Some ask me; ‘How did you become the older brother? I suppose you were born into it.’
No. Younger siblings are born into it. But the older brother is made. When an older brother is born, he is neither older than nor brother to anyone. He simply is.
These are just some of the experiences that can turn one from an only child to a slightly inconvenienced sibling, and finally to an older brother.
The Troubled Youth
One of my earliest memories, not only of brotherhood but of life, involved my (now middle) sister. I was 5 at the oldest, and she was being carried by my mother through the shop. With unimaginable malice, she reaches over my mother’s back and pulls out an entire hand-full of my hair. I was then shouted at by my mother for causing a scene. Such is the burden of older brotherhood.
The Difference in Time
I have enjoyed climbing since I was young- counters, trees, and buildings. While I have had many near misses and slips, I have never actually fallen. Meanwhile, the younger sister has managed to fall off the counter and bite through her own lip, and fall out of (the same) tree three times.
She ends up becoming a gymnastic champion.
Curious Eating Habits
My babiest of sisters once creeped into a corner of the restaurant and decided to try eating rat poison. Does survival instinct only pass to the eldest child?
Speaking of which…
Just Keep Swimming
The secondary and tertiary offspring were once involved in an in-depth, live-action role-playing game critiquing typical family models (Mommy-mommy; Daughter-daughter). The youngest one (playing the mother) decides that her character must go swimming. She forgets that, unlike her character, she cannot swim. So she dives into the deep end. Instead of drowning like a normal person, i.e. with great panic and much shouting for help, she just lies face down in the water. Duty calls and I pull her out; no harm done.
But still, one can only wonder.
The smallest of the back-up children loved two things: swimming and bike riding. Unfortunately, she accidentally combined them. In winter. And so, the older brother is called upon to dredge the hulk of pink plastic and metal that passes as a bike out of the chlorinated depths.
After the third time she arrived sopping wet and crying she was finally forbidden from riding around the pool.
It seems that parents are faced with diminishing financial returns where younger siblings are concerned. The older brother is overjoyed to be given a cellphone at 13, the second is happy to receive one at 11, and the youngest child is clamoring for a cellphone at 9.
My youngest sister is a bit of a money pit. Literally. I am not sure how often she managed to swallow coins left lying around.
This is however simply nature. Like a hurricane is not wrong for destroying cities, a younger sibling is not at fault for costing more. (Or pretending to be a slot machine.)
But the primary sister was far more sinister. She had a small plastic dressing table, complete with lights and everything. I was always curious what she was kept there. One morning I decided to open the drawer. Apparently, she had been stealing all the paper bills from my mom’s purse, shredding them(!), and stuffing them into the drawers.
To this day I only give her hard money.
The role of the older brother is not merely reactive; you are called to be teacher, protector, taskmaster, and arbiter. The younger siblings will look up to you for knowledge and wisdom.
It is therefore important to spread as much misinformation as possible.
So when the auxiliary sister lost her first tooth, it fell to me to inform her that there is no tooth fairy. Rather, a tooth baboon would come in the night and take the tooth.
Likewise, the reason that hadedas:
have such long beaks is to better get to the eyes.
First lesson: TRUST NO ONE.
Tribulation Builds Character
The role of difficulty in child development is often forgotten in our modern over-protective society. The problem is, there is usually little trauma left over for the younger children. While I was being forgotten in kindergarden and sent into the forest to sleep next to leopards, my sisters’ greatest difficulty was sharing a room with each other. Which, to be fair, is a difficulty not to be underestimated.
It is the older brother’s most ancient and sacred role to help his siblings’ development by substituting artificial, uh, learning experiences, for the younger folk.
Besides informing them about the inherent viciousness of the animal kingdom, I fulfilled this role by forcefully ending all remote control and front seat discussions, trading cheap but shiny coins for valuable dirty ones (she would have just eaten them anyway), and creating games to make them run errands.
Even more important though is that the older brother is always available to save them from the real dangers. This may be the “fearsome black dog”, a 0.5 kg pile of teeth and meanness and white fur. (I don’t get the name either.) You may also be called upon to save your baby sister from being eaten alive by ants. Or, objectively speaking, blowing the five ants off her arm.
A Typical Day as Judge and Jury
“No one cares whose shirt it is, just leave me alone.”
“Stop biting her arm! What is wrong with you?!”
“Oh no don’t worry, your arm isn’t dead.”
“But it’s DEAD! DEAD! And I can never use it again and it’s dead!”
Magical Healing Powers
“There there, I kissed it and now it’s all better again. See? Doesn’t hurt at all.”
Not only is the older brother the role model and pathfinder through childhood, he is also the trailblazer once it comes time to leave the roost.
And the worst part of moving out is seeing your little sisters crying when you leave.
Ah! Freedom! You are out of the house and making your way in the world. But what is this? Your younger sibling wants to visit? What fun!
Until they eat your food, burn all your pots and pans, and leave your place looking like two tornadoes just tangoed through.
And Finally, They Grow Up
Surely, once they start moving out your worries are over?
Not even a little bit.
So she comes to visit and goes out without you for the first time. Obviously, you stay up waiting. Eventually she comes roaring in at 3 in the morning and is compelled to recount the previous 6 hours in excruciating detail. After 45 minutes of “that’s nice, I’m just going to sleep now” you slowly realize that she IS NOT STOPPING.
Or even worse, she shows up at 4 with a friend too drunk to find the way home and decides that she needs to wake you up to discuss the dangers of skiing. (“There was a 4/5 chance of enchanadas!” *Groggily* “Of what?” “You know, enchanadas! What’s the German word for it again?” “I don’t even know the English word! Are you trying to say avalanche?” “YESSS! That was it!” “….”)
But Still, You Would Do It Anytime
You see, this is the small print in your nonverbal, one-sided Faustian contract: it never ends. You never stop being the older brother. You are not born into it, but the change is all the more permanent. Being an older brother is not something you do, it is something you are.
To be honest though? I wouldn’t want it any other way.