By Gregory Keer
For three years, my sister and I went to the same school. Kimmy was especially proud of that fact, as I witnessed one day when she told another kid that if he wasn’t nice to her, her big brother was going to beat him up. Truth be told, Kimmy was the only person I was ever really mean to back then, but somehow she knew that, on campus, we were on the same team.
In those mid-’70s years, I loved having my sister with me at school. I got a chance to show off my basketball skills at recess and my student-council speeches in sixth grade, but I also noticed her laughing with her friends at lunch and leading her third-grade class in the newspaper drive. It was great to be part of each other’s lives outside the house, even though it was just for a short time.
As a new September unfolds, my two oldest boys will converge on the same campus for the first time since Jacob, 6, was in preschool. Benjamin, 10, will begin his third year at his public elementary school and will be one of the reigning fifth graders, who will graduate at year’s end. Although he had big hurdles to jump when he transferred to the school, he has since become an expert on every nuance of the teachers, grounds and events. Jacob has soaked up his big brother’s experiences by seeing Benjamin do complicated homework and attending open houses.
“I know he’s going to annoy me,” Benjamin said in a late-summer talk I had with him about Jacob joining him on the schoolyard. “He’ll drag me over somewhere to show me something like a bug he found under a tree.”
This scenario is likely, yet even the little guy who sometimes goes all “kung fu” on Benjamin is welcome to the big brother’s kingdom. “Jacob’s good at art, so he’ll like that we do a lot of it at school,” Benjamin explained. “He’s pretty fast, too. He’ll love sports day when we do relays and obstacle courses.”
While he expects Jacob to be a bit sad and confused at a new place with people he doesn’t know, Benjamin said, “(My classmate) Sean’s brother will be going into first grade. Maybe I can get Jacob to be friends with him so he’s not alone when I’m not around.”
When I talked with Jacob, he seemed mellow about not having old pals with him at the start. “I like challenges,” he offered, as if he were vying for a corporate management position. He cannot wait to ride the bus for the first time so he can talk with the other kids and trade game cards with them. He’s also eager to check out the classrooms as a student and not just a visitor.
“Will I go to the same after-school programs as Benjamin?” he asked hopefully. Jacob has been chomping at the bit to try out a comic-book drawing class and a “rock star” program ever since Benjamin bragged about them. Jacob has even begun learning the violin so he’ll be ready to join the orchestra like his brother did in third grade.
“I hope Jacob knows it’s not easy to make it in the orchestra,” Benjamin said, showing territorialism about this particular area. “I had to practice a lot for two years before I could be a first trumpet.”
Sibling rivalry will certainly find a home away from home at school. I expect to hear competing stories about what Benjamin may have said to a cute fifth-grade girl at recess or what Jacob may have done to overflow a toilet. The key is that they will be together, if only for a year.
Today, I call my sister Kim, not Kimmy, and she’s been able to handle her own battles for years, even without her big brother down the hall. But we did build on that shared school time as part of what is now a close bond. For Jacob and Benjamin, I hope they too will learn they can depend on each other even when they’re not under Mom and Dad’s roof.