By Tashmica Torok
When I was a little girl my baby brother swallowed one of my emerald earrings. My father gave them to me for my sixth birthday as a matching set that also included a heart-shaped locket with a single emerald adorning the little door. I asked him not to put the earring in his mouth, he didn't listen and then it was gone. I held that earring over his head for the next six years of our young life. If he ever did anything I deemed inappropriate, I would bring up the loss of my earring and threaten to tell my mother about this guilt inducing sin. Eventually he discovered that swallowing an earring was the least of what my mother was worried about.
Throughout middle school and high school we respectfully declined the company of one another. I was an overachieving people pleaser and he was an under-whelming student more practiced in the art of football and “tagging” graffiti art than studying. I assumed that our lives would run parallel to each others' with the same indifference forever. I disapproved of his girlfriends and he thought I was a goody goody. We were both right.
I am now an over achieving adult and my brother is an overwhelmingly good father and student. He calls me as many times as he can willingly suffer the rejection of my inability to answer during gymnastics practice, business meetings and just mind numbing respite from my busy life. The reminders of missed calls keep him in the forefront of my mind and eventually, I return his calls. We discuss our relationships, our children, our memories and our hopes for the future. No one on the planet makes me laugh like he does. It's a laugh that originates deep in my soul and erupts like a two liter of Coke dosed with a Mentos tablet.
He lives in Houston and I live in Lansing . The distance is weakly breached by cell phone minutes, Facebook and post cards to our children. All in an effort to say, forget-me-not. From a great distance, I have watched my brother struggle in his life. I have watched him try to move forward only to be knocked backwards by a foolish choice or simple bad circumstances. He is on his upswing now. It's a beautiful thing to watch. I am glad our relationship is not parallel indifference.
When my life meets challenges and I call my brother to lament the latest struggle, he is there to listen. He mourns with me or bristles at the injustice suffered. He tries to give me objective advice, which is difficult considering how much he loves me. It's hard to see fault in each other but sometimes, it's important.
I have seen siblings react to a tremor in the life of another with frenzy. I have seen disregard, insensitivity and even joy in the faces of people watching their siblings struggle. I can not comprehend that kind of dynamic but I have seen it up close and personal. When I am at my lowest and I feel that my life is rocking at the foundation my brother looks at me and says, “You'll be alright though.”
Simple, right? This is not a statement of faith from Proverbs, Buddhist scrolls or a self help book. It is my brothers' ability to remind me, that I am strong, smart and able to pull myself out from under the rubble. When I have lost confidence in my decisions, he finds it for me and places it on my coffee table like a book I forgot to read. His confidence in me changes the way I move forward. It strengthens my frame. I push my shoulders back, lift my head again and remember who I am.
My sons will benefit from this gift. As their mother, I stress their importance to each other like a record stuck on a scratch. They will also see a leaning in me that is met by an equal lean from one or all of my siblings. That is a powerful example. One day they will be in something deep that I will not be privy to. They will not share with me. However, they will share with their brothers and they will be reminded who they are and where they come from.
They are my children. I am the daughter of an abusive father and a survivor mother. I am the sister of three creative, funny and constantly developing siblings. I have friends that know the love I bring to those I care about and return it with no strings attached. I come from a long line of strong grandmothers who became broken and then glued it all back together with new pieces. Confidence can be questioned but strong roots, invisible though they are, cannot.
Tashmica Torok is a local entrepreneur, blogger and community activist. She is the co-owner of Heritage Flooring, a professional flooring installation company, the Mid-Michigan Coordinator for the Michigan Darfur Coalition and the author of the popular blog Mother Flippin': One Funny Mother.
For more information about Tashmica or her small independent business visit, www.mother-flippin.blogspot.com or www.thetorokheritage.net.
This column was printed in the November 21, 2010 - December 4, 2010 edition.