From hugs to headlocks

This was my column for the Sunday, Feb. 8, 2009 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. This piece was based on an early essay I wrote for KAXE’s weekly program “Between You and Me.”

From hugs to headlocks
By Aaron J. Brown


In summary, hornets buzz around the center of my sibling experience growing up on the Iron Range of northern Minnesota. One time when I was very young, maybe 4 or 5, my sister Amanda and I were playing on an old tractor when hornets swarmed out from underneath. Did I mention I was very young? Anyway, hornets are very, very scary and maybe, just maybe, I left my not-quite-2-year old sister on the seat of the tractor while the hornets angrily clouded around her. Maybe I bolted, as fast as I could, back to the house to tell my mom that those hornets almost got me. And maybe when she asked where my sister was, my answer was …. uhh?

She lived. Another time, when we lived at the salvage yard my family would later run, my sister Alyssa and I were running through the woods. I was out front and stepped on a hornets’ nest in the swampy terrain. I saw the hornets pour out of the bog but kept on running, leaving my sister to run through the cloud of insect torment. I wasn’t stung, but I guess she was. Or so I later learned.

I am the oldest of four, the only boy with three younger sisters. The older two of my sisters were very close in age while my youngest sister is a full 17 years my junior. I drove to the hospital the day she was born. But siblings of any age share a lasting bond. There’s something about having the same parents that makes every sibling like an interconnected science experiment. “Hey, which one of us is the control?”

This idea has come into clearer focus for me after I’ve had kids of my own. As the father of three boys, all born within two years of each other, I have seen how siblings function from a whole new perspective. Watching the action play out each day shows me the delicate nature of sibling life. All toddlers now, the boys seem to love each other in a way that also includes pummeling. Hugs turn to headlocks in a matter of seconds, often for reasons that we adults never understand.

And yet siblings have a code, a wordless language that parents can’t understand. One day I was shepherding the three boys upstairs. Henry, age 3, arrived at the top first, of course. Second, arrived George, age 1 ½. His twin brother Doug was taking his time navigating up the stairs. I was about to pick him up to hurry the process when Henry said “Dougie wants to do it himself.” OK, I thought. And Doug climbed slowly from step to step until I lost all patience and picked him up two steps before he reached the summit. Well, Doug didn’t like that. He screamed like a banshee for several minutes, even pounding his head on the floor for some time. “Dougie wanted to do it himself, daddy,” added Henry. Thanks. I should have listened the first time.

Folks without siblings, like my wife Christina, have their perspective, too. Only children are often unfairly painted as spoiled. The truth is they earn everything they’ve got after being forced to hang out with their lame parents for far more hours than the rest of us hung out with our lame parents. Until of course we learn that our parents aren’t lame, not really, but rather more like us, just older, with crazy children bouncing off one another before them, growing up in the same Petri dish of humanity.

Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune and the author of the new book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”

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