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 forgot 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.
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