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On the eleventh day of summer(mas), my middle schooler gave to me: eleven piped positives

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From the start, Allegra was crazy about her little brother.

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Excited from her soon-to-be-shorn scalp* right down to her slow-healing umbilical hernia, she gloried in having a buddy for life. For “Brudder,” she had endless hugs, tickles, adventures, and concern. In return, he worshiped her, gazing upon her with awe and appreciation, certain she’d hung the moon.

During Paco’s first two years of life, she was the dominant force that shaped him.

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SHE TAUGHT HIM THE JOYS OF MINIATURE WORLDS.



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SHE TAUGHT HIM TO SLAP THE BUBBLES, NOT EAT THE BUBBLES.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM THE IMPORTANCE OF WARDROBE
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AND SELECTING JUST THE RIGHT OUTFIT.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM HOW TO COMPOSE HIS OWN JAM.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM THAT DIRT IS A BLAST.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM THE FAMILY THAT EATS POPCORN TOGETHER NOT ONLY STAYS TOGETHER BUT IS SUPERIOR TO ALL OTHERS.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM FEW THINGS ARE MORE ENJOYABLE THAN manger à l’extérieur, ESPECIALLY WITH A FRIEND WHO’S DOWN FOR A GOOD GOSSIP.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM THAT A DRAMATIC READING CAN ENLIVEN EVEN A BOWL FULL OF MUSH.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM TO CARE FOR THE SMALL, SOFT CREATURES OF THE WORLD.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM AIN’T NOTHING LIKE A POPSICLE ON A HOT DAY.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM CLIFFORD IS ALWAYS BETTER IF YOU’VE BOTH BEEN TO THE HAIRDRESSER FIRST.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM A GOOD CUDDLE OVERCOMES ANY SPILL ON ONE’S TROUSERS.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM THAT WHEN THE WORLD IS TOO MUCH WITH HIM, SHE’LL ALWAYS HAVE HIS BACK.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM THAT DOING IMPRESSIONS IS A CROWD-PLEASER.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM NOT TO LOSE HIS NUT WHEN A MEAL IS INTERRUPTED.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM THAT SHARING A BED IS MORE FUN THAN SLEEPING ALONE.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM TO ALWAYS BRING A SNACK ON A HIKE.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM IT’S HILARIOUS WHEN YOUR MOM CALLS YOU “THE POTHEADS.”
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SHE TAUGHT HIM THAT THE LADIES LOVE IT WHEN YOU KNOW HOW TO DO HAIR.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM WHAT IT’S LIKE TO HAVE AN ANGEL ON HIS SHOULDER.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM HOW TO WRASSLE.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM HOW TO SKI.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM HOW TO PAINT
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…HOW TO REALLY OWN HIS ART
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SHE TAUGHT HIM TO DO TRICKS
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…AND THE CONCEPT OF MONKEY-SEE, MONKEY-DO.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM THAT WINTER IS FANASTIC…
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…IF YOU GO OUT AND THROW YOURSELVES INTO IT.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM THAT A STYLIN’ HAT CAN ENHANCE ANY LOOK.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM THAT SOMETIMES SWIMMERS IN THE FLEECE POOL NEED AN EMERGENCY INOCULATION WITH A TIRE PUMP.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM TO BE PREPARED IN CASE THE CAN-CAN BREAKS OUT DURING OPENING NIGHT AT THE PUPPET THEATER.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM THAT TENDER RITUAL IS THE BEST WAY TO TUCK IN THE BABIES.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM THAT MOM WILL DROP HER BRIEFCASE IN THE YARD AFTER WORK WHEN GREETED WITH A BOOK.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM THAT EVERYONE HAS THE RIGHT TO BE A PRINCESS.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM TO TAKE CHARGE OF HIS JOURNEYS.
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SHE TAUGHT HIM TO GET IN THE CAR AND JUST GO SOMEWHERE.

All of this happened in his first two years of life. It compounded thereafter, with sister teaching brother about independence, courage, and the pride of achievement.

And now, a decade has passed since those early years. She, the devoted sister, is less obviously so. Developmentally appropriate, she no longer hangs the moon for her brother; instead, she focuses on the axis around which she, herself, spins. However, he, the adoring brother, the little boy in him still resonating, has not changed.

Quietly, he orbits her. If she’s in the mood to be silly, he is the first to laugh. If she’s in the mood to tease him, he takes it with unfailing good humor. If she needs an assist, his hands are ready to pitch in. She thinks she’s great. He thinks she’s great.

From early days, Allegra was his Sun. By throwing her arm around him and officially dubbing him “one of the animals when I teach animal school,” she created in him the confidence that there was a place for him, that he was wanted, that he belonged. Even more, they established a trust that sustains them. Always, she has shown him what’s to come–has served as the example of his near future.

All of this was evident when Allegra got behind the wheel of a an actual, not plastic, car. She completed the driver’s education course during the first two weeks of summer break, and then she was ready to start putting in some road hours. In my mind, it was essential that her first time behind the wheel be both focused and isolated–just her and a parent.

That’s not how it played out.

With both Byron and Allegra working, the schedules didn’t mesh to have just one of us in the car with her with the other handled Paco-based amusements. Of course, Paco could have stayed home alone, but here’s the rub: he’s had a lifetime of being included. If Allegra was going to try driving, and he either had to be home alone or in the car with us,

he wanted to be an animal in her animal school.

So I asked the new driver how she felt about having “Brudder” in the backseat. It surprised her that I thought she might be bothered. “It’s just Paco! Sure, he should come.”

I should have known that the teacher who used to seat Brudder between two poorly behaved stuffed animals named Crabby Duck and Blabbermouth wouldn’t be fazed by one well-behaved Paco sitting in the back row of her driving debut. She’d long known that the strategic placement of Paco results in peace.

Despite her willingness to take his presence for granted, I also knew the twelve-year-old was enough of an adolescent that he might toss out a few wisecracks as his sister nervously tried to keep a vehicle within the confines of a high school parking lot. Thus, when we headed out that day, I took a quick moment to pull him aside and give him a murmured caution: “The best thing you can do is stay quiet. Allegra’s anxious about the prospect of being in charge of a car while also applying all the book learning she got from the classes, so we don’t want to wind her up. We’re going to stay calm and positive and not react with any dramatic gasps or comments, okay?”

He looked at me like I was crazy. Why would he do anything but support his sister?

Honest to holy, my friends, I sometimes think I can’t write about my kids because they set me up to be one of those smug asshole parents. If it helps at all, I, myself, am profoundly flawed and annoying, so please forgive my children their perfection. In my person, I more than make up for it.

For half an hour, the three of us turned small circles around the high school parking lot near our home. The driver was not, *ahem*, naturally mechanically inclined. Simply turning left at the end of the parking lot entailed fifty words of questioning about how far to crank the wheel and fifty more words to explain the concept of uncranking the wheel to STRAIGHTEN OUT BEFORE GOING OVER THE CURB.

She did just fine. Half an hour was enough to make both mother and driver a little tired. Half an hour was plenty.

When we got home–with me driving, as the fledgling was not yet ready to face actual traffic, I asked her to hop behind the wheel again and pose, so I could take a picture. While she grinned for the camera, an adolescent voice, unstrapping from the backseat, piped up: “You did a really good job, Allegra!

His compliment warmed me but hung in the air, unacknowledged. Seems my kids aren’t perfect after all. I chastened her: “Allegra! What do you say?”

“Thanks, Paco. I’m glad you were along.”

Then, being cool, tossing me the keys, she smiled, pleased with her efforts, and headed towards the house.

Yet.

Despite her casual demeanor, something in the air had shifted.

She tossed her long hair over her shoulder, thwacked her flip-flops against her feet as she walked up the path to the house, swung her hips with a womanly stride,

but at the same time, responding to some deep internal programming, she leaned in to his words.

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There, then, was a moment for the sister–with the little bugger who was always around–dancing, snuggling, companioning, playing, imagining, listening, loving. That little bugger.

Half an hour earlier, she hadn’t known she’d needed him when she asked, flummoxed, “Where do I put the keys to start this thing?”

–and hadn’t known she’d needed him when she broke into flop sweat and shouted, “I don’t want to go over five miles an hour!”

–and hadn’t known she’d needed him when she squealed, “Am I about to hit that pole?”

–and hadn’t known she’d needed him when she spluttered, “Wait, which one is the brake?”

–and hadn’t known she’d needed him when she mused, ruefully, “I totally missed that parking space, right?”

yet he’d been there the whole time, strapped into the backseat–

absorbing,

listening,

watching,

thinking she was amazing.

And when he told her so, he taught her:

it’s one thing to be a good driver, but it’s an entirely different gift

to be a good passenger.

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*When Allegra was three, she would throw a fit whenever I’d brush her hair, fighting against my efforts. As a result, I told her, “Either you be nice and let me brush your hair without fuss, or we’re going to cut it really short.”

With nary a beat of pause, she responded, “Then I think you’re going to need to cut it short.”

So we did. Once the shearing–during which she sat happily and quietly–was over, I fancied she looked like a 1970s Romanian gymnast.

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Published by Jocelyn

There's this game put out by the American Girl company called "300 Wishes"--I really like playing it because then I get to marvel, "Wow, it's like I'm a real live American girl who has 300 wishes, and that doesn't suck, especially compared to being a dead one with none."

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4 Comments

  1. Ah, sweet series of photos – and how excellent of Paco to come through with a compliment.

    And, your kids look so much like you – strong genes or what!

  2. Ok. I am totally freaking out here. That doll house on that rug? We had the EXACT same dollhouse which is still in our basement because I have not been able to give it to Goodwill and we still have that rug. Liv worked all day long one hot Summer day when she was 10 duplicating the patterns of that rug in a painting. And the chair by the radiator? That is our chair. It still sits in our living room and is my “cuddle up with the dog” chair after I get chemo. The radiator is ours, too. But, I am guessing that a lot of people can say that. Except that ours has a board on it with plants all over it. But, I was totally freaked out. Like what if I come to your house one day and find out that you have the same kitchen table (old fashioned wooden one with a barstool leg in the middle to hold it up…Bing actually made it, so I will totally ZAP if you have one, too) or beds (ours has a plain wooden plank headboard that goes up about four feet…we found it in the attic when we moved in, Liv’s is a plain steel one, painted white. Allegra or Paco don’t have that one, or um…do they?) So, after squinting at all the photos trying to see if we had more matches…I finally went back and read the captions and really looked at the photos and I was so charmed. What lovely pink cheeks! What angelic smiles! I especially loved the one at the end where they are sharing the sofa. I can tell you right now that Allegra has more maturity than Liv regarding feet in that close proximity of her. Unless it is Channing Tatum, no feet would ever get that close to her face. I am hoping that you will do your next 12 days on Allegra? And I LOVE it that she needed all of you to help her learn to drive. When Liv got her learning permit at 15, she asked to drive home! I was so mad, accused Bing of teaching her to drive on the sly! I will never know who taught her to drive, but someone did…….and I know it sounds stupid and selfish but I wanted it to be ME. I envisioned long drives together in the country, talking and laughing. Not happening. She just got behind the wheel and we took off….

  3. wonderful wonderful post!! loved the pics of those cuties – as well as of the 2 teenagers cuddled up on the sofa! Best of luck to Girl with the driving… and of the womanhood…

  4. This is quite the gift to your kids, Jocelyn. A lot of time went into posting and captioning those photos, and what a wonderful record they are. It’s pretty much the most wonderful thing ever when siblings are also really good friends, and I hope for yours that they stay that way. Two of mine used not to be able to stand each other, but now seek each other out. My niece and nephew, once very close, have struggled to stay that way once partners entered the picture. That’s a bit my story too – a brother who I adored married a woman who didn’t care for the fact that he had a sister. Or a family, for that matter, and although I don’t like to think this way, I believe she has tried hard to detach him from us. But seeing and hearing how extraordinarily well your two get along is lovely, and the glue they have now in childhood bodes very well for their adult selves.

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