On not repeating the pattern.

I’ve mentioned before that I am a “late baby” or an “oops baby”, however you want to look at it. It’s a peculiar position to be in, and I’ve been misunderstood before when I’ve tried to explain why I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

Something happened very recently to inspire me to take another shot at it, and this time, I’m employing a lesson learned from Sampiro (and before him, Wang-Ka): If you want people to fully understand, you simply have to tell the entire story.

Background: My oldest sister was 17 when I was born. Call her Marcia. (I’ve called her Cindy in other posts, but while composing this, I realized Marcia was more appropriate. The middle sister is Jan; she was 12 when I was born. That makes me Cindy, of course, but I’m going to continue to call myself Rilchie in this.

To establish the scene, our house was on a rural road. Very few neighbors, and no way to walk to anywhere beyond the nearest houses. No kids my age in those houses, either. Yes, I had friends at school, but in the summer, I was pretty much on my own, except for Annie.

Anyway. I was born in March of 1970, and in May of that same year, Marcia got pregnant, classically on prom night. She married her boyfriend, the father, and moved out. Long story short, she and her daughter moved in with us when I was…3? 4? I can’t remember exactly. Anyway, “Annie”, my niece, and I got to be likethis. Marcia and Jan, however, did not get along well. I don’t want to get into those details, but suffice to say, unlike my mom, I don’t think everything was Jan’s fault.

Flash forward again to when I was 5. Jan moved out with her boyfriend. I was sorry to see her go, but my parents had given her an ultimatum. I think they were actually surprised when she chose “ship out” rather than “shape up”. Anyway, Annie moved in with her paternal grandparents, and Marcia got her own apartment, a job, and a relationship with a guy I will call Charlie because that was his name. It was great for a while. Annie and I visited back and forth, with and without Marcia (Annie accepted Charlie as a friend; he was a really cool guy!) and having Marcia to visit was always fun.

Forward yet again to when I was 8. Marcia and Charlie broke up. I don’t know the details, and when I asked her a few years ago, she still didn’t want to tell me. She took off for Port Allegheny, PA, and the next thing I knew, my parents and I were at her house, meeting her new husband “Hank” and the new baby, “Brad”. (I was 9 by now.)

Marcia wasn’t quite her old self. I mean, she was for the most part, but she’d developed a tendency to be snappish at times. Also, this marked the first stirrings of a pattern of her and my mom being condescending towards me, and even at times making fun of me.

And now we’re getting to the heart of the story. It was summer. I was 11. Marcia came to visit, and I was overjoyed to hear of this. More fool I. What I didn’t know at the time was that Marcia was separating from Hank. I had picked up, more or less from osmosis, that he was an alcoholic, but I didn’t realize she was leaving him for good.

She wasn’t looking for a job, though, and she didn’t seem to be moving in permanently; she was just hanging out. I don’t know what the agreement was between her and my mom; whether a week turned into months, or if it was an open-ended offer, or what. At any rate, she was there throughout the summer, and well into the fall. She didn’t leave until shortly after Halloween, and by then…

Well, the first thing that knocked me for a loop was that suddenly, Annie was not to be mentioned. No, I wasn’t going to be visiting her. No, she wasn’t going to be coming here. No, you can’t call her. She, uh…she went away to horse camp. She didn’t tell you? Well, her dad sprung it on her at the last minute; she didn’t think she was going to be able to go, that’s why she didn’t tell you. Oh, shut up.

So. I’d already been eager to spend time with my mom and Marcia, and now I really…yes, I’m going to say it…needed them. I mean, they were my family, right? I had serious envy of friends and classmates who had siblings, and up to now, my consolation had been that I had a sister who was a grown-up, and that was way cooler than one who was just a few years older or younger.

At least, it had used to be. Back when Marcia would actually talk to me, and spend time with me. Or when it was her and me and my mom. Not now, though. From the very start, I was persona non grata.

And I mean completely. Never a friendly word. No time for me at all. (Except for one occasion, which I’ll get to in a moment.) They didn’t care what I did, as long as I did it away from them.

Yeah, I know what you’re probably thinking. “But Rilch, she was going through a divorce! She had a lot on her mind, and didn’t feel like hanging out!” That would have made a certain amount of sense…but that’s not the way it was.

Marcia and my mom immediately became a two-woman sorority. Drinking, watching TV, shopping, gossiping, playing cards, and more drinking. Marcia wasn’t depressed or preoccupied; she was having a high old time. (Well, most of the time, but again, I’ll get to that in a moment.) And I was always excluded. Always.

I’ll just give a few examples. Marcia and my mom had been watching TV; “Three’s Company”, to be exact. Marcia had said something about John Ritter, and since I was nearby, I had the nerve to ask, “What’d you say? Who was his father?”


Mom: “Yes, Rilchie; we’re having a conversation. Why don’t you go to your room. And don’t wake up Brad.”

I’m not going to recount each and every instance of this. I’ll just repeat: it was always like that. I wasn’t allowed to participate in even the most impersonal conversation. I mean, I could understand if they’d been talking about Marcia’s separation from Hank, or something too complicated, personal or adult for me to be involved in. But that was nothing, what I just told you. They were talking about an actor, for crissakes. And what neither of them took into account was that this was my home. They made me an outsider in my own home.

And no, it didn’t take too many such instances for me to catch on. But remember, I was eleven. And that’s a hard thing to accept at that age: always having to check yourself and remember that you can’t bake cookies because They are in the kitchen, sipping their vodkas at the table, and they’ll just complain about the noise. Or, when school started, that no one was going to say hello when I came home, or that if I’d finished my history report, no one was going to want to look at it. I basically had to curb every natural instinct to be gregarious, and at the same time, avoid being accused of “sulking”.

And there was also their charming habit of making fun of me, talking about me as if I wasn’t in the room, or both. Now let me just say here, I know that younger siblings get a lot of crap from their older siblings. But it is one thing to have your three-years-older sister say, “Jeez, you have a big butt.” It is quite another to be in the same room with your mom and your adult sister and hear this exchange:

“Wow, look at her butt.”

“I know.”

“When did she start developing?”

“Well, she started getting boobs when she was nine, and I finally had to get her a bra when she was ten.”

“You should get her a better one, though. I saw her coming down the stairs this morning, and she was flopping around all over the place.”

Okay, now about those times when Marcia wasn’t laughing it up. Another way in which she trampled all over my turf was in the housework. I’d been given quite a lot of household responsibility for my age, and I was proud of this. I would have liked to make Marcia feel welcome by doing stuff for her, but my offer, for instance, to do her laundry was met with, “No; you’ll just flood the basement with suds like on the Brady Bunch…OH GODDDDDDDDDDDDDD, WHY DO I HAVE TO DO THIS?! [scrubs at stain]” Martyring herself, I suppose.

And now, about that one occasion. Marcia and my mom were watching a video, and miracle of miracles, I was allowed to join them. I don’t remember how that came about, but I was beside myself with joy. For about the first hour. Marcia and my mom were drinking, of course, and I was allowed orange juice with a splash of seltzer.

Then came a scene that Marcia thought was too suggestive for me to see. I intended to go to my room and come back in the recommended five minutes, but it didn’t quite work out that way. You see, it was the way the lock on my door worked.

Bear with me on this. I’d been keeping my door locked because Brad, adorable as he was, was a very hyperactive two-year-old, and I kept my stuff very precisely organized. I’d already had some small items disappear or get broken because of him, so rather than peel his little fingers off my stuff over and over again, I simply kept the door locked when I was inside.

But the way the lock worked, it didn’t automatically unlock itself when you turned the knob. You had to unlock it manually. So somehow, perhaps in my haste to get downstairs for the magical movie night, I’d forgotten to manually unlock it, and it was still in the locked position when Marcia, having put Brad to bed, closed it behind her. Closed it all the way, so that the lock caught. Which, just FTR, was not necessary. It was perfectly safe to leave it just on the latch, which is how I’d managed to avoid getting locked out before now.

So I go upstairs and find the door locked. Ohshitohshitohshit. Well, you can imagine why I simply waited until the five minutes was up, then went back downstairs, silent and trembling inside. I don’t remember if Marcia decided to check on Brad before the movie was over, or if someone noticed the pale green cast to my skin, but at any rate, Marcia went upstairs, and came down again to announce that the door was locked.

Immediately, my mom went off the rails. After her rant slowed down a bit, I managed to squeak out, “W-well, maybe there’s a key…”

“Oh yeah? Where is it? WHERE IS IT?” Stinkin’ alcohol breath in my face, she slammed her foot down on mine, grinding it in until the bones twisted and I screamed, “I DON’T KNOW!” Finished with me for the moment, she turned back to Marcia and they discussed the best course of action. After determining that they were not going to call the fire department and they were not going to call to Brad through the door and tell him how to get out of his crib and turn the knob, they agreed that the best solution was indeed to find a key for the lock. But before heading upstairs, my mom took the time to tell me, “I can’t believe this! I can’t f—ing believe this! We were just going to sit down and have a nice, quiet evening together, and THEN—YOU—MAKE—THIS—TROUBLE!” While shaking me until my teeth rattled.

I don’t know where my dad was at this time, incidentally. He may have been brooding in the basement, or he may have been out. (He found me crying once, shrugged and said, “Well, you shouldn’t butt in.” Excuse me, I didn’t know it was possible to “butt in” on your own family.) Anyway, they either got a set of keys from him, or just found them somewhere, and we all trooped upstairs.

Marcia tries a key. It doesn’t work. My mom shakes me again and does more yelling. Marcia tries the next key. It doesn’t work. My mom pushes me up against the wall and says, “If this doesn’t work, you’re dead, you hear me?” Marcia tries the third key. It works. I go in my room and they go downstairs and finish the movie.

So you can imagine how good I felt about myself when school started. And that was grade 6, which as I’m sure many of you are aware, is a crucial year, socially. Well…maybe some people would still be able to walk into school brimming with confidence after those experiences, but I didn’t. I’d established the pattern of thinking of myself as not good enough, and it took years to rebuild my self-esteem.

I didn’t repeat the pattern, though. I made sure not to pull this kind of crap on Brad when he was older, and I went out of my way to befriend Marcia’s stepdaughter when she remarried. And I still try to stay attuned for other kids who might be getting the short end. My mom will never admit to any wrongdoing, but forget that. Marcia and I have made it up, but just because it’s over for me, that doesn’t mean I’m okay with it happening to someone else. I realize that my experience was pretty darned extreme, but “late babies” in general are more often than not subject to the “This is grown-up time; I don’t care what you do, just do it away from us” syndrome.

Which brings me to the recent incident that prompted this thread. Well, I won’t go into the details, because a) I don’t like to talk about other people’s business on the boards and b) this post is already long enough. Suffice to say, I said to the mother of a seven-year-old, “People shouldn’t have late babies if they’re just going to ghettoize them.” Then I had to explain what I meant by “ghettoize”. Basically, if the parents are not going to make it so that all members of the immediate family can find some common ground, and if they’re going to treat the youngest like a second-class citizen, then they are ghettoizing them: shunning them as undesirables.

Fortunately, the child’s mother is not a complete psycho, like my mom. Instead of taking offense, she listened to what I had to say. No, I didn’t tell her this stuff; it basically came down to, “Your daughter is doing what all seven-year-olds do. She’s a member of the family, and if you love her, you’ll accept her at whatever stage of development she’s in.” She had to agree. And hopefully, this will make a difference in that child’s life.

As for what I make of all this? Well…

—I didn’t realize this at the time, but I think Marcia was either finishing the last of her coke stash, or going through withdrawal. I have valid reasons to think this; I’m not just being snarky.

—Still doesn’t explain why she didn’t want anything to do with Annie, though. I mean, forget me for a second; I was just her dumb little sister. But her own DAUGHTER? I’ll never know what that was about, and I’ll never dare ask.

—I think my mom might have thought I wanted her undivided attention, and was jealous of Marcia. Which is just her being the center of her own universe.

—Also, she’s an oldest, too, so she’s not naturally inclined to understand how a younger sister might feel.

—It’s possible that being in the “old” house, with a pre-teen, inspired Marcia to recreate her old dysfunctional relationship with Jan. Which is still no excuse, because I am not a bit like Jan, and anyway, from what I understand of it, Marcia was not some innocent victim. Or maybe that had nothing to do with it.

—It’s also possible that Marcia saw her own wasted potential, and resented me for having my life ahead of me.

—Or maybe I’m romanticizing the whole thing, and they were just a couple of uppity, alcoholic bitches.

So where was Annie, and did you ever see her again? Ever ask her what happened with her mom (Marcia).

Annie was at her grandparents’ house, having been told I was away for the summer. Sorry, didn’t mean to make it sound like she’d been vaporized! We went to different schools, and she was in a different community, so my mom could pull this off without risk of us running into each other in the supermarket or something. We caught up with each other after Marcia left.

As for asking about her mom, we just never spoke of it. See, Annie had really gone through her grieving period when Marcia failed to keep up correspondence with her after moving to PA. And what I forgot to mention was that at this time, her dad was involved with, and eventually married, a wonderful woman who Annie still calls “Mom”. I’ve never broached this subject with her, and really, there’s no point to it. She was better off without Marcia in her life. Too bad Brad couldn’t have done without her as well…

Nailed it here at the end. Good on you for keeping an eye out for kids that need some attention and TLC.

Yep-the circs are different, but as a youngest child, I can agree with you that it is no picnic for some of us.
I really don’t like my oldest sister–unfortunately, she’s the only one left (besides my brother). I dread the day my parents die. I avoid my sister as much as I can, and I limit my kids’ exposure to this aunt. Not that she is much of an aunt, thank goodness.

Sorry for the sucky tween years for you. I well remember extreme hostility punctuated with long periods of complete indifference to my welfare. My mother never bothered to give me a curfew or even inquire as to my friends etc. Oy.

Rilchiam, what a sucky childhood you had! But please don’t assume that all these parents of “late babies” are going to marginalize those kids. When I had mudgirl, I was 38. DarkButterfly was 12, and EtherealFreakOfPinkness was 8. Well, DarkButterfly has her own issues, but as far as sisters go, Ethereal rocks! As much as she rocks, though, I do not expect her to raise her baby sister (who is now six), and I make a point of spending some “private time” with both of them, frequently. I take mudgirl to the bus stop in the morning, pick her up there in the afternoon, and when we get in the door from school, anything else I might have been doing gets put aside to check her school papers, complement her progress, help her with homework if she has any, etc. In fact, because her sisters are so much older, and hubby works out of town, there are solid blocks of hours during the week that she and I are alone together. If I’m working (I do selling on eBay part time), I’ll “hire” her to “help” me with my work. She’ll do whatever little thing she’s capable of doing, and when we’re done, I pay her whatever change I have in my wallet. If she wants to play a game I don’t enjoy or am not in the mood for, I’ll suggest something we both like.

OTOH, I’m making her understand that I can’t always drop everything and play with her just because she’s bored. But if I’m doing something else, I’ll give her a time frame (like, “I really need to finish cleaning the kitchen right now, honey, but if you find something else to do for half and hour, then I’ll have some time to play with you” and I set my timer for half an hour so she’ll know when it’s her turn to have my attention).

I’m not trying to make myself sound like SuperMom or anything, but I only want to demonstrate that there are bad mothers (I should know, I had one) and there are good mothers. Circumstances can affect whether a mother is a good one or a bad one, but they’re not the whole story.

Oh, I understand, norinew! And I’m open to the possibility that there are more parents of late babies that are like you than like mine. Or like my co-worker. What inspired me to open this thread was the co-worker I mentioned in post #3, who was simply bitching about her youngest daughter.

Her adult daughter and son-in-law were visiting, you see, and Youngest Daughter “kept bothering them” and was “interfering with family time”. I saw black, blue and purple, excused myself from the break room, then came back and asked to speak with her privately. I was reasonable by then, and did manage to get my point across to her that YD was a member of the family, and Family Time should not exclude her. If she was talking too much, well, perhaps that was because she hadn’t seen her sister in…how long was it? Two years? Well, she was probably excited to see her again. And eager to get to know her new brother-in-law, whom she hadn’t seen since the wedding. There’s a way to get her to shorten up her monologues without banishing her to her room. Shouldn’t be a matter of “getting her to shut up,” but rather “helping her assimilate into the family.” Fortunately, my co-worker was amenable to this.

Sorry, a bit of a ramble there. Anyway, I did say, “IF they’re just going to ghettoize them,” not “Because they WILL.” I’m aware that there are plenty of compassionate POLB, as well as insensitive parents in all circumstances. This just happens to be the situation that I know inside and out, so I address it when I can.

I can see where that would make you angry. Hell, it would’ve made me angry, too. I mean, “interfering with family time”?? Hello? She is part of the family. Now, we’re not above telling mudgirl “this is grown up stuff we’re talking about, and it’s not appropriate for you; but in ten minutes, we’ll let you pick what we talk about”. This is how you socialize kids, teach them about compromising and getting along with other people. Raising kids is hard, but it ain’t rocket science!
Okay, I’ll admit: sometimes I think rocket science would be easier. :wink: