|This is Josie Duggar. She looks very much like I did until I was nearly three and first began to outgrow my under-developed appearance.|
I recently came across a toddler picture of myself. I cannot share the picture at this space for security reasons, but it dredged up many old memories, most of which were not entirely pleasant. As much as I am loathe to admit it, the picture showed me looking all too much like Josie Duggar. It probably wasn't just a fluke particular to that photograph alone, either. I probably did, as a very young child, resemble Josie. The two of us didn't share much DNA beyond that which is shared by the human population at large, but we both had the preemie thing going on. Josie was born at approximately 25 weeks of gestation, weighing in at one pound, six ounces. No one knows my precise gestational age at birth, since I was presumably conceived after my mother was already pregnant with my brother; my birth weight, according to my official county-issued birth certificate, and according to what a nurse in the O.R. told my mom, was two pounds, two ounces. While I was a full twelve ounces larger at birth than Josie Duggar was, the two of us shared the underdeveloped features that many preemies maintain into toddlerhood. Josie is well beyond toddlerhood and still caries the look. I hope the same is no longer true of me.
On my father's side of the family, I was the eleventh grandchild. A few of the preceding ten were close enough in age to me as to not possess enough of a developmental advantage with regard to picking on one's younger relatives and with regard to meanness in general. Those who were old enough to take advantage of the age difference to be mean to me, however, did so with a vengeance. Usually all it takes is one to start something, and if no one else in the group is in possession of a conscience or a spine, the rest will follow along. Such was the case with my older paternal cousins.
I would have no way of remembering how or when it started, but some of my earliest memories involved the big kids calling me Fetus. When things were sorted out much later, one of them said that I still looked underdeveloped and not yet ready to be born even though I was one (when it probably started) or two (when it escalated). Retrospectively, in looking at pictures of a very young me I can understand why they thought I looked fetal or even embryonic, which was probably a word even the oldest one had not yet added to her vocabulary, or embryo probably would have been the insult of choice hurled at me.
I have since both been a part of and have observed many groups of children in extended families -- both those formally related to me on my mom's side of the family, and those not related by blood or marriage but with whom my family has such close ties that we consider them relatives. In none of these groups have I ever observed an instance of a baby or young toddler (or anyone else, really) being consistently picked on or called unkind names by the older children of the group. I'm not sure what it is in the culture of my father's side of the family that would foster this sort of behavior. I intervened a few years ago at a reunion of my father's side of the family when several of my young cousins singled out the lone red-head in the pack, referring to her as "a ginger" and refusing to allow her to play with them. An uncle by marriage reprimanded me for getting involved because, in his words, "It's best to let the kids work these things out themselves. You need to stay out of it, Alexis." It was almost like watching the applicable part of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It was also almost like watching a flashback from my own childhood.
I must have become desensitized to being referred to or addressed as "Fetus." As a one-year-old I would have thought nothing of it. I wouldn't have known what it meant and, as I aged, would have sensed from the inflections in their voices when it was spoken that it was not meant to be a term of endearment, but even two-year-olds know to choose their battles. If I ran tattling to my parents about every slight, real or imagined, I wouldn't have been taken seriously when it was serious.
Then one day at a reunion, one of the older ones -- Rilene [one of the Coke douche practitioners; Coke douches were purported by that branch of the family to prevent pregnancy], the instigator of most meanness that went on within the group -- began to call me not just Fetus but Aborted Fetus. At the tender age of two, I should have possessed no knowledge whatsoever concerning abortions, but Rilene, delayed in nearly every other way but always precocious when it came to human reproduction and all too willing to share her precociousness with children much too young to know anything about such matters, sat several of the littlest children down and showed us pictures from pamphlets she and her parents had handed out at some recent Right-to-Life function. In looking at the ghastly pictures, Rilene made the connection between my not-fully-developed features and those of the aborted fetuses depicted on the pages of her brochures. That was the point at which I became not merely "Fetus," but "Aborted Fetus."
I'm still not sure I grasped the significance of the name my cousins were calling me (by this time even the ones my own age were learning to refer to me as such), but I knew it was associated with the grotesque images on the pages of the brochures Rilene showed us, I knew it was intended to hurt my feelings, and it did hurt my feelings. I responded in a very two-year-old way, which was to cry. That, of course, caused the cousins to taunt me with renewed vigor.
I should explain that child care workers were part of the package deal for the facilities my grandparents rented for the reunions. Neither of my grandparents, but especially not my grandfather, had any real interest in spending time with grandchildren. His purpose in hosting the reunions was to have a platform from which to pontificate to his offspring and their spouses. Having children underfoot would have been counterproductive to his attempt to have the undivided attention of the adults. Child-care workers, euphemistically referred to as "counselors," supervised the children. They did the bare minimum in the way of providing structured activities for the children. Essentially they kept a constant head count to insure that no child wandered away. As long as no child disappeared, was seriously injured, or interrupted the adults, the "counselors" were considered to be doing their jobs.
Matthew ran past the guards ("counselors") and entered the lodge of the facility that was rented for the reunion, where the adults were gathered, to find my parents. "Baby Lexus is crying," Matthew told my parents. "The big kids are calling her 'Aborted Fetus.' " Most of the adults present laughed, according to my mom.
My mom ran down to the playground area, where she found me encircled by a group of older cousins calling out "Aborted Fetus" at me as I knelt in the dirt, sobbing. The "counselors" stood by as though it was an everyday occurrence. My mom grabbed me, calling out "You should all be ashamed of yourselves!" as she carried me upstairs to our room to pack. My cousins Rilene and Marthalette followed my mother, explaining that it was only a game. "Does Alexis look as though she's having fun playing your game?" she spat at them as she slammed the door of our family's hotel room in their faces.
The other adults except for my grandparents, who were angry that their captive audience had escaped captivity, made their way to the area where the children were gathered. Marthalene, Rilene's mother, was repeating "Kids will be kids" until another of the cousins, Richard, called Rilene an aborted fetus. At that, Marthalene reached for her nephew's neck and screamed, "I'm going to wash your filthy mouth out with soap."
Angelie, the mother of Richard, the kid in Marthalene's grasp, reached for Rilene and said she would wash Rilene's mouth out with soap, then, because everyone knew Rilene started the whole thing.
My parents packed up their van in the midst of the commotion and left dust in their wake long before the melee was over. My Uncle Steve had come with us, so he left with us as well. My Aunt Cristelle had not come with us but left with us anyway. We never heard the complete story of how or even if the issue was ever resolved.
We eventually received numerous letters of apology. My mom said she's not big on forced apologies as she questions the sincerity of any apology that isn't given spontaneously, but that she wouldn't consider attending another function with that side of the family until we also received very specific and detailed letters of apology from every child over the age of five who was present for the fiasco. My mom kept track, and we didn't do any part of the Christmas holidays with my dad's family the following December because Rilene and her older sister Marthalette still hadn't apologized in any form. We eventually got the letters from Rilene and Marthalette, probably under coercion from the other cousins who recognized that the only decent Christmas presents they typically got were the ones my mom bought for them.
In conclusion, I don't care much for the Duggars. As a fellow fetal-appearing child, however, I really hope the family's online detractors refrain from criticizing Josie's appearance.