“Snowstorms, Waterfalls, and Sibling Rivalry”
by Deborah Church Worley
“Hey Mom, guess what?” shouted Dan excitedly as he swung open the front door and burst into the house, just steps ahead of his younger brother Eddie. He always wins, thought Eddie as he trailed Dan through the door. Even when he was the first one off the bus, Eddie was always the last one home.
Most of the time, it didn’t bother him. The walk from the bus stop home was just about the only time all day that he got to himself, and he kind of liked having some time to think about stuff. Or maybe not think about anything. Even just for those few minutes, Eddie was usually perfectly content to let his brother race by him and get home first while he took his sweet time. Especially if it was snowing. He loved it when it was snowing! It didn’t matter if the snow was light and fluffy or heavy and wet, or if it was so cold that he couldn’t feel his toes or so warm that he had to take his gloves off. If it was snowing, Eddie was happy. If it was snowing, he hoped Dan would take off for home and leave Eddie to walk by himself, so that he could enjoy the swirling, cold, white stuff in peace.
Every once in awhile, though, a day would come–when it wasn’t snowing, of course–when Eddie would actually try to beat Dan home, jumping off the bus and running his fastest all the way down the street to their house, his backpack bouncing around like crazy on his back as his feet pounded the sidewalk. Always, always, always, though, no matter how hard Eddie tried or how fast he ran, Dan would fly past him, looking at his younger brother with a stupid grin on his face as he did. Sometimes he would pass Eddie right after the bus pulled away from their stop, and sometimes he would wait until right before Eddie reached their driveway. But always, Dan got home first.
Today was no different. And today was one of those days when Eddie felt a little grumpy about it. How come he always has to win?? he grumbled to himself as he walked in the front door behind his brother. The fact that Dan was two years older didn’t make Eddie feel any better. All he could think about was that he always lost.
“I won the Spelling Bee for our class today!” Dan exclaimed, slinging his backpack onto the bench by the front door as he headed for the kitchen. Dropping his own backpack onto the floor, Eddie rolled his eyes as he followed him.
“That’s great, Dan! Good job!” Mom replied encouragingly as she stood at the kitchen counter and sorted through the day’s mail. She had just gotten home herself from her part-time job at the hardware store downtown. Sometimes Eddie wished she stayed home all the time like some of his friends’ moms, but man, when the sink needed to be fixed or he wanted something like new shelves in his bedroom, it was pretty awesome what she could do! And he knew the extra money she made helped pay for stuff they needed since Dad had died when Eddie was little. At least she was usually home when they got home from school.
“Yeah, it was pretty cool,” Dan replied, opening the refrigerator and standing in front of it, scouring its contents for something to eat. Eddie climbed up on one of the bar stools at the kitchen counter and spotted an open package of cookies, left out in the rush of the morning’s lunch-making process. As he helped himself, Mom, still looking at the mail, asked, “And how about you, Eddie? How was your day?”
“Well, I didn’t win anything,” he replied grumpily, through a mouthful of cookie.
“Well, we can’t all win something every day,” Mom said, looking over at him with a sympathetic smile. “I didn’t win anything, either,” she added, “if that makes you feel any better! Unless there’s some sort of prize for getting the most bills in the mail in one day,” she muttered, looking at the pile of envelopes on the counter in front of her. “Do you guys have any homework today?”
The next day when they got off the bus, Eddie took his time getting home. He was in a pretty good mood and didn’t want to ruin it by trying to win a race he knew he would lose. By the time Eddie got home, Dan had already grabbed a snack and planted himself in front of the TV. Good, thought Eddie. I can tell Mom about the push-up contest without Dan hearing.
“Hi, sweetie!” said Mom as Eddie entered the kitchen. “How was school today?”
“Alright, I guess,” he answered, jumping up to grab a bag of chips from the top of the refrigerator where they were kept. “Actually,” he continued, “it was pretty good.”
“Really?” Mom replied, her curiosity unspoken but obvious.
“Yeah,” Eddie went on. “We had to do push-ups in PE today, and I did a lot.” He paused to open the bag of chips and pop one in his mouth. “Actually,” he continued as he chewed, “I did more than anyone else in the whole 4th grade!” He beamed at her with pride.
“Really?? That’s awesome!” Mom answered enthusiastically. “Good for you!” And then she added, “But please don’t talk with food in your mouth!”
“What’s awesome?” shouted Dan from the next room, having heard Mom’s exclamation.
“Nothing!” said Eddie, not wanting to share his moment of triumph with his brother.
“Eddie did the most push-ups of everybody in the whole 4th grade!” exclaimed Mom, not able to keep to herself her moment of motherly pride.
“Cool. How many did you do?” asked Dan, coming out to the kitchen.
“Enough,” replied Eddie, still reluctant to share the details with his brother.
“What, like ten?” pushed Dan, smugly.
“Ten?! I could do ten in kindergarten!” retorted Eddie. “I did fifty-four today,” he added, proudly.
Dan looked impressed. “Not bad,” he said. “For a fourth grader. Too bad it’s not enough for the school record, though,” he added. “I did eighty-one last year, and no one has beat that yet.” Looking at his younger brother with that same stupid grin on his face as he had every time he ran past Eddie on the way home from the bus, Dan grabbed a chip out of Eddie’s bag and waltzed back into the living room, leaving Eddie fuming and feeling defeated once again.
“Don’t worry about your brother,” said Mom, opening the refrigerator door and gazing at the half-empty shelves. “He’s two years older than you,” she continued, “and two years stronger.” And then almost to herself, she said, “What are we going to have for supper tonight?”
“He’s two years dumber, too” muttered Eddie, knowing that didn’t make any sense at all but somehow feeling better for having said it.
“You really did fifty-four push-ups?” Mom asked with a combination of wonder and disbelief, looking over her shoulder at Eddie. “I don’t know if I could even do four,” she added, shaking her head.
With a hint of a smile appearing on his face at the thought of his mom doing push-ups, Eddie popped another chip into his mouth. I don’t care what Dan says, he thought as he chewed. Fifty-four push-ups is awesome. And then out loud, he asked his mom, “Can we have pizza tonight?”
The following week Eddie realized that Mom’s birthday was coming up. He wanted to think of something special to give her–something she would really like, and that would show her how much he loved her. But it had to be something that didn’t cost very much…and that would be better than whatever Dan was going to give her! She didn’t wear perfume, so that was out. She didn’t like chocolate, which seemed crazy to Eddie, but that’s what she said. So that was out. The only thing Eddie had heard her say she wished she had was a new dishwasher, but he was pretty sure that was not in his price range! So that was out, too. Eddie was about out of ideas.
Until…one afternoon as he was taking his time getting home after getting off the bus, it suddenly came to him. He would give his mom some “IOU’s” for things he would do for her. She would love that! And, it wouldn’t cost him anything! And best of all, Eddie was sure it would be better than whatever Dan was going to give her. He was so lazy he’d never do anything like that for their mom, and he certainly wasn’t going to buy her a new dishwasher!
Right away Eddie thought of a bunch of things he could do for her. Not just his normal chores–although maybe he could try to not complain about doing those for a change, as part of his present to her!–but extra things, like folding the laundry. He was pretty sure that wasn’t his mom’s favorite thing to do, since most of the time the clean clothes sat in the laundry basket on the floor for a while before she got around to folding them. He could do that for her one week. And he knew she felt rushed in the morning sometimes when she made their lunches; he could make his own lunch–and maybe hers, too!–for a week. Maybe he could even convince Dan to make his lunch that week, and they could make it really easy on their mom! Probably not, knowing Dan, but maybe. And Eddie knew that more than anything else, his mom hated cleaning the bathroom. She complained about that almost as much as he complained about having to clean the microwave. They were both pretty gross jobs, for sure, but there was no doubt in Eddie’s mind that the bathroom was worse! He decided he could even do that, though, for his mom, for her birthday. Once. She deserved it.
Eddie was pretty excited about his idea by the time he got home; he knew his mom would love it. There were only a few more days before her birthday, though, so later that afternoon, when his mom went to pick up a few things at the grocery store and Dan, who was supposedly babysitting, was totally distracted with his favorite xbox game, Eddie got to work. After digging around a little bit, he was able to find some construction paper and markers in the hall closet. Grabbing the scissors from the kitchen and the stapler from his mom’s desk, Eddie took everything to his bedroom, dropped it all on his bed, and closed the door.
He knew he didn’t have a ton of time, so he quickly cut out five small rectangles of different colored construction paper–one for each of the coupons, a front cover, and a back cover. Hurriedly, he wrote out each “IOU,” not in his best-ever handwriting, for sure, but each one in a different color at least. After adding the front and back covers, Eddie stapled them all together in a little booklet and wrote on the front, in purple, Mom’s favorite color, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM!” and on the back, in green, his favorite color, “LOVE, EDDIE.” Done.
Sitting back and looking at the finished product, Eddie felt pretty pleased. She’s gonna love it, he thought. Hearing the sounds of Dan’s video game coming from the living room, he wondered if Dan had even remembered that Mom’s birthday was coming up! I should probably remind him, Eddie thought. Nah, he decided. If he forgot, then my present for Mom will definitely be the best one she gets!
Just then the front door opened and Eddie heard Mom shout, “Hey, boys, I’m home! Come help carry in the groceries, please!” He quickly looked around for a hiding spot for her present; he needed to make sure it stayed safe–and hidden–until her birthday. He didn’t want Dan getting his grubby hands on it and ruining the surprise or, worse yet, stealing his idea! As Eddie’s eyes roved his room, they landed on the perfect place. He went over to his dresser, opened his underwear drawer, shoved the coupon booklet all the way to the back, and closed the drawer. Perfect, he thought with a satisfied smile. Shoving the scissors, stapler, markers, and leftover construction paper under his bed until he could sneak them back to where they belonged, Eddie ran out to help carry in the groceries.
By the time he got out there, Dan was already staggering in from outside, four grocery bags hanging from each arm. “I already got ‘em all, slacker,” he said to Eddie as he carried the bags into the kitchen, “accidentally” bumping into his younger brother as he walked past.
“Wow, is that all of them, Dan?? I’d have thought Eddie could have gotten a couple, but thanks, sweetie,” Mom said. “And thanks for watching him so I could run to the store,” she added, as she started to unload the groceries. “I appreciate it.”
“No problem, Mom,” Dan replied. “You know me, always eager to help!”
Eddie rolled his eyes at his brother’s grand exaggeration, and couldn’t help but think, Well, just wait until she gets her birthday present, and she’ll see who’s really eager to help! And, then, he thought, everybody will see who the real slacker is!
Mom’s birthday arrived, and Eddie was pretty excited for her to open his gift. He wanted to give it to her that morning before he even left for school, but things were always kind of crazy in the morning with everyone getting ready to go either to school or to work, so he decided to wait until that night. Eddie knew they’d be going out to eat at Mom’s favorite burger place, like they did every year on her birthday. He’d give it to her there.
Shoving it into the back pocket of his jeans right before they left, Eddie hurried out to the car, almost feeling more excited than if it were his birthday! This was the best present he had ever given anyone, and he could hardly wait for his mom to see it! She was going to be so happy! She would love it–and Eddie–so much! Maybe she would even love him more than Dan! At least for tonight…. Not even thinking about how Dan always won everything, always beat Eddie at everything, and how it even sometimes felt like Mom loved him more, could dampen Eddie’s spirits tonight. He had the best gift ever, and this time he was finally going to beat his brother at something.
When they got to the restaurant and were seated, Eddie’s happy feelings grew even more. By pure luck, they got to sit at his favorite table, which was the one in the corner, right next to the little indoor waterfall! Right up there with snow on Eddie’s list of favorite things were waterfalls, even though he had only gotten to see any real ones once, when he went to stay with his aunt last summer for a couple of weeks. Where she lived in upstate New York there were a bunch of cool waterfalls, and she had taken Eddie to see some of them while he was there. Eddie had liked them before, having seen pictures in magazines and some on TV, but once he saw them in real life, he decided they were some of the most awesome things ever! So much water, so much foam, so much power! And sometimes, if the light was shining the right way, there were even little rainbows! They were just awesome. And getting to sit next to the one at the restaurant always made Eddie happy, even though it was just a little one.
“Hey, Mom,” Eddie said when it felt like the moment had arrived. The burgers had been ordered, the drinks had arrived, and it was time.
“Hmm?” she replied, looking over at him with a smile on her face. She was smiling at whatever dumb thing Dan had just been saying.
“Happy Birthday!” Eddie said, pulling the booklet out of his pocket and setting it on the table in front of her. He was barely able to contain his excitement, a smile covering the entire width of his face.
“What’s this?” his mom asked, reaching for the gift. But before she could pick it up, Dan grabbed for it, saying, “Lemme see!”, knocking over his glass of Coke in the process.
Horrified, Eddie watched the brown, wet liquid spread across the table, quickly and easily soaking everything in its path. He seemed frozen in place as straw papers, napkins, and his present for his mom effortlessly absorbed the Coke as it flowed over them, totally unaware of the destruction it was causing. Wait! The coupon booklet! Eddie suddenly jumped up and grabbed it, but it was too late! It was ruined! The words on the front were smudged, the ones on the back, almost impossible to read, and the inside pages were all stuck together and brown with Coke! Oh no!! Stupid Dan! Eddie was so mad! He wanted to punch him! “DAN!” he shouted, fury covering his face. “You jerk! You ruined it!”
“Hey, hey,” said Mom kindly. “It was an accident, sweetie. Dan didn’t mean to do it,” she continued, mopping up what she could of the Coke with whatever dry napkins she could find.
“Yes, he did!” Eddie shouted, still furious. “He knew it was the best birthday present ever, and he had to ruin it! He probably doesn’t even have a present for you, so he had to ruin mine!” he continued, looking at his brother with eyes full of rage and pain. “He always has to win, always has to do better than me at everything, always has to do things that make you love him more than me!” Eddie blurted out and then slumped back down into his chair, throwing the coupon book down on the table, not caring any more if it got even more wrecked. It didn’t matter. It was ruined.
“What??” Mom said, in disbelief, leaving the pile of Coke-soaked napkins sitting in the middle of the table. “Love him more than I love you?” she said with a pained look on her face. “Eddie, honey, I love you both! So much! I don’t love Dan more than I love you!” she continued, going over to where he was and giving him a big hug. “It’s not a contest, sweetie,” she assured him, pulling back so she could look at him. “I love both of you more than I ever would have imagined I could love anyone,” she said, “but I don’t love either of you more than the other. You need to know that, and believe that,” she added, gently lifting up Eddie’s chin so that he, too, was looking at her. “Can you believe me when I say that?” she asked him.
“I don’t know,” replied Eddie quietly. “I guess so.”
They all sat there in silence, their mom trying to mop up a little more of the sticky mess. “Sorry about the Coke,” Dan said after a minute. “I really didn’t do it on purpose.”
“It’s okay,” Eddie answered, looking down.
“And I’m sorry your thing for Mom got wrecked,” Dan added. “What was it, anyway?” he asked, picking up the soggy coupon booklet from the mess in the middle of the table.
“Yeah, what was it?” echoed Mom. “Since it looks like that was the only birthday present I was going to get this year,” she said, looking at Dan with raised eyebrows and a small smile, “can you at least tell me what I would have gotten to enjoy?”
Looking up at both of them, Eddie sighed and said, “Well, it was pretty awesome,” and then began to describe what he had made and planned to give his mom.
“Okay, who had the bacon double cheeseburger and fries?” asked the waiter, arriving just as Eddie finished explaining.
“That would be me!” shouted Dan. As the waiter delivered his plate, as well as the other two, Mom stood up again and went over to her younger son. “I love it, Eddie!” she said, giving him another big hug. “Especially if you’re really going to clean the bathroom sometime! That is the worst job ever!” she said with a smile. “It’s a super thoughtful, crazy awesome birthday present! I love it, and I love you!” she said, her eyes shining with tears as she beamed at him. Sitting down once more, Mom looked at Dan and Eddie, sighed happily, and said, “Now, it’s my birthday, and I’m starving. Let’s eat!”
The next night, when Mom went in to say good-night to Eddie, she asked him if she could talk with him for a minute
“Umm…yeah,” Eddie said, wondering if he was in trouble.
“I wanted to talk with you about what you said at the restaurant last night. It was kind of upsetting,” Mom continued.
He knew it. He was in trouble. “I know I shouldn’t have called Dan a jerk,” Eddie said. “But I–”
“That’s not what was upsetting,” his mom interrupted. “I can understand why you said that!” she added with a smile. “I’m talking about what you said about me loving Dan more than I love you,” she explained.
“Oh,” said Eddie. He was silent after that, not sure what to say next.
“Of course that’s not true, sweetie!” she said in a heartfelt voice. “But have I somehow made you think that it is?” his mom asked sincerely.
“I don’t know,” Eddie replied, kind of embarrassed–but also kind of relieved–to be talking about it.
His mom waited to see if he would continue.
Looking down, and away from his mom, Eddie blurted out, “He’s just smarter and stronger and faster than me, and he always wins everything! I know he’s your favorite, and so you probably love him more than me.” Having finally said it out loud, Eddie glanced up at his mom, half expecting her to be mad at him.
To his surprise, she was smiling a little!
“Oh, honey,” she said. “You’re just as much my favorite as Dan is! You’re both my favorites! And Dan’s just older than you! He is faster than you now, but if fourth-grade Dan could have a race with fourth-grade Eddie, I don’t know which one I’d put my money on!” Mom looked at him, and continued, “And you know what, Eddie? It’s not a competition! It’s not you against him, seeing who’s ‘better’ than the other and competing for the title of favorite son! There’s no favorite! I love you both, so much!” She said this while she playfully shook Eddie by the shoulders, as if she wanted to shake some sense into him!
“But how can you love us both the same?” Eddie pushed. “I don’t do as good in school, or have as many friends, or win as many things as Dan does. How can you love me as much as you love him?”
“Well,” she answered slowly, “I don’t know how. To be honest, it’s really kind of a mystery to me. An amazing, mind-boggling mystery! I just know that I do!” Mom looked at Eddie with a totally open and sincere face. “You’re both incredible, amazing, wonderful boys,” she continued, “who can each, of course, at times, be truly maddening and make me want to tear my hair out!” She looked at Eddie with a smile. “You’re different, that’s for sure,” Mom said, “with different things you’re good at, different things that are hard for you, different things you do that make me crazy, different things you like….But I don’t know what I would do without either of you. My life wouldn’t be complete. I suppose,” she considered, tapping her chin with her finger, “it might be a little less crazy, and a little more peaceful….” But then with another smile, she added, “but it would be a lot more dull, and a lot less wonderful!”
Wanting to believe that his mom loved him as much as she loved Dan but not totally convinced yet, Eddie voiced the fear that had been lurking in the quiet places in his heart for as long as he could remember. “But there are so many more things about Dan that are good….”
“Oh, Eddie,” Mom replied, placing her hand gently on the side of Eddie’s face. “There are just as many good thing about you! They’re just different!” She paused, looking at him intently, a look of deep love in her eyes. Suddenly, her eyes opened wide as a thought occurred to her. “What are the two things you love most about nature, Eddie?”
Puzzled by the sudden change in topic, Eddie furrowed his brow and then answered, “Snow and waterfalls.” What does that have to do with anything? he wondered.
“Okay, well, what is about snow that you love so much?” Mom asked.
“Ummm,” Eddie began. “I like that it’s soft and cold…and…I love going sledding and skiing in the snow.” He thought for a moment and added, “And I love making snowmen, and being able to have snowball fights. And I just think it looks cool when it’s snowing.” He paused and said, “It’s really pretty.”
Nodding, his mom went on. “Yeah, okay, well, what about waterfalls? What is it about waterfalls that makes them so awesome?”
Getting into it now, Eddie answered more quickly. “They’re just awesome! I love the sound the water makes, and how much water there is, and how it looks when it goes over the rocks, and all the foam there is at the bottom! And it’s so cool the way you can see a little rainbow sometimes if the light hits the water just right! Waterfalls are super awesome!”
“Okay, well, when you’re enjoying the snow and making snowballs or sledding or making a snowman, does that somehow make waterfalls less awesome?” Mom asked.
“Of course not!” replied Eddie, a look of astonishment on his face at the suggestion.
“And while you were at Aunt Carol’s last summer, standing face-to-face with those cool waterfalls, feeling the mist on your face and hearing the roar of the water in your ears,” she continued, “were you thinking about how much better that was than snow?”
“No way!” Eddie answered. “I was only thinking about how awesome and amazing the waterfalls were! They’re so different from snow,” he said and then added, “although I guess it’s all just different kinds of water….”
His mom smiled at his observation and then made one of her own. “So…what you’re saying is that even though snow and waterfalls are totally different–well, except that it’s all just different kinds of water!–and there are different things you love about them, they’re both awesome? and maybe even that you love them both, equally?”
Eddie paused and looked at her, letting what she had said sink in. “Yeah,” he replied. “I guess that is what I’m saying….”
“And that’s exactly what I’m saying, too, Eddie,” his mom said gently. “Even though you and your brother are totally different, you are both totally awesome, and I love you both. Just like snow and waterfalls.” She paused, looking him in the eyes, and said, “Do you get it now, you crazy kid??”
“I think I get it,” Eddie said with a small smile.
“And do you think you can believe it?” she asked, with her own small smile.
“I think I can,” Eddie answered. “At least I’ll really, really try to.”
“Good!” his mom replied. “Now get some sleep!” she added with a tone of pretend irritation in her voice.
“Okay, okay!” replied Eddie, pulling the covers up around himself as his mom stood up and walked over to the door. “G’night,” he said as she turned off the light. “I love you, Mom.”
“I love you, too, Eddie” she responded. “More than you will ever know. Good night, sweetie.” And as she stepped out into the hallway, she paused to look back at him and added, “Oh, and I hope you sleep well tonight, my dear–you might need some extra strength when I cash in on that bathroom cleaning coupon tomorrow!”
Even that couldn’t wipe the smile off of Eddie’s face as he fell into a deep, sweet sleep.