Childhood


Recipes

Recipes (Photo credit: pirate johnny)

My mother brought me my grandmother’s cookbook. It’s one of those parish cookbooks where the women contributed their best recipes and household hints and sold it as a fundraiser. Paper cover and plastic ring binding, and complied by the St. Andrew’s Altar-Sodality of Tennyson, Wisconsin in 1946.

The first section is titled “Household Hints”. Gems.

Cut very fresh bread with a heated sharp knife.

When rendering lard put a little hot water and a little soda in the kettle before putting in the lard. It renders faster.

Large potatoes will take much less time to bake if left to stand in hot water for 15 minutes before putting in oven.

A discarded pocketbook makes a dandy first aid kit for the car or barn.

An inexpensive but most amusing rattle for a baby is crumpled newspaper sewed in a gauze bag.

The bloody water left over from washing fresh meat is very good for house plants (no salty water).

Throughout the book, Grandma made notes here and there. Sometimes dating them as she tinkered with each recipe. One such was updated in 1966, ’67 and finally in 1975. Most were corrections about the amount of this or that to use or to change the baking temperature. One cookie recipe has the warning “no good” in the margin.

Ice cream, pickles and soap – these women could make anything. In the section on sandwiches, they explain how to make the peanut butter itself before giving directions for preparing the sandwich.

One of the household hints involved thickening gravy. “Remove it from the fire before adding the thickening.”

“Remove from the fire?” I said to Mom.

“Oh yes, we were still using a wood burning stove then,” she said. “My mom used to bake bread three days out of the week and she always managed to keep that wood burning oven at an even temperature.”

It’s the dedication I love,

“… is dedicated to the housewife, the greatest contributor to the happy home. The recipes have been given by ladies from a thoroughly American Community, founded by our German ancestors, a hundred years ago. Our mothers, our grandmothers and great grandmothers, have all enjoyed the reputation of being good cooks and bakers. In this book we give to you the treasures they have bequeathed to us.”

Obviously there was still more than a little anti-German sentiment following the war, but I love the pride they take in their skill sets. Sure, at the time, housewifery was the female path, but they see themselves as important and what they contribute as worthy of sharing. It’s a legacy that’s been passed on to them and now passes through them to others. Very cool.

Dee decided we’d take a stab at the chocolate angel food. Helluva lot of eggs need to sacrifice their whites for this recipe, and there were a few too many bakers today, but chocolate is good regardless of how the cake turns out. And it was more than a bit flat. Whipping egg whites is an art. I can’t imagine how my grandmother whipped eggs by hand. These women must have had forearms like steel bands. I gave up and used the mixer.

Tomorrow, date pinwheels. A Christmas treat that when I mentioned it not long ago to Rob, his reaction was,

“And you haven’t made these ever because?”

Because I didn’t have the recipe and couldn’t remember all the ins and outs that Mom used. It’s one of those that requires making and refrigerating things in advance. It also calls for “shortening”, which leads to “rolling” at some point – this I remember from my childhood when Mom would give my sister or I a baking chore every Saturday morning. Things that needed to be rolled were never my favorite, and I suspect they weren’t favorites of mom’s either because at some point, we only had pie whenever DNOS or I made one.

1946 is a long time ago. The hundred years of cooking is closing in on 170 fairly quickly. I am glad I have the book. It would have been a shame for those ladies of St. Andrew’s to have put so much love into a book that wasn’t still being used.


Erica Kane

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ABC announced today that it was canceling two of its remaining three soap operas. All My Children and One Life to Live, shows that have been on the air since 1970 and 1968 respectively will wrap up in early fall of 2011 or in the new year of 2012. Perhaps the Mayans were right after all and the world as we know it is slowly winding to an end.

At one time or another, I have watched every soap opera ever filmed during the course of my life. Just ask me about one. I can probably remember something about it. And I place the blame squarely on my mother. She watched soap operas while she folded or ironed laundry in the afternoon when we were supposed to be napping. I qualify because I was a non-napping child. Something, to my chagrin, I passed on genetically to Dee, but by the time she came along, I was no longer a regular viewer of any soap opera though I doubt she would have been interested. She is only just beginning to prefer live action in equal portions to her animated fare.

The first soaps I ever watched have already been canceled. The Guiding Light and As The World Turns ceased to be last year. But they are hardly the only ghosts of soap operas past that I watched. My first brush with cancellation was Dark Shadows. It was also the first soap I watched because I wanted to as opposed to simply picking up my mom’s viewing habits. I was five and I would sneak across the street to the neighbors to see it. My parents thoroughly disapproved because it gave me nightmares. I would scream the house down regularly and woe to anyone who tried to wake me. I was a bruiser to the point that I had to warn my first college roommates not to try to touch me if I woke them with my dreaming.

Do you remember The Edge of Night? Sky and Raven? Geraldine Whitney? Just thirty minutes right after General Hospital and long since gone.

Loving? Watched it. Renewed my crush on Randolph Mantooth. Or Santa Barbara? Some of the best dialogue ever.

I peeked in on Another World here and there. That was the Frame family, I believe but I don’t remember the name of the town.

As The World Turns was Oakdale and The Guiding Light was in Springfield.

Ryan’s Hope starred Kate Mulgrew, so I watched it for her because she came from my hometown in Dubuque and I went to school with her bratty youngest sister, Jenny.

Pine Valley was a place I never cared much about though until everyone was watching it in college and I couldn’t avoid it any longer. It was the Greg and Jenny era. Tad was bedding Liza Colby‘s mother, and Opal wasn’t even a twinkle in Palmer’s eye because of his weird and creepy obsession with his daughter, Nina. Erica Kane was herself always but it was long before the skin-crawly molestation thing revealed she’d had a baby at 14 who grew up to be Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

One Life to Live was a guilty fallback. I watched it with a far amount of regularity for about 25 years. A time period that spans most of high school, all of college and a good chunk of my single adulthood. Asa is dead now. For real. They didn’t recast him when the actor who played him died a few years ago. Everyone else is old and the one thing I love about soap opera is how many of the female characters are allowed to age like real women do. Sure, a few are scary thin and obviously botoxed and tucked, but waists thicken and age drapes over them like actual skin.

I guess it’s sad that soaps are on the verge of extinction. The genre goes back to the days of radio and the continuous story evolution allowed viewers to watch characters grow up and cope with life – albeit in a melodramatic fashion – in a way that felt familiar to the way real families grew and moved through time.

ABC is replacing the shows with reality crap. One of the new shows will be a cooking/weight loss themed horror that follows women as they struggle to get thin because that’s what women need – more poor body image propaganda for entertainment purposes. The other show is one of those annoyingly condescending fashion make-overs where highly irritating people criticize normal folk’s wardrobes and dress them up for realities they don’t actually live in.

Not that it matters. We don’t have a television that accesses the world of network or cable tv anymore. But, it’s a shame when a performing art form passes away in preference of soul-killing garbage designed to sell audiences questionable values and crappy products.

R.I.P. Todd Manning. There’ll be no more resurrection days for you.


Child labor, can't we try to stop it?

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“I was coming home from kindergarten–well they told me it was kindergarten. I found out later I had been working in a factory for ten years. It’s good for a kid to know how to make gloves.” – Ellen DeGeneres

It’s not just women. The Right is equally at war on American children as well. They’ve been strangling the public education system with a steady pressure and two hands around its neck for nearly a decade though the campaign itself began with the over the top alarmist Nation at Risk in 1982.

Currently, our Congress – already a year overdue at setting the budget for the current fiscal year –  paper cuts what’s left of the K-12 budget in an attempt to bleed it to death so slowly they won’t be suspected of murder when it finally keels over. As their minions in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana work to destroy what little influence over educational practices and curriculum teachers have left by stripping unions of their right to provide input into the profession they’ve earned university degrees to be allowed to practice, Congress ignores the real budget issues and the public goes along with it.

“Of course you are right,” they nod sheepishly. “How foolish of us to think that it was Social Security or a bloated Pentagon at fault? It’s those greedy teachers and our free-loading children of elementary school age. They are the root of this financial nightmare that prevents us from shopping at will and ignoring public policy issues. But what to do? If not school, where can we warehouse our kids during the day while we hunt for work or pretend we love our mind-numbing, ever lower compensating jobs?”

Missouri stepped up to the plate first with a proposal to lower the age at which a child can apply for a work permit from 14 to 12 and eliminate the need for 15 year olds to have a work permit at all. At fifteen, one is certainly old enough to work at will.

Utah followed with an inane state’s rights ploy* that doesn’t question the awfulness of child labor, just the federal government’s right to forbid it.

The states should be able to decide for themselves**.

Really.

A state like Michigan, perhaps? Where the Governor is asking for the right to declare martial law and replace duly elected school boards, city/town councils with anyone he deems fit – whether that be his out of work brother-in-law or some shill of the Koch brothers?

Do you trust the states to act in the best interest of the people or themselves and those who bought them their jobs through campaign contributions?

In other parts of the world, where women have no rights and children are sent to work instead of school (when they are not being sold outright into some form of slavery) and governments pretend to hold elections but the people are not actually represented – we, the self-righteous people of America – point an accusatory finger and say “Bad totalitarian regime.”

Did anyone ever notice that only one finger points and every other is waving back at us?

*Let’s not forget the states were just fine with slavery, Jim Crow, rules that forbade a married women from having her own bank account as late as the 1950’s and weren’t as keen on ERA as they were for the incredibly unnecessary amendment to forbid flag-burning. The states also are big on the whole idea that women need to be treated as though they are retarded once they are pregnant. Let’s not place too much credence on their ability to do the right thing without federal incentive.

**The states will argue that they are rightly giving control back to parents. My maternal grandfather and the husband of one of my cousins were farmers and worked their kids as though they were hired hands from a young age. Not chores. These children were not just helping out a bit. They were farm laborers on par with adults. One of my cousin’s sons actually died because he was given work to do that outstripped his age and size. Even now the exceptions for agriculture border on abuse when they don’t completely cross the line. Do we want to move the line to ensnare more children?


illustrated math problem

Image by jimmiehomeschoolmom via Flickr

Dee has struggled in school since the beginning and as I have mentioned, I questioned and poked/prodded her teachers about glitches and gaps all along only to be told that “it’s normal for children her age”.

Of course, that was bullshit. Her peers didn’t struggle as mightily or as consistently as she did in certain areas. Perhaps having been a classroom teacher, it was more apparent to me than it would have been to other parents or maybe because I lived it myself as an elementary school student, the alarm bells rang louder for me. Whatever the reason, I knew from the start and her school has only just clued in and she has lost nearly four years in a battle that is going to be uphill and probably not very enjoyable.

The assessment was inclusive. The term “unusual” came up a lot because there is no real recognition of her particular learning disability. Dyslexic, autistic and the behaviorally disordered are the squeaky wheels in education. That is where the research focuses and that is where the funding flows.

Dee has dyscalculia. In layman’s terms it’s like a math based dyslexia – except it’s a bit more complicated than that. Her spatial and time sense are affected. She is hypersensitive to stimuli and has a hard time tuning extraneous noise out or filtering it for specifics. For reasons unknown, she can’t memorize formulas and committing base information to memory – like how a word is spelled, math tables, or phonic decoding skills – takes longer.

She wasn’t actually classified as having dyscalculia. Unlike the inability to read, having difficulty with math is not viewed as a big tragedy. Math is so universally loathed (because our school systems insist on teaching higher math forms to everyone despite the fact that it’s not necessary) that one is considered “normal” to be bad at math. But for Dee, it goes beyond math and one thing can’t be addressed without addressing all things.

I have dyscalculia. I discovered this inadvertently through my team teaching with special education teachers when I worked in the middle schools. Even they were only vaguely aware of the condition and didn’t have any advice for me in terms of doing something about it.

“Well,”  I was told, “you certainly managed to overcome it on your own at any rate.”

Yeah.

And that’s the problem. I had to “overcome” it on my own.

I came home from the studio last evening to find Dee at the dining room table working on a math table Rob had designed for her. She had a math test the next day and the teacher sent home a note asking that she study.

The test was word problems.

Word problems were the beginning of the end for me in school where math is concerned. As I watched her at the table, wiggling, sighing and in general being annoyed and annoying, I was cast back to the hours my dad had me anchored to the kitchen table with my math book and homework.

I did not act up because unlike Rob, my father had no patience and I was quite scared of him at that point in my life. Having watched he and my mother take after my younger brother physically, I had no doubt that this could happen to me too. So I sat, stone-faced and so focused on not crying that even if what he’d been trying to explain made even the slightest sense to me at all – I wouldn’t have been able to do it.

“Oh,” my mother reminisced when I told her about Dee, “your dad had no patience with you. He could do any math at all in his head and couldn’t understand why you couldn’t.”

She didn’t add that my failure to do well at math was a huge disappointment to him. And not one that I missed. Even now as I listened to Rob’s exasperation with Dee when he told me about his attempts to help her study, I could feel again the awfulness of wanting to understand and just not being able to. I remembered the nights I sat at the table instead of being able to watch television or play outside.

And I remembered the words that showed up on Dee’s assessment “she just needs to try harder” because “the knowledge is there”.

Except it isn’t.

I couldn’t tell time on analog clocks. I had to use my fingers to count once the big hand slipped off the hour – even now, I count minutes past the o’clock, the thirty or quarter to or past.

I can’t judge distance. I can only subtract and divide because I can add and multiply and I still don’t have the entire times table locked and solidly loaded. I have to think about it whenever numbers are concerned and I transpose addresses and phone numbers regularly.

Grades three and four were easily the worst years of my academic life (until 9th grade algebra*). Neither of my math teachers had the time to work with me one on one as class sizes regularly hit the mid-30’s. None of my peers could explain what I was doing wrong or how to fix it though they generously gave me answers in an effort to help me avoid the regular dressing down I received in front of them.

Mrs. S, my grade three teacher, had a wicked way with the sarcastic put-down. Where my Dee is small and sweet and cuddly, inspiring the tender side of her teachers, I had perfected an air of indifference that read like defiance – and maybe it was a little – and I would meet her eyes and take the insults without comment. I would have sooner stuck splinters under my fingernails than cry.

In grade four, Sister assigned her student teacher to work with me exclusively when she grew tired of my stubborn refusal to learn.

That’s how it was viewed. I was not learning on purpose. Perhaps because I enjoyed being chapters behind and wrong every time I was called on?

He worked hard but nothing much stuck.

I had done so much copying – cheating really – the year before to survive that I was determined in grade four to do the work myself. But all that resulted in was falling further and further behind everyone else. So the day after Sister had forced me to stand by her desk, facing my classmates, as she berated me and asked me if just “enjoyed being stupid”, I sat down next to my cousin Gwen and asked to copy her work.

A week later I turned in every single assignment that was missing and I failed every single test that I hadn’t yet taken. I am not sure what went through Sister’s mind and I no longer care, but I do remember she smirked when I turned in the work and didn’t look at me when she handed back the red pocked tests.

I feel as though I should be able to better help people understand what it means to have dyscalculia, but I find I am not able and I worry for Dee.

Third grade was the year that school became an endurance race, a marathon that I plodded through without joy. It was a time-suck whose rewards were endless homework, tutoring and summer school.

Of all the things she’s inherited from me, this is by far the worst gift. Even her near perpetual habit of looking at the glass as half-empty, which she got from Will, is not nearly as poor an inheritance.

Having endured the misguided perception that hard work can overcome, I am a bit downcast at the prospect of going through this again with Dee. Hard work is unavoidable, but it will do nothing except possibly help her endure. I still have dyscalculia every day of my life. I struggle to keep PIN’s and passwords straight and to follow Rob’s reasoning when it comes to investment strategies. I hope that no one realizes that I haven’t gotten their name memorized yet or matched with the right face. I am relieved when I am not asked for directions because I can’t give them using street names or that no one thinks it’s too weird that I don’t know my own cell phone number after nearly four years. The truth is that I worked hard and got to a point where some things were easy to cover up and other things? I deal. And that is all and Dee will learn to do the same, but it won’t be fast enough to suit anyone.


Cross-country skiing on Schwedentritt loppet, ...

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Our town is a wonderland of winter pleasures. Skating for both pleasure and competition rule, as one would imagine, but cross-country skiing as well as downhill make strong showings. There are three or four sledding hills, and even though just about everyone with means escapes to Mexico or Cuba at some point, I don’t think many would really give up our winter if the opportunity presented.

Except my husband, who would throw winter under a snow plow without losing a moment of good sound sleep.

Last February, Rob got it into his head that we should take up cross-country skiing.  He and Shelley had pursued it a bit here and there when the older girls were small, and he thought it would be a good winter activity to pick up again.

We outfitted late season, so it was tricky to track down the right sizes of boot, ski and pole for the three of us – but we managed. There were a few trial runs in the baseball field nearby and one rather treacherous trek on a trail much too hard for Dee out at Elk Island Park one Sunday before Rob decided perhaps we should wait until next year. Join the Nordic Ski Club. Take lessons.

Today we joined the local club, signed up for lessons and embarked on our initiation in the cult of the wintry trail.

The cult thing seems to be requisite, I’ve decided. It really doesn’t matter the interest or pursuit. The non-joiner in me can’t help but observe and take notes while making note of the exits, but I’ve come to the realization that there is no real remedy for involvement with those who crave tribe. There is some primitive need that compels most everyone to join – and sometimes over and over – with others in totally fabricated configurations.

Today were the Jackrabbit classes and general information for parents meeting. There are a lot of young families and it always makes a me a bit regretful that Dee didn’t have the chance to start some of these activities at a younger age even with my misgivings about becoming too enmeshed in groupthink. Watching a barely toddling little one happily learning to ski is to bear witness to base level values being instilled and nurtured. Powerful stuff.

Dee was dubious. Her last time on skis was Elk Island and on a trail that far exceeded her skill level. If she were a daring child that wouldn’t have mattered, but she is cautious to the point of fear, depending, but that trail scared me too given our slight skill base.

She envisioned more of the same in Jackrabbit class, but nothing could be further from the reality. The year’s growth showed. Between maturity and yoga, her balance has improved measurably. She is still slight but taller than she’s ever been in comparison to her peers.

Her listening skills – and these seldom transfer to Rob and I – exceed most children her age. She is a serious student, regardless of topic.

“I went down a hill and it was fun,” she beamed as she told me after class.

Dee loathes few things more than moving quickly downhill. It’s why she still can’t ride a bike, doesn’t roller skate or skate board and pokes along like a turtle on her Razor until she comes to a downward incline and then she carries it. Where this excessive caution comes from, I have no idea. Deeply recessive genes? Certainly not from me.

Next Sunday, Rob and I take our first lesson. Given that my knees are much improved thanks to yoga, I am hopeful to pick up a few pointers that will enhance the cross-country experience for me. Rob is just brushing up little used skills.

On the drive home, I asked Dee if she knew anyone in her classes. She didn’t. There were a couple of kids from summer activities – outdoor soccer and swimming – but no one from school.

The vast majority of her classmates lack the discretionary income for the types of activities we do as a family or the sports we encourage Dee to play. Most of the kids she meets go the separate school – John the XXIII. I asked Dee if she would be interested in switching schools.

Lately, she’s been complaining that she has no one to play with at recess. And while I am not surprised, she will not play the follower but isn’t confident or charismatic enough to be a queen bee, and her natural inclination to thoroughly check people out before trying to make friends inhibits the spontaneous formation of friendship that is more typical for children her age.

Rob and I have discussed moving her to another school, but we doubt it will solve the friend problem. The other children, for the most part, have years long advantage of association on her that even having started kindergarten with some of them hasn’t erased. It’s also pretty clear to me that many of the girls she meets have the added advantage of the parents – mothers in particular – being friends, and I am not much help to Dee in this area.

And there is the religion thing. If she moved to the separate school, the other children will have gone through two sacraments already without her. She would be excluded from much of the mass that her peers wouldn’t and as she already views church with a jaundiced eye (“I only go if I am staying with Grandma and have no choice.”), I can see disaster written all over this.

Perhaps the activity only route will work in the long run and she will meet children more like her.

“There really aren’t that many kids like her,” Rob reminds me. “But Edie and Mick were the same way. They didn’t make many friends here and never ran in huge circles of kids.”

Neither did I. Neither did he. For that matter, neither did her father, Will. He tried though but succeeded only in getting his feelings hurt by those with whom he associated. She is like him in that moth to a flame thing, though I can’t do anything about it. She will be who she is. I wish I could spare her the loneliness of being just on the edge and never really invited in.

Ski club? Hmmm. Maybe. If nothing else, it’s good exercise.


Eye death

Image by doug88888 via Flickr

The child brought her first term report card home today. Nothing surprised me save the A equivalent she got in math.

She did not inherit that from me.

But she is blessed with my slightly dyslexic view of all things written – letters, numbers, whole words, sentences, paragraphs – what I see and hear doesn’t always translate properly. I never thought this was abnormal growing up. I thought I was just selectively stupid.

It wasn’t until a tutor at the U of I’s math lab suggested that my inability to perform simple Algebra, despite the fact that I appeared to be of normal intelligence, was due to a learning disability.

The guy’s girlfriend was an education major and she’d suggested this to him after he’d described the difficulty he was having in getting me to recognize formulas.

Regardless, this light bulb moment did me no good in the reality of needing a math credit, but it stuck with me. Years later, I team taught with a number of special ed teachers and managed to glean enough information to semi-pinpoint my particular issues. Again, a barn door after the horse is long gone kind of thing but good to know at any rate.

Anyway, the same brain hiccup that makes it difficult for me to recognize number patterns without some kind of external cue (like the tones on the phone keypad and the pattern my finger makes helps me remember phone numbers for example) makes spelling … challenging.

Yes. Yes. There are spelling “rules”. I taught middle school English for 17 years. I am well aware. But the English language evolved haphazardly in its written form.  Spellings were all over the place in the early days of the printed language and it was printers – not linguists or grammarians – who invented spellings. They were not always well-educated, or schooled at all, and they pulled words together from the recesses of their assholes at times.

English is a mongrel language, which is why those who learn it as a second language in the various grammar school systems around the globe always sound like automatons to native speakers. It’s also why even those who grow up with it as their mother tongue can’t necessarily communicate with each other if they grew up in different parts of the same country.

But that was a digression. I couldn’t spell. Couldn’t even learn to spell with all that much success in grade school.

Do you remember those leveled spelling lists of the 70’s? They were grouped together using the alphabet. Every year we took a pretest at the beginning of the year using the level the teacher assumed we should be at given our age and every year, I had to start at J or K.

Never once made it to M. Grade 3, 4, 5 and 6. Never passed L. It was so demoralizing that I eventually didn’t bother to try at all.

I was the kid who couldn’t punctuate, spell or use capitals all that consistently, but I was the best reader in my class and passed out of all my grammar without so much as glance in the direction of my teachers for assistance.

Spelling, I decided early, was not a very good indicator of who was smart and who was retarded.

But for some reason, it mattered a lot and I suffered the frowney faces of teachers all the way through university for my haphazard spelling.

And then came Word. And spell check. And it was awesome. God rested. The seventh day.

Spell check changed everything. Computers freed me.

Doomed all of you though.

So, Dee can’t spell. Her punctuation is “creative” though she has an ear for structure.

Her reading issues caused me anguish. Her dad lost the ability to read and write as his illness progressed. Whenever she can’t do something or master something where letters and words are concerned, my heart catches.

Is she getting sick? Theoretically she shouldn’t. She’s a girl. Her double X protects her from the disease that killed her dad, but I still fly there. Don’t ask me why.

But not with spelling. I couldn’t spell and but for spell check (which doesn’t catch everything – for that I have Rob), I would be mute still or at the very least making you wonder if I wasn’t “special”.

In my early years of teaching, I did as little with spelling formally as I could get away with. I knew from experience that it was better to teach kids how to spot errors and tricks to get around any shortcomings than it was to force them to memorize a random list of words. Later on, all spelling was based on relevancy. I cribbed spelling lists from their subject area teachers. My students never had a spelling list that wasn’t related to another class they were taking and I always allowed points for using the word correctly somehow. They defined or used them in sentences. They could write synonyms instead of the spelling word. When they had math terms, I let them draw and diagram. Spelling a word is useless if one can’t use it properly in the first place.

Dee’s only mediocre mark was spelling and picky grammar. She’s just eight. A year younger than I was in the same grade. Her teacher isn’t worried. I’m not either. This is something I know she gets from me, and I turned out alright.

I never won a spelling bee. They are overrated anyway.

Tonight, I helped her create a blog. Showed her the spell check. Lights began to flicker like fireflies across her freckled brow. She clearly never imagined such a thing.

It’s like finding out there really is magic.


Sibling Rivalry (Family Guy)

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One of the longest and wide-ranging studies ever conducted on the relationship of personal satisfaction and siblings has concluded that you aren’t imagining it when you believe that had your parents practiced safer sex, you might be happier today.

Apparently, the quality of childhood (and some would argue this extends into adulthood as well) is greatly influenced by the number of siblings you have.

For each sibling added to a family mix, the level of satisfaction for the others diminishes. I would venture to add that the quality of the new sibling’s personality is also a factor and that your parents child-rearing/interacting interest and skill set probably is key as well.

Speaking only from the perspective of an oldest child, I can attest unequivocally to the fact that a mess of younger siblings did nothing to improve my life on the whole. Aside from my next in command sister, DNOS, I could have easily been an extremely happy only child. I have all the requisite qualities. I was low maintenance (which admittedly made it easier for my parents to foist their fantasies of a large family on me), able to entertain myself and not disturbed at all by solitude and silence.

My singular qualities, in fact, made the additions of siblings difficult for someone who preferred a more Garbo like existence.

I know people who adore their large families. Count their siblings as best friends and couldn’t imagine being an onlie.

Dee is less than enamoured with “onlie-ness”. She laments that her older sisters aren’t closer than a decade and more to her in age. Though, I would venture a guess that they have both pondered the implications of being singletons with a bit of longing.

DNOS and I frequently have conversations that center around the lament of the younger two existing.

Oh, stop. It’s not that gruesome. We are all adopted and had they not been our siblings they’d be some other unfortunate family’s burden to bear.

But fond as I am of DNOS now that we are well into adulthood, I can’t say that I wouldn’t have thrown her under a bus to be an only child when I was a child … even a teenager.

She would protest, but the truth is that she benefited as much from following me as the younger two did in terms of my parents aiming all their strictness at me. I was practically a shield for the rest of them in terms of unrealistic expectations and experiments in parenthood.

I will admit, however, to appreciating my younger siblings as we all hit our pre-teen and teenage years. Being an “easy” child to raise meant that when they began acting up as teens, I was pretty much ignored. A small boon but one well deserved given how much of their care was foisted upon me when we were all small.

My folks were farm-bred Depression babies. Old schoolers who still totally believe that you have more kids so the older ones will learn to be responsible. And that’s actually an interesting stance given that the fact that they were the youngest in their families.

Dad actually wanted a very large family. In excess even of his own experience being one of six children. I have no idea at all why Mom married him given that expectation because there is no one less suited to being the mother of a horde than she.

My most vivid childhood recollections of my mother was of a very angry woman who clearly did not enjoy housework, cooking or minding more than one child at a time.

By the age of five, I was the oldest of four. Wherever we went it was Mom and four wee children, consequently, we did not get out much unless Dad was along. Even then, I can’t recall a single outing that didn’t end with someone being yelled at, hauled off the ground to dangle by a tiny little elbow or smacked on the bottom.

Being the oldest, I quickly learned to lay low and deflect when necessary, but I often wished that I had no siblings at all (when I wasn’t wishing for different parents or a stint as an orphan living with my much more tolerant of me Auntie and Grandmother).

It’s not that we fought much. Aside from my brother, CB, I rarely fought with any of my siblings, but this stems from the fact that at very early ages, we all went our own ways and sought out more like-minded compatriots. We could, and did, clan up in times of trouble, but we mostly had little to do with each other – something that really still defines us today.

I don’t know a lot of people personally for whom family is all, or most even, in terms of close relationships/friendships. Even if friendship preference evolved it tends to be with only one or a couple of siblings within families.

Most people I know have sibling relationships that range all over the “it’s complicated” scale, and even relatively cordial interactions came with middle-age and were possibly even forged by crisis situations.

At my age, I deal with the whole sibling thing only when it rises like Dracula from the tomb, which mercifully isn’t often. We have our own lives filled with significant others, children and chosen companions. Our need for each other – not much to begin with – is reduced to base-touching and keeping an eye on our mother as she dodders into advancing age.

It’s enough. And it’s okay.

But, I still think I would have made an excellent only child.