Memos from the Middle

Smack-Dab in the Middle of Living

Like Uncle Like Niece

I’ve often remarked that the princess is just like me. She’s wonderfully intuitive, strategic in her thinking, and so incredibly serious. I often joke that she’s the moral police of her family and friends (“We don’t talk to people like that!” or “I don’t think that’s very nice!”). And even when she slips up herself, she apologizes profusely, oftentimes long after the incident has been forgiven, trying to ensure that there are no hard feelings. She can also, though, be very stubborn and inflexible, traits that I often wish I didn’t have in such abundance.

When it comes to the pirate, I can see no one as clearly as my brother in her. Many of the same things she does reminds me so much of the antics my brother engaged in during childhood. The pirate, like my brother, is the quintessential second child, and that fact has caused a lot of deep, deep breathing, fervent prayers, and mommy time-outs. In short, that little girl is a handful, and now I appreciate the job of my parents so much more because I realize what they really went through trying to raise me and my brother to be decent human beings.

I spent the last week visiting my brother. It has been about a year and a half since we’ve seen each other, so the purity of our excitement was palpable. My brother and I are incredibly close (he was my “man of honor” when I got married), and being unable to see him often and raise our kids together is very hard on both of us. But I’m most grateful that our meetings are always fun. We don’t have any of the strangeness and guardedness some siblings have, even though our approaches to life and ideas of fun are quite dissimilar. We’ve learned to appreciate and champion each others differences, even though we joke about some of the extremes that cause the most disparate views and behaviors.

The pirate was also really excited about spending time with her uncle. It’s weird, too, because she was only about 15 months old the last time she saw him. Somehow, though, she knew who he was and wanted so badly to hang out with him. Every time I mentioned the trip, she started chanting his name, jumping up and down, fist pumping her arms in the air, and I wondered how it was that this little girl could be so enthused about someone she knew relatively little about. She could barely sit still in the airport and on the plane, and when she saw him, she took off running full speed, leaping into his arms. Honestly, the sight made me want to cry because I want so badly for my kids to know and love their uncle because he truly is one of my favorite people on Earth.

It wasn’t always this total loyalty and endearment, though. I remember trying to hold back giggles when he got spankings for acting up in school. (I had warned him about that behavior and our dad’s inevitable response, but he just wouldn’t listen.) I remember handcuffing him to our parents’ bed because he kept torturing me by jumping out from behind walls scaring the crap out of me when I walked by. (I didn’t let him go until my dad called saying he was on his way home from the station for the evening.) I remember running down the stairs crying to and screaming at my parents because he kept breaking my toys, wearing my socks in the alley to play shoeless basketball, or stealing my change from my bank to buy snacks from the candy store. (He was always doing something with my stuff and leaving his all pristine and plentiful.) It was hard being his big sister, but I loved him so much, even then, and would defend him even when he was dead wrong. And he loved and defended me, too, all while I was cajoling, snitching, and preventing (in the name of moral uprightness and the greater good, mind you).

While visiting my brother, I spent a great deal of time looking at the life my he has carved out for himself. I saw him operate as a husband and as a father. I listened to him describe his fears, hopes, and ambitions. And I felt an overwhelming sense of pride as I thought about my little brother and his personal and professional successes. Although he is still that independent, mischievous guy, he’s so dedicated and thoughtful, and he really is an admirable person. I’m so lucky to have him as my brother.

He and I were sitting in his living room talking when the pirate walked up to him and gave him a big, lingering hug. It was so unexpected and heartwarming, and even my brother paused for a moment, I’m sure, wondering what could have precipitated such affection. Then, as is her custom, she hopped down and ran full speed to the back of the house to snatch some toy from her sister, who promptly came to tattle as tears welled in her eyes. One day, I thought, the two of them will be sitting like the two of us, remembering these little moments and the seeming profundity of it all, caring relatively little about some childhood hurt, but relishing the time they have to spend together as adults, as siblings, as friends. At least I hope so.

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