I like to think my childhood was like many others, filled with a beautiful mixture of chaos, love, dysfunction and sometimes physical pain.
I am the second oldest of five children, and lucky me, the only girl. If I am being honest, growing up with four brothers could be an annoying pain in the you-know-what sometimes.
When my parents announced that my youngest sibling would be a boy, I must admit I cried – A LOT. I knew that was my last chance at having a sister and I would forever be outnumbered by dirty boys.
Our current ages span from 25-34 and sometimes I still think I am their mama. If they mess up I want to punish them. If they do well I like to think I contributed to that. I tell myself that I helped raise ‘em right.
I had ringside seats at some epic fights. At any given time, one brother would usually be fighting with another, if they weren’t all fighting with each other. Bickering, arguing, and sometimes physical confrontations, were commonplace amongst the boys.
One Christmas my parents just gave up their roles as referees and bought two sets of boxing gloves. “Y’all want to fight? Then go at it!” And although the boys tried to be serious in the beginning, the permitted boxing proved to be too much fun and ultimately melted away their grudges.
We lived in a large neighborhood with tons of kids and there was always something to do. I don’t know why, but trouble seemed to find its way to our crew. Sometimes people got the boys mixed up. One time Dallas got beat up because of something Steven said to a guy at school. Of course the rest of us thought it was funny and it still makes us laugh to this day. On another occasion, a big girl from the neighborhood sat on Sean and wouldn’t let him up. I was crying, “Get off of him, you are going to kill him!” Good times.
Sometimes I got offered up for fights I wanted nothing to do with. I have overheard statements like, “Oh yeah? Well my sister will beat you up!” on more than one occasion. Luckily, it usually was not necessary but I guess I was proud they had such faith in me.
Despite being volunteered for these cat fights, I have only been in one actual altercation. And I don’t consider it a fair fight either, since my brothers stood watch and made me “beat up” a neighborhood boy who ran me over with his bicycle. And I was especially motivated because I had to have the back of my head shaved like a little boy because of the gash from his bike tire. “Hit him Crystal, hit him again! Harder!” That’s the day they taught me to stand up for myself. I guess that boy made a mistake by running over their sister.
They often stole my girlfriends. After school we were to play outside until the streetlights came on (and your butt better be in when they came on!). Since we were from the generation that enjoyed being outdoors, this was exactly what we wanted to do anyway. When I wasn’t hanging out with my girlfriends from the neighborhood, I was typically with my brothers playing in ditches and riding bikes. But I didn’t have my girlfriends over too often, probably because my brothers were always trying to date them!
In their defense though, sometimes it was the other way around. I can recall a few “loyal” friends who would come over to “hang out with me” only to be found playing Donkey Kong in the next room barely acknowledging my existence.
I soon learned not to get too excited when my friends’ names flashed across the caller ID screen. “Is Sean there?” FRIENDSHIP OVER.
I was on permanent unpaid babysitting duty, with a few perks. As one could guess, my parents always had a babysitter on hand… me. Lucky Me. This is much of the reason I am still protective of my crew today. I was always looking after them growing up. And sure, I tried to keep them out of trouble, but what an order!
It reminds me of that Sunday evening at the bowling alley. My parents gave us one rule that night — to “stay inside these doors and do not leave this bowling alley!” I was so excited to have free reign of the entire place, from the arcade to the bowling area to the food court. Then I heard those dreaded words: “Your sister is in charge.” You see, being in charge meant being responsible for the outcome. I knew my night was blown. No time had passed before I saw them headed for the door. Outside, the forbidden fruit. It didn’t help that there was a McDonalds in the parking lot. I pleaded with them to stay inside, but who was I kidding. It was 4 against 1. So I employed my go-to tactic whenever they collectively tried to defy me: Grab the Youngest. As soon as I stepped out the door to retrieve my baby brother, my dad appeared out of nowhere like a ghost! “You had one rule: not to go beyond these doors,” he said to us all, before his focus landed squarely on me. “I expected more from you Crystal.” Needless to say the ride home was long and silent as we all anticipated the trouble we were going to be in once we got to the house. But Lucky me, they got in much more trouble because (1) after all, I was Daddy’s little girl, and (2) You Don’t Mess With the Babysitter.
Some of the sweltering hot summer days gave me a chance to exercise my special treatment of being the only girl. While the boys were told to stay outside until dinner was ready, I was allowed to stay in and help out. Most of the time, I hated that I had to help with the “womanly” chores of cleaning, washing and drying dishes, vacuuming and dusting, but on those days I used it to my advantage. I would sit inside like a queen while they sweated it out. Then would come a beautiful Saturday morning when I would be asked to clean inside the house and the boys got yard duty. I would longingly look out the window at them “cutting the grass” while throwing the football and talking with the other neighborhood kids.
Sometimes those boys just made it too easy to be the good one. Report card day was a repeat of events every nine weeks: “Don’t tell mom and dad you got your report card today. We will be so grounded.” But, I did. I always came out ahead on report card day!
It’s comical how a family can be at each other’s throats but the moment an outsider says anything negative about a member, the family bonds together like glue. That was definitely us. We could pick on each other all we wanted, but don’t you dare!
Although I would never let anything bad happen to them at the hands of anyone else, I have accidentally inflicted pain on each of them at some point. There was the incident of me swinging a golf club too close to Dallas’ face. The result was an eye swollen shut. Another time I may have pushed Nick in his Playschool swing right into Steven’s face, resulting in stitches above his eyebrow. Then there is that mishap when a Q-Tip was accidentally shoved into Sean’s ear causing his eardrum to bust. They always said those things are bad for the inner ear. Sometimes the boys accuse me of having ill intentions, but I maintain these were all accidents resulting from my clumsiness and not pay-back for all those years of aggravation.
The stories of the tattling, picking and aggravating are numerous, but I couldn’t picture life without my brothers. I have to give them credit for making me tough, giving me confidence and always defending me. Because of my four protectors, I learned that I deserve respect from all men and to never settle for less than that. When I reflect on my childhood with all brothers, I truly think, Lucky Me.