by Adianna Ortiz

On March 30, 2009, my life changed forever. I can still recall how on this day, my face was sore from smiling so much when I held him. Seven years later, not a thing has changed; the nights when we are together, my beautiful baby brother is still found asleep in my arms. When my mother gave birth to my brother, Israel, she was, and still is a single parent. So, my mother began working full time to support Israel and myself; meanwhile, I began to learn how to raise and care for Israel. However, time has made me realize that I may have grown more from this experience than Israel has even in inches. The birth of my brother has helped me develop into the person I am today by acquiring a sense of responsibility, selflessness, and a true understanding of unconditional love.

Once my mother returned to her demanding work schedule, I quickly realized that taking care of Israel was a full time job in itself. Cooking, cleaning, being at the bus stop, bathing, picking out clothes, and any other daily task that needed to be taken care of before laying my brother into bed was more than enough to alter the world I had previously existed in. However, even the smallest alterations affected my heart in a deep way.  In the beginning, I would come straight home from school, expecting a dirty diaper ready for me to change. I can easily say that Israel is the only person who could manage to keep a smile on my face even when I was forced to wipe his behind. When I would lay him down on the bed to change him, he would always laugh in this goofy manner that I imagine to be the way ducks would sound if they laughed as well. While he laughed, head thrown back and eyes closed, he’d kick his feet as fast as he could at me as if he was riding a bicycle horizontally. I can now smile even more at this memory because it mimics a hilarious scene from the movie, “Pitch Perfect”, where Fat Amy entitles the action as “Horizontal Running”. Israel has always been able to make me laugh just as much as my lungs can allow me to breathe; it’s one of the things I love about him. As my brother kicked and giggled, we would play fight one another until I could grasp both of his legs under my control with one hand, while I switched his dirty diaper to a clean one with the other. This range of motions was even harder than it sounds, but the action itself, I never outgrew. I hold onto this memory although I know that Israel probably will not, and I am able to now appreciate every smelly diaper I once groaned at in the past.

I’ve also learned to appreciate the amount of time in a day. While I was at war with Israel over diapers, my mother prepared herself for another long night shift waitressing at Nacoochee Grill. Once my mother left, I would begin to start on dinner. While the noodles boiled in the water, I would manage to answer a couple of homework questions or read a paragraph from a book I had been assigned. Feeding Israel, of course, elevated over the years from bottles our mother had prepared, to Gerber baby food and eventually, after the grueling teething stage, whole foods. When Israel grew old enough to attend school, I then spent those breaks in between cooking, picking up Israel from the bus stop, and later helping him learn to write his name, which he absolutely detested.  After cleaning the dishes from dinner, I would give Israel a bath and we would spend at least 15 minutes playing with his tub toys. Making sure that all of these tasks were done each day while doing them at the proper time taught me time management; if I completed these tasks too late, there were always consequences. I learned that being on time to the bus stop actually saved time, in contrast to driving to the school to pick up Israel. With years of practice in this area, I now arrive on time or early anywhere that I need to be, whether it’s practice, class, or work. I also learned that the later I put Israel to bed, the less time I had to complete my homework, shower, and still manage to get a couple of hours of sleep before school the next day. I grew to be responsible just by managing to continuously stay on task even when I was exhausted and just wanted to relax. Today when I am told to do something in life or during a soccer practice, for example, I just complete my task rather than complain or procrastinate.

Although I was learning to balance my time to meet the needs of Israel, I was also experiencing how it felt to sacrifice my personal desires. Basketball, soccer, cross country, volleyball, and track practice, school, and social events were all priorities that now came after Israel in my life. I have to admit that there were times when I felt selfish and wanted nothing more than to just put myself first for a change. One memory I cannot forget is the way that I felt on a day I had to miss one of my playoff games for soccer so I could be home to get Israel off of the bus. At the time, I was angry that he existed honestly. I cried and wanted to be angry at him but I couldn’t because I knew it wasn’t his fault that he was stuck in the same deficient situation as I was. I would try to ignore him, yet he would always smile at me with his lips as wide as they could spread, as though nothing in the world mattered but being together and enjoying one another. Later I realized that Israel’s smile was worth sacrificing for and felt tremendously guilty that I was even considering a game to be of more importance than the existence of my baby brother. I realized that because there was no one else to help handle the responsibility of my brother, I had to deal with the situation more maturely. Famous poet Henry David Thoreau once said, “Sacrificing your happiness for the happiness of the one you love, is by far, the truest type of love”.

The word “love” is tossed around with less value than a pen without ink. Love isn’t just a word you say two days into a relationship, nor is it something that disappears randomly when you’re no longer interested. Love is all at once uncontrollable and a choice. Sometimes when Israel is playing video games on the couch, or swinging his plastic sword around in the living room, I’ll catch myself staring at him and smiling for long periods of time. There are no words that can express the way that I feel about him. No matter how upset or frustrated I am at him or in general, I cannot help but love him; he shows me in more ways than one that he wholeheartedly loves me back as well. On the nights that I am upset, he will bring me his favorite game or toy in efforts to see me happy again; I will look at him and smile, but not because his toys cheered me up. Instead, I think of how amazing it is that someone so young can care about another human being to that magnitude. In my eyes, he is one of the most beautiful creations I have ever witnessed. I compare my love for him to the love that a mother has for their child, because I basically raised him as if he were my own.

Israel is my best friend, and the best little brother anyone could ask for. His very presence has provided me the strength to maintain patience in life when it is needed and has shown me how to love unconditionally, as well as how it feels to truly be loved back. Raising my brother drastically impacted my life by forcing me to mature and develop qualities that I would not have learned until later on in life, or perhaps never would have acquired at all. The way that Israel has helped guide my heart and sculpt my personality into someone that I am proud of, is something that I will never forget. Possessing qualities such as patience and forgiveness, has transformed me into a better person and guided me through every trial I have faced, leading me to where and who I am today.