EPISODE 29: Hello Kitty Must Die!
A 2ft-tall Hello Kitty piñata stares at my eight-year-old son. It is just one of the party decorations littering our apartment in advance of our daughter's fourth birthday party. Nicholas stares back at the hot pink bundle of tissue paper with utter disgust.
"Aren't you excited for Alexandra's birthday?" I ask him.
"No, it is the worst day of the year," he replies. "I can't wait to take my bat to that thing."
In the hope of generating a glimmer of affection, I try a different tack. "What do you remember about the day your sister was born?"
"I had cod sticks for lunch. They were lovely."
Nicholas' aversion to his sister's birthday is not your typical case of sibling rivalry. I know that he loves his sister. I've caught him secretly kissing the top of her head when he thinks my back is turned, but as I've peeled back the layers of his disdain I've discovered a truism about stylish men - even stylish men-in-training. Sharing the spotlight can be difficult. Attention to a dandy is like sunshine to a hothouse flower.
Sharing the spotlight can be difficult for stylish men. Attention to a dandy is like sunshine to a hothouse flower
Nicholas is still at an age when he requires all the sunshine he can get, just as he is still at a moment in his sartorial development when he wants his outfits to go to 11. Recently he returned from a week with my folks in Santa Fe, New Mexico. As he stepped in the door dragging a wheelie, he was wearing white jeans, a chambray shirt, a blue blazer, Chelsea boots, a cowboy hat and wayfarers. To give credit where it is due, he somehow managed to pull off this Portofino-meets-Southwest mash-up.
One of the traits that took me years to acquire is the ability to allow others to have their moment in the sun - and not just allow them their moment but to be genuinely happy for them. Just as my personal style has grown subtler over time, I've also tried to become a better listener and more content with cheering from the sidelines just as others cheer for me when it is my turn on stage. How do you explain this hard-won bit of wisdom to an eight-year-old? "Don't be the ham in someone else's sandwich" doesn't quite get the message across. "Listening is an underrated skill" draws a blank stare from most children.
The situation is complicated by the fact that our two children look very much alike yet they are polar opposites when it comes to personality. Nicholas is a rule follower who eats his vegetables and goes to sleep with little prompting. He is very interested in current events and how the world works. Whenever I've tried to introduce a work of fantasy to our bedtime reading syllabus, he has gently steered us away from Treasure Island or Narnia and instead asked me to read to him about the Civil War, Napoleon or the Barbary pirates.
Alexandra is a night owl, whip-smart and a sybarite. She is also a fabulist - a quality that makes Nicholas' blood boil
Alexandra is a night owl, whip-smart and a sybarite. She is also all girl: she loves pink, she loves tutus and she loves accompanying her mother to the nail salon. She is also a fabulist - a quality that makes Nicholas' blood boil. Some children have an imaginary friend. Alexandra is the star of her own imaginary telenovela. The other day she informed the family over breakfast that she had a husband, "but he's not my first".
"Oh, how was your wedding?" I asked.
"It was good. There were some princesses there, and I had a baby in my tummy." A bun in the oven turned out to be the least of my worries.
"So tell us about your husband?"
"His name is Johnny. He lives in Queens. He's a waiter." Call me a snob, but I had hoped for slightly more in my latest son-in-law, and part of me was curious to know what happened to Alexandra's first husband. (We were close in the way that fathers and some imaginary son-in-laws can be.)
"He died, but I'm not lonely. Besides my new husband, I also have a boyfriend." Nicholas could no longer contain himself at the revelation that his sister was a pint-sized Idina Sackville. He spat up a piece of his blueberry muffin and started screaming, "This is not real, Dad. She's making this whole thing up. There is no first husband. I'm sick and tired of hearing about these made-up people."
When the day of her birthday party finally arrived, my wife asked me to take Nicholas out on some errands, so Alexandra and she could frost cupcakes without driving him into a jealous rage. Our resident Pisces dislikes his younger sister's birthday so much that my wife had to introduce the concept of the half birthday to placate him, so Alexandra's birthday is also accompanied by a series of Nicholas-focused side acts. Hers is the birthday cake. His is the small batch of half-birthday brownies. She reels in the presents; he receives a small half-birthday present to keep him from frowning through the festivities.
Our resident Pisces dislikes his younger sister's birthday so much that my wife had to introduce the concept of the half birthday to placate him
As we walked into the hardware store, I tried to make him understand that his parents' love for their two children was not a zero sum-game.
"Why do you get so upset by you sister's birthday?'
"Because she is my nemesis." The use of the five-dollar word threw me.
"What's a nemesis?"
"She's not your enemy. She loves you. She hugs you every day when you come home from school, and some day when Mommy and I are gone, you'll just have each other."
"I know, Daddy, but she steals all of my attention." We had reached the aisle that stocks a few toys. I noticed an old-fashioned Styrofoam rocket launcher on a high shelf. I handed it down to Nicholas and we headed for the register.
"Happy half birthday," I said. "You're old enough to handle not being the centre of attention for one day."
"How about a half day? Because it is my half birthday."
When we returned home, Alexandra was dressed for her birthday party in a white sundress and hot pink cowboy boots
When we returned home, Alexandra was dressed for her birthday party in a white sundress and hot pink cowboy boots. "Where did you get those boots?" I asked her. "They're fantastic." "From my big brother," she told me. "Nicholas bought them for me in Santa Fe." She likes to say "big brother" in a little baby voice, and as she said it, she walked across the room and gave Nicholas a hug. He allowed her to hold him for a brief moment. Then he went off to get his bat to attack Hello Kitty.
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