Over the 20 years I’ve lived, I have come to realize many things and one of them is that I could not survive a world without my siblings. They have taught me things I can learn from no one else and they have comforted me when the sky felt like it was falling. We bicker and fight like it’s nothing, but we love fiercely. We love hard.
On my father’s side, I am the youngest of three. I have an older brother who lights up the room when he walks in and encourages everyone to be the best possible version of themselves. My stepsister, my only sister, is filled with laughter and resilience, and never falters in her love for people. On my mother’s side, I am the eldest of six, with five younger brothers who look to me for guidance. All seven of them have made me into the person I am today and I couldn’t be more thankful. So, as an ode to my years and a nod to my siblings that I do, in fact, pay attention, here are 15 things my siblings have taught me in 20 years.
1. Always be a little kinder than necessary.
I am 6 years old. My brothers and I are at a park, one that I have never particularly been interested in. I sit on one of the swings and watch as my brothers make friends with everyone around them. They are free, excited, and laughing. One of the other children falls down the slide head first and crashes into the wood chips.
I stand to help but one of my brothers beats me to the child’s side, his face etched with concern. He holds out a hand to help the whimpering child up and makes sure the wood chips are not stuck to the child’s clothing. He offers the kid a lint-covered piece of candy he pulled from his pocket in an attempt to make them feel better and the child wastes no time putting it in their mouth. I watch in awe as my little brother plays hero, plays friend. He didn’t need to help at all, much less offer his candy, but he did anyway.
2. Letting people win does nothing for them.
I am 7 years old. My brothers have no mercy for their oldest sibling, and I have none for them. We are playing a board game, an intense one, and we are all simultaneously winning and losing. Letting people win is a foreign concept to my siblings and I. There is no better feeling than winning after you’ve worked hard and no bigger heartache than losing when you’ve given your all. Now, my brother tells me that these feelings are necessary in order to not become sore winners nor sore losers.
3. Everything feels better in a fort.
I am 8 years old. Reality has become too much for me to handle so I begin reading books for fun. My brothers do not understand it, and, really, neither do I. I spend a lot of time cooped up in my room, ignoring the world around me. Instead of forcing me out, my brother comes to me and builds a fort around me.
When my protesting and his construction is finished, he sits beside me and lays his head on my lap. The loneliness I feel from reading alone is no longer present and I begin reading out loud to the little boy in my lap. Reading was life’s greatest pleasure to me, but it never felt better than when I was reading in a fort with one of my boys.
4. Little boys have a lot of stuff and not enough pockets.
I am 9 years old. My mother has given me my first purse to carry around and I am simply infatuated with it. I carry it everywhere I go and fill it with any toy that can fit. I feel confident as I walk through shopping centers with my Minnie Mouse purse while being with much older purse carrying women.
The euphoria fades as my brothers do to me as they had done to my mother; they ask me to start carrying the things they can no longer fit in their pockets. Because my mother is doing it, I open my little purse and watch the dirt-covered rock fall onto my Barbie doll. I say nothing, watching as my brothers try to fit more rocks, flowers, and bugs into their overflowing pockets knowing that they would eventually make their way into my bag.
5. I’m not sure who Goku is, but I know he isn’t someone to be messed with.
I am 10 years old and my brothers are obsessed with animated cartoons. I have no idea who Goku is, but I know my older brother loves him dearly and my younger brothers practice their drawing skills in his art style.
My older brother, passionately in love with fitness and health, admires Goku. My guess is that it’s because of his strength, both physically and in character. My younger brothers use Goku to fuel their passions of art. Because of this, I have come to love and defend Goku for the sake of my brothers.
6. Laughing at myself hurts less.
I am 11 years old. I am hitting puberty and I can feel the insecurity make its way into my chest. I am standing in front of a mirror with my shirt hiked up. I am pinching at the tender skin of my stomach, gripping the fat underneath it. I am suddenly overcome with emotion but I cannot pull myself away from the sight. I am disgusted by my own body. My brother sees what I am doing and before I know it, he is standing next to me, his own shirt hiked up as he squeezes at his stomach. He pretends his bellybutton is a mouth and that it is talking to us.
At first, I am hurt that he is making fun of me and I turn to make him leave. But, suddenly, he is laughing. He had made up a funny voice for his stomach and it made him giggle. Soon, I am starting to laugh with him. He nudges me to do the same to my own stomach and, hesitantly, I do so. It all becomes too funny for me and I am laughing so hard my body shakes. Both of our faces have turned red from the laughter and I cannot remember what I had been upset about. My body is my own, I tell myself, watching him show the rest of the family. And if it’s a funny body, I’d better be the first to laugh.
7. Yes, that argument about who was going to do the dishes was worth it.
I am 12 years old. I do not wish to do the dishes and neither does my brother. We get into a heated argument that lasts longer than it would have to do the dishes. I win the argument and do the laundry instead. Oh, yes. Being yelled at for two hours and yelling back was worth not being forced to touch wet food.
8. Legos can cure any heartbreak.
I'm 13 years old and I’m experiencing my first real taste of heartache. Tears heavy with grief slip down my cheeks as the pain takes up all of the space in my chest. I can feel my lungs desperately trying to expand, to keep me breathing, and it hurts. My little brother stands in the doorway, an old purse of mine weighed down with an assortment of different colored blocks. He asks if I want to play and frowns when I say no. He offers to let me watch him play and I agree, my voice thick with sadness. He tells me he will build me a palace, a palace worthy of me, and spends hours on it.
Eventually, I help him out hoping it would make me feel better. We build tower after tower together, laughing at each other's work and bossing each other around. When the palace is complete, I marvel at our work, satisfied with its outcome. In one swift movement, my brother throws his hand down and smashes the palace. When I demand to know why he simply starts reconstructing. “Everything breaks,” he says. “All we have to do is rebuild.”
9. Take care of the people you love.
I’m 14 years old. I am responsible for my younger siblings and it is a weight I must carry. I have no qualms with it, in fact, I enjoy taking care of my little loves. The night is coming to a close and I help each one of them to bed. As they fall asleep, their bellies full and their day is done with, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of love as I gaze at their slumbering figures. I think back on how stressful it is to take care of them, how exhausting it is, and I quickly realize that I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
10. Expressions of love are not always verbal.
I am 15 years old. The only way I cognitively know how to express love is by voicing it. It has been days, maybe even weeks since one of my siblings has said that they love me and I am really starting to feel it. I mull over it in school and become distracted throughout the day because of it. When I get home, I plan to go to my room and brood over it some more.
The second I walk through the front door, though, one of the boys notices my crestfallen face and says nothing about it. As we make eye contact, he holds up his paper plate with a singular pizza roll on it - his favorite. “I’m too full to finish this,” he lies with ease. “Do you want it?”
11. Even the Gods have their bad days.
I’m 16 years old and I’m overwhelmed with school, and work, and taking care of my brothers on my own. I’m trying to study for chemistry and make dinner at the same time but I begin to realize that chemistry is hard. I feel the weight of stress settling into my bones and I can feel the blood rushing to my temples. In the background, I can hear the younger boys arguing over the remote. It all becomes too much, too overwhelming, and I lash out. My voice raises to a level I swore I’d never amount to with them and the room falls silent.
The guilt of becoming someone I’m not is rich on my tongue and painful to swallow. My apologies rush out of me like a loose cannon set aflame with warm tears brimming my eyes. “We all get mad sometimes,” one of them tells me, offering the remote to his brother. “God does, too, and He never apologizes for it. You don't have to, either.”
12. Starting over is always an option.
I am 17 years old. My father has yet to marry my step-mother, but I still see her and her daughter as family, as my mom and sister. I realize that my sister has shown me what it means to start over - to take something as large as grief and make it into something worthy of starting over for. I watch her overcome battles I hope I never have to endure and see her smile when it’s over. There is no fuss over the broken parts and she simply puts it all back together with the determination of a thousand raging suns.
13. If you’re passionate about it, it’s worth it.
I am 18 years old and balancing on the precipice of adulthood. My attendance at college is in the fall and I am more nervous than I’ve ever been. When I get the news of my acceptance to Eastern Michigan University, the first person I call is my older brother. His voice is laced with pride and my chest swells. I think back to all of the times I worked hard to have him be proud of me, and how he made success look so easy. He is 8 years older than I and has not once ever strayed from what he loves.
He asks me what I plan to study and I can feel the tips of my cheeks become warm as I tell him I want to study history and anthropology. I wait for the baited breath, the denial of what I love being worthy, the patronizing tone of believing I am making a mistake, but it never comes. I hear him smile into the phone as he prompts me to talk about it. My body relaxes as I begin skyrocketing information about history, my voice alight with excitement. It was then that I realized that people probably doubted him too.
14. Sacrifice is more than giving up something.
I am 19 years old. I am at college and my brothers have been put in foster care. I have no way to help the situation or make it any easier and my heart breaks a little more every day. I am willing to sacrifice everything - my education, my job, my livelihood - in order to make things right. As much as the oldest of the boys wants them home, he makes the sacrifice of telling me not to do such a thing to myself. I can still see the pits of pain in his eyes. I see how it devours him whole.
15. This is what unconditional love is supposed to look like.
I am 20 years old and love has not come easy for me. I am constantly doubting my worth in this universe and begging the gods to help me figure it all out. I am not sure of most things and it weighs on my brittle bones, causing me to collapse under my own anxiety. I often find myself staring at pictures of my siblings because if there is one thing I am sure of, it is that I love my siblings with every ounce of emotion that I’ve got, and they love me back just as fiercely.
They were the first people I came out to, the first people I shared the hidden parts of myself with, and they were the first people to accept me. Their love reminds me every day that I am stronger than I think and that I have been through far worse than what life is handing to me. The weight of the world may be on my shoulders but knowing I am loved by the only people who mean the most to me makes the burden easier to bear. If Atlas did not shrug, neither will I.