When my brother was a small child, he had a tricycle he loved.  It was a navy blue Fisher Price tricycle made almost entirely out of plastic, with a lightning bolt on the side and a seat that hinged open for storing treasures.  On it, he was unstoppable.  Many kids will wear down the heels of their sneakers when they “brake” their tricycles.  My brother backpedaled until he’d skidded the front wheel into oblivion.  Since it was just hollow plastic, not solid rubber like better made trikes, he’d soon worn clear through the plastic.  My father, cheap and inventive, managed to rivet strips of fiberglass around the wheel until he had, in effect, given it new tread and a new life, like truckers do instead of replacing the entire tire.  My brother loved this tricycle to pieces.

A few weeks ago, Mr. Apron and I were at the new Philadelphia children’s museum, the “Please Touch Museum”.  It’s a wonderful place built instinctively from children’s imaginations.  It features an expansive water play area, an Alice in Wonderland-themed zone, an aerospace exploration exhibit, a “town” which included a grocery store, kitchen, shoe store, train station, city bus, car, and construction site.  The kids, especially my grown-up kid husband, especially enjoyed climbing all around the Scion xB they had staged.  In  addition, for adult interest, they put on display behind glass vintage toys, including real antique wooden toys with the paint loved off, and some toys from my childhood only a few years ago.  They themed the display toys so that they related to the actual exhibit – putting space age and flying toys with the wind tunnel and flight-themed exhibits; and Alice in Wonderland toys near that area.  Near all the wheeled goodies – the city bus, the Scion xB, the manhole cover puzzle, the fix-it shop, they had a case filled with wheeled toys.  There was a Big Wheel, an old-fashioned pedal car, and my brother’s tricycle, c. 1985. 

I snapped a photo, texted it to my brother, and, within minutes, received the following reply:

“omg, my trike!”

Little brother was born on Christmas, making his birthday a tricky thing to shop for.  He always gets shafted, with his birthday so close to Hanukkah, if not overlapping outright.  Growing up, he always was disappointed not to find the expensive electronica he’d asked for under the wrappings.  It wasn’t that he was hard to shop for, but video games and computer parts were expensive gifts in the early ‘90s.  Nowadays I’ve found a new area of gifting for him – nostalgic toys from his youth.  A few years ago I found on eBay an exact copy of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figurine he’d had.  It was a cheap talking toy.  When you pulled a plastic ripcord through the Turtle’s backpack, the toy would “read” the bumps on the strip and say some barely intelligible Turtles phrase.  He was overjoyed to open it, destroy its value as a collectible, and even say thanks. 

This year, though, I was brilliant.  I took the photo I’d snapped at the museum, dumped it in MS Word, converted it to black and white, printed it out, traced it onto freezer paper, cut out the negative space with an X-acto, ironed it onto a t-shirt, and stenciled his beloved trike onto the shirt.  Simple. 

Oh, and the caption I thought of: “Pimp my ride”.

I hastily wrapped it before presentation, and he opened it.  When the realization spread across his face, I knew I had a winner.  Mr. Apron explained that I had (painstakingly) made the shirt using the image from the museum, and his jaw dropped.

My brother and I have never gotten along, and lately he’s begun giving perfunctory hugs out of social grace.  I got one such hug and he exclaimed, “Whoa.  This is way better than anything I would have given you.”  Talk about the ultimate compliment.  And then, I got another hug.  Perhaps a real one?

I don’t often get these wonderful brainstorms for gifts, and I’m rarely compelled to give a gift so fitting and time-consuming to my little brother, who has for years been the antagonizing force in my life.  We’re so distant that, two years after my wedding, he didn’t even know I’d changed my name.  Yet these forces of family compel even disparate siblings to make an effort.  I came to a difficult realization a few years ago which has strangely liberated me in my feelings towards him:  I may have to love him, but I don’t have to like him. 

In small ways he’s become more “human” over the years.  Peer pressure finally kicked in and he wears regular clothing now instead of sweat shirts and track pants, even if he is wearing oversized sunglasses indoors like someone with dilated pupils.  He can now eat with his friends in a normal restaurant, as opposed to the half-dozen American fare fast-food joints that his picky diet restricted the family to, growing up.  He now sends almost regular birthday cards, cards I’m sure my mother has addressed, stamped, and given to him to sign and send.  Yet these little acts, acts we’re all making little efforts for, are gradually pushing us both towards, if not fraternal harmony, then civility at least.