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It’s a Sunday morning in January in Los Angeles—blue
skies, sun’s out, birds chirping in trees. Inside my house, the 8-year-old
emits a scream that could shatter eardrums.
“Mommy! Momm-eee! Tell him to stop it!”
“Nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah,” taunts the 13-year-old.
“Aagh!” screams his little sister.
“You’re an idiot,” he sneers.
There was a time when this boy couldn’t wait for his little
sister to be born. But that was eight years ago, and times have changed. They
fight about everything, down to the way they look at each other. I have adult
friends who still harbor childhood grudges against their siblings. I don’t want
this to be my son and daughter.
So this Sunday, I strong-arm them into an act of
cooperation. We’re going to the farmer’s market a mile away—the dog and me on
foot, the kids on their bikes.
“Be nice,” I say to
the oldest, as he and his sister head out. “Keep her pace. Remember she’s only 8.”
But I know that’s not enough. “If I arrive and find out
there were any fights, no waffles from the waffle stand.”
I remind him: 'Be nice. Take care of her.'
That does the trick. They bike over in peace, and we have an
incident-free market visit to boot. As we leave, I hand them their backpacks
filled with produce to carry home. They go to collect their bikes, and I remind him: “Be nice. Take care of her.”
But he’s already walking away, one step ahead of her, waving
his hand in the air. He knows, he knows.
About five minutes
later, I’m walking back home up a hill when I hear, “Hi, Mom!” It’s my oldest,
pulling up beside me on his bike.
“Where’s your sister?” The child is nowhere in sight.
“She’s right behind me,” he says.
So we wait. A minute passes. Two. Three. I crane my neck to look past him down the road, and that’s when I see her, a little figure with a pink backpack, hunched over her bike, which is weaving from one side of the bike lane to the other. I know at a glance that she's crying.
The bike lane is wide, and she’s well within its limits. Still, if she is this far behind, she had to navigate at least one intersection on her own. I don’t even want to think about what could have happened—but I want him to imagine it.
“She’s only 8,” I say to my son. “She can’t keep your pace. Look. You’ve put her in danger.” Cars pass by regularly. She looks pretty small in comparison.