by Eloise Hawking
Emily and I slowly rose to peer out of the tree house window to see what we were in for. My three and a half year old brother Sam was creeping through the backyard, looking into a pair of binoculars through the wrong end. Sam was wearing a train engineer’s hat, red rubber rain boots, a bold striped shirt that said “Prince Charming” across the chest, and a pair of Buzz Lightyear underwear.
Em giggled, covering her mouth while I yelled out slightly embarrassed, “Sam! Where are your pants?”
“I don’t need pants on. Pants are weird!” Sam shouted back at me.
Sam deposited his binoculars in the bucket and carefully climbed the tree house stairs one tiny step at a time. He clutched the handrail tightly on the way up.
My brother is a big chicken and afraid of everything. Everyone else thinks he’s this brave, daredevil from the way he yells and talks all the time. But I know the truth. Mom says Sam is “all bark and no bite”, and for once, I understand the implied meaning.
“Quick,” said Emily, “lock the door! Maybe he’ll go away.”
“Not a chance,” I replied as Sam began to pound and kick at the door.
“Okay, okay, buddy. Just a minute.” As much as he bugged us, it was always fun to see Sam and truthfully neither of us really wanted him to go away. He entertained us.
Sam entered the tree house in his annoying-yet-ever-so-adorable sort of way. He was complaining that his “spy glasses” weren’t working and we tried to tell him that he was looking out of the wrong end, but he wouldn’t listen. He is a kid you just can’t tell things to. He has to find out the hard way.
“Nice boots, Sam,” said Emily.
Sam looked down and I wondered if he knew they were on the wrong feet. He looked back up at Em and said, “Don’t you have a coat? It’s fall and there is a chill in the air. My teacher said so.” This, coming from the little boy standing in his underwear.
Sam goes to Preschool at a place called Tiny Tots Early Learning Center. Sometimes after school I go with my mom to pick Sam from preschool. I watch how Mom tenses up as she pulls into the parking lot. I see her take a deep breath before she enters the building and how she shuts her eyes when the teachers tell her he “hasn’t had a good day.”
Sam always gets handwritten behavior reports from his teachers. I can tell from one quick glance at the note that is clipped to his cubby what kind of evening we are going to have at home. The longer the paragraph, the longer the evening.
Sam walked over to me and crawled onto my lap. He clasped his dirty, little hands around mine, and gave me a slobbery, wet kiss. “I missed you today, Onion,” he said. Onion was the best Sam could pronounce “Ellen” when he was learning to talk.
“Did you have a good day at school?” I asked. It made my heart melt as I saw the honesty in his big, blue eyes.
“Yes, I did Sam,” I replied. “You are such a nice boy for asking.”
“I’m a nice boy, Onion?” inquired Sam, catching the compliment looking at me right in the eyes. The word “nice” is always in question in regard to Sam.
Emily came in with the save this time. I managed to dodge another tough to answer question. “Hey Sam,” said Emily while flipping her eyelids inside out, “Can you do this?”
I watched Sam and Emily amuse each other by daring one another to do strange things with their bodies. They bent their fingers as far back as they could without breaking them and made squeaking noises with their arm pits.
“Emily, don’t teach him that stuff,” I warned, stifling a giggle. “It only spell trouble.”
“No it doesn’t,” said Emily in reply. “It spells squeak. Squeak is spelled S-Q-U-E-A-K. Right, Sam? Tell your sister how to spell squeak.”
“F-A-R-T,” said Sam cracking up.
Unfortunately that was my doing. I taught him how to spell that word about a month ago and I’ve been in trouble ever since his Sunday school teacher asked him how we should really spell “love.” I suppose she meant G-O-D, but Sam gave her another idea.
I heard the back door slide open and my mother call out that it was time for dinner. I stood up and gathered my things and picked up Sam’s “broken” spy glasses for him. Sam obviously did not want me touching them.
“Onion! Those are my special spy glasses! Don’t touch them! They’re mine!” he whined. He gets cranky when he gets hungry.
“Sam, I’m just picking them up for you and I will fix them for you because you said they are broken,” I said with an edge of irritation to my voice.
“No way! Stop taking them! They are MINE!” he screamed.
The threat level of Sam was rising from yellow—which was a constant—to orange, one step below the red alert. Usually during this phase of the Samscale, I have two choices—either ignore him or push him just a bit more. Today, I felt brave, or crabby, or tired, or hungry. You can pick the adjective because any applied.
I said, more for Emily’s benefit than my own, “Listen you little Rockhead! These are not “spy glasses” they are binoculars, and they aren’t broken! You are using them the wrong way! Now quit being so stubborn!”
“You’re mean, ONION!” he screamed while taking a swing at me.
Sam is not like me in the least in regard to his temperament. He can be very hot headed and has a quick left hook which he likes to use. Because of all my years of playing softball, I am pretty quick myself and I stepped to the side just in time. Sam unfortunately punched the tree instead of me, taking the skin off of his knuckles.
“Yeeeeaaahhhhhhhh! Owie! Owie! Owie!” he cried. I have to admit, it really looked like it hurt and I tried to comfort him, but he beat me out of the tree house.
Sam cried all the way down the steps, one wrong footed boot at a time. He ran directly into the arms of my mother who was standing in the backyard by this time. “Moommmmyyyy!!!!”
“Sam, honey, what is wrong?” said Mom while stroking his white-blonde hair. She always comforts him more than she does me when I am hurt.
“I hurted my hand!” Sam whined.
“Oh, my. I see that,” mom calmly replied. “How did that happen?”
“I did it from punching Onion.”
The kid can’t lie. I haven’t figured out yet if he is really good at the core of his being or if he’s just plain unimaginative enough not to craft some sort of story yet.
Mom looked at me directly in the eyes. It was then I noticed how tired she looked. “Patience,” she said in a calm low voice. “Patience, Ellen.”
Mom sighed, put her arm around Sam and turned to lead him into the house. Her usual peppy stride slowed to a deliberate lumber. She took a few steps and turned to me and said, “Ellen, it’s time to eat anyway. We’ll work this out later. “
My stomach growled and must admit that food sounded very good at the moment. I hoped it was something good. Emily took the cue, grabbed her upside down skateboard, saluted me, and rolled off.
“Oh! I almost forgot,” said Mom as she turned back in my direction. “Your grandma made some soup for us for dinner. Can you go over and get it, please Cinderella?”
Hang on stomach, just a few more minutes. Patience. Maybe that was the key to all things. Having patience. If so, I should be able to unlock lots of doors by now. Onward.