I don’t have a close relationship with my three brothers, something I tried for years to change and then slowly gave up on, finally coming to the conclusion (with my husband’s clear-eyed help) that they aren’t interested in a relationship with me so it was not only pointless, but masochistic, to keep trying.
I turned my attention to my own little family, raising my sons the best I could, hoping that maybe this generation would be more connected.
It started off well.
Their relationship really was as peaceful and loving–by and large–as this photo suggests.
There’s 2 years and 10 months between my sons. I wondered sometimes, in the first few years after Jacob’s birth, if a shorter span of time between their births might have been better for growing up ‘together,’ but I didn’t get to choose the timing and those few extra months meant maybe I was a smidgeon less exhausted than I would have been had Jacob shown up any sooner.
It turned out that the timing was perfect. (Go figure.)
That’s not to say that there weren’t a few challenging years.
Jacob’s burning desire to be just like his older brother and hang out with his brother’s friends and get to do all the things Gabriel got to do
sometimes often resulted in familial tension:
“Jacob, go away!”
“You know, sweetie, there are lots of kids your own age to hang around with here in Naramata. Why don’t you see if ____ would like to go to the beach with you?”
“It’s not fair! Why does Gabriel get to do everything?”
Older Brother is so easy-going and Younger Brother so persistent that Jacob has often managed to worm his way into Gabriel’s social life AND enjoy certain privileges much earlier than his older brother did. Although the ‘discussions’ about how long he gets to stay out in the evening are on-going:
“Gabriel gets to stay out until ___. Why can’t I?”
“When Gabriel was your age he wasn’t even going out.”
Back in January, 16 year old Gabriel left for a 5 month student exchange trip to France. It was hard for all of us, but especially so for 14 year old Jacob.
He was conspicuously absent from the house for the first couple of weeks, spending an inordinate amount of time with his friends, eventually admitting that the house was too empty without his brother.
He also grumbled about the extra chores that came his way because Gabriel was gone–totally missing the fact that he was now the only one causing the mess in the basement–although, over time, he came to enjoy having dominion over all that space and never having to wait for the bathroom.
Meal-time, however, never did improve. He’d say something and we’d stare at him, clueless, and he’d sigh, “Gabriel would get the joke.”
I felt sad for him, missing his brother, but also secretly happy that they had forged such a tight bond that he did miss his sibling. And, judging from the frequency of the snap chat photos Gabriel would send from across the ocean, he was missing his younger brother as well.
We went to France to pick up Gabriel after his exchange and travelled as a family for a couple of weeks. It was a delight to see the two of them together again–tusseling with each other to ascertain just how much bigger and stronger each had grown in their time apart, comparing new musical discoveries and tastes, creating a music video together with castles and towers and D-day pillboxes as their backdrop, and laughing like crazy men over their inside jokes at dinner.
In the interest of complete honesty, it was also tiring to hear the bickering I had conveniently forgotten was also part of their relationship–the on-going arguments over nothing.
But still . . .
Now that we’re back home and have settled into life as a four-some again I see some changes. As is to be expected, Gabriel is more independent after his time abroad, but so is Jacob. Gabriel has never had a problem giving his opinion and Jacob has always accepted that opinion as Truth.
Not any more.
A little solo-time and distance and a few interactions since Gabriel’s return have shown him that his older brother doesn’t always know what he’s talking about.
The pedestal may not have toppled entirely, but there a few cracks in it.
Which is necessary.
In order for them to have a healthy relationship heading into their adult years, they need to be on equal footing. Hero worship and the need to ‘catch up’ must crumble in order for a true relationship to thrive.
Which makes me think: maybe that’s why things never gelled for my brothers and I after we reached adulthood. Maybe we never grew beyond our roles of Bossy Big Sister and Troublesome Little Brothers.
It’s a pity.
But that’s water under the bridge.
Right now, I’m focusing on my boys and it brings me great joy to see how close they are right now, as teen-agers.
Last week, they went on a bro-date (alternatively known as a bro-scursion). They packed a lunch and a frisbee and headed to the lake with a plan to stop at a mall in the city on their way home. I was beaming as I watched them gather their things and load up the van, waving like a maniac as they drove away and settled into full-blown, hyper-ventilating panic as soon as the garage door had lowered again.
Trying to ignore my churning stomach, I roamed the house calling on every angel available to watch over my boys as they hurtled down the highway in two thousand pounds of untrusworthy steel, surrounded by texting, speeding, impatient, distracted drivers and reminding myself:
“This is what you wanted, Maxine. You wanted your sons to be close, to so love each other’s company that sometimes they would choose to hang out together instead of going off individually with their friends.”
“I know! But if they’re always together–especially if they’re driving together–that means the odds are higher that, should the unspeakable happen, they would also . . . be taken from me . . . together.”
(Schizophrenia–an unavoidable part of motherhood.)
Once I calmed all the voices, I settled on a feeling of pleasure (tinged with a slight undercurrent of anxiety) that my sons were out on the town making memories together, just as I had always dreamed would happen.
And then I made myself very, very busy as I waited for them to get back home.
Which they did, hours later, laughing and joking and good-naturedly answering my million and one questions from my place on a stool at the kitchen island, too weak-kneed with relief to stand.
Will these bro-scursions continue into adulthood? Who knows? But from this vantage point, the odds are looking very good.
And for that, I am very, very grateful.