Brotherly love

In the beginning, it was all about him. First-born, first grandchild, first nephew…his place in our extended family cemented by the simple fact that he was born.


He was a wise old soul in a little-boy body. Adults loved to chat with him, listening to his volumes of memorized dinosaur facts or advice about which types of plastics are recyclable. He spoke clearly and fluently, forming complete sentences before he had a complete set of teeth. He told jokes that made sense and understood sarcasm. My days were so full of questions and observations that at times I felt more like a tour guide than a mom.

Playgroups at the park were a part of our weekly routine, and I craved the time with my mom-girlfriends. I knew that the social interaction with other little ones was very important for my son, but secretly most of us form playgroups for our own adult sanity. It was in these early playgroups that I began to notice what the other little boys did. They were usually quite physical – running, jumping, pushing each other around just a bit to test their wee-manhood. My son preferred to play in the sand, creating an elaborate “recycling center” with the pails and trucks, only to be confused and upset when the other boys didn’t understand his passion. Being an old soul may make you the favorite of preschool teachers and drugstore cashiers, but it creates quite a gap on the playground.

I worked very hard to match him up with potential playmates and buddies, to teach him to be patient on the playground, and to open his eyes to the fact that not every 3-year-old was interested in fossils or the Latin names of birds. He needed another tour guide.

Along came his baby sister.

Being an only child and having a sibling thrust into your limelight isn’t easy. My son was intrigued at first, somewhat perplexed at how she really wasn’t able to do anything. He would correct me when I would say the baby was “talking” and remind me that no, she couldn’t talk yet. He never seemed jealous or spiteful, perhaps just a bit discouraged at her lack of ability to carry on a conversation or play recycling center with him. When her cries interrupted bedtime stories too often, he wondered why she had to cry at all, since she wasn’t hurt.

And then, a slight shift in the relationship. Around the time my daughter was about 18 months, it happened. I left them in the playroom for a bit while I went to load the washing machine or some other daily task. When I returned, I could hear my son talking to his sister about a game he was playing and giving her a role. Peeking quietly around the corner, I saw her huge grin and I knew she sensed it too.

She was in.

Over the years their games changed and evolved, but they would play for hours together, lost in their pretend world. My role as tour guide had been taken over by a pint-sized, energetic little girl who was eager for the challenge. Having someone who loves you no-matter-what and who will tolerate your thoughts and opinions is an incredible gift. My daughter had provided my son with a different way to view the world, something I had not been able to do on my own.

It was magic.

Both are now teenagers. My son, in his third year of college, and my daughter a sophomore in high school. Role-playing games have been replaced by wise cracks, sarcasm and text messages, or maybe a ride to soccer practice or the mall. I love listening to them talking and teasing each other, analyzing the ins and outs of high school life, pop culture and anything else that seems funny or might embarrass mom. She has finally become the equal he wanted her to be.

And he is her tour guide now.


This piece originally ran on Moonfrye

Voices Unseen

Mommy, come and see! Come see! Mommy! Mom!

As I sit at the kitchen table with my coffee, I hear the little voice through the screen door that leads to the backyard.

Filled with the excitement only a three or four year old boy can muster.

Was it a newly-discovered mud hole? A furry caterpillar winding his way down the sidewalk? Or possibly a long-lost truck or plastic Army guy, buried in the sandbox?

Mommy usually responds to him rather quickly, though sometimes he has to call for her a second or third time.

Mommy takes a break in her busy morning and walks into the backyard to see what her little man has discovered.

It rained, Mommy! Rained! Water on the leaf right there, see?

Morning dew, masquerading as rain. Science lessons learned just beyond the screen door.

Mommy goes back inside, tending to the new little one who arrived sometime between last fall and this spring.

Boy or girl? I don’t know.

They are living a life that I can only hear through my screen door. In the earliest of morning hours when little boys play in the backyard and my teenage boy still slumbers.

We have never met.

The configuration of our neighborhood means that although we share a back fence, the front of their home is actually a rather long walk.

When the weather warms each spring and I leave the sliding door open a bit longer I get my glimpse into their lives again.

But these interactions between mother and child that take place just beyond the fence in my backyard? They feel like a snippet of video tape from my mind.

A replay of many, many mornings just like that when I was the mommy.

Little boy exploring the backyard, enthusiastically calling for me to come and watch an ant hill or look at a tiny bird’s egg fallen from the tree. Always showing and telling me about something; eager and excited.

Tiny sibling inside the house, crying for this reason or that; tearing me away from the boy and his treasures.

I hope I listened.

Since I can’t see this little neighbor boy and have no sense of his features or his smile, my mind matches the voice with the little boy I knew best. The small cries and babbles I match to my little girl. So many hours spent in that backyard back then; just playing and discovering and growing up.

When mine were young and I was living that life, an older woman lived in that same house behind us.

I wonder sometimes if she listened to the rhythm of my days, to the sounds of my kids playing, to the laughter, or to the stern words that tend to come from a mother’s mouth when she’s tired or needs a break.

Did she listen?

Did it create an ache inside her to play again, to marvel at each little thing a child discovers in a small backyard, to run and squeal and laugh?

As it does in me?