Last Saturday was pajamas-all-day and trying to find new fun in all the old, familiar corners of our house. We turned lunch into a social event because it was far too cold to be outside. Everly invited a few cherished friends and Arlo offered his input on the menu- “Cracker!”. We didn’t have a proper kid-sized tea set, so we made do with our sake set we purchased in Japantown in San Francisco. I filled it halfway with water and Everly took care to refill their little cups over and over again while they ate. Arlo drank each cup as if it were the nectar of the gods, shaking each last drop out onto his tongue and then holding it out for his sister to fill again.
I sat watching them and my mind wandered to the face of a little boy with similar features and blonde curls like my son’s. My brother, Wayne, is fifteen months younger than I am. People say often that Everly and Arlo, in personality, mannerisms and looks remind them very much of Wayne and me when we were little. Growing up, we spent so many of our days together creating adventures in the acres of woods behind our house. “You always played so sweetly together,” my papa likes to reminisce.
Me and Wayne, a little younger than Everly and Arlo.
When we were little, Wayne used to tiptoe across the hall and sleep in my bed with me because I was afraid of monsters. We would lay in the dark and make up stories until I fell asleep. We rode bikes together and played outside for hours. I was always mothering him back then, and I guess in some ways, I still do.
But I also have a lot of memories of those tumultuous adolescent and teenager years when we nearly drove each other crazy. I thought I was too cool and grown for him. He looked up to me and sought my approval but there were also moments that he pushed my buttons because he could. I spent a lot of my teen years telling him to leave me and my friends alone.
It wasn’t until I left for college that I realized what an awesome person my little brother was growing up to be- kind, loyal and quick witted. I finally saw him again as the best friend and confidant of my childhood right as he joined the Air Force and left home for good. What I wouldn’t give to turn back to those teenage years so that I could have spent more time with him. If only I would have made better use of those years I spent with my door closed.
There were, of course, plenty of times in our teen years that Wayne and I spent time together without arguing. There is an infamous story about the time we both got suspended from high school because a kid tried to start a fight with him and I jumped in ready to take that punk down in front of the entire cafeteria. As with most siblings, I was the only one allowed to mess with my brother. Before I was a mama bear, I was a sister bear (They are just as protective, I can assure you.)
Hello brother, I say into the phone.
Hi sister, he says back.
We always start our conversations this same way and it always surprises me for a moment to hear his deep voice. Somehow my heart captured him at 14, with that still awkward, boyish voice and those skinny legs and holds him there in my memory. He is a full grown man now- 6 feet tall and thirty years old. We have lived all of our adult lives in different time zones (and sometimes oceans) away from one another. Our times together now are sporadic but wonderful. I am fighting tears as I write this, just thinking about how much of him I’ve missed.
I watch Everly and Arlo together and my whole heart aches with the knowledge I carry now. I watch how Arlo mimics her, how she can make him laugh more than anyone else. How openly he wears his admiration for his sister. I whisper in Everly’s ear how special her role is as big sister. How she and Arlo belong to one another - An exclusive club of two. I tell her she is his protector. That the role of big sisters is to make sure that little brothers know that they always have a friend in this world.
I know that one day they will be teenagers too and that even before those years hit, they will start to drive each other crazy. They will fight over toys and our attention and slam doors and profess, just as I once did, “I am never, ever speaking to him again!” But if my daughter could learn just one lesson from her mother, I pray it would be to savour the days when your little brother follows you around like a puppy. Invite him along when you go out with your friends. Appreciate those nights he saved you from monsters.
My little brother left for another tour in a far away place this week. Like every other tour, I will hold my breath until he gets back. I will cherish his phone calls from across the world and make him promise me he will be safe and take care of himself over there. Our roles have changed in who is protecting who now, but I’ll never stop worrying about his safety and praying for his safe return.
Having a sibling is a precious gift. There will be times when you will deny it and times when the gratitude will knock the wind out of you. Life goes around and comes back again to this. Big sisters and little brothers and the knowledge that we will always belong to one another. A bond bound by a lifetime lived together, even when we are apart.