I am the middle child of three and grew up sandwiched between two rowdy, rough and tumble boys.
Lately I’ve been thinking about how growing up with my brothers and the experiences we’ve shared has shaped my personality. Growing up in a house outnumbered by boys is not an environment where you can afford to be delicate or have a thin skin. In our household everyone had colorful, strong personalities, and it was very much an emotional and physical battleground for attention and personal space. There were three of us, so two were always ganging up on one, and being the only girl, I often got the short end of that stick.
As a child I was very gullible and believed everything my older brother told me. He once told me if I ate the crust of bread I would turn into a werewolf. I believed him and refused to eat bread crust for several weeks. He also told me that if I didn’t wear a training bra, my boobs would grow under my arm pits because the bra “trained” my boobs to grow forward. After a week of refusing to take off my training bra, even in the shower or to sleep, I had to confess to my mother my fears of having arm pit boobs. She punished my brother for his lies and I could finally sleep without having nightmares of waking up with a deformed chest. These are two small examples of how my brother liked to dupe or manipulate me, and because of his special training, I like to think as an adult that I’m more savvy when it comes to seeing through people’s bullshit.
I am desensitized to the smell of man farts and have been since I was seventeen years old. There are only so many Dutch Ovens a girl can survive until she completely loses her ability to give a shit. Great, you shit your pants next to my head and threw a blanket over me to trap the smell. Good for you big boy, can we move on now? But don’t forget to sleep with one eye open. Of course, I am now married to the one man in the entire world who doesn’t think it’s polite to pass gas in front of anyone. I believe this is Karma rewarding me for all the fart related suffering I endured as a teenager. However, I do have a four year old son, and so far he is not following his father’s example in this regard. But then again, neither is my daughter.
Male nudity doesn’t faze me, at all. When my brothers were teenagers they became more conscientious about their state of dress around me, but that didn’t stop them from engaging in typical, immature male behavior. There was enough mooning, bull dogs, flashing, pressed ham and dares to streak across the neighborhood to prevent me from ever being curious about dangly man parts.
I am not capable of being a doormat for anyone. Growing up, I had to learn to hold my ground with my brothers. We fought a lot. Sometimes with words, and sometimes physically. My mom was a single mother with three kids and she didn’t have the time or energy to be a referee for every little thing. I remember when I was maybe eight years old, my older brother would hold me down and dangle a stream of spit over my face, waiting until the last second to suck it up into his mouth. I hated this. It felt like torture. One time in particular, I had had enough and I snapped. I can clearly remember the anger and frustration over not being able to move while he pinned me to the floor and taunted me in the way only siblings can do. My anger became physical, and somehow it fueled my strength. I kicked my legs up and over his shoulders pulling him down backwards. Then I pinned him to the ground and spit right in his eye! He cried and screamed, and I felt soooooo good. I was victorious! I was David and he was Goliath and I bested him with my legs and a wad of spit! Then my mom grounded me for un-lady like behavior, so that took some of the euphoria out of my victory, but that was the last time he ever did that to me.
While growing up with my brothers could be frustrating and traumatic at times, I remember always looking up to my older brother when I was young because he knew how to do all the things my younger brother and I couldn’t do. He could work the TV and VCR. He knew what channel everything was on, and when we finally got cable he and I would sneak out of bed in the middle of the night and watch HBO and Showtime when our mom was asleep. One time, we snuck out of bed and watched A Clockwork Orange, and we both agree that movie scarred us for life. Another time, all three of us took our mom’s tape recorder and we sat in the boy’s bedroom and made a swear tape. We took turns saying swear words and recorded ourselves cussing and laughing so hard we couldn’t breath. It’s hard to believe how funny we thought the word “butthole” was. I also remember we liked playing hide and seek in the house, and on one occasion my younger brother hid in the clothes dryer. So I slammed the door closed and turned it on to get him back for wrecking my brand new yellow bicycle. It had rainbows and streamers all over it, and he wrecked it trying to jump it off a homemade ramp in the driveway. Again, I was outnumbered by boys and felt such victory in that moment! (I only let him thump around in the dryer for about ten seconds, but those ten seconds were sweet!)
Although I would have denied this as a sixteen year old, the truth is that I loved growing up with my brothers. There were cycles of bonding and revenge, maturity and immaturity that bound the three of us together. My brothers were very protective over me as teenagers, taught me how to defend myself, to be independent and take shit from no one, especially them. To this day my older brother is one of my best friends. We talk on the phone several times each week, and sometimes a few times a day.
For good or bad, Dutch Ovens or unending laughter, I wouldn’t trade my brothers or our memories for anything. 🙂
PS–My older brother called me today as I was writing this post and I told him what I was writing about. He said, “Do you remember when I used to hold you down and do the spit stream over your face?” Ahhhh, good times.