Extra Pulp: Bond of Brothers

Laura Anders Lee finds that her two boys are still competitive, but also finding their way to developing a brotherly bond.

I always wanted at least two kids. I grew up with a family of four and assumed I’d have the same—and it just happened to work out that way. When our son Anders turned 2, William was born. My husband and I switched from zone defense to a man-to-man, full-court press.

People told us having kids close together would be a good thing, that having boys two years apart meant they’d be best friends. But at 9 and almost 7, they’re more like archrivals. Most days, I feel like a referee in a heated boxing match of close calls.

One major issue is that they could not be more different. This summer, Anders has enrolled in science camp, basketball and archery, while William attends drama camp, karate and art lessons. A classic introvert, Anders prefers playing alone in his underwear with his collection of Beyblades and Pokemon cards, while William, the extrovert, socialite and fashionista, wants someone to play with all the time.

Anders is shy and struggles with speech articulation while William starred in his school play. Anders is a picky eater, refusing even to eat pizza, chicken fingers and hot dogs. William enthusiastically tries salmon, sushi and foie gras.

After William was born, Anders went through an especially rough terrible-twos stage. A therapist advised me never to underestimate the power a new sibling has on the firstborn. Anders lived in a world where his parents devoted all their attention to him and then BAM! William came along and took half of it away.

My mom, who lives nearly five hours away, kindly asked me how she could help with the boys this summer. I told her I’d love to send them to stay with her, but one at a time. For two glorious weeks, I won’t have to deal with fighting for a single day—the scratching, punching, wrestling, and testosterone-ing, the crying, the whining and the tattletelling. I’m looking forward to giving each son special one-on-one attention. I’m hoping they’ll even miss each other a little bit, too.

My brother, Will, and I are 27 months apart, coincidentally the same as Anders and William. We fought constantly and drove our parents crazy—you know what they say about karma. But later in life, we became close. In our early 20s, the two of us took a train trip together up the East Coast to D.C., New York and Boston. Like my own children, the two of us are very different, but on this trip we put our personal agendas aside. I actually don’t remember arguing at all—only laughing and telling old stories as we explored each city together. We share the same childhood and the same genetic makeup. He knows the most about me, which is why he knows how to push my buttons more effectively than anyone else.

Looking back on our younger years, I realize life was usually more fun—and always more interesting—with my pesky younger brother around. He was my companion the first time we were allowed to navigate Disney by ourselves, my partner as we rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad over and over again. He was my co-patient when we got our tonsils out, my accomplice the time we stole Dad’s beer, my pillow on road trips, and my playmate on long, boring summer afternoons. When I totaled my car as a young adult on a road trip from Atlanta, he was the first one on the scene. He’s come to visit me in all the five states and eight cities I’ve lived, even helping me move. Today, he’s the only uncle to my two boys, and I’m the only aunt to his two children.

I want my two sons to care about each other, but in the chaos of their incessant fighting, it’s difficult to see the brotherly love. But in rare moments, they give me a glimmer of hope. During a flag football game, an overaggressive kid broke the rules and tackled William. Anders darted out on the field, ready to seek revenge. While I stopped him, I couldn’t help but feel proud that Anders was standing up for his little brother.

Even though the boys have their own rooms, they recently started sleeping together. Sometimes at night, way past their bedtime, I hear them whispering in the dark. Standing outside their door, I resist the urge to tell them to go to sleep, instead smiling that they’re getting along, swapping stories about their day and sharing Fortnite strategies. Maybe in these late hours, a slow but sure bond is forming, the makings of a lifelong friendship.

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