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My Brother’s Keeper?

When Matt and I went to name Simon, we ended up with the name we did after several failed attempts to name after our grandparents. Finding no consensus in that direction, we landed on “Simon” for the simple reason that we liked it and thought it sounded good with “Whitworth”. In doing so, we inadvertently ended up naming Simon after my great-grandfather, a name that had already been used for someone else in my generation: namely, my brother Steve, whose Hebrew nameĀ  is “Shimon”. Thus, if you look at it from one angle, Simon and his Uncle Steve share a name, a situation that is beginning to look downright prophetic with the passage of time.

I know I’ve mentioned before that Simon shares some interests and tendencies with Steve, but lately the parallels are piling up with uncanny frequency in matters small and large. My mom tells the story of her heading off to the library and Steve calling out, “Remember, Mom, I only want books with true facts in them.” Not three weeks ago, Simon handed me his Scholastic Books order form and made a point to say, “Mom, did you notice that all the books I circled were non-fiction?” Yup, he only wants “true facts” too.

Moreover, he’d like to read about the same true facts. I’m not sure if my brother was into animal facts the way Simon is, but I am absolutely certain that 6-year-old Steve would have circled the same books on space and presidents that Simon did. He’d be memorizing the same facts about space and presidents, too, focusing intently on launch dates, mission distances, and how old every president was when he died.

Then there’s the competitiveness. It kills Steve not to win. Or at least it used to; now that he’s 50 I think he’s finally mellowed a bit. Two weeks ago, when his soccer team was being dismantled on the field, Simon was the only upset player on our side. And he was more than a little upset, he was sobbing from embarrassment, disappointment, and anger. (Full disclosure, I was seething from the same combination.)

Returning again to my Mom, she tells the story of Steve and his cousin Gary. Gary went to a Jewish Day School and began learning Hebrew in kindergarten or first grade. Steve went to public school and would not begin to study Hebrew until third grade. The first year that Gary could read “The Four Questions” (part of the liturgy for Passover) at a Passover seder, Steve was beside himself. He wanted to learn them, too. In Hebrew. Immediately. At our Passover seder this year, when Simon realized that his friend and peer Leah was going to sing “The Four Questions” in Hebrew, he immediately decided to read “The Four Questions” out loud in English. And he asked if he could learn them in Hebrew. Immediately.

I think my mom felt like she was caught in a time warp. Or, given her love of all things Star Trek, that she had just encountered a temporal anomaly.

And then there is the mother of all parallels—the anxiety. When I was a kid, I could ruin the last day or two of a vacation by doing the math on when it ended. I can still feel a minor wave of melancholy wash over me on a Sunday afternoon as I ponder the proximity of Monday. But Steve? Steve could blow half the vacation and at least the entirety of Sunday if not a good chunk of Saturday, too. Wouldn’t you know it, Simon began talking about how he wished spring break were longer last week on Wednesday or Thursday and broke down into tears over its ending last night.

Matt was surprised. I had been expecting it. I know this smart, anxious, competitive, generous, and eager-to-please person. Which brings me to the 64-thousand-dollar question: Can I do anything to help Simon discover equanimity before he reaches middle age? I’m more laid back than my mom, and Matt is more laid back than either of my parents (though not, for the record, nearly has laid back as my family and many of his friends seem to think). That might help some. But honestly, the biggest help might just be knowing what to expect going forward. And perhaps, if the time is ever right, having his Uncle share some “been there, done that” insights at key moments along the way.

It’s the least he can do, because not one of his three kids—not one!—is this much like him.

One Response to “My Brother’s Keeper?”

  1. goldsteinrita says:

    Well, if he’s as good a son as your brother you will be a lucky woman. As far as the anxiety goes, I wish I knew the answer. I could have made Steve’s life a little easier if I had. The thing that Simon has going for him is that you are much less excitable and hyper than I am and so is Matt although I have been around him enough to know that he is not Mr. Laid-back. He’s just quieter than we are (usually).

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