My younger brother was always smaller than I was. Not so much because he was younger (although three years, during the developmental cycle of healthy males, is a significant disadvantage) but mostly because he took after the men in our father's family rather than the men in our mother's family. His phenotype is tall, thin, medium-shouldered; your classic Eastern European Jew, capable of moving at a good lope when required and generating decent leverage with the upper body (say, when boxing) but not so good at the close-in grapple or unscientific brawling of youth.

I, on the other hand, come from a, let's say, denser type. Broader shoulders, more serious midsection (okay, yeah, I'm fat now), fairly big stumpy legs that have to carry me around. The most important point, though, was that he could flail away at me at will when we were kids, and unless he got a thumb in my eye or a lucky foot in the meat-and-two-veg, I could pretty much ignore him so long as I could keep him relatively immobile.

This assumed I could catch the little bugger. He was fast. Luckily for me, his psyche didn't have "run away" written down anywhere in it; "hit first and harder" was at the top, with "if that doesn't work, hit sneakier" penciled in below it somewhere. Margin notes read "since he's bigger, there are no rules." I did have some black eyes and bruises; I tended to worry about hurting him since I couldn't just sit on his head or something final like that, which gave him lots of chances to tee off before I could get a good restraining grip.


This young sprout would argue anything with anybody, anytime, and as soon as you showed any signs of giving in or giving up, would instantly switch sides. This usually aggravated his targets enough to keep them arguing out of sheer affronted annoyance, which, of course, was the point.

It should come as no surprise that this fine young man grew up, got out of college, looked around, and said "Hm. I think I'll go to law school."

So here we are, years later. He has a lovely wife and two fine sons. His sons, our parents are fond of saying with the gleam of parental irony in their eyes, are Exactly Like Him and isn't that Just. My brother has a somewhat laid-back parenting style1, and the following anecdote (which is really the point of this whole aimless writeup) will demonstrate.

Our extended family was gathered for a holiday. My brother had told his wife he'd watch the kids, and they (ages 5 and 2.5) were dashing about causing mayhem while she took a nap. She woke up and approached us in the living room, a look of Motherly Righteous Anger on her face, and smacked him on the shoulder where he sat in front of the fireplace. "YOU SAID YOU'D WATCH THE KIDS!"

"I am watching the kids!"

"Then where are they?!"

"They're upstairs playing." (Which was true. The 5 year old had announced this plan, taken his younger brother, and gone off in search of the strategically placed blocks-and-LEGO pile some fifteen minutes before.)


My brother sighed, a put-upon male sigh,2 and raised his voice to the rafters. "SAM!"


A small voice came from upstairs. "What?"



My brother cocked an eye at the ceiling. You could almost see the kinder-lawyer3 reflexes working. "IS ANYONE BLEEDING FROM THE HEAD?"

Longer pause. Then: "Not from the head!"

Snickering from several adults. My brother turned back to his wife, who was giving him an icy look, and said, hands wide in placation, "See?"

She stomped off, presumably to verify that everything was, in fact, All Right.

I sat there, stunned, realizing that in fact my 5-year-old nephew had just been asked a question, thought about it, and concocted what was likely a completely true answer that, had he answered less carefully, would have gotten him and his father in trouble and (from the sound of it) been an evasion. Damn it, I thought, my brother has spawned another lawyer.

Sure enough, when the kids were brought downstairs five minutes later, they were beaming, happy, clutching improbable LEGO spaceships...and Joey (the younger) was bleeding. From the leg.4

1 My brother, when yelled at by his wife or wives other than his own that HIS CHILDREN ARE RUNNING AROUND WITHOUT SUPERVISION, has been known to shrug and ask "Are they on fire?" The cognitive dissonance that this question produces usually serves to bring down the volume of the interchange to the point where the answer is an, at most, exasperated "No!" at which point he will grin maniacally and say "Excellent. My work here is done."

2In case it is not clear, I (a bachelor) am in awe of my brother.

3 Although not the same as a barracks lawyer, the two are in fact quite closely related, no doubt due to the similarities between the inhabitants of any normal barracks and of any normal kindergarten.

4 For those who have not raised boys, it should be noted that there is almost no period in their childhood where they are not bleeding from some part of their body. If they are completely unbloodied for more than several days at a time (especially if there is more than one of them) something is seriously wrong and you should take them to see a doctor immediately.

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