The 11th Summer of My Discontent

Brookside Swim Club, swimming meetsIt all began on the Saturday of the Tri-County Swim Meet.

A glorious turquoise sky bled into the waters of the pool where people screamed in excitement as my brother won trophy after trophy, culminating in the final relay in which his incredible freestyle kick brought glory and a championship to Brookside Swim Club.

Suddenly, my skinny quiet “baby” brother became a hero. The “sport,” as our dad said over and over again, tapping my brother on top of his blonde crewcut.

I was “the smart one,” the “cute one,” the “good one.”

sibling rivalry, brother and sister

The “sport” and the “good” one.

But the quotations faded as childhood middle age set in: 11. No longer a child, I saw myself as I thought others must: chunky, clumsy, and catatonic at times, sitting on the couch with a book while the rest of my family played.

My brother’s “play” panned out with the swim team. Swim meet after swim meet on that sweet summer of my discontent, he zoomed like superman in the aqua water, winning first place in the 10-and-under freestyle, breaststroke, and backstroke.

“Your sister is the slowest swimmer in her age group, but she sure has the prettiest stroke in swimming kingdom,” our dad said proudly, repeatedly, not seeing my shoulders crunch up in dismay.

backstroke, swim meetBut as my brother sped into stardom, I accepted the congratulations of my friends and friends’ parents with grace. “To be his sister! You must be so proud!”

Secretly, I seethed.

Two hours after the final championship, back home, lunch eaten, family ready to go back to the pool to play, my brother and I waited by the door holding towels and goggles, parents searching for car keys and wallets. Bored in the wait, my brother teased me, chanting in a falsetto voice, “Pammy, the prettiest stroke in the world, but ohhhh sooooo slowwwwww.”

My fist lashed out faster than a shark, and my brother flew toward the glass door, then through it, glass shattering like shards of tears.

Shocked, I stood in front of my disaster, awed at my anger, ashamed at its consequence. Seconds later, my parents chastised me harshly, grounding me (first time ever) and leaving for the pool with my brother (totally unscathed).

From perfect daughter, to a perfect disgrace.

But they returned home sooner than expected, because my brother told my parents: “It’s my fault, I was mean to her.”

In the span of one summer, I learned about anger, jealously, envy, and forgiveness.

brother and sister, growing up

Two Good Sports.

Oh, and undying sibling affection.

101 thoughts on “The 11th Summer of My Discontent

  1. And here I thought it was only sisters who battled as children. Once, during a heated argument, at the top of the stairs, like you, rage set in and I shoved her. She tumbled to the bottom. Thankfully, no glass was involved…brutal Pam. 🙂 I love the photos of the two of you as children and adults…so sweet! xo

    • I’ve held this story of sibling rivalry/jealousy in my heart for so many years, feeling so ashamed of myself. Amazing how writing about it, sharing my shame with others, has helped me find out that so many have experienced a similar experience. Yikes. Glad we all survived our brothers and sisters. 🙂

    • I’ve understood when others have had “emotions” centered around their brother(s) and sister(s), but never forgave myself for being so vile. Everyone’s comments have made me realize I’m not the only one who “let loose” with a brother or sister. ;-0

  2. I can’t help but thing about Dory’s quote from “Finding Nemo” … just keep swimming, no matter what happens, no matter what people say or think, no matter what doubts you have inside – just keep swimming and you will find what you’re looking for. And more often than not, it won’t be underwater 😉

    • Oh, that’s funny, Dave. Yes, my brother has “just kept swimming” – fast – for his entire life. He was the captain of his university swim team, and is a Master swimmer now. I think he’s solved a lot of problems while keeping his head above water. 🙂

    • Thank goodness, in my case my brother and I are quite close. I know many others who haven’t had enduring relationships with a sibling, though. Like marriage, I think you have to work at it. :-0

  3. Wow! You stoked it up! My brothers are so much older than me (16 and 18 years) that I was raised as an only child. As such I either played with the neighborhood kids (great thing was that they would go home) or read copiously during the summer. I don’t remember broken glass but there were…ummm….some disagreements with the kids in the hood.

    • Ohhh, Janet, I never thought about that. I should share this story with my son-in-law, who is an only child and now has three children with my daughter. He’s thoroughly amazed at the interactions – good and bad – between his young kids. Thank you so much for weighing in here.

  4. “The prettiest stroke in the world, but ohhhh sooooo slowwwwww.”

    She had the quickest right jab in the neighborhood and you did not want to find yourself on the other end of it.

    A gracious and grateful sister.

  5. I would have reacted the same way (and I did too – with my pesky little brother whom I love dearly), but it was such a commendable thing your brother did, owning up to being mean to you. Most kids wouldn’t admit something like that. Very “big” of him. No wonder you love him.

    • My brother was the easiest going little kid. He’d fetch me a glass of water after we’d both gone to bed, and when we were really young, follow me around like a puppy dog. I’m afraid he was a much better brother to me, than I was a sister to him. But I think we’ve evened out now.

  6. Beautiful description….love the “turquoise sky bleeding into the pool”….
    Poignant that your dad’s attempt to even out the compliments became a twist of the knife…
    Good choices in what to say that quickly communicated the heart of the experiences….
    Dramatic effect of the shards of glass and slight delay in reassurance of no wounds….
    Wonderful and uplifting reconciling response of your brother’s honesty.
    Universal experience of sibling rivalry/love paradox that siblings can relate to

    Delightful in every way. So glad I’ve found your blog.

    • I’m so glad you found my blog too! Thank you for the (blushingly) wonderful comments on my brother/sister story. I love the name of your blog: Carbonated Grace, indeed. Thanks for the smiles.

  7. A profound insight into how we learn to embrace our place within a family structure. And how we discover the power of emotions in human interactions. Your post brought back memories of childhood and our local swimming pool, that looked similar to your photo. How time flies, how many memories are accumulated – the experience of living, the gratitude of connections.

    • Weren’t we lucky to have the local swimming pool when we were kids? I was surprised when I googled the name of the one I used to frequent – it still looks the same! I ended up being a lifeguard there as well as a swimming instructor. My brother won the races, I saved the ones who couldn’t swim. Ironic, huh? 🙂

  8. This story resonated so much with me, Pamela. I related to your rivalry, surprised at your actions and happy that your brother’s conscience brought him back home to get you. I like past and present photos of the two of you! ❤
    I have two brothers, like "night" and "day." My one closest in age was my "night" and still has a dark personality, the artist who is amazing. He challenges me to think outside the box and be more creative in my artwork, too.
    The "day" one is almost always to be counted on to be thoughtful, caring, (yes, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and other holiday cards . . even an essay when I was off at college, of how his older and only sister was missed dearly!) The youngest one was a teacher in inner city Cleveland for 20 years, went on to get his PhD. He was labeled "slow" and all of his elementary papers my Mom saved said, "sloppy" or "poorly written" on them. He chose to run cross country and said he would beat the freshman record when he was a "husky" middle school boy.
    Ha ha! He did run and his team won the state cross country meet. He turned out to be extremely bright, only needed more time to complete the SAT and ACT tests where he "beat" both my brother and my scores! He has traveled to many countries being asked to speak about his techniques and "brain studies" for children with learning disabilities. He used to shake each child's hand as they entered the classroom and before the bell rang to send them home, he would give them "High five's."
    You turned out to become a happy, talented, fantastic writer! You are more than beautiful on the outside, and warm, friendly, caring on the inside, Pam. 🙂

    • I love reading this vignette about your brothers. You had double the trouble/double the fun and love with two brothers. And double the insight, with two of complete different personalities. Your story of your ‘slow’ brother who is brilliant and went on to teach about children with learning disabilities – incredible. This is what I know – we each have something to ‘bring to the table’ – we just need to be allowed to shine our own light. And THANK YOU for appreciating my light. I certainly appreciate yours. xo ❤

  9. This is so sweet! I love that he confessed. And I totally identify with being the chunky, un-sportish, bookworm. So glad that you and your brother chose to be friends instead of enemies.

    • Well, my brother and I went through different stages of “like,” I must admit. As I grew into a teenager, I had little to do with my “younger brother”; we had little in common. After college I married and he played the bachelor. But once we were both parents, and needed to take care of our own parents, our brother/sister relationship bloomed into one of respect and closeness. The circle of life, yes?

  10. Sibling rivalry is crazy thing. Enemies on minute, best friends the next. I also have a younger brother and we had our moments for sure!
    We always tell our kids they need to be there for each other and that a sibling relationship is the longest you’ll ever have (assuming a natural order of things). We remind them that friends may come and go, but to always be there for each other.
    What a great thing that your brother owned up to his part in the situation 🙂

    • My brother was/is a star – sweet, loving and kind. Not that he and I didn’t have our difficulties growing up. I think it’s a way to learn before we develop friendships on the “outside.” But seeing our own kids disagree with each other – so hard to watch! I think it’s great to remind them often that they will be there for each other throughout their lives.

  11. I’m so glad he was okay! Teasing is fun for the teaser and lousy for the afflicted. I think girls get teased so much more than boys. Probably bullying in the short form. Hope my boy and girls get on someday. We’ll see.

    • I suppose sibling fighting can be a sort of bullying, can’t it? And parents need to know when to step in, and when to let sisters/brothers work it out. Good luck with your kids – I bet they’ll be good friends.

  12. I can relate to the full palette of sibling emotions here. What stands out: Your dad’s description of your swimming “she sure has the prettiest stroke in swimming kingdom.” I could live for a while on that, for sure.

  13. I loved the ending of this–that your brother realized that it was his teasing that had made you so upset, and then how that made you feel. That’s a wonderful photo of the two of you!

    Sibling relationships can be complicated–and wonderful.

  14. Oh Pammy, what a story. I fear a fictional retelling may not have had such a happy ending. I feared brother’s swimming ability had disintegrated like the glass door! Good life lessons all round. And what a lovely brother to admit he provoked you!

  15. Pam,, your story is so sweet and amusing as well. I think that anyone with a sibling can identify with your trials and tribulations. You’re brother was an “honest sprier back then. And now it appears that you two forged a bond some where along the way. The photos of you and your brother are treasures.

    • Thanks much. At the time we just both stepped back from our jealousy/teasing and gave each other the space we needed to grow – separately and yet closer together too. That’s what happens, I think, in a good sibling relationship.

  16. I read your story with great interest! My older brother was the incredibly smart one and in a small town the expectation was that his sister would be of the same mindset. although I excelled in school I could never live up to his standards. I took to sports where I could definitely ‘out do’ him. We are very close and have ben for decades but those years were filled with many of the emotions you describe.

    • Well, I’d love to see a photo of you and your smart brother, Sue. Maybe he could go on one of your amazing adventures sometime. He could do all the research about the far-away place, and you could lead him to ‘secret places’ on your bike. 🙂

  17. I can really relate to this story, Pam. Having five siblings. there was always some form of rivalry going on. I was always the ‘tearaway’ and the ‘black sheep’ until much later in life when my mother suddenly thought I was the ‘most perfect’ of all her children (which didn’t go down well with the others!) lol – I’m not sure what caused this change (could have been the fact that I moved away and she didn’t see me as much), but at times it was pretty embarrassing xxx

    • Love your sense of humor, Dianne. My guy is one of seven children, and his stories of rivalries, roiling emotions, fighting for mom/dad’s affections are astounding to me. I can’t imagine how you could be considered the black sheep, unless, like my guy, you were just ‘different’ from the others, thus misunderstood. And you’re right, by suddenly becoming the ‘most perfect’ one, you got a target on your back via your siblings. :-0 !!

    • Oh, boy, I bet that’s a noisy, perhaps even tension-filled room when you’re all together. I’m amazed how adult siblings can so easily revert to their ‘roles’ when they were kids, when they all get together.

  18. I’m glad it all ended well. My kids fight sometimes too, but they’re still friends when all is said and done. Incidentally, I see your brother got a bit taller. 🙂

  19. I laughed out loud when I read that your brother teased you out of boredom, and then at the swift, impulsive action you took to address the situation…:) YEAH! That’s what I’m talking about!

    There is something about our siblings that is so close, we can’t stand it sometimes. When we need space as individuals, somehow that brother or sister just won’t GET OUT OF (OUR) FACE… And then, well, it’s just ON. It’s the intense proximity to all things in our every day lives, when we’re shaping into ourselves, that make the sib relationship so unique, but unbearable at the drop of a dime. The unapologetic lifestyle of the sibling relationship is one of life’s greatest protectors; it just takes time to shine that shield. We can love each other and hate each other so easily, all on the same day. In the end, how we relate to each other is a gem with rough edges and exquisite flare.

    Thanks for pinpointing that emotional range with gorgeous skill – this piece was a particular joy to read.

    • Wow, you know how to interpret (and express the paradox of) sibling relationships! Yes, they work (or don’t work) on so many different levels. I’m amazed, now, watching my grandkids’ relationship with each other. They have no idea about the maps they’re drawing in their long-time relationship with each other.

  20. You got on swimmingly after making him take that dive? 🙂
    But when reading progresses to writing it paves the way for a success to outlast any swimming superstar career.

    • Hmmm, my bro is an accountant and doesn’t think particularly much about my writing career, I’d guess. But, he still loves me.
      Thanks for your excellent comment, though. You made me feel, once again. like the “good” sister. 🙂

  21. I left home at 17 my sister then only 6, from then on only saw her 3 or 4 times a year, thought wrote to her every week, until she about 10. Somehow things went wrong when she in her teens and me now married. I’ve no idea what caused the rift, we didn’t really connect again until 3 years ago when our Dad died, she organised everything, I wrote/read the eulogy, poetic, raised smiles and wet eyes, told of all she did for Dad, she didn’t know I knew, I the distant son, the lost brother, she said she was proud of me, I’m not, too many years lost, for no good reason. I’ve a brother too, he went one way I another. First week in August all of us in our ‘home’ town, close to the sea, 3 generations of our lines, we’ll all meet up this time

    • Not a dry eye is around here, believe me. What a story of loss and redemption, finding each other after all this time. I wish I could be a fly in the sea air of your next reunion in August. Three generations. And a chance to find each other for keeps. Here’s what I know – your sister is so grateful to have you back in her life. Being a sister, I am sure of that!

    • Thanks for relating to my brother/sister story, Russ. I kept it inside me for so long, so ashamed at what I did. It’s fascinating to me that most readers here are hooraying me for being strong around the teasing and making my stand in the sand, so to speak. Turns out most of us with a sibling have made that stand too. (!)

    • I think you hit the nail on the head – we find our ‘self’ while living with our sibling(s). They’re so close to our coming of ….ourselves. Fascinating. Your brother must be too “good” to be true. :-0

  22. “Thou shalt never provoke a slow swimmer”… 🙂
    I think your brother was very loyal when he recognized that he had been mean with you, though…
    That was a great gesture coming from him…
    Great reading… Sending love and best wishes. Aquileana 😀

  23. Excellent story-telling, Pam! If your brother is an aspiring writer, I bet he is seething now. 😉

    I was worried that his trip through the plate glass window was going to end badly for him. I’m glad it turned out well for everyone. 🙂

  24. A great story. With three brothers and two sisters, I can see both sides of the coin. We all got angry and were mean from time to time, but it never lasted long, after all, we were all best friends, too.

  25. Aaahh, what an endearing life story Pamela! 🙂 I’m sure there will a lot readers identifying with all those feelings between you both. Sibling rivalry is such a common problem. Oh, it is hard at that age not to feel embarrassed and inadequate in our abilities in comparison to others. I had a few issues with my brother at times, he seemed excellent at everything as he’s six years older than me. I felt like a baby for many years…. and sometimes I really was!! 😀 So good to see you are best friends as I still am with my brother. He must have had a lot of love for you to admit he had been mean…aahhh, what a star of a brother!♥

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