There was my brother Eric. He was older and smarter, had Mom's sympathies (in my mind, anyway), and was master at playing the game. He was the Instigator who rarely got caught. My sister Rachel Anne was the Responsible One, whom everyone loved and adored and, although I aspired to become just like her, alas, I was younger and much too volatile for that. Then there was my baby brother Dan. He was just little and didn't come into the equation until later =).
And then...there was me.
I was the one who represented all that was right and good. You know, the
This picture pretty much summarizes things:
Eric and I fought constantly throughout childhood. Not the kicking and screaming kind of fighting, but a secret, guerilla-type of warfare. A tactical battle of who could win the upper hand. At anything. At everything. Although I was not above making an offensive attack, somehow, being four years younger, I fell more easily into the victim role, always on the defensive end, trying - mightily - to get him back.
Much of this came in the form of tattling. My mother, bless her soul, would try to console me with nonsense like, "He's just trying to get your goat!"
Now, what on earth was that supposed to mean? I don't have a goat!
Eric is a very creative person, and I'm convinced he used this gift to lie awake at night, planning the most infuriating things, specifically designed to annoy me, just because he knew he could. He was best at not necessarily breaking the rules, but coming just so close, so I would be forced - yea, duty-bound - to report the "almost crime" to the authorities.
When we were sitting at the table, he would look right at me, a fakely-angelic smirk on his face, and stick his pinky in his milk. (You have to ask yourself: How do kids come up with this stuff?) He knew this would drive me nothing short of insane, because everyone should know there is an unwritten law: Thou shalt not touch thy milk with thy pinky.
I would exercise restraint as long as my childish self could. And he, coolly calculating how long it would take until my blood would reach the boiling point, patiently held the pinky there, barely skimming the surface, as long as it took, until finally, the pressure would build up to explosive proportions and I could take it no longer: "MOM! Eric is sticking his pinky in his milk!!"
At which point the pinky would be casually removed, and he would innocently look at Mom ("Whaaaat?"). When he was absolutely sure she wasn't watching (or maybe she WAS watching, secretly laughing at the utter absurdity of the situation?), he would look back at me slyly, and then, slowly... infuriatingly... he would lick his finger.
ARGGGHH!!! He got me every. single. time.!
Somehow, I suppose because he was oldest, from the time he was about 11, Eric got to be in charge, if my parents ever had to leave for the evening. As a seven-year-old, I hated this most of all. Didn't Mom and Dad know that all this "I'm such a responsible boy" stuff was just a facade? That in their absence he was an evil despot? He had a way of turning even supposedly "fun" activities into instruments of torture to his hapless serfs. Because he was bigger and had more manual dexterity, he got to cut the brownies, making sure his piece was just slightly larger than everyone else's (and I knew because I was checking!).
Thank the Lord we didn't have cell phones then, because I imagine my mother would have seen the number, knowing it was going to be me - tattling again - and would have refused to answer. So we had to wait till they got home: "Mom, he poured the root beer (a rare treat in a house with an original Granola Girl for a mom), filling everyone else's glasses full of ice, and he didn't put any in his!" Ah yes, the classic I-thought-of-this-because-I'm-a-fifth-grader law of displacement to get more root beer in his own cup. So sneaky!
I remember being so frustrated, not just because I'd been shorted, but, Why didn't I think of this stuff first?
Was that a smile on her face?
Then there were the car rides. Our family traveled all over the country in various forms of sedans and station wagons, which were packed floor to ceiling with all of our stuff. There were no iPods, no DVD players, usually not even any decent radio stations to provide diversion, and on many trips, NO AIR CONDITIONING! Here's proof:
And speaking of small spaces and now-illegal forms of travel, Mom and Dad probably loved this, because they were in the cab of the pickup ALL ALONE, and could not hear anything!
I used to wonder why Eric always got to sit in front. He led us to believe it was because he "needed" the legroom, and besides, he was better at reading maps than the rest of us.
Now I know the truth: Mom and Dad engineered the situation so he wouldn't have to sit by me, because they knew I would have been complaining: "You're over the line," or "Stop singing so loudly," or, "MOM! HE'S LOOKING AT ME!"
I must admit, I am in awe of my parents, because, as history repeats itself in my own home (especially now in the summer, with more togetherness than usual), it is, at times, ALL I CAN DO to keep my cool!
When things get particularly bad (as they did the other day, when I pulled off to the shoulder of a six-lane highway to mediate a dispute no less preposterous than pinkies in the milk) I remind myself that Eric and I eventually did start getting along. It was that one blissful year when he was a senior, and I'm sure my mother breathed a huge sigh of relief. We began to laugh at the incredible lengths we went to, just to avoid getting along. Not so surprisingly, he grew up to be a wonderful man, husband, and father. And a pretty darn nice brother! I love you, Eric!
Today, the pinky-in-the-milk, root beer, and road trip stories are oft-repeated (and ever-embellished) at family gatherings as some of our favorite childhood memories.
Yes, I'm going to secretly laugh at the utter absurdity that surrounds me, in the hopes that some day, my kids will look back and say, "Remember when Mom had to pull off the highway because we were annoying each other so much? How did she ever put up with us? Ahh, those were some good times, weren't they?"