This weekend I was poking around at a local thrift store and there it was: an honest-to-gosh Big Wheel, the sort of plastic 3-wheeled trike I remember riding as a kid. I always meant to get one for our boys, but the last time I saw one at a toy store, it was available at the stunning price of $160.
This one was $7.99. I bought it and ferried it home, eager to see the look on my toddler's face. At 2.5, he's a little too big for his hand-me-down tricycle, but not yet ready for a bike. This, I thought, would be perfect.
Well, it was perfect, as it turns out. Perfect for making his older brother turn bright green with jealousy, and stand around with his lower lip jutted about six inches in front of his face while Dylan eagerly pushed himself around on his new "motorcycle."
"Riley," I said. "Come on, now. You have a great bike. This is for little kids."
"Well then why can't I have a BIGGER one?" he wailed, his eyes never leaving the driveway. "I WANT ONE TOOOOOOOO."
And so it goes. Everything is officially a brotherly competition in our household. It starts first thing in the morning when I put two frozen waffles in the toaster and the boys hover around me like sharks, waiting to out-shout each other when the Eggo pops. "That one's mine!" "NO, MINES! THAT ONE DYLAN'S!"
On the way to school, they argue about what's visible through the car windows. An I-Spy type game we invented during one road trip has morphed into a breathless challenge: "BUS! I SEE A BUS! DYLAN'S SIDE!" "Stop sign, Riley's side!" "NO MY SIDE!"
They fight over every toy, tug-of-warring over plastic swords and talking Buzz Lightyears. They compete to see who can get to the front door fastest, pushing each other and wailing. They shove crackers in their mouths by the fistful, each trying to be the one who gets the last part of a shared snack.
My god. It's endless. I break up a thousand screaming fights a day, barking, "SEPARATE!" and thrusting my arm between them like a boxing referee.
Sometimes it seems so utterly maddening I can't remember why we ever thought siblings would be a good idea. It's like raising badgers, I think. Rabid, angry badgers who tear around the house snarling and snapping at each other. It's hard on us, and it must surely be hard on them. Maybe we should just ... send them to separate military schools. Starting now.
Then I notice an unusual level of quiet in the house, and I look up to see Riley sitting next to Dylan on the couch, reading him his favorite animal book. "Can you say panda, Dylan?"
I see them huddled behind the coffee table together, aiming squirt guns at invisible bad-guy robots.
I see how Dylan runs into Riley's classroom at the end of the day, his face an open flower of anticipatory joy. I see Riley smile at his brother before he even notices that I'm standing there too.
Then they start fighting over who gets to pick the first song on the drive home. And so it goes.