From the Editor

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Little brother Bill of Rights

Little brother works a lot of overtime trying to get noticed. You inherit the shirt that's faded and advertising last year's Disney movie, the littlest room in the house, the kid bed that sags, the foam football with the big bite marks.

You play second base with a third-hand glove, and you don't complain.

No matter how hard you tried, you were never the first to have walked, gone to a first day of school, braved the big water slide or graduated to underwear that doesn't have cartoon superheroes on it.

Little brother tries to make up for it. You yell louder, run harder. Life isn't easy for the little brothers of the world.

By the time little brother came along at our house, we had realized that you don't have to rock a child to sleep every night, and that dirt isn't fatal. We have 10,000 baby pictures of big sister in fancy frames. We have about two of little brother's lifespan. Somewhere. I think it was Erma Bombeck who once talked about her last child's birth and graduation pictures turning out to be on the same roll of film.

You stand patiently by while big sister talks excitedly about what she did in the worldly, stunningly sophisticated world of middle school grade, where the likes of long division are all Greek to you.

You sometimes try to tag along with the 12-year-old crowd, but while they live it up in the front row of the movie, you get stuck sitting with mom and dad.

They're big enough to reach the line to ride the roller coaster at Okoboji. You settle for the bumper cars.

You get the abbreviated explanations of a slightly worn-down parent. Why do you have to take a nap when it's dad who is tired? 'Cause I said so. (Oh, God, I've turned into my parents.)

You are agreeably satisfied with being known as Somebody's Little Brother at school, where everything you do will be compared to somebody who got there before you.

You've often been conned out of the better toys, the bigger portions at dinner, and the coins you have earned for cleaning your room. For a while, you were led to believe that you should trade your dimes for pennies, and that you were getting the better end of the deal because the pennies were bigger. Your sister will make a good Congresswoman some day.

One day you will likely be six feet tall, and maybe have small children of your own. But even them you'll still be the baby. At 40, you'll still be a little brother. But you'll like it better then.

At 10, you are growing up as fast as you can. You have trampled away every blade of grass in the yard, running for touchdowns, hitting baseballs and bouncing basketballs, and you have turned the living room into an obstacle course in an endless struggle with your mother's desire to preserve the furniture from diving and tackling.

We see a sofa, you see a challenge. Adulthood isn't all it's cracked up to be, Little Brother.

I haven't noticed you enough, I know. I let this stupid job and all of the other stuff get in the way of more important business like playing catch and walking in the woods far more often than I have any right to. I wish I had those lost minutes back.

And sometimes, when you're jumping on my back or jarring me awake with flips on my bed, I tell you, "Grow up."

"Why don't you just grow up!"

Hey, I don't mean that. Because someday all too soon, you will.

When you don't come to jump on me in your wild games anymore, I'll miss it more than you can know.

I hear all about women's rights, immigrant rights, senior citizens' rights and so on, and I believe in them all.

But I wonder if there shouldn't be a Little Brother's Bill of Rights as well. It might go something like this:


* That you should get your own clothes from time to time as well as hand-me-downs - especially when they come from a girl.

* That you should never be referred to as "littlest."

* That you should get the best of your older siblings once in a while, and get to celebrate it excessively.

* That no grown-up should be permitted to compare your rate of learning to that of your older sibling, especially when recalling pottie training in a room full of relatives at Christmas.

* That you will never be known as "second" or "last" of anything.

You are our youngest, a unique person all your own. You are the First You. And for a while, we are young again with you. Thank you, Little Brother, for that.