Wednesday, August 22, 2007
The Invisible Ones
This is my daughter, Jennifer, when she was in high school, before she grew up, got beautiful and moved to San Francisco. As usual, it seems, the focus is somewhere else. In fact, the rest of the picture, which I cut off, is one of her sisters clowning around. I worry about Jennifer most of all of the girls now. That doesn't necessarily indicate anything. As everyone in my family will quickly tell you, I always have to have something to worry about.
Birth order research (of which, as a statistician, I am quite skeptical) says that middle children tend to be ignored, invisible. Throughout childhood, they cannot accomplish as much as the oldest, and they don't get as much attention as the youngest. I wonder about this. Just today, I was talking to someone who was building a dollhouse for his granddaughter. It reminded me of the dollhouse Ron built for Jenn when she was little, just two or three years old. It was pretty sturdy, too, made of solid pine, two inches thick. One day we put her in her room as punishment, I think for hitting her little sister, Ronda. Jenn threw an absolute fit and when we opened the door she had smashed the dollhouse into nothing but boards.
She was one tough little kid. I can tell a half-dozen more stories like that, times she ran outside in sub-zero weather in nothing but her underwear, and came banging at the door of Ron's workshop in another building, just to see what we were doing. Or there was the time she ran the door of the hangar over her hand (yes, we had a house that came with an aircraft hangar- long story) and refused to cry because she knew she wasn't supposed to be playing with the door opener and she was too stubborn to admit she had been wrong.
So... why is it that Ronda, the little sister she was always picking on, grew up to be on the Olympic team and Jenn hates all sports? Why is Maria stressing about graduate school, writing articles for ESPN, Associated Press and freelance for magazines while Jenn is calmly finishing up her degree in history? How did she go from so focused, so furious to spending all day on Sunday watching old movies?
Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of days I envy Jennifer. Frankly, I could not lay down and watch movies all afternoon if someone tied me to the couch. I'd chew through the ropes, then write a program, clean the house or go swimming, or more likely, do all three while talking on my cell phone most of the time. Before my knees gave out, I used to run, sometimes on the beach, and sometimes on a treadmill, which Jenn considered the perfect yuppie exercise since it so resembled a hamster wheel. I am certainly not prepared to argue with her that running until your knees give out and then working around the clock until your heart gives out is a significantly better lifestyle than riding the BART home and watching "All about Eve".
After years and years of working at least two full-time jobs, I am making a major effort to work less than 40 hours a week. Even taking off for my birthday last Wednesday, I still worked 40 hours last week. This week may be the first time I manage it in probably 20 years. I am the middle child of five, so the birth order argument does not hold water with me.
What makes children in the same family so different from one another? What makes people so different as adults than they were as children?
I saw an interview once with one of the Baldwin sisters. The four Baldwin brothers are all actors, and the sister joked that they had t-shirts made up for the family reunion that said Alec, Daniel, Billy, No One, Steven and No One.
Actually, the "no one" they were interviewing was spearheading a fundraiser for breast cancer, so that hardly makes her a non-entity in my book. There's another question for you.
Do the "invisible ones" have better lives than their more notable or notorious siblings?
If you know the answers to any of these questions, please post and let me know.