Emergency vehicle sirens terrified my brother, two years my junior, throughout his childhood.

He’d run crying and hide in a closet, refusing the comfort offered by my confused mother. For years both suffered his pain in their own way.

All the while the guilty culprits, those who prompted and perhaps cultivated this fear, went on with their lives and for a good long time kind of police carforgot what they’d done.

You guessed it – I was one of the guilty. My sister, the middle child, was the other. We were mean at the age of four and five, although our round faces and wide eyes belied that fact. And hey, Santa ALWAYS showed up. So just how bad were we?

Well, you be the judge: It’s a sunny day. The three of us are playing in our yard with a few friends. A siren is heard in the distance, perhaps a fire truck, perhaps a squad car.

the four of us and dad taking the picture

Mom and the three of us, with Dad taking the picture.

We amble over to our brother, age three. “Thommmmm,” we whisper. “They’re coming to get you. Those sirens? They’re going to take you away. We’ll never see you again.” Who knows how many times this happened, why we started or why we finally stopped.

As I write this, I’m mortified. That was really, really mean. After a short time, my brother forgot our threats, but clung to the fear,  and never could tell our mom why he was afraid. Eventually (in our early twenties) we confessed to him what we’d done. I think he forgave us. By that time, there was likely a heap of other things to make him angrier.

My mom, however, not knowing the truth, held on to the pain of not being able to help her son with his greatest fear. We had no idea how difficult that had been for her, and it was another twenty years after our initial confession before she found out the truth. I’m not sure what she thought about it, and I have no desire to bring it up, not being particularly proud of it.

Surprisingly, I grew up to be nice to a fault. So parents, never fear, you’re not necessarily raising sociopaths. I don’t know how you do it, the constant pressure to bring your kids up right, and the pain when you think you’ve failed in one way or the other. There are always those facts we don’t have, and maybe never will have, so don’t be too hard on yourself. After all, your kids will do that for you.

And who knows just how much of it in reality is their fault anyway.


In case you’re wondering about my relationship with my brother today, it all worked out. Here’s a post I wrote about it a few months ago: sibling revelry
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16 Comments on “devious secrets of my childhood

  1. I think my brother’s fear stemmed from a dream of his, and all of our over imaginative minds, but my brother was terrified of garbage trucks, and he thought that they were coming to take him! me and my siblings played outside the front of our house and in our street a lot, but I remember my brother and younger sister would come racing in, if they heard the garbage truck coming!

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    • Those fears are so real when you’re a kid and it’s just not always easy to pinpoint their origin! I feel terrible now about what I did, but of course at the time I had no idea how mean it was…at least I assume I didn’t!

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  2. I’m an only child so I didn’t create any deep rooted demons within a brother or sister. I also don’t think I inherited any except when my folks divorced at 16 I did get a touch materialistic and ultra organized because I moved around a lot thereafter and didn’t have a set residence for a spell. The stability of a home, a space…is important at any age.

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    • If you knew me now you’d be amazed I could be that cruel. I really don’t know where it came from and I guess I’ll never know. For all I know another kid in the neighborhood started it with his own siblings and my sister & I mimicked him…I’m thinking of one boy in particular…but it would be wrong to blame him when I really don’t know!

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  3. I think we really have some ‘mean’ stages especially during childhood. As the eldest among six siblings I have also some episodes of rudeness against them.

    Good post! You are indeed a great storyteller. 🙂

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  4. I remember when the Amityville Horror movie came out, my sister taped the music. One time when I went to bed she stuck the tape recorder on the floor in the bedroom and hit play. I screamed bloody murder, she got in trouble by Mom. All is forgiven. 🙂 Great post.

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