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The Braces Incident of '91

The Braces Incident of 1991

Growing up the only girl in a family with three brothers brought with it some challenges including the acquisition of the nickname “Tatanka,” the word for buffalo in the film Dances with Wolves. Thanks Kevin Costner for forever changing my life.

Jim, my oldest brother is six years my senior. Chris is three years older than me. Kenny is 5 years younger than me born in 1984. Ken played “I would Walk Ten Thousand Miles” by the Proclaimers, ten thousand times when we were kids.

Many of my memories of the four of us include watching TV in our family room calmly when one sibling would feel the need to pound on another sibling and suddenly all four of us were tangled in a mess of wrestling and laughter between the coffee table and recliner. This was when my mom would then yell from the kitchen, “take it downstairs” prompting us to all rush down the stairs to resume our attacks on the wrestling mats Santa had delivered one year.

Jimmy wrestled for his middle school and high school and was very good. His height, at six foot two, and slight frame helped him to be a very good wrestler. He taught us all the moves and the rules of a match. It was in 1991 that finally, he was not the champion of the mat in our home.

It was a normal day. We were all watching TV together in the family room, my mom in the kitchen making lasagna or cookies or something delicious. One brother must have kicked or pushed another and immediately there was a pile of us each one trying to pin the other’s shoulder to the floor for the win. Kenny would find himself almost pinned and shout, “I’m going to pee my pants” causing us three to release our grips and allow him to run off to the toilet only to find he was kidding. He was then free to jump on our heads to reclaim a power position.

Mom just let us go this time. There was no shouting from any adult or command to “take it downstairs.” So we carried on. Kenny used his trick one or two more times before we stopped falling for it. We didn’t want him to pee his pants for real. We also never hurt one another intentionally. We tried to actually wrestle and not throw punches or kick in a way that would cause injury or terrible pain. But that does not mean we didn’t try with all our might to wrestle the other to victory. This particular day, Chris, Kenny and I all seemed to triple up against Jim. And we seemed to finally, only through working together, be able to win against Jim.

The family room was filled with laughter and excitement and then, with the sound of Jimmy struggling to say something. At first, the undecipherable words were ignored. The sight set on the winning was too strong to care about the muffled noise he was making. Then Chris jumped off the pile and said, “everyone stop”. That’s when we could hear what Jim was saying. He was on his stomach laying flat on the floor. He was saying, “mmmm tuck.” “Mmmm tuck.” And finally we realized he was saying, “I’m stuck.” Jim’s braces were ground into the carpet causing his face to be adhered to the floor.

There had never been louder laughing from any children than in that moment. If Kenny hadn’t yet peed his pants, he may have at that point as may have all of us. Our big brother, the wrestling master, the reigning champ was literally stuck to the carpet by his teeth. What did we do? We all jumped on him simultaneously of course and continued to yank his arms behind his back and bring his ankles up to his waist bending him as much as his ligaments would allow. Eventually Mom came to his rescue. Scissors were required to actually cut the carpet to free him from his prison.

We wrestled a lot as kids but we also bickered a lot. I’m sure we drove our parents nuts with it. No matter if it was about music, movies, clothes, or who was sitting where in our conversion van, there was usually an argument. Now we are all adults. Three of us attempting to raise our own children in a manner to be proud. Yet, each time I visit with Jimmy, I end up in a headlock at some point during the visit. Mostly this is fun loving and just silly. But, we also sometimes have heated disagreements.

This Christmas, we will all be together in Chicago for a week. I have some plans so that we can help ensure we can stay in the holiday spirit.

    • The choice of one family member does not automatically mean that they are working to hurt your feelings. Believe it or not, we are not always the reason people do things. Whether it be a restaurant suggestion, or a meeting time, or a gift, considering the best intentions of your family members will help you stay even keel! Be sure to participate and add your suggestions as well, but do not absorb the decisions of others as a personal attack.
    • Often thinking of how awful the future might be will ruin an entire vacation. Stay in the present! Consider that the future event will go well. If something bad does happen, work to move forward and let it go as fast as possible. Realize that the bad incident occurred in the past, and NOW there is happiness and a new good experience to be had.
    • One of the most earth moving things I read was that forgiveness is for ourselves, not for the person we are forgiving. Once I learned this, I have been able to forgive more freely. Allow yourself to be at peace by forgiving your family when they say something you are not at comfort with so that you can be happy. Holding a grudge may hurt the other person which might be the intent, but it also ruins your own vacation and experience. Showing forgiveness is for you and is worth it!

As adults I actually feel more connected with my brothers than I did when we were tangled wrestling messes as kids. Jim has shown me a great deal of protection that is a surprising comfort especially as the little sister. Although Chris is constantly moving busy with organizing and cleaning, his patience is admirable and his creativity is undeniable. He sat with my daughter Mae to make cotton candy for an absurd length of time that all the rest of us would have folded. Ken’s independence living in Manhattan and having moved across the country inspires me to be more adventurous seeking new cultural experiences.

I owe these three men extensive gratitude. I know that the person I have been shaped to be now was highly attributed to their impressions in my life as children and now. I have grit because of them. I have undying determination because of them. I learned the heimlich from Chris and Ken. I’m more likely to do a cannonball into the pool than lie tanning to the side of it. I speak my mind. I carry my own political beliefs because of their influence. I am confident, not afraid when people call me names. I know the importance of a two sink vanity in the upstairs bathroom. And I chalk up two points each time I have a “take down” on my own son because of my brothers.

I plan to help repay these gifts by supporting the most enjoyable holiday gathering possible through mindfulness in the upcoming week. If I can remain calm and amicable, maybe we all can find ourselves in fewer headlocks than normal.


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