Tuesday, December 26, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

I have six sisters and three brothers. For the mathematically challenged, that's a total of 10 children. Stop and think about it for a moment before arguing: 6 sisters plus 3 brothers plus me (1) = 10. In case you can't tell, I need to explain that often.

People often marvel at the size of my family. Some are crass enough to blurt out, "Did your parents not have anything better to do?" (Yes, they did but there is time to have sex 10 times throughout decades of marriage.) The misadvised may say, "So, your parents are Catholic?" (No, they're not, and plenty of other faiths believe in no birth control.) The less socially astute bluntly ask, "Are they all your parents' kids?" implying that we're a blended family. (We are.)

It wasn't until I was in my 20s that I learned what a "blended family" is. Either I was sheltered or that is a phrase that made it into the vernacular as the last of the Generation Xers reached adulthood.

I didn't grow up realizing I was part of a blended family. Whether I was blissfully unaware or, again, sheltered, I believed that the children were all, collectively my parents' kids. Not biologically, though. I always knew that some children were my dad's alone, some were my mother's alone, and some of us were theirs combined. But, I never questioned that all children were loved and wanted equally, in spite of the disparate amount of grief that one child might cause over another. In fact, my mother used to sing a little song to the last three of us. Since Blogger won't allow me to score music, you get the lyrics alone...

"I love Timmy, I love Mildred, I love Tiffany, too! I love Sam and Debi, I love Elmo and Ruby, I love all of you!"

Notice there are seven children only listed. Well, I believe there are two reasons for this. First, my dad raised my mother's children, whereas my dad's children were raised by his ex-wife. Consequently, my mother didn't sing about them. But, I generously think that the real reason is the melody wouldn't really have worked for 10 names, nor for any more syllables.

So, did anyone sing a song of love about 10 children? I'm sad to say, no. My mother didn't for reasons mentioned above. And my dad just isn't a "sing about love" sort of guy, unless it's an aria written by Verdi. (And even then, my pops has a strange preference for singing songs from Rigoletto, either because he really likes them or he's a sexist at heart. The verdict is still out on that.)

I did have some awareness about step-siblings, although I didn't understand the concept of "half-siblings." I remember at five or so, I watched or read about Cinderella for the first time. Learning about the evil step-sisters was devestating to me. I remember, later on, as my older sisters Debi and Ruby were leaving the house, I walked up to Ruby crying and told her that I hope she doesn't hate me because that's what step-sisters do. I don't remember her answer. She probably laughed it off as she went out for the night. That's generally how someone 17 treats a child of 5, and I probably would've done the same.

When I was an young'n, I used to have fantasies about all 10 of us living in the same neighborhood. I drew pictures about it, and thought about how wonderful birthday parties and Christmas would be, with my siblings and their children around. (There's a huge age gap so I had many nieces and nephews before I hit the age of procreation myself.) I had a house design picked out for each of them. This was childhood fantasy at its best, not just because I was so ridiculously innocent of the family political dynamics but because this was in the time before Sim City, so creating a neighborhood from scratch was really quite an effort. Maybe if The Sims had been out back then, I would've been able to better project how people would've acted. Computer games imitating life imitating art, as it were.

So, now I'm an adult. And I appreciate that I don't have 9 siblings and my parents don't have 10 kids. Instead, I have percentages of siblings with relationships that are too fractionalized to even be represented by the biological "half" or "whole" sibling designation. To wit: Image a human-being-shaped measuring cup, where the crown of the head is 100%. Now, fill the human-being measuring cup to about the ankles. That represents the degree of siblinghood I share with my brother Sam. Take another human-being measuring cup and fill to just below the knee and that's siblinghood with Debi. No one sibling is filled to the crown, although some probably reach about to the shoulders, which is probably more than enough and more than some siblings enjoy. However, by comparison, if my brother Bert and sister Magda were measuring siblinghood to each other, they'd probably both be full to about the ears in relationship to each other.

This is really a sad thing because, in my opinion, family relationships, particularly among siblings, should get better as you get older as the petty rivalries and disputes (e.g. who threw rocks at the other, who drew fangs on the other's dolls' faces, and who stabbed whose waterbed with a steak knife) should matter less. Indeed, some families do seem to work that way. (I don't know this from any personal experience, obviously, but I know of other families where it happens.) But, for the rest of us, it seems that our human-being-shaped measuring cups are fated to be of the half-empty volume, and the issue of who got the larger room is a more heated debate than any political conversation you could have.

Where I'm left with this reflection is knowing that we're still all pretty young folks and we still can't move beyond these trifle issues of yesteryear. If we can't sustain strong, caring, and acrimony-free relationships now, what will we have to show for ourselves when we really are old and we don't have those common parents (however they're counted) to bind us together any more?

No comments: