Sibling rivalry: It's baaaack
Now that I have two kids, I am constantly asked, “How do they get along? Is there rivalry?”
So far, so good. Lucy has been nothing but loving to baby Alice. Sure, she sometimes kisses her so hard on the face that Alice cries, but this is all meant well. I think.
All in all, it’s going much better for me than it did for my mom when she brought me home from the hospital. My brother John, who is about a year and a half older, was not happy about the development. Not happy at all. He regularly asked my mother when “that baby’s mama was going to take it home.”
For a baptism gift when I was a few weeks old, someone gave me a baby doll that came packaged in a cardboard box, with a see-through plastic window. John was delighted to see the doll, trapped in her little case. Apparently, he thought the doll was me, suffocating.
This sibling rivalry continued for years. When I lost my second tooth before he lost his first, my mother instructed me to conceal the matter, using the loud heavily punctuated whisper she employs whenever there is a matter of great significance to discuss.
We were at the swimming pool, and she bent down and whispered hotly, “Dohhhn’t. Tell. Johhhhhnnnn.”
John was perfectly capable of taking care of himself, as he’s proven time and time again in his 35 years. His only real problem in life is his inability to read a gas gauge. He’s run out of fuel more times than anyone I know. He once called our mother long distance to say the car had broken down, when really, he’d just bled it dry, which isn't that easy to do when you drive a Honda.
Anyway, when that bastard finally did lose a tooth, he told me it was two teeth stuck together, which therefore counted as a double. It took me years to realize that baby teeth don’t fuse themselves together. He just said it to keep me in my place, just as he made me and our younger brother Andy sit in the cold shallow end of the bathtub, while he and my sisters hogged the faucet. The bastards.
By the time John and I were 12 and 13, and I had learned to wash myself, we didn’t have so much rivalry between us. He was busy proving his superiority to Andy. We have them on video tape arguing in their high-pitched, prepubescent voices about how to load a wheelbarrow full of bark. They sound like spiteful, huffy farm girls. It’s beautiful.
I never wasted my time on rivalry with Andy, who needed help knowing when his pants were on backwards. (Pockets in front, Andy, pockets in front!) You just can’t feel good when you’re competing with the likes of that.
My sisters were a bit of a different matter. It’s hard to compete when you’re the buck-toothed brown-haired older sister to two younger, cuter natural blondes. It’s actually set me up for a lifetime of insecurity about the young, cute and blonde. I’m like a bitter, middle-aged divorcee in that regard.
My sisters are still younger and cuter, but much less blonde, so I have learned to live with them, and I don’t even charge them a dollar for being nice like I used to. Though, now that I think of it, perhaps I should now that I'm heading into the Lady Clairol for Gray Hair years.
Still, despite the fact that Lucy and Alice get along great, sibling rivalry has come back into my life with a vengeance.
It’s all about who is our parents’ favorite child. For a few shining moments back in 2000, when Lucy was born, I was the favorite. You can measure how well loved you are by my dad’s willingness to pour you a beverage. I can remember one time during my childhood, he made me a chocolate banana shake. It's possible this was when I was being treated for an unfortunate case of boils, or some other hideous illness.
In any case, it never happened again until I was overdue with Lucy during a massive heat wave and Dad poured me a glass of water. For the time it took me to drink it, I was his favorite. I clinked the ice cubes and slurped, hoping one of my brothers or sisters would notice. They didn’t. Bastards!
Now, though, I’m going to have to do a lot more to be a favorite. Babies have become something like a virus in my family. Almost everyone’s been infected.
In the four months since Alice was born, Andy and his wife have had their first child, a girl. My sister Ann and her husband have had their first baby, also a girl.
And John and his wife? They’re having their second – and what’s worse, it’s a boy. The first in the family. While John is not claiming to one up us by having two babies fused together, he is naming the baby after my dad, which makes him not only a bastard, but a total suck-up.
So we’re starting all over again with sibling rivalry: the next generation. My brothers and sisters will no doubt deny it. They’re bastards. We’ve established that.
But we all secretly compare our babies. I just know it. Why is Alice so puny compared to the much younger Sydney? Is my milk worthless and weak? Why does Alice have a cornflake of cradle cap on her head, while the much younger Ellie has a nice smooth scalp? And speaking of scalps, why is Alice the only bald baby? Is it because my mother doesn’t really love me?
The one thing I do have to hang onto here is that Alice seems to be getting a tooth. An early tooth, and no doubt a sign of great things to come. I’m not going brag about it out loud, knowing that John’s son Ned will go months with sad, empty gums. I wouldn’t want to make John so jealous he runs out of gas or anything.
But this tooth is amazing. A wonder. The Beethoven of teeth. I’ve felt it bearing down on on my poor tender flesh -- flesh I’m willing to sacrifice with only a moderate amount of complaining because I’m that kind of wonderful mother. And from the terrible way it feels, I am fairly certain of one thing, one thing I will whisper, in the hopes that one of my siblings will accidentally overhear: This tooth. Is. A double.
Take that, you bastards.