SMOKE: Brothers And Sisters

Originally published: 11 February 2003

My position on children: don't like 'em, don't want 'em.

They foul up the place with their noise and their odours. Forget about ever engaging them in a decent debate over the merits of stem cell research, or the effect of quasars on interplanetary anomalies like black holes.

They're loud, obnoxious, filled with problems and the effects of your bad parenting decisions, and for all the attention and wealth you bestow upon them they still hate you more than life itself.

Why on earth would you want them?

That was the argument I was presenting through a haze of alcohol to a nodding face I could see dimly through tired, bloodshot eyes at a wedding on Saturday night, but the lady in question is herself getting married in three weeks and was having none of it.

Her fiance was very clear on the issue of kids - he doesn't want them - and since he already wears some serious pants in that relationship she was also saying that she didn't want them.

But I could see she did - she was merely telling him what he wanted to hear, and I could see her mind ticking: "I'll play along for now, but in a few years I'll put pressure on you and I'll still get the kid."

She was feeling me out (yes - out) on why I didn't want kids, but I could see she wasn't impressed with my logic.

She's an only child, while I have two brothers and three sisters, and I discovered that this fact highlights a very different experience for people - the question of siblings.

I am the second-oldest child in my family and as such had to help bring up four siblings. Four highly individualistic siblings. Four siblings who produced nappies and who cried loudly 'til I went mad and who had to be looked after.

I love my brothers and sisters as only a brother could, but after that I decided child rearing is not my forte nor my heart's desire. Children can no doubt enrich people's lives, but mine doesn't require that kind of enriching, thanks.

But it made me realise that I had so many stories of my childhood involving brothers and sisters, and the girl I was chatting to at the wedding had none.

With a family of many children comes inevitable issues like attention, allegations of favouritism, jealousy and pride, but there is also a common bond that is stronger than any friendship.

An only child does not have this bond, and while it is made up for in attention and more pocket money, there is something about the experiences brothers and sisters share that no amount of pocket money will ever make up for.

There was a little BMX track just up the road from where we lived in Fernwood Rd, Lynwood Manor, Pretoria, and I used to scoot around it on my old BMX, which was derided in the neighbourhood because it had bent forks instead of "proper" straight ones.

One day I took my brother and sister with me to the track in a seminal childhood moment. I made them stand on the side of the first jump, a high hump which sent you several metres into the air if you were travelling fast.

I went over the jump and got them to mark in the dirt the place where my back wheel landed. Then I got them to lie down on the ground - facing upwards - just inside the mark they had made, then I took my bike back, pedalled like mad, and leapt over them, clearing them by inches.

A puff of dust from the back wheel squirted into my sister's face - that's how close it was to landing on her.

I had judged the jump correctly - but by millimetres. One slip of the foot off the pedal when going over the ramp and I would have landed square in her face, and she wouldn't be the beautiful young woman she is today if that had happened.

She of course was ecstatic that Big Brother had pulled off this incredible stunt and the fact that it had just missed her only increased my mystique in her eyes.

She blabbed it all excitedly to Mom when we got home, and I can promise you that my mother was - to put it mildly - less than enthusiastic. So unenthusiastic she still talks about it today.

Shortly after my third sister Naomi was born (she must have been about 18 months old), I found a stinkbomb in our garden. No idea where it came from, but I found it perfectly preserved in the dirt and decided it would make a great joke to give it to my baby sister and let her discover - as I once had to - the effects of a stinkbomb, which are staggering, to say the least.

Being a small kid she promptly stuffed it in her mouth, crushing the glass, and the liquid inside disappeared, presumably down her throat.

Amongst the foul smell somewhere my mother phoned the hospital, who calmly informed her that if Naomi had swallowed the liquid she had about 30 minutes to live if she didn't get her stomach pumped.

She was rushed to hospital, but apart from glass in her cheeks she was fine. But at my hands - just a swallow away from death.

I nearly killed my younger, more impressionable siblings on a number of hair-raising occasions - I got my sister in an old pram and shoved her down the hill at the bottom of our house, and watched with horror as she bounced her way dangerously down the hill with gathering pace, her face a savage mask of fear and with lips pulled back in a snarling rictus of terror as she headed for the bilharzia-infected sluggish spruit at the bottom of the hill.

The reeds saved her plunge into the muddy waters and she escaped with minor cuts and bruises, but thinking back it was yet another childhood moment that almost ended in tragedy.

Playing with knives, homemade crossbows and bombs, and performing all sorts of hair raising stunts which you can only shudder at and hope to forget as an adult is dangerous to be sure, but it also forges a common bond between those involved.

It gives you something to remember, and no matter how little you see your siblings as you get older and busier you always had the first years of your life filled with unforgettable experiences.

All that being said I still wouldn't want kids - parenthood is a very different story. But I'm glad I wasn't an only child and that I got lots of practice at attempted murder.

It's been handy.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
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