I turned 11 in January 1976, but by the end of the summer, I was going on 20.
From as early as I can remember, I tried my best to act older, look older, and even sound older. I didn’t have a desire to actually be older. I just knew who I was. I was a big brother and an oldest son. And, I took both roles seriously.
My two brothers couldn’t walk to the store by themselves, so I accompanied them even when I didn’t have money to buy anything. I made sure they did their homework. And, when our mother and grandmother were busy, I made sure my brothers ate and the house was cleaned.
I didn’t consider any of these tasks real work, at least not in the beginning. They were simply part of being a big brother and helping out around the house. But all of that changed during the summer of 1976 when I realized there was a distinct difference between doing something because I wanted to and doing it because I had to.
Before the summer of 76, my mother and grandmother worked, but because my grandfather was sick, one of them was always at home. So, most of the things I did around the house, especially for my brothers, weren’t done because my mother or grandmother weren’t there or because they asked me to. I pitched in because they were busy caring for my grandfather.
On July 3, the day before our country’s bicentennial celebration, my grandfather died.
Later that summer, my mother and grandmother began working full-time; caring for my brothers and keeping the house clean became my responsibility and not just something I did because I wanted to. I quickly learned that one of the most difficult aspects of being an adult was raising children, especially if the children are siblings and not offspring.
My brother Ken, who was only a year and 18 days younger, was oftentimes defiant because he didn’t think I was old enough to be “the boss of” him. He would do his homework as long as I didn’t tell him he needed to do it. If I made us jelly and peanut butter sandwiches when we got in from school, he would bypass the one I made him and make his own. If I asked him if he wanted me to go to the store with him, he would say no, but then follow me if I decided to go for myself. It didn’t take me long to figure out the best way to deal with Ken was to let him be the co-boss.
The problem with my youngest brother Tony was and still is a result of him suffering from the Baby Child Syndrome for which there seemingly is no cure. The main symptom of the Syndrome is the baby child thinks everyone should treat him or her like they would their own baby. My mother often referred to Tony as her baby, and he felt that gave him special privileges. If he was misbehaving and I tried to stop him, he wouldn’t have had a problem telling me, “You better not hit your momma’s baby.”
Neither Ken nor Tony had a problem with my authority when I was simply doing things that big brothers were supposed to do. But they changed after the summer of 1976. I didn’t hold any grudges because I knew why they acted the way they did. I was their big brother, not a grown-up who could tell them what to do. I just wish they could have seen the world through my eyes. I was 11 but going on 20, and I already knew what was waiting for us a few years down the road.