Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Brothers. Keepers.

Sean's the one with the food allergies. And while that is cause for some serious concern, in many other ways he is the one I am least concerned about. Not that Nolan worries me--at all. They're both great kids. They both have empathy meters that are off the charts. But Sean... Sometimes he really goes the distance to take care of people.

Last summer, for example, Sean's best girl buddy/neighbor had a serious scooter mishap and badly skinned both of her knees something fierce on the sidewalk. While everyone crowded around her and hoisted her onto the bed of her dad's pickup, Sean disappeared into our house and emerged a few minutes later with bandages and antibiotic ointment. "Can I help her put the Band-Aids on?" he asked her mother. How could anyone say no to that? Gingerly, he expertly cleaned, treated and bandaged Emily's wounds. And while she was still smarting, having the attention and concern of her close friend immediately seemed to calm her.

That was a real display of kindness. Most of the time, at least with his brother, Sean is just as capable as any kid of snotty remarks, punches to the gut and changing rules mid-game (sometimes, it seems, just to upset his brother). While they are amazingly good to one another, they can also be downright brutal to each other. Psychologically, Sean almost always wins.

One night last winter the boys were practicing some karate on each other. Nolan kept losing the fight and became increasingly red-faced and frustrated, screaming at his brother and trying too hard in the next round. Finally, Sean said, "Nolan, the angrier you get the calmer I get. And that's why you keep losing." Nolan became hysterical at that. Unlike his brother, he hadn't yet fully absorbed the message imparted on them by their sensei (and I'm paraphrasing here): The dog who barks loudest has already lost the fight.

But brothers help each other up as much as they push each other down. Tonight at bedtime, while the boys settled into their respective sides of their room (having ditched the bunk bed last year in favor of more "personal space"), Nolan was having quite a cry over the Tiniest Scratch Ever on his left ring finger. As I tried to settle Nolan down with some deep breathing, Sean hopped out of bed and started rifling in the dark through some of the craft supplies they have in their room. Backlit by the light in the den between our two bedrooms, Sean's shadow wrestled with Scotch tape and a Kleenex.

I had to ask.

"Sean, what are you doing?"

"Making a Band-Aid for him."

We have two first aid kits in our house. There is no shortage of bandages around here. But peeling open a Band-Aid just isn't as fun as DIY triage. And Sean, the cub scout and aspiring aeronautical engineer, loves him some DIY.

Nolan sniffled and lay quietly, no longer hysterical about his pinhead-sized scratch (which, incidentally, he achieved while also wrestling the Scotch tape earlier in the night). I flipped on the light above his bed and stroked his temple while waiting for our young medic in residence to assist the patient.

Sean wandered over to the bed, and Nolan trustingly surrendered his little hand to the care of his big brother. Sean fitted a perfectly Nolan-sized square of Kleenex encircled by a piece of tape onto Nolan's finger. I thought of something our friend Mike, a firefighter and father of Sean's good friend Nicky, always says to the kids when they get banged up, bumped and bruised: "Are you hurt, or are you injured? If you're injured, you have to go to the hospital. If you're hurt, you'll be okay."

But I think Sean understands a subtle level between those two categories. Sometimes, when we're hurt, we really need to be treated like we're injured. We need to be shown a little extra attention, care, and real concern for our well-being. It just feels good to have someone take care of us. Especially if we're an overtired seven year old up past our bedtime on a school night.

Sean finished taping up his brother. "There. You're all set."

Nolan let out a hoarse little whisper, "Thank you, Seany." Then he rolled over onto his side, stuffed shark under his arm, and immediately began to doze off.

"You have the best brother, you know that?" I whispered into Nolan's ear. "You guys are so good to each other."

Nolan hummed an uh-huh in agreement as he drifted to sleep.

I tucked him in and walked over to Sean's bed. "You're the best brother, sweetie. I love you."

"I love you, too."

As I said goodnight and began to close their door, Sean whispered, "Mom, I bet Nolan's asleep already."

"I bet he is."

Sean yawned and closed his eyes. His work for today was done.


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