My eleven-year-old brother, Sebastian, wakes up as soon as the sun’s light turns the sky pastel. When he bounces his way to the kitchen table, there is already a bowl of yogurt and a plate of freshly cut fruit arranged in a smiley face, mirroring his own energetic grin. The books that he had inevitably strewn around the house the night before have “magically” relocated to his backpack along with his lunch. 

Of course, it wasn’t magic. It was our mother. She wakes up long before anyone else in the house to make his mornings effortless. 

Most days, Sebby and I sit down to breakfast together. Sometimes we sit in silence, the soft crunching reminding us of each other’s presence. Sebby will inevitably shatter this silence with whatever urgent information pushes itself from his brain straight out his lips. “Julianna, I took out my tooth,” he blurts out. 

Half asleep and mesmerized by the cinnamon dregs floating in my cereal bowl, I mutter, “Yeah.” His giggle snaps me out of my daze, “Wait. Do you mean you lost a tooth?” I ask. He nods his head, grinning at me and holding out the tooth with pride between his fingers — his smile speckled with kiwi seeds from his breakfast. 

Sebastian lives in California and I live in Massachusetts, 3,116 miles apart. Of course I miss him, but thanks to video chatting I am not missing time with him. Technology is what enables me to be so involved in his life. I spend many hours a day in front of a screen, but my brother is on the other side. Skype, Whatsapp, phone calls and text messages ensure that I’m there for the milestone of losing a tooth. They also guarantee that I’m there for the battles about doing his homework and cutting his hair. So much for the allegedly dehumanizing influence of technology. I even get to witness the mad dash to get out the door before the late bell rings. 

“Have you seen Sebby’s sneakers?” my mom hollers from another room. “They’re in the bathroom!” I yell back. He took them off when he was brushing his teeth. Even though my mom and brother have woken up early, they just barely make it out the door. 

Sebastian narrates the ride to school like he is leading a tour bus through New York City. On your right, you see the woman walking her dog. This intersection features a boy riding his bike. If you look closely, here you will see a man sweeping the walkway in front of his house… and so on, until we reach the school. I wish him a good day and he informs me that my bob haircut makes me look like a mushroom. “Don’t worry,” he tells me, “some people like mushrooms.” The day before he told me my lipstick made me look like a vampire. I can’t imagine starting my day without these words of affirmation. Luckily, I don’t have to. 

It is 8:15 a.m. in Palo Alto, California and 11:15 a.m. in Waltham, Massachusetts when Sebby and I go our separate ways. We will see each other after school. 

I am struck by Sebastian’s energy. At the end of his day he hops back into the car with the same enthusiasm with which he had hopped out six hours earlier. 

By 8:00 p.m. her time, my mother’s smile is strained. Her eyes are tired. I step in to put Sebby to bed. He runs from the bathroom and catapults himself into the bed. His buzz cut glistens from his fresh shower like grass wet with morning dew. I pull a book off my bookshelf and settle into my chair. He spins around in the bed, tangling the blankets around his body. As I read, he continues to wring out what is left of his energy. As he grows increasingly still, I pause in the hope that he has fallen asleep, only for him to sit bolt upright and ask me what is going to happen next to Harry, Ron and Hermione. I read until my voice becomes the comforting hum that lulls him to sleep. 

I wish I could give him a gentle kiss goodnight and straighten the messy covers, but instead I whisper goodnight and press the end call button on Skype. I crawl into my own bed and straighten my own covers.