“I want the rings!” my son Evan yelled from his seat at the dinner table, reaching to snatch the object from his little brother’s hands.
“No, my wings!” Zack screeched, clutching the plastic circles close to his chest.
“Rings? That’s the thing that holds the ketchup bottles together. It has no other purpose,” I said. We get much of our food from Costco these days, so our ketchup comes in triplicate.
After wrenching the bottles apart, I’d set the otherwise useless but soon-to-be-coveted plastic doodad on the table for a moment, until I could squirt another gallon onto each of the kids’ plates, so they could keep their chicken nuggets properly lubricated. Prior to having kids, a bottle of ketchup in our house would last about four years after its sell-by date. Now, we buy a three-pack of gallon jugs just to get through the week. Our kids eat so much ketchup, their blood type is Heinz-positive.
“My wings!” Zack yelled.
“No, my rings!” Evan said, making another lunge.
“You know you guys are fighting over a piece of actual garbage right now, right? Why don’t you fight over the egg shells I just threw away, or an old banana peel?” I suggested.
“What?” Evan asked, trying to figure out if he was actually allowed to go play with egg shells. While he was distracted, Zack peeked at the plastic thing in his hand, wondering if it might be useful for anything other than tormenting his brother.
They call Philadelphia the City of Brotherly Love, which must mean this: People in the city really do love each other and want to spend time together, and also shove each other sometimes, and occasionally steal each other’s stuff. That’s what brotherly love looks like in our house, anyway.
As our sons grow up together, I wonder what their relationship will look like as their bonds, and punches, grow stronger. My dad is very close with his brother, our Uncle Ed. They’ll chat on the phone for an hour or more, with Dad holding the phone just under the scar beneath his eye, which was given to him sixty-five years ago by the man on the other end of the line.
Dad was chasing Uncle Ed around their house in rural North Carolina. With Dad closing in, Uncle Ed happened upon the perfect brother-impeding obstacle – some extra barbed wire. He pulled the wire tight across my dad’s path, and dad ran right into the barbed wire, face first. Mission accomplished, brother impeded.
Of course, this was back in the day when kids were allowed to be around things like barbed wire. If we had barbed wire around our house now, my wife Kara would put foam rubber bumpers on each barb. Animals would come from all around to rub up against our satiny-soft barbed wire. Back then, though, “childproofing” wasn’t really a word, or if it was, it probably meant wearing protection, not adhering it to every corner of the coffee table.
The fight over the ketchup doodad ended like most of our kids’ fights do: they forgot they were fighting and ran off to the next thing, together. As we cleaned up after dinner, the doodad sat next to Zack’s plate; once it lost its brother-tormenting properties, it became trash again.
Anyway, I can only hope that someday, Evan and Zack grow up to be as close as Dad and Uncle Ed (who still feels bad about the barbed wire thing, even though he’d already been apologizing about it for a decade before our current president was born), but it would be okay if they skipped the step where one of them almost takes out the other one’s eyeballs. Besides, they’d have to figure out a way to do it with foam rubber.
You can give Mike Todd a brotherly shove at firstname.lastname@example.org.