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He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother


I remember a brain teaser in grade school where you had to figure out how to get three cannibals and three missionaries across a river in a small boat built for only two passengers.  To prevent a disaster, there can never be more cannibals than missionaries together.

Somehow, I always think of my brothers as the cannibals and me rowing the boat. I never worry about the missionaries-I just have to make sure the cannibals don't try to kill each other.

I am the oldest of five siblings. Until my parents added onto our house, we were wall-to-wall kids with the four oldest sleeping in one bedroom of a two bedroom house.  Maybe that's where the problems started-I slept alone in a cot, my sister had a crib and the boys had to share a bed.  After the house addition and with the arrival of the last baby, the now three boys bunked together in what definitely wasn't the city of brotherly love.  At dinner, we needed rotating seats, because my brothers could never sit next to each other without fighting and they didn't want to sit next to my mother's right hand for fear of being slapped, stabbed with a fork or other DYFUS-reportable offenses.

When I met Wingman, I thought I had found Nirvana.   There weren't just three brothers, but four.  The two younger ones always seemed to be playing a friendly game of basketball. They adored their mentally challenged brother. The parents lit each others cigarettes and had heated political discussions over Sunday dinner where everyone had the same assigned seats, and no one fought. It was only later that I discovered the yellow caution tape running down the middle of the bedroom floor to keep two brothers each on their own sides. Even Nirvana had it's problems.

Like my own adult brothers, Wingman didn't have a great relationship with his, mostly of his own doing. As Wingman's health deteriorated, his brothers came to his side, but not to make things right or better.  One said it would be the last time he ever saw him, and it pretty much was.  The other said the next time he saw him, Wingman would be in a box. But, when Wingman had his brain surgery, that brother was there almost every day. Even if Wingman couldn't remember it, I did.  The city of brotherly love opened its' doors at the darkest moment.

We all know of families with brother problems. Jimmy Carter and Billy.  J.R and Bobby.  The Jacksons and Michael.  The Sheens/Estevezes and Charlie.  And don't get me started on the Baldwins. I've read all the parenting magazines on why siblings grow up to have these problems and they put the blame on the parents.  We criticize them so they feel safe in criticizing each other.  We compare them to each other so they are jealous-particularly when one becomes more successful than the others. No wonder they become cannibals.

I remember back to my sons' "get-even" years-soap on each other's toothbrushes. The fights in church over which altar server would carry the cross.  The Our Father, where they would squeeze each other's hands so tight that the congregation would laugh as they squirmed on the side of the altar. Very entertaining, but very telling as even then, they competed for the alpha male status.

I worry about what will happen as they grow older. They've witnessed me stress over how to seat everyone at the Christmas dinner table so none of my brothers are sitting next to, or  directly across from, each other.  Are they going to add more stress by criticizing each other and being jealous? Am I going to have to have reservations for tables of two, four  or more instead of one long one on the holidays?

If they do that to me, I swear, I'll sell the house, move to Florida, and get a three wheeled bike with a bell and a bright red flag so they'll be too mortified to come visit. And I'll be content to be there with the only person that I don't have to compete with. My sister.




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