My sister is in town for the week, and in that time, she has informed me repeatedly that I ruined her childhood by acting as if I was a creative, witty genius when, in fact, I had simply been feeding her “Austin Powers” quotes during her formative play time, thinking she would never have reason to watch the movie herself.

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Well, a few months ago she watched it for the first time. And now (drama queen that she is) she thinks her childhood was a lie. How can she believe in anything anymore? Up is down, left is right, north is 7.

Yeah, so? Maybe I don’t like her face.

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Most people don’t know what it’s like to have a sibling who’s 15 years younger. Not only that, but an only sibling who is 15 years younger.

When I was in high school, I’d push her around the mall in a stroller and get strange looks from people who assumed I was her father and were shocked that I actually stuck around and, you know, acted like a parent.

Now, I have a son and he’s 16 years younger than Kayla and she’s the one getting strange looks.

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The worst was at the Children’s Museum the other day. My wife, Colleen, wasn’t there. So it was just me, Kayla, and Declan. Guy, girl, baby. And for some reason, all these moms at the museum were staring and giving us dirty looks. I didn’t get it. And then, suddenly, I did. Guy, girl, baby. They thought we were a family. Creepy old guy. Teenage bride. Illegitimate, doomed child. Weird.

Here’s another strange thing about the age difference: we never fought or bickered when we lived together with our parents. I never resented her. I don’t think she ever had any ill feelings toward me. Then, around the time she turned 11 or 12 and started growing a bit, I felt a shift. Instead of wanting to play with and protect her, I felt more inclined to pick on her. To wrestle her to the ground. To poke her. Smack her in the head (gently). Things that normal siblings do in the back of the minivan that their dad is threatening to pull over.

5 years later, the urge hasn’t subsided. I still like to pick on her. But something else happened. We started to be able to relate as adults. Turns out, we both think one of the best things in the world is a winding, honest, no-limits conversation.

So our relationship has evolved. I used to feel like a parent, of sorts, without the responsibility. Then I felt like the in-house entertainment. And now? There’s this great mix of juvenile pestering and grown-up relating.

Which brings me back to Austin Powers. When Kayla was little, she wanted (like most kids) to play make believe. I don’t have a great imagination, but I do love to play. There are few better ways, in my mind, to reset your mood and clear your head than to really play with a child. So I may have stolen a few lines here and there from Dr. Evil. I may have created a game in which we tried to take over a world surrounded by frickin’ idiots. I may have told her, on occasion, that I would not tolerate her insolence. So sue me.

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The Dr. Evil impression was always about one thing. Connecting with a person I never expected to have in my life. At the start, I didn’t know how to be a big brother. I just kind of faked it until suddenly I was one, and then I moved away to college and she cried because she didn’t understand why and I cried because I knew she didn’t understand why and I swore that I would find a way to continue to prioritize her, to play with her, to let her know she was important.

Maybe it’s strange I chose to do that using words from a fake, evil doctor bent on world domination. But we don’t do normal in our family. This Independence Day, I’m thankful for the unlikely gift of a sister, the snake to my mongoose (or the mongoose to my snake)…the Mini Me to my Dr. Evil.

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