember how my parents explained it to us. There is not a whole lot that I remember about this time. Robin, my baby sister is 1 year and 16 days younger than me so this was the first time I was old enough to recognize and understand that my Mom was pregnant. I was 8 years old and about to enter 3rd grade.
It was fascinating to us that there was a baby growing in our Mom’s stomach. She would show us her stomach when the baby moved and it was kind of eery to see her skin protrude as a foot or finger pushed up against the stretchy wall of the cave that I imagined it must feel like from the baby’s perspective.
I vaguely remember my parents bringing this little yellow squirmy looking baby home. I overheard conversations they had with family about him having jaundice and that he was over 8 pounds which seemed to impress people. They named him Christopher.
We had 2 bunkbeds in the bedroom that me and my other brothers and sisters shared so the crib went into my parents bedroom. I do not have any recollection of upheaval this new life entering our home may have caused us though I’m sure our lives changed during this time, if for no other reason than that my Mom just did not have the time or maybe even energy to devote to the rest of us like she used to. I don’t remember diapers being changed, bottles being filled or being kept up at night by the sound of him crying.
I do have a vivid memory of my older brother Steven and I using the baby to settle a disagreement we had about what channel the TV should be on. I said Chris wanted to watch one channel and Steven said he wanted to watch another channel. Chris was 3 years old at the time and was probably fine with whatever was on the TV but our use of his preference to settle our argument is an indication of how outsize his role must have played in our lives. What Chris wants, Chris gets is what we seem to be suggesting.
It is clear to me that the 8 year difference between us created an effect not unlike us living on different planets. I lived in my world and he lived in his and rarely did the two meet. So many of my older family members would exclaim how much Chris looked like me when I was his age. I would joke about how lucky he was but there was a weird connection that was being created every time someone told me that. I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into it but when someone would fish out some old picture of me as a little boy and make the comparison, I would always be struck by the similarities.
When I traveled to Phoenix prior to starting at ASU, Chris was able to take the trip with us. I don’t know how that came about but I remember being certain that it was a good thing. I was very much aware of how my example might influence him and I definitely made choices with that in mind. I began to give him the kind of freshman-in-college-advice that I’m sure caused his eyes to roll.
I started calling him “Gambler” and for the life of me, I don’t know why I chose that particular nickname. As Chris got older, it was clear that he was confident in himself and he had good friends that were level-headed and more often than not were likely to steer him in the right direction than wrong.
Athletic like our entire family, Chris played football, ran track and could do a flip or two. I did my best to share my athletic experience at ASU with him, which in the mid-80’s did not mean social media, it meant telling him what I was going through in the few phone conversations we would have or the occasional letter. It meant so much to me when my family attended my graduation from ASU. Chris was there and I hoped if nothing else it would show him that he could do whatever he set out to do.
After graduation, my focus shifted toward navigating the real world and I had my hands full. From 87 to 91, as I worked in industries as varied as telemarketing, youth group home, debt collection, year-book printing and outside sales, I felt like I was providing a terrible example to Chris.
I’ve come to understand that by the time I was going through all of my post graduation ups & downs, Chris was busy making his mark in high school and probably had his hands fuller than mine. He was cementing friendships that he still enjoys today, making mistakes whose lessons he still remembers and building upon successes which propelled him to more. I see now that he was putting to use all that he had learned from his 4 older siblings and his hard working parents during his formative years.
I have an awesome nephew named Caleb, Chris's son, and we chat from time to time about him. Chris has told me on occasion that Caleb reminds him of me sometimes. I am not exactly sure what that means but I think it has to do with stubbornness and wanting things his way. I am so proud of the man and the father Chris has become and the example he provides Caleb and the other boys he helps to coach.
When I saw him walking down the aisle to hold the place for Sefra his wife to be at their wedding, I couldn’t help but think back to that Saturday morning TV argument when Steven and I were being influenced by the role he played in our family. All I could think about was the confidence I had in his ability to take on this new role and influence his own family. Maybe that’s why I started calling him Gambler - he always bets on himself.
Today, Chris turns 49 and I am sure he is receiving lots of love today. He’s just that kind of person, you can’t help but love him and I do.
Happy Birthday Gambler!