Overcoming the Toothbrush Gap: a Sibling Post

My brother and I are five years apart, and I can remember the exact moment we both realized just how vast of a gap that is when you’re children.

It involved toothbrushing, as gross as that is.  We both grew up seeing our parents brush their teeth in a very adult, quick-stroke, foaming-at-the-mouth kind of way.  It grossed us out for a long time, because children, of course, brush their teeth tight-lipped, chewing on the toothbrush more than they actually brush.  It’s more of a mint-flavor experience than a self-maintenance activity.

I don’t remember when I grew out of that.  Probably around the same time that I realized my teeth weren’t super straight and started feeling self-conscious about them.  I didn’t even really notice that I’d grown out of childlike toothbrushing, either, until this one morning.

A and I had ended up in the bathroom together to brush our teeth.  He was probably 6 or so, which made me about 11.  In a moment that was, I’m sure, meant to create a sense of solidarity, he said, “Don’t you hate how adults brush their teeth?  It’s so gross.”

I just looked at him, because I didn’t know what to say.  I knew I was about to ruin a bonding moment.  He had thrown out a line and I was supposed to catch it, but I couldn’t.  So I just brushed my teeth in the gross, adult way, knowing he was beside me but figuratively slipping away.

We’ve never had a bad relationship, but we’ve never been close, either.  Five years is just a lot when you’re growing up — it puts us at completely different stages of life at all times.  And honestly, I’ve always been too self-absorbed to bother putting effort into a friendship with my brother.

I hate that about myself.  I haven’t been close with him, but it hasn’t been for lack of him trying.  He has always liked to come and talk to me and my sister when we were hanging out in our room.  Sometimes, we did have awesome conversations, all three of us.  But more often, he would come in while one or both of us were studying, or when I was tired and just wanted to chill.  I would get annoyed and tell him to go away.  It’s normal childhood sibling behavior, but I regret that a lot.

Now, however, he’s 17 and a junior in high school.  I’ve graduated from college and now have the presence of mind to actually communicate with him like an adult.  Plus, he has a better phone, which makes it easier to shoot off a text when something makes me think of him.  And now we both feel comfortable talking about things like relationships, religion, and the future.

He’s pretty much a typical high school boy — surprisingly mature in a lot of ways, and knowingly dumb in some others.  I don’t agree with some of the decisions he makes, but I think on the whole he has a good head on his shoulders, and he’s like me in that he has to make his own mistakes.  I’m coming to really appreciate him as a person, and I try hard not to smother him with my own advice (even though I really want to just rant at him sometimes).  My goal for him is to be someone he can come to when he doesn’t feel comfortable going to anyone else.

It’s a weird feeling, trying to make friends with someone I grew up with.  But compared with my sister, who I’ve always been close with, that’s what we’re doing.  We’re getting to know each other as actual people, not just as someone who lives across the hall.  And it’s pretty dang cool.


  1. I completely understand this. My brother and I are 4 years apart and it felt like a LOT growing up and honestly now that we’re adults I feel in some ways I don’t know him that well at all! And now he’s in college and too cool for me most of the time lol (payback I suppose for not wanting to hang out with him when we were kids!)

  2. I still chew on my toothbrush to the point that I need to replace it every two weeks. It never occurred to me that I was being immature. Thanks for the eye-opener :-( As the youngest in my family, I never really had this experience, but it seems similar to my relationship with my daughter. She’s hit that age where her opinions are well thought out and are truly her own. It’s awesome watching a person form.

  3. I love those moments when you realize you could be friends with siblings (or even parents!) It is so easy to take them for granted!

    You have a similar age gap to me and my oldest sister. But we had a third sister in the middle to help bridge the gap, so it didn’t seem like she was *that* much older.

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