I don’t think I have lived in the same city as either of my brothers for almost fifteen years. And since the middle brother is 35 and my youngest brother is 31, that is almost half of their entire lives that we have been apart. I’ve missed pretty much all of their adult lives. The bulk of my memories of my brothers revolve around our childhood.
Saturday morning cartoons, eating donuts in our pajamas is stamped boldly in my mind, as well as building elaborate Barbie camps invaded by G.I. Joe and Boba Fett. We shared collections of Smurf figurines and Bazooka bubble-gum wrappers so that we could keep telling the jokes over and over. We built hammocks hanging precariously from trees in our backyard and pushed each other as hard as we could on our tire-swing. I remember who their friends were, what clothes they liked to wear, the sound of the music pumping out of their bedroom and even what were their favorite foods. The smell of too much cologne still lingers the halls of my mind when I think about first dates, and I can still feel the panic when I heard that they had wrecked my mom’s new car.
However, humanly stupid feelings of jealousy still crept into my heart occasionally. Jealous of the depth of their relationship. Sharing a room was the least of their intimacies. They were each other’s best friend and confidant. I was just the older sister.
For a while we only lived an hour away, but we didn’t see each other much more than family gatherings. They were college students, and I was newly married. Then a new mom. Then a divorced and single mom. Then a divorced, single and college student mom. At some point during my very-selfish-total-drama-my-life- is-falling-apart phase, they both moved states away to further their educations. The middle brother went on to become a lawyer, while the younger one finished a P.H.D. in Neuroscience. Impressive.
I managed to squeak by with an English degree, two marriages and two children. Not so impressive.
There has always been mutual respect and undoubtedly unconditional love between the three of us. No matter our differences, I have never questioned how they feel about me. If anything, it is I who puts the most pressure on myself to try to “measure up”. Even though I am the oldest, I admire and look up to them as though I am the youngest sibling.
The first time my youngest brother came to visit me in Michigan was very exciting. It was almost monumental because it was the first time I had ever had him over for a meal, let alone visit for an extended period of time. I know that seems almost an impossible thing, but it was true. I had never entertained either of my brothers in my own home until I was almost 30 years old. In fact, I don’t remember ever hosting a holiday, birthday, or special occasion in my own home with any of my family until after DW and I got married.
I spent weeks cleaning and preparing my house. Decorating, re-arranging and meal planning were done with great care and detail. I even had thought of topics to talk to him about, tried to find something in common beside reminiscing about childhood moments. I really felt it was going to be like I was meeting him for the first time. As usual, all of that self-inflicted stress was unnecessary. It only took a few hours before I threw in the towel and surrendered to myself, quit trying to impress him, and gave up pretending I was someone else. I did not read Nietzsche, I read Dr. Seuss. There were no $30 bottles of wine on my kitchen counter, just Cheerios and teething biscuits. My freezer was stocked full of breast milk instead of frozen dinners. And although I had no clue what current artists played on the radio, I could recite every song, from every album of Raffi or Veggie Tales. The canyon of differences opened miles wide, yet it was one of the best weeks we ever spent together. He poured on the charm as Uncle, watching cartoons and eating donuts in his pajamas with both of his nieces. His mellow voice filled the house while The Tortoise taught him how to sing her favorite songs and he spent hours reading books to The Hare, using funny voices to get her to squeal and giggle so hard she would get hiccups. We even managed to get a couple of tours of our favorite spots and restaurants, as well as cook some homemade meals. When he left, I gave him money for his layover and a sack lunch for the plane.
A few days later my mom called.
“Do you know what your brother told me about his trip?”
“Hmmm…do I really want to know?”
“Of course you do!” she said surprised. “He said – Mom! It was the best trip ever. Emily is amazing…she’s like a real mom or something…a real grown-up!”
A real grown-up.
I had forgotten that he hardly knew me this way too. Our relationship stalled when we were 17 and 23. This was the moment we started to “grow-up” together.
My middle brother decided to bring my mom on his first trip, almost as a buffer I think. Just in case we didn’t have much to talk about…or do. But of course he discovered the same thing my youngest brother did – fun as well as family. The girls soak in his calming presence. He is an incredibly good listener, even hours after hearing the same made-up story from The Hare and laughs just as hard at hearing one of The Tortoise’s jokes the 100th time, as he did the first time. He has come three more times since that first visit. One evening as we were saying our childhood jingle – goodnight, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite - he gave me a longer hug than usual.
“I’m glad I came,” he said, “I’m really enjoying you.”
Loving me came naturally. It was part of being family. But knowing that he liked me added another depth to our bond. I felt part of the “club” between my brothers. I’m sure it had been there before, this “likeability” but there had been so many years between us that I wasn’t really sure anymore.
“I’m glad you came. I’m enjoying you too.”
As you may already know from reading my entries this weekend, one of my brothers got married. I’m not really at liberty to buzz about which one, but I can tell you that while one got married, the other officiated. It was an incredibly intimate ceremony and reception. Just a handful of friends, and a representation of the bride and groom’s families. I love my new sister-in-law. She is an amazing combination of all the things that I admire about my brother, and all the things that I like about myself, if that makes sense. She adores my brother, and it is obvious that the feeling is mutual. But what struck me the most, was how grown-up my brothers appeared. Yes, they had visited me numerous times now. And yes, they had come to the conclusion years ago that I am a wife, a mother…a grown-up, but I still referred to them as “the boys”. But they aren’t boys anymore – they are men. Men who have multiple degrees, honors, jobs and responsibilities. Men who have strength of character, honest hearts, giving spirits, wit and charm. Men who love their families and friends. Men who honor the world around them.
Men whom I love, adore, and enjoy. Men who are my brothers.