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Devon Corneal Headshot

The Little Bother

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Sibling rivalries are legendary. We've all heard about -- or been embroiled in conflict with -- brothers and sisters who fought like cats and dogs. Thankfully, the tragic fratricide of Cain and Abel seems to be an exception. Most of us are more like Lucy and Linus Van Pelt or Bart and Lisa Simpson. My brother tells me I was a very bossy big sister, which may explain why I like Olivia so much. My favorite animated pig calls her younger sibling "the Little Bother." She has something in common with the frustrated older siblings in "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing" and "Beezus and Ramona" who routinely bemoan the humiliation they endure at the hands of their younger relations. It's an old story.

Which is why you'd think I would be smart enough to realize my kids would not be immune.

I am not that smart. I am actually a bit delusional. I had this funny idea that my kids would avoid all that nonsense.

In my defense, Little Dude and my stepson, also known as Awesome Big Brother, are 12 years apart. Because of that, there aren't a lot of opportunities for conflict. They don't have to share their toys. My husband and I go to everyone's games and concerts. They each get plenty of individual attention, in part because Little Dude goes to bed at 7 p.m. and his big brother stays up until at least 10. They have different friends, different interests and very different needs and wants. I never hear "it's not fair!" when I give Little Dude a new Matchbox car or when my stepson gets to stay up late. I'd like to attribute this to our amazing parenting. In reality, they just travel in different orbits.

When Little Dude was born, I was ready for Awesome Big Brother to feel some resentment -- babies require a lot of attention, families are complicated and even good-natured kids can struggle to accept a new brother or sister. Hell, I resented the bundle of joy when he stole hours of sleep from me.

Lucky for us, Awesome Big Brother, who was one of the first people to hold Little Dude, didn't earn his name for nothing. He is loving, playful, attentive and kind and Little Dude worships him. This is not to say that Awesome Big Brother doesn't get annoyed with his personal Little Bother. Four-year-olds are loud, they wake up before noon, they want to watch Curious George over and over again and they're demanding. These attributes are kryptonite to a teenager who likes to sleep in and has outgrown animated movies. Sometimes Awesome Big Brother retreats to the basement for a little peace and quiet. I don't blame him. There are days I'd like to hide out down there too.

On the whole though, they peacefully co-exist and even seem to enjoy each other's company. They present a united front when one of them wants something -- like more TV time or an extended curfew. Little Dude cheers his brother on at his lacrosse games and Awesome Big Brother sits dutifully through preschool concerts.

This explains why I was caught off guard by what happened last week when our dog Max got locked in Awesome Big Brother's bedroom.

I cannot tell you how Max got shut in the room. Neither can anyone else in my family. I do know that when I left the house that night to run an errand, the dog was fine. I returned later to find a pile of paint chips on the floor where Max had frantically tried to claw through the bedroom door. When asked what happened, Awesome Big Brother blamed Little Dude. Little Dude blamed Awesome Big Brother. They were both adamant about their innocence, with one using logic and the other puppy dog eyes to divert suspicion to his brother. Awesome Big Brother argued that he would have noticed the dog before he left the room. Little Dude claimed not to have gone upstairs. The only thing they agreed on was that the other one did it. Hapless Husband, apart from taking credit for releasing the dog pleaded the fifth. The dog wasn't talking.

In all fairness, this was not the first time someone or something has gotten locked in a confined space in our house. Hapless Husband once accidentally shut the dog in the space between our back porch door and the glass storm door. Max is very small and extremely understanding about the indignities he suffers because of his size. It took us 20 minutes to find him. (This sounds bad, but it pales in comparison to the time we discovered a Pomeranian on top of the refrigerator. Please, please, don't ask.) Just last week, Little Dude locked Hapless Husband in the basement, which required the use of a stepstool and a level of dexterity I did not know my little boy possessed.

I digress. My point is that I was shocked at how quickly the boys blamed each other. And I know this was a tiny, almost meaningless event. They weren't screaming, breaking each other's stuff or storming off in a huff. It was a far cry from fratricide. But their united front was cracked. That had never happened before.

I don't think I'm ready for finger pointing, and I'm starting to wonder -- is sibling rivalry unavoidable? Are brothers destined to bicker with, resent, blame, ignore, irritate or annoy each other? Is fighting just part of the deal? Could it be that even having kids 12 years apart might not be enough to save us?

I wish I could head off any more cracks in their previously flawless relationship. I wonder if it would matter if I tell them how unique their bond is, how much they'll rely on each other later in their lives, and how lucky they are to have each other. I have a feeling it won't. This is the way things go. There will be plenty more "He did it!", "No, he did it!" moments? Is that just life?

Maybe so. Until then, I'll count my blessings, and start checking behind all the doors.