The big brown eyes just got bigger as the little boy in the booster seat struggled to start his sentence. After about a five-second wait time, the conversations around the dinner table resumed; and whatever Addy had to say was drowned out by the louder and more insistent voices of his four older siblings.
"I'm really concerned about Adam's stuttering," our mom said one day.
"I think he's stuttering because he can't fit a word in edgewise in this family!" I said. "He is so nervous about getting his words out before we stop listening to him that it's no wonder he stutters. Maybe if we stopped talking and just looked him in the eyes and listened when he talked, he'd stop stuttering."
It was a moment of sheer inspiration, and the reason I relate it is because I would love to take credit for unleashing the verbal expressiveness of my baby brother. My rational self knows that this is not the case, but indulge me…
As soon as the family implemented this eye-contact-with-no-interruptions policy, the stutter disappeared and Adam began talking with a vengeance. He not only talked to us, but he talked to himself. He talked almost constantly. And most of what he said was in stories. He talked about "Big John Wayne" who lived in our back yard. He stretched our patience policy to the limits by weaving endless imaginative yarns. By the time that he was six or seven, he was writing Westerns and morality tales of all sorts. In the early years, he wrote with utter seriousness. But as he grew older, his story telling became much more imaginative -- even a bit crazy.
When he was ten, he shared a bedroom with his older brother Matt. As they lay in bed at night, they'd create stories together. Completely ad-lib and on the spot, they'd spin strings of dialogue that, when they related them to us later, would have us wetting ourselves with laughter.
Adam was homeschooled. When he was in seventh grade, he and I started meeting regularly for literature and writing classes. Among other things, we studied Great Expectations together and wrote numerous stories and essays. It was clear that though we were sixteen years apart in age, we were kindred spirits in many ways. We both loved a good story, and writing was in our blood.
Eventually Adam grew up, and we found ourselves interacting as peers. We shared our writing with each other, providing feedback on each other's work. We shared an obsession with old fashioned typewriters and with new-fangled technology. And, ironically, we both started college.
I had taken twenty years off from my education to have my five kids. But now, as I prepared to go back, I found the roles reversed. Adam was blazing the trail. He got his bachelor's degree one year before I did, and now he is a year into the graduate school program that I am just applying to.
So much has changed over the past two decades, but at the same time very little has changed. Adam is no longer a toddler who stutters. He is a budding novelist and short story writer. But we still love to read and write and share our ideas. We are also shameless members of each other's "Mutual Admiration Society."
We fantasize about teaching English at the same college one day, but for now we write together for a little fiction blog. If you care to check it out, go to zobelgrahams.blogspot.com and see what it looks like when a brother and sister who love writing together just have fun!!