With every ding-ding, my six-year-old son, Evan, winced, the sound penetrating deep into his brain, activating a Paleolithic desire to grab the thing making the cute noise and pound it quiet.
Meanwhile, my other son, Zack, rode around the kitchen on his new bike, which we’d just given him for his fourth birthday. Ding-ding. Ding-ding!
“It’s orange!” Zack had squealed after Evan had helped him pull off the sheet for the big-boy-bike reveal.
“Aw, his favorite color,” Evan said.
“It has a water bottle!” Zack screamed.
“Hey, my bike doesn’t have a water bottle,” Evan noted.
“It has a bell!” Zack yelled. Ding-ding. Ding-ding!
“What? My bike doesn’t have a bell!” Evan yelled, thereby ensuring that the sound of that bell would follow him around for the remainder of his childhood, like the howls of a bloodhound coming after an escapee.
In twelve years, here’s how that will sound: “For today’s commencement address, please welcome to the stage our valedictorian, Evan Tod…” Ding-ding! Ding-ding!
We’ve found that birthdays are a great time for our kids to demonstrate their character, as the non-celebrated brother learns to vicariously experience joy through the birthday-having one, and not to give in to the baser instincts of jealousy and resentment. Really.
“I have a solution,” Evan said, pulling me aside later in the day to demonstrate the character he’d been building that day. I’d already explained that someday soon, we’d get him a bell, too, but it wouldn’t be that day. Perhaps next weekend. To his kid brain, that meant that the purchase of the new bell would take place sometime shortly after the heat death of the universe.
“What’s that, buddy?” I asked.
“You can just take the bell off of Zack’s bike,” Evan suggested. I waited for the thought to continue to the problem-solving portion, but we’d apparently already reached it.
“What? How does that solve any problems?” I asked.
Evan pondered that question for a moment.
“I want a bell, too!” he offered, by way of explanation.
When I was growing up, my sister Amy and I didn’t have quite the same issues with sibling rivalry, because she has always been five years older than me, even though my bald spot has recently been in a hurry to help me close the gap. Because of that age difference, Amy often served as a mentor to me, someone who could give me sage advice to help me navigate the travails of childhood, but who could also, when the occasion called for it (as it often did, especially when we shared the backseat on family roadtrips), kick me in the face.
“Hey! I want a car, too!” I’d say from the driveway as Amy sat in the driver’s seat of Mom’s old Celica.
“Sorry kiddo, you’re eleven,” Amy would yell out the window.
“But I want…” I’d start to say.
“VRRRROOOOOM-SKRREEEEE! Honk-honk,” she’d rebut from somewhere near the horizon. It’s tough to argue with that.
Sibling rivalry aside, it’s a beautiful thing, watching your two kids motor around the driveway on their bikes. Of course, when you tip a bike with training wheels, the fulcrum effect of the training wheel on the pavement serves to catapult the children into the neighbor’s yard, but even so, once you retrieve the child and get them dusted off and settled back in, you can appreciate that this perfect moment – ding-ding! — is even more perfect because it has nothing at all to do with Donald Trump. Nobody even mentioned him! You can’t say that about too many moments these days.
A few days later, I handed Evan a little gift to thank him for his patience: Zack’s bell, smashed to bits. Or perhaps it was a new bell. He would have loved either one.
You can ring Mike Todd’s chimes at firstname.lastname@example.org.