“What strange creatures brothers are!” — Jane Austen
“Fish heads, fish heads, roly poly fish heads, fish heads, fish heads, eat them up, yum! I took a fish head out to see a movie, didn’t have to pay to get it in!”
That was me last week sing-songing away in the kitchen as my husband Patrick made dinner while rolling his eyes at me. I shrugged and said something along the lines of: “I grew up with brothers. These are the benefits.”
At 27, I’m grateful for my two younger brothers.1 However, growing up I was often anything but. I wanted a sister. A sister would solve every fight. A sister wouldn’t be a pest; a sister wouldn’t whistle out of tune just to annoy me; a sister wouldn’t request my least favorite food for family dinner. A sister would be a saintly automatic best friend.2
In retrospect, I really regret not being thankful for my brothers as we were growing up together. At least, not for a long time. It took some massive shifts in our lives for my appreciation of their company to become a real, living feeling.
When I was 14 my family and I moved to a very rural town.3 Our friends, who before balanced a lot of things out, all lived hours away. The added twist was that we’d moved to a temporary house that happened to have two bedrooms–for the five of us. Obviously our parents took one, which left the remaining room for my brothers and me to split. We were only supposed to live there a short while, but a short while kept turning into a longer while as the house my parents were building elsewhere kept not getting finished.4
Naturally the first thing we all did was band together to form an inseparable loyal group. My brothers became my best friends, we were like a secret club, and I never wished for a sister again because it was so awesome, the end.
The first thing we actually did when we moved into that room was build cubicles out of moving boxes to create a semblance of privacy from each other. Each brown cubby was enough to hold a mattress, some boxes, and a bookshelf. We tried to ignore each other–and would whack the walls in annoyance when that became impossible.
Time dragged on. We tried making friends, but it was hard. We were newcomers in a rural area, and by the time summer hit we were going a little stir crazy.
Enter: the badminton net.
Back home, we’d played badminton together a fair bit, but now, it was one of the only things left for us to do. Now that our friends were kaput, we were the only team members to choose. It sounds trite, but the Summer of Badminton probably helped us form a sort of working partnership with each other. I’m not saying it solved everything–far from it. We fought, and I was mean, and they were pests, and it was all pretty lousy for the year-ish that we were in that room together. But when I look back, I still think of those badminton times–an hour here, an hour there–as being really good,5 which is saying something, because we were all pretty miserable with each other the rest of the time. Who knows though? My brothers may not even think of badminton when they think of that summer. Maybe they just remember how miserable we all were.
But maybe it was that shared misery that brought us a little closer, too. Suddenly without all the friends we’d had to act as buffers, we had to learn to cohabitate without the bells and whistles. Of course, there were times when the close quarters achieved the exact opposite effect; the screamed I HATE YOUs were plentiful as we tried to navigate tween and teenage hood together during several more moves to places where we also didn’t know anyone. But we watched a lot of MST3K together, too.
Overall, having to rely on only each other through that shared misery was a net gain in our relationships. Now we’re able to laugh about the misery. We have a close shared history that nobody else we know has. I suppose it’s that way with every family. At the time, it sucked and probably made us more enemies than friends. But now? I think back and wonder if it wasn’t all for the best; if we’d never been stuck together for those sucky times, would we have the relationship we do now? It could be that aging has just mellowed us out…but maybe not.
As my husband and I look forward to expanding our family,6 I think about the possibility of siblings. If we have a girl, will she beg for a sister7 we can’t necessarily give her? I’d love to be able to offer her a balm, to tell her that growing up with brothers sucked and her chances would be 50/50, so her not having a sibling at all is probably a good thing. But I can’t say it because I genuinely enjoy having siblings.8 I don’t buy into the idea that single children are fated to be spoiled unsocialized kids who don’t know how to share, but my memory does buy into the idea that siblings are kind of nice to have around. Who else can I roll my eyes to across the Thanksgiving table? Who else can I quote a MST3k line to out of context and instantly get a laugh?9
I don’t think having brothers made me a better person than I could have been without them, but I have a hard time imagining our Thanksgiving table without that good-natured eye-rolling. And I want that for our kid. I want Patrick and I to be the cause of shared eye rolls! I want them to fight and scream how they hate each other and eventually come to realize they don’t.
But if we end up with just the one, it’ll be OK–that’s what cousins are for, right? Cousins. Friends. Everyone who’s a part of his or her life. I am trying to be okay with whatever the combination ends up being; you deal with the cards you’re dealt. But there’s always going to be that part of me that wants to freely offer my kid an eye-rolling partner, someone to be annoyed with when a move makes you share a room, someone to play badminton with.
So, brothers, you win. I wouldn’t trade you in after all. I’m glad nobody took me up on the standing offer.10
Photo by: Elizabeth Albert
— ∮∮∮ —
- Ages 25 and 23. ↩
- I read enough of the Beezus and Ramona books, you’d think I’d know better! ↩
- There were three main streets: Front Street, Back Street, and Cross Street…which crossed the first two. ↩
- There are three certain things in life: death, taxes, and contractors who take longer than estimated to build a house, amirite? ↩
- When the outdoors didn’t reek with the insufferable scent of the local chicken factory, barftown. ↩
- Knockonwood. ↩
- Or brother, if she’s not like I was (we can all hope). ↩
- Even when I hate their guts. ↩
- “How many times have you gone rootin’ through your junk drawer muttering to yourself, ‘Where’d I put that gun?'” ↩
- But did you have to sing that fish heads song for like three hours straight in the car back from camp? It’s been years and it’s still stuck in my head. Thanks a lot. ↩