An Ode To Growing Up With Brothers

by Christine Burke
Leszek Glasner/ Shutterstock

I grew up with two brothers, and I don’t mind telling you that they stunk up my entire childhood. Quite literally. Being the oldest with two brothers born 17 months apart means I spent my days dodging fart missiles and wondering when on earth they last showered.

And because I was the only girl in the family, often it was them against me and I rarely won, particularly when arguing over who got control of the TV remote. But for all of the arguing, bickering, and nasal irritation, I wouldn’t trade having brothers for the world, especially now that I’m raising children of my own.

My brothers and I grew up in a traditional middle-class family, and we moved all over the country thanks to my father’s job. We frequently found ourselves in a new city, far from our friends and the familiarity of our former life. My brothers were often my support system, and we’d spend long hours playing Atari and watching Dukes of Hazzard in our new house until we all made new friends of our own.

Growing up with brothers taught me that even though you might follow your friends, you’ll always have family to lean on when you are lonely or sad. And when I see my kids choosing their friends over their siblings, I don’t let it bother me much because I know deep down that they will always be each other’s home base.

My brothers are wickedly funny, and they love nothing more than to crack jokes to the point of annoyance (of course). They are famous for sending me inappropriate memes, and they delight in embarrassing me with their foul humor. They have also taught me everything I know about comedic timing, pulling pranks, and laughing even when you are the butt of a joke.

On the days when I feel like I’m saying no on a continuous loop and becoming a total mean mom, having brothers has taught me to not take life, and myself, so seriously. My brothers remind me to be silly with my kids.

Growing up with brothers meant being exposed to horrific farts, clogged toilets, and stinky armpits. My brothers took personal hygiene to a whole new low when they were teenagers, and it’s a wonder my mother didn’t drop dead while handling their laundry. But they grew out of that phase to become well-groomed men who shower regularly. The memory of my brothers’ foul smells and bathroom destruction gives me hope that my teenage son won’t always smell like a garbage dump.

At a recent family gathering, my brothers started detailing stories from our high school days, when they acted like hooligans in our neighborhood. My mother and I listened, appalled yet amused, as they recounted stories about ringing doorbells in the middle of the night and trespassing on neighbors’ property. I was shocked that they were able to hide their behavior so well, and they had my mother and I cry-laughing as they explained how they used to sneak out of the house late at night. They were sneaky little shits. Having brothers has made me realize I need to have squeaky doors and one eye open at night.

When my father died, my brothers were the only ones who truly understood my grief. Their faces wore the same pained expressions as mine, and as I watched them wade through the mire of sadness and depression, it was comforting to know that I wasn’t the only one feeling like the wind had been knocked permanently out of my sails.

And on the night before we flew my dad home to his final resting place, it was my youngest brother who quietly drove me to the parking lot of the funeral home so that I could be close to my dad one last time.

My brothers have taught me that you aren’t alone when crisis strikes. When I saw my children consoling each other in the wake of my father’s death, unafraid of breaking down, I knew my brothers and I had set the right example for them.

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing between my brothers and me, thanks to our strong personalities and opinionated nature. Over the years, we’ve disagreed, we’ve argued, and we’ve called names. There have been stretches of time that we’ve taken a break from our relationship because we needed time and space to overcome our feelings. And we haven’t always supported each other’s life choices. But we’ve always managed to somehow patch up our grievances and come back around because our life isn’t complete without each other.

Having brothers has taught me that the bonds of family are strong. I am able to take a deep breath when I hear my daughter tell my son that he’s the “worst brother ever” because I’ve said the same to mine. And they’ve loved me anyway.

As I watch my son and daughter grow up, I hope and pray I’m helping them build bonds that will last a lifetime. When my brothers bound through my door on holidays and immediately start teasing me, my kids squeal with laughter because they get to see a side of me that can sometimes get lost in a sea of carpooling, homework-monitoring, and rule-policing. My brothers have helped shape the parent I am today, and I know I am a better mother for it. I will always love and cherish them.

I could have done without all the farting though.