When someone asks me if I have any siblings, I usually joke that I’m an only child. Then I feel compelled to explain that I have 3 estranged brothers; 2 older step brothers and one younger natural brother and that it’s a long (and painful, though I’ll rarely admit it) story.
I always marvel at the sibling relationships I see Dave and my friends have. I knew it must be good. I knew I was missing out on something. But frankly, I didn’t really get it. Until now.
Riley is a little over 3 years older than Aidan. When they were about 4 and 1, Riley was being terrible to Aidan. I remember sitting on the floor of our playroom in Austin watching Aidan desperately try to get his brother’s attention and Riley swatting him away with disdain.
I was overcome with sadness. This was not the relationship I wanted for them. Echoes of my childhood rang.
I stopped Riley and pleaded with him:
This is your brother. This is the only one you’ve got. (Obviously, I’m not as psychic as I think I am.) He is your blood and he will be your lifelong best friend. That guy will always have your back no matter what. Don’t treat him like this. I was terrible to my brother. I feel awful about it. And now we have no relationship.
Riley’s response, his wisdom beyond his years:
Then you should call him. You should apologize.
FUCK! What choice did I have? I had to set the right example for my children. I called my brother in Hong Kong, explained what had happened, swallowed my pride and apologized.
I wish I could tell you there’s a happy ending to that story, but my brother and I continue to have no relationship. The primary reason being that I believe him to be suffering from undiagnosed mental illness.
However, the foundation for that dysfunction started out of the gate. When I reflect back on the constant fighting and true intent to inflict grave injury, I am sick.
But we grew up in a household that only had two potential outcomes; band together and survive or every man for himself. In the absence of nurture, my nature dominated. The mother in me is nauseous to think of that little boy that I tormented and abandoned. My only consolation; hey, at only 2 1/2 years older, I was just a kid too.
So like we all do, you try to do better for your children. Not to be too self congratulatory, but I think Dave and I did a good job of celebrating their individual accomplishments but not lording them over the other child. And we insisted on an all for one and one for all mentality.
Things between Riley and Aidan were pretty good until Riley hit middle school. There are just some evolutionary tendencies that you have to fight through. Even with their substantial age difference, Aidan was almost always as big as Riley, his athletic ability dominating. I think that upped the competition between them.
It wasn’t until Riley hit about sixteen that the alpha male war was over and they could coexist, each secure and comfortable in the spectacular individuals they are. And when Aidan came to the same high school, the love affair was in full bloom. Riley seemed to take true pride in claiming Aidan as “his”.
This past weekend, we all went to visit Riley for Parents’ Weekend. At Riley’s urging, Aidan stayed in the dorms, seamlessly integrating into the student body. After what I estimate to be 20 hrs of straight partying minus a power nap in between venues, I was softly interrogating Riley.
Was Aidan fun?
He’s always fun.
In that exchange is everything I ever needed. If I can’t be a sister, at least I can be the mother of brothers.
There is of course the third wheel that is never a third wheel. Maybe no one was more excited to see Riley than Tyler who leapt into his arms upon sighting.
What a crazy dynamic that relationship overlays; part brother, part party trick, part son I think for the big boys. He was a huge hit with the college kids. What? Your first fraternity party wasn’t at age 7?
But leaving…ouch. Tyler, our tough guy, Mr. Too Cool For School, was inconsolable for over an hour when we dropped Riley off for the final time of our trip.
Brotherly love. What a gift to have nurtured. What a gift to behold.