Brotherly Love, An Unconventional Valentine
By Fran Miller
Wikipedia declares Valentine’s Day to be an annual commemoration celebrating love and affection between intimate companions. A thesaurus check reveals the word “intimate” to also mean close, cherished, familiar, devoted and chummy – words that I might use to describe a sibling relationship. So it follows that I commemorate this Valentine’s Day with an unconventional Valentine story based on two siblings (my boys) and the history and fortitude of their brotherly bond.
It was 15 ½ years ago when I returned home from the hospital with my newborn son Ben, merely two days old. My excitement over this new addition to our family was tempered by consuming anxiety over how this upheaval would affect Aaron, our preternaturally happy and social 16-month-old toddler. All of the child-rearing manuals, which I’d read fervently, cautioned about an older sibling’s natural jealousy and anger toward a new baby, and I was regretful about the imminent crushing of Aaron’s inherent joyful spirit.
As I sat with a swaddled Ben in my arms, Aaron was just awakening from his nap with his favorite object of affection, Bear, in hand. Bear was at one time a soft, fluffy, white stuffed animal that now, due to much love, was a mere shadow of its former self. My husband led Aaron out of his room to finally meet his new baby brother. We had been mentioning Ben frequently in family discussions in order to prepare Aaron for his new family member. At nearly one-and-a half years of age, Aaron was definitely a fully realized being, albeit with limited language skills, yet we weren’t sure how much of the “new baby brother” talk he had completely understood.
Aaron saw me first and smiled brightly, then toddled over to inspect the mysterious bundle in my arms. I pulled the blanket from Ben’s face and a look of sheer wonderment shone in Aaron’s eyes. “Baby!” he said. Then, he leaned down and delivered a gentle kiss so spontaneous and genuine that it took my breath away. Aaron then assumed his position of serenity: thumb-in-mouth, cheek resting against softness normally provided by Bear. This time, the softness came in the form of Ben’s whisper-thin hair-covered pate. Beloved Bear had found some competition.
At that moment, all of my ominous thoughts of the varying forms of sibling rivalry flew out the window. This was real love: unfiltered, innocent and perfect.
I cried. A hormonal barrage of tears, each droplet conveying a different emotion – Guilt that Aaron was seeing me hold another baby in my arms. Sadness that he would no longer have his parents’ undivided attention. Pleasure in seeing my delightful first born, after being away for two days. Relief that my sibling rivalry fears were dissipated. Astonishment at the profound display of sincerity that I was witnessing.
It was not a fluke. Aaron’s adoration of his younger brother continued unabated. Where other mothers were afraid to leave their young siblings alone together, I counted on Aaron to look after Ben during brief moments when I left the room. They would sit, hand-in-hand, watching Sesame Street. For nearly a year, their close proximity elicited Aaron’s Pavlovian thumb-in-mouth, cheek-against-head response. Bear might have maintained his position as number one comfort item, but when Ben was near, Bear was an afterthought.
As they grew, Ben assumed the position of admirer, designating Aaron as “Brudda.” They shared everything – toys, books, and clothes – rarely disagreeing on anything. When they did, Ben often deferred to his older brother who he assumed knew all. When selecting our family dog 12 years ago, it was Aaron, with Ben’s approval, who made the final choice. When trying new foods, Ben would wait and watch Aaron’s reaction. When waking in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve to sneak a peek at Santa’s offerings, Ben would never consider tiptoeing into the living room without first rousing Aaron.
And so it continued. Which classes did Aaron like most? Which were most challenging? Which should be avoided? Which sports programs were Aaron’s favorites and which were his least favorite? Was sleep-away camp fun, or was there homesickness? Ben has benefited from Aaron’s place as first-born and first-doer – a role Aaron has assumed gracefully. Through the years they continued to look after one another and they reveled in their time spent together. Their preference for their own company was sometimes revealed during pre-school and elementary school play dates when I would occasionally find myself entertaining the third-wheel guest. Even later, when the rare yet inevitable restructuring of certain friendships took place, they had each other’s backs and knew they could always count on one another.
Many families bring along their children’s friends for vacations in order that one sibling or another not be left out or bored, a practice in which we have never felt the need to partake. Their similar ages and interests always ensured compatibility and endless entertainment – whether taking in the sites on big city streets, playing football on warm sandy beaches, or hiking mountain trails. Though their approaches to life are invariably different, it is their differing approaches that provide perpetual amusement – and always lots of laughter.
My boys are now high schoolers, on their way to college independence, and in that brief introductory moment 15 years ago, I was fortunate to witness the origins of an unwavering devotion that has matured and transformed. Though their hobbies and endeavors have naturally diversified over the years, they continue to be constant companions – sharing friends, sharing new experiences and very soon, sharing a car. They have built a bond that will most assuredly endure through life’s highs and lows. I can’t think of anything more meaningful as a parent, than knowing I have fostered such a bond. For me, nothing connotes the essence of Valentine’s Day quite as well.
Fran is a freelance writer/editor based in Lafayette, where she lives with her husband Dan and boys, Aaron and Ben.