We all carry snapshots of our childhood like loose change in our pockets, our tried-and-true road maps guiding us through the maze of life. For most of us, I’d like to believe our childhoods resemble confetti, colorful and vibrant, falling all around you, hands outstretched, trying to hold onto as many memories as you can before they slip past you. And for others, sadly, childhood can seem more like watching a tornado, wavering stability, ever-changing roofs over their heads, bits and pieces flying uncontrollably in the wind. Our childhood defines who we become and also who we don't.
When I think of my own childhood, my senses come alive. I can taste birthday cake batter licked from the edge of a bowl and honeysuckles picked from an open field. I see shapes of animals in the clouds, and a tetherball headed straight for me. I feel my hands seeping through the dirt, and warm blankets pulled out of the dryer on winter days. And if I listen carefully, I can hear footsteps running down the stairs to greet people that were always coming home.
Being the youngest of four brothers, I found that the majority of my time was spent looking up at them and analyzing every move that they would make. In my eyes, they were walking billboards, and I knew that if I payed close enough attention, I would learn something.
Unquestionably, I realized that brothers can be your greatest allies and also your greatest enemies. They will pull your hair and tell you when you are acting like a baby. They will laugh at your shortcomings, but they will not tolerate anyone else tearing you down. They will protect you fearlessly and relentlessly, with scratched up knuckles across their hands. They will teach you how to throw a football with a spiral, how to pick a lock, and how to catch falling snowflakes on your tongue.
When you grow up with brothers, you will set aside the pink dresses for cowboy boots and the bright bows for ball caps. You will learn that failure stings, but that the pain is only second to getting your toe rolled over by a bicycle. You will learn how to spot a lie from a mile away, and that most mountains only look towering before you have started to climb them. You will learn to count your blessings, and the exact number of chicken strips you have left in your to-go box.
When you grow up with brothers, you will be exceptionally great at video games, simply because if you are not, you will not get to play. You will quote Scarface and Top Gun and secretly be wary of anyone who cannot. Brothers will jump out at you from every corner in the house and they will sneak you out of the window when you are grounded. They will introduce you to their friends and no matter how old you get, they will judge every boyfriend who walks up to shake their hands.
Brothers will double-bounce you on trampolines, and be the first to sign your cast when you fall and land on your arm the wrong way. They will let you crawl up on their shoulders during parades to catch the very best beads. They will check your closet for monsters and let you paint their nails, provided you do not tell their friends. Brothers convince you to climb to the tallest branches of trees, and remind you that despite how small your hands may seem, you must not be afraid to reach out as high as you can go.
When you grow up with brothers, you will find that your focus shifts towards actions and less on words, for the phrase, “It will be fine,” can sound eerily similar to the sound destruction makes. You will learn what it means to put down and what it means to praise and that vanilla milkshakes are a recipe for forgiveness. You will hear screams from the crowd when your name is called at graduation and you will hear silence when they discover that you have had your heart broken for the very first time. Brothers will always pick up the phone at 2 a.m. on a Thursday and you will have a ride home, no matter where it is that you find yourself. You will learn to look ahead, scanning the horizon before you, because you know they have got your back.
Here’s to my four heroes that raised me up always one step ahead, who taught me to put my money where my mouth is and to always carry my heart over my head, no matter how heavy it got.
The truth is, brothers have a way of making you feel grateful for the skinned knees and the dirty shoes and the smelly laundry on the bathroom floor you share. They remind you that life is for living and hands are for holding and that there is a big ole’ ocean out there and you are a wuss if you don’t jump in.