Monday, July 12, 2010

The Favorite Child

I am almost certain to face repercussions for posting a blog on this topic. Even if my parents were to follow the agreement that they would not read what I posted but would rely upon three trusted friends and one relative to monitor my writings, and to only read when clear signs exist of violations of stipulations prior to my being given permission to blog, this blog will cause an exception to occur. My parents will almost surely be displeased with me. Whether or not sanctions will be imposed remains to be seen. I'm willing to face the consequences of my posting, because what I am writing are my honest feelings, even if they are highly subjective.

Favoritism among children in parenting is not a new concept. Rebecca and Isaac, a married couple from the old testament, had twins, Jacob and Esau, and each parent favored a different twin. Jacob in turn, when he grew up and started his own family, showed favoritism tooward his youngest son, Joseph. Joseph P. Kennedy, patriarch of an American familial political dynasty, favored his eldest son, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Had this son not died in World War II, it's dubious as to whether John F. Kennedy would ever have received encouragement, financial backing, and perhaps practical assistance in the form of stuffing of ballot boxes in key states that would have allowed him to become President of the United States, or at least not until his brother had first been successful in the opportunity. In a more recent sense, most of us need to look no further than the ends of our own blocks or cul-de-sacs to observe clear evidence of parental favoritism. Perhaps, in some instances, many of us need look no further than the walls enclosing the homes in which we live.

Favoritism among parents toward children exists, though it does not exist in every case in which it is alleged to exist. It is very easy to claim, when one child receives a privilege that another does not, that favoritism was the sole reason. "You're just giving him this (or letting him do this) because you like him better than you like me!" is a frequent claim when one child receives something (or is allowed a privilege) that is denied another one. I must admit that I have been guilty of making this allegation when it was not entirely the sum of the equation. My brother has probably made this claim as well, but not nearly so frequently because, in my highly subjective opinion, he receives more privileges, and a greater share of my parents' finances are bestowed upon him.

The issue of favoritism probably comes up most freqently when offspring are close in age, with twins being as close in age as siblings can be. When an older sibling is allowed to go somewhere or stay out later than a younger sbling, the parents have the ready-made excuse that the older child is more mature and ready for extended privileges. A sticky situation could arise here when a just-younger sibling has displayed more maturity and responsibility. How does a parent handle that one without bringing on Armageddon? The best course of action would probably be to grant equal privileges to the two, but even that might not solve the problem.

In the olden days of family favoritism, its effects were self-limiting. When Jacob of biblical fame decided to favor his youngest son Joseph (Remember that beautiful coat of many colors Jacob commissioned to be made for Joseph?) His older brothers threw him in a hole and left him there to die as a consequence of the gift. With group dynamics being what they are and always were, these things had ways of working themselves out. Even in classroom situations, while teachers may show favoritism to given students, the favored students usually pay for it far more than they reap any benefits. Not many students volunteer to be teachers' pets.

Except in my dad's part of my family, where parents haven't yet discovered that they belong to the human population and not the rabbit population, most parents limit their number of offsppring to a number of children that can fit in one vehicle (as much as I admire many things they do, the Duggar family bus doesn't count for this purpose) with enough seatbelts for everyone, and often with at least one extra seatbelt for a guest. This greatly reduces the odds of parental favoritism being solved in the manner Joseph's brothers handled it. Another more common form of dealing with favoritism in two-and three-child families is for each parent to have his own favorite. In families with three children, this is cruel. One child rarely if ever has either parent advocating on his or her behalf and is consistently the odd-man or odd-woman out.

In two-children families, the each-parent-has-a-favorite-child can be a solution, but is it a good one? What if one parent consistently spends more time with the children than does the other? The child who is favored by the more present parent has a clear advantage. What if one parent, for whatever reason, has more power in the overall dynamic of the marriage? Then that parent's favored child holds the advantage. Any way this system works, it doesn't really work. Even if the family remains intact in a legal sense, it's neither really together nor functional.

Our local newspaper used to carry a syndicated column authored by a self-proclaimed "parenting expert." For all I know, the man may have had credentials exuding from every orifice of his body. Still, I bristle at the term "parenting expert," as exactly what makes one a "parenting expert"?

It's like being a "nutritionist." Most people are unaware of this, but unless things have changed recently, anyone in the United States can rightly proclaim himself or herself a "nutritionist" with no certification requirement whatsoever. It's not a protected term. I, therefore, am a nutritionist. The only thing I actually know about nutrition is that one cannot sustain oneself on candy alone for a length of time exceeding three weeks and remain in good health; this I learned through trial and error. Still, since the term "nutritionist" is not protected in the United States (I believe it is protected in two Canadian provinces, although I could not tell you which two) I am most decidely a nutritionist. We must, however, return to the subject at hand.

The column to which I referred before I digressed was typically in a question/answer format. The author had several familiar themes for his columns. Some columns seemed so familiar that there was a deja vu sense about them. As it turned out, those columns were the very same columns verbatim that had been printed earlier, minus the disclaimer that they were re-prints of earlier columns. Additionally, because the author liked writing about particular topics so much, no matter how thoroughly he might have covered a topic not much earlier, he would write a question to himself on the very topic he had recently discussed because he wished to address it again. One of the author's frequent themes was sibling conflict. The author's solution was to ignore it to the point that it became impossible to ignore any longer, and then to punish both parties equally (usually by sending them to separate rooms for the remainder of the day and evening) without listening to anyone's explanation. The only advantage of this method of handling conflict (the author claimed such a tactic was avoiding favoritism) was that it was slightly less likely to result in death of a child than the way Jacob favored Joseph to the extent that his brothers all wished him off the planet permanently. Furthermore, by not investigating, the author's tactic advocated favoritism by allowing the one who was truly at fault (and often one sibling is truly at fault) to receive equal punishment as the one who did noting to deserve it. The moral of this is that not everyone who proclaims himself or herself an expert on a given topic is legitimately worth hearing. I am the first to admit that I was being facetious and using rhetoric to make a point by calling myself a "nutritionist" and,if the truth were told, I probably have less knowledge regarding nutrition than 97% of the U. S. population.

Nothing I've written up to now is likely to cause controversy. It is at this point that the parental uproar begins. I am one of two children. I have a twin brother. My mother has a favorite child. It is not I. My mother would argue that she yells at me more than she yells at my brother because I deserve it. She would contend that I am punished more frequently and more severely because my behavior has warrants it. She would say that I receive fewer privileges because I have earned fewer privileges.

My mother has many degrees and certifications related to child, educational, and behavioral psychology. She uses this knowledge all day long in her job. By the time her car reaches our garage door, she is tired of psychology of any kind and has no use for it. If she walks in the kitchen door and sees dishes in the sink or on the counter, it is my fault, because I am the offspring who knows how to correctly load the dishwasher. It doesn't matter that the odds are about a zillion to one that my brother and his friends, and not I, used those dishes. (I'm constantly being yelled at for not eating enough.) It doesn't matter that my brother, while not as smart as I am, most certainly has the intelligence needed to be taught to load a dishwasher properly. It's just that my mother is tired after spending a day working with a kid on some very basic concept he must master in order to pass the high school exit exam that he can't understand no matter how she says it. So then when my brother plays stupid as my mom is trying to show him how to load the dishwasher so the dishes won't all break and the silverware will all come out clean, she screams and walks out of the kitchen and tells me that loading the dishwasher is my job permanently.

Now we shall move on to a subject that will almost surely cause me to regret writing this blog . . .but since I've opened the can of worms halfway, I may as well let the rest of worms crawl out. The subject now is sports. My brother plays basketball and baseball. In three years of playing varsity baseball and in one year of junior varsity basketball and two years of varsity basketball, my father has missed two basketball games and one basseball game. (He would have missed a second baseball game, but it was rained out.) My mother has missed three of my brother's baseball games because of a kidney stone. I played varsity tennis my freshman year. I dove for the varsity team my freshman, sophomore, and junior years. I ran varsity hurdles this year. My parents watched one tennis match. They've watched me from a parking lot as I competed in a diving meet while they were waiting to carpool with another couple to a baseball game. They've never been to one of my track meets and have never seen me hurdle. The fracture of my leg bones may not heal well enough for me to ever hurdle again, or even if I can make it over the hurdles, I may not be able to run fast enough to be competitive. I brought this up once. My mother said, "Well, you never once asked us to go." I may be wrong, but I'm fairly certain that my brother has never asked my parents to attend one of his sporting events. My mom also tried to explain it away as being a social thing. My brother's teammates' parents are my parents' friends, she said. They like to get together and watch games. If my parents ever went to one of my events they might find that they liked my teammates' parents, too.

The next topic about which I will write is going to anger my brother, although I promise to be discreet. I may as well be an equal-opportunity offender and have everyone in the family hating me by the time this is finished, if anyone reads this far. I get into trouble with my parents sometimes because I argue with them when we can't reach consensus. According to one of my responders, who may be a Twitter acquaintance, I argue far too much and need to go along with what my parents want more often. I've tried to take this advice, but at least my approach in debating the topic, whatever it might have been, was honest. Whatever it is we're arguing about, my brother doesn't join in on the argument; he just quietly goes on and does whatever it is my parents and I were arguing about and I was told I couldn't do. I will admit to having done three really sneaky things in my life. I won't say what they were, because I was lucky enough to get away with them, and they're old news by now. My brother probably does three sneaky things every week. I won't give away the nature of any of these things. I'm merely saying my mother's "good child" isn't as angelic as she thinks he is. I know I will catch all sorts of flack for this, because my brother and I have largely operated on the policy of not telling on each other for anything. I'm not telling on him for any specific thing, but I am saying that not everything is as it seems.

My father has treated us more equally. At times I thought he should have stood up for me more to compensate, but I understand why he didn't. He yells at both of us and grounds us both. So does my mother, but in regard to many things, it really seems that I get more than my share of the blame.

The last topic I will address is one that is very sensitive. I've never spoken of it to anyone. This is probably a stupid place to address the matter, but I'll never have the nerve to say it to my mother's face, or even write a note to her about it. If any relatives on my dad's side want to make fun of me for this, go ahead. I'm beyond being hurt by anything you write or say.

My brother came home from the hospital when my mother did, which was five days after our Caesarean delivery. I was undersized and not yet ready to come home, so I stayed in the hospital for a little over a month. Since he was home before I was, they had an entire month to become acquainted before I showed up and basically spoiled their routine. My dad tried to help out as much as possible, but I have early memories (obviously not from when I was a month onld, but very early nonetheless). I can remember that when I was really little, like almost two, I would wake up from my nap. Mom and my brother would be sitting together in the rocking chair, and I never knew if I was supposed to go in the family room where they were or get back in my crib and pretend to be asleep.

One time when I was just barely two I think, because we had just put the Christmas tree up and I was wearing the Rudolph overalls that I wore that year, I woke up before my brother did. My mom was sitting in the rocking chair reading a book. I stood watching her for a minute. Then I took a few steps closer. She either didn't see me or just didn't look up. I finally said, "Hi, Mommy."

She looked at me and said, "I'm reading right now."

A few minutes later, my brother got up. She put down her book and he climbed in her lap. I felt very much like an intruder in my own home. Mom, if I upset you by writing this, I'm truly sorry.

The last part is the very most difficult for me to write, but if I've gone this far, I may as well diclose everything. When you had had leukemia, Mom, you needed a bone marrow transplant. No siblings were compatible donors. Random people who were unlikely to be compatible donors, such as dad, were being tested. No one was compatible. The doctors and dad finally decided they had to test my brother and me. I prayed the rosary three times every day for two weeks that I would be compatible and not my brother. My thoughts were that you might love me almost as much as you loved Matt if I gave my bone marrow to you. My prayers were answered and I was able to donate. Then my dad told me that I was not to tell you the bone marrow was from me because it would make you feel very bad to know that one of your children had to suffer because of you. That crushed me, because the reason I wanted you to have my bone marrow, in addition to keeping you alive, was because I wanted you to love me more.

I went through the procedure. I was sore for about two weeks, so dad sent me to Aunt Colleen's house and told you I had a cold. I kept quiet about it at first. Then you went back to Los Angeles for another treatment. Then it was Christmas morning. My brother and I had made you Christmas presents at school. My class made sngel ornaments with our own pictures glued where the face of the angel would be. When you opened mine, you half-smiled and thanked me. My brother's class made gingerbread boys out of foam stuff with their pictures pasted where the gengerbread boy's face was supposed to be. You hugged him and made a really big deal out of his gift. It bothered me that you liked his gift so much more than you liked mine, so I blurted out, "I gave you bone marrow." Sort of like, "So there! Just try to top that!"

You just stared at me with a look of shock. Dad grabbed me and carried me into my room. He told me what a terrible and selfish girl I was. Then he asked why I told you. I told him it was because that was part of my Christmas present to you. I never told him that it was because I wanted you to love me as much as you loved my brother.

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