Brian Mittge: Family ties are as sweet as the spring sunshine


My oldest son just got back from a visit to his cousins in Texas. Offhand, he mentioned how similar my brother and I are. 

It made me smile. I’m honored to be associated with my brother (and sister). And, as I replied to my son, there is no one more genetically similar to me on the planet than my brother, although he and my other children are a close second. 

Along with genetics, the early life together creates special bonds for siblings, of course. Even if they might drive each other crazy at times. 

This week I had a few opportunities to catch a glimpse of these connections in tiny slivers of life that — like a slice of watermelon or a peekaboo rainbow — were so sweet. 

The first came as I was driving through Chehalis and had to pull over on one of the narrow residential streets for a school bus. It dropped off a few kids, including a girl who looked to be in eighth or ninth grade. She was wearing all black — typical teenage garb — with a bit of a typical teenage expression of studied indifference. 

Meanwhile, a little kid, maybe two years old, came running down the sidewalk with the biggest grin you can imagine and a shriek of delight as she glimpsed her big sister again. 

As this little girl tottered toward her, I could see a smile cracking through the forceful nonchalance of the older girl. The world might not impress a teenager, but the sheer unbridled love of a little one is sunshine that can make the clouds clear. 

Amidst all the pressures young women might face in this world — expectations, friendship drama, grades, wondering what to do and be in life — the role of beloved older sister takes no effort other than standing tall with a smile and bending down with a hug. 

Every duty in life should be so good. 

A dozen blocks later, I found myself at the old Olympic Elementary School. I was getting ready to leave after playing music for the children at the Bethel After School Program during my lunch hour.

I saw a girl, maybe 8 years old, pedaling along on training wheels on the far end of the parking lot. 

Right beside her was her older brother, maybe 12 years old or so, keeping a careful and helpful hold on her bike as needed then running alongside in support. 

As she was looking ahead and finding her balance, he had nothing but attention for and about her. He noticed me and my vehicle and made sure that I saw them, and that his sister would be safe as she rode. Once he was confident that their path was clear, he turned back to helping her find her wings and fly.

He is still a boy, but I saw a young man in the making — being formed by love and care for his sister into the kind of solid guy that the world needs in abundance. 

And then that evening I went to pick up my youngest son from the Stan Hedwall soccer fields and found myself with a few minutes to watch a nearby parent-versus-kids soccer game. 

Here I could see the connections of family come together in a rich, three-dimensional way.

Amid the howls of outraged delight and scandalized cries of “dad!” as the parent grins over some maneuver or another, I see kids fiercely competitive with and at the same time immensely proud of their parents. 

This was a moment when they could try their hardest to beat their parents while still basking in the strength of their collaboration. The confidence that comes from their competition is remarkable. As rivals, their parents have a new way to say, “I love you and I’ll be there for you, even as you go off on your own.”

I see these kids playfully shoving against their parents, one step way from actively trying to tackle them. You can’t do this to your regular opponents, and you can’t do it to your parents at home, but here the rules have been suspended. And the parents are shoving back, grabbing their kids in a bear hug to keep them from the ball. All laugh even as the kid fights to pull away and make the play.

The parent-child roles are still there, but for a moment, there is rare equality, or at least they’re on the same level. 

And there are the siblings again. Little kid brothers and sisters are now on the same team as the beloved big ‘uns. Everyone is on the same level playing field.

They might be opponents wearing different colored jerseys for this evening, but the competition just shows how — of course — they’re always on the same team in life. This is part of the practice, a scrimmage for the game of growing up. 

I see a huge kick and pass down the field from a dad in jeans and a baseball cap, then a great tap into the goal from a kid to make the goal. There are cheers all around. A victory for one is a victory for all.

I think of how we parents pass the ball to our kids over the years. We hope it makes it to them, and that they can score something meaningful. 

While they charge ahead, they’ll know that we will always be there for them as they carry the ball, the team, the game, the family, ever forward.

Brian Mittge is a brother, father, son and husband in Chehalis. Drop him a line at