So I have three boys. Sorry, three men. Men who watch SpongeBob in their underwear while eating Frosted Flakes out of mixing bowls, but men nonetheless. At 16 and almost 18 and 20, they are quickly receding from boyhood.
I can attest that they all came from the same place. Well, roughly speaking – one was a cesarean. But I’ll spare you the vagina monologues – although there is no doubt that we women do love to tell our birth stories.
Pregnant? Don’t worry. There is a seasoned mother waiting in the wings to tell you – A COMPLETE STRANGER – that she was a) in labor “for much longer than most women,” b) that the scar from her episiotomy “still burns” and c) that after the fourth one she could “drive a Mack truck through her cervix.” Look, the power of shared experience is undeniable, but I don’t need discuss cracked nipples in order to feel like we have a bond.
So I’ll spare you my own birth stories.
It is enough to say that these men are most definitely brothers, of and from me and my husband. And that is where their similarities end.
The oldest is often angry (possibly a natural result of his role as guinea pig for our novice parenting skills) and prone to sloth-like movement – with a razor-edged wit and a keen sense for bullshit and sentimentality. He NEVER says the thing that he is supposed to say; therefore he can be both great fun and somewhat dangerous at family gatherings – depending on your sense of humor. He will never fail to tell you the one thing that will piss you off the most (undoubtedly because it is true, but sometimes just because he feels like it) – at the most inopportune moment. Conversations between us generally end with either me laughing to tears or me flipping him off – the latter being an impressive display of adult restraint and superior parenting.
The middle child is a striver, a conflict avoider, a settler of disputes. Shocking, I know. Faced with his bull-in-an-emotional-china-shop of an older brother, he has picked his way carefully through our questionable family dynamic. Thoughtful, literary- and hipster-minded, he has felt for years (undoubtedly rightly so) that we are weighing on him like so many dysfunctional, fiscally-challenged anvils around his neck. He will be leaving this house to make his own way in the world shortly. Oh the places he’ll go. And hopefully he’ll send some pictures when he gets there, because I’m pretty sure we won’t be able to afford to visit.
The youngest is both 16 and 6 at the same time – wanting to catch up with his older brothers but also wanting to relish just a little longer his status as “baby” of the family, which, as he is 6’3, is difficult to justify. This man-child combination means, while he feels he should be able to stay up until two o’clock on Friday night, he fills the extra time by watching by Kung Fu Panda rather than say, smoking crack or stealing cars – so we’re OK with it. He has both a clever and sharp tongue, but unlike his eldest brother, he is slightly more skilled in the art of holding it. This means less conflict, but also less opportunity to make his voice heard. It’s a dog-eat-dog world in the Jamison brothers’ household. Don’t speak up quickly enough and someone else will wear your new shoes left so conveniently by the back door, eat that last piece of cake you were saving from your birthday, and take the car keys and the change you left on the counter.
So they are brothers – grudgingly. They acknowledge their familial bonds with a certain level of detachment. They do not see it yet to their advantage or convenience to invest in being friends. The term friend being reserved for persons who do not live with you and yell at you to get your “ball hair out of the shower drain” – yes, I am quoting. Let’s call it the yeah, you’re my brother, and if you were drowning I’d toss you a life preserver, but I wouldn’t necessarily loan you 50 bucks on dry land kind of attitude.
But I fully expect them to find, as the years go on, that no one else will believe that their stories from childhood are true – and this will be the post-traumatic glue that holds them together.
The poet Dylan Thomas summed up brothers in the best, most unsentimental way by saying “I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea.”
Mine have built the snowman, and knocked it, and each other, down. It just may be a few more years before they put the kettle on.